National Preservation Month begins on Sunday and the theme this year offers the perfect opportunity for revisiting a subject I’ve touched on in previous posts. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has declared that May should be a time for “Celebrating America’s Treasures” as a way of bringing awareness to historic preservation during the month and throughout the year. Large and small communities across the country are already planning activities and gatherings in an effort to increase interest in saving our old houses and buildings.
Structures that have already been saved will open for public tours and preservation experts have been scheduled to answer questions on why saving examples of our heritage is important. Some local organizations will even have restoration contractors available to help you with ideas for working on your own old house.
All of these affairs should be beneficial for increasing preservation awareness among the general population and hopefully will generate additional interest in restoring old houses rather than tearing them down. Unfortunately, there is one occupational group that is probably not going to be very well represented at these preservation gatherings and yet they may be the very people who could make the biggest difference. I’m referring to the developers and builders who like starting their projects with a clean slate.
Demolition in the name of development
Over the past year and a half I’ve written about many old houses that were on borrowed time due to being located on properties purchased for development. In some cases the developer was considerate enough to at least offer the old house to anyone who wished to incur the costs of moving it, but in many situations they decided that seeking a demolition permit was the easiest and quickest route to beginning construction on their project. It might be difficult to find a city or town that hasn’t lost lost historic old houses and buildings because someone decided that the land was more valuable than the structures that were on it.
I’ve started to see a trend with some developers and builders and hopefully it will continue to grow. Large and small projects are beginning to incorporate the old houses and buildings on the property into their new designs. I have no doubt that part of the reason is due to local jurisdictions taking a stand and not approving construction without this stipulation being met, but I’m also idealistic enough to think that some builders have a sense of the importance of preserving local history.
Regardless of the reasons for this trend, I think all developers and builders should tour at least one project during Preservation Month that demonstrates a blending of old and new. They may be amazed at the possibilities and the instant “character” an old house or building can give their developments. They may also be surprised at the local goodwill that can be created and in this economy that can be a good thing.