What Saves An Old House?

By: Conrad Neuf , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Old House Musings, In The News, Old House History
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Lived Down the Road

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Lived Down the Road

I have written a number of blog posts concerning saving old houses, and I was thinking about this last evening as I flipped through my latest issue of This Old House.

On the last page, they show an old house each month in need of saving. This month they pictured one in Orange County, Virginia, about forty-five minutes from where I live. It was built just before the Civil War, fairly close to where a major battle was fought, but not close enough that any historical society wants it. You can tell by looking at the picture that it was pretty nice in its day, but the old house is in rough shape now. I somehow doubt that someone will come forward to move this old house to a new location; it will probably become a part of history, just like the battle.

What Determines Whether an Old House is Saved?

From the stories I have read, it seems like there are several factors that determine which old houses are saved and which are left to perish. I believe whether an old house has historical significance to someone or someplace is the number one consideration.

A home built in 1937 by Barbara Stanwyck in the San Fernando Valley of California was just saved from a developer by the nearby city that purchased it. The home and estate is one of the last remaining celebrity ranches that the San Fernando Valley was once full of, and they hope to build a museum there.

Style and condition can also save an old house. A Craftsman home of the Arts and Crafts movement I recently wrote about was featured on the rear page of This Old House not long ago. The old house is in Syracuse, New York, and evidently generated over a hundred inquiries about saving it, including some from restoration contractors who specialize in Craftsman homes. A Queen Anne Victorian in California is being saved by a preservation organization. The Victorian was once the main house of a large citrus ranch, when the area was known for its citrus products rather than its suburbs.

Passion can save an old house, too. If one person cares enough, they can sometimes make it happen. A good example is an old house in Mount Airy, Virginia, that was slated to be torn down to make way for a parking lot–like in the Joni Mitchell song. But one woman fought to save the house and ended up winning. The town is selling the old house to her, and she is planning on restoring it. The house wasn’t especially historical, and its style evidently wasn’t noteworthy, but something in the old house inspired a passion in the woman, and sometimes that is all it takes to save a house.


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  1. 4 Responses  to “What Saves An Old House?”

  2. Aug 29, 2011
    Hi Tom, That is a really strange problem, I could understand if one or two windows were like that, but all $250,000 worth is a huge problem. I have had windows show up on a job site with the sashes reversed in the frame, and I have had contractors install fixed glass windows backwards, but never anything on a scale as what you are describing. Did an architect spec these windows, or did you select them?
  3. Aug 29, 2011
    I am wondering if someone can direct me to a blog about industry standards in restoration of houses. When we purchased over $ 250,000 of true divided light doors and windows via "The Building Center of Gloucester" and manufactured by "NAMCO" aka "Cleary Millwork" the removable stops that hold the glass panes were constructed on the outside. Almost immediately, the stops cracked and warped allowing large amounts of water to get into the house. The manufacturer and supplier were only willing to replace the removable stops with new ones and not address what I believe to be the issue--to reverse the doors and windows so the removable stops are on the inside. Please see this link and if anyone knows a blog or website to direct me to, please comment here, Thank you.
  4. Pete
    Aug 29, 2011
    It's definitely up to passionate individuals to save old houses, because often it is just to expensive to do it. To spend more money on outdated floor plans, systems, etc. doesn't make much sense...but neither does spending $1.5M on the first superman comic book, but somebody did it!
  5. Ricky
    Aug 29, 2011
    It's good to see people standing up and writing letters to keep old houses up. Not all of them are going to be saved but if we can salvage some of our history it is definitely worth the effort.