Old house preservation: triumphs and a failure

By: Conrad Neuf , Contributing Writer
In: Historic Preservation

Those active in trying to save old houses and buildings know that it's rarely easy. In many cases, they face long drawn out court battles against opponents with very deep pockets -- opponents such as developers, large companies and municipalities, who insist that historic preservationists are living in the past and standing in the way of progress.

It's actually somewhat amazing when preservationists are able to come out on top in what is often a David vs. Goliath confrontation. Here is a success story and one where despite valiant efforts, the giant prevailed:

College credits for historic preservation

What do you get when energetic college students are combined with old houses in need of restoration? Well, thanks to the Students Together Achieving Revitalization program, the San Antonio Express-News reports that in their city you get historic preservation.

The STAR program was started in 2010 by the dean of the University of Texas San Antonio's School of Architecture and the director of the city's historic preservation office to save a historic home about to be demolished. Students in the school rescued the structure by leveling the home and doing window and siding repairs.

The program has grown since then as more students and another college have become involved. Already this year about 150 young men and women from UTSA's architectural school and the San Antonio College have done renovation work on 16 homes in the city's historic Knob Hill district. While some of the students are working for college credits, many others are donating their spare time toward what they consider to be a good cause: historic preservation.

The fight to save a historic old house is lost

Those who have followed this blog know that numerous posts have been written about efforts to save a historic old house in Cincinnati. The home, a local landmark, was once owned by James Gamble, the son of the founder of Procter & Gamble. Legend has it that he created Ivory Soap in the Victorian house's kitchen.

Gamble lived in the mansion until his death in 1932 at the age of 95. The home then remained in his family until August 2009. At that time, his grandson's widow transferred the structure's title to a foundation that managed the couple's properties. As recently as 1991, the family had received an award from the local historical preservation group for how the old house had been maintained.

Unfortunately, the house gradually began to fall into a state of disrepair after Gamble's grandson's death. When the city issued a citation for broken sidewalks in 2009, the foundation countered by applying for a permit to tear the grand old house down. Local preservationists stepped in to save the home and were successful in getting it designated a historic landmark.

However, after four long years of costly court battles and rejected offers to purchase the historic structure, a judge sided with the foundation. According to a recent article in USA Today, the Gamble house was demolished in April.