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.