As a historic property owner and a historic preservation easement donor, it gives me great pride to explore the communities in which the Trust holds easements, and to know that our efforts are helping to protect precious and limited resources – America’s historic buildings and the environment that surrounds them.
If sustainable design balances human needs with the carrying capacity of the environment, then the assertion by Carl Elefante, architect and advocate for historic preservation and sustainable design, that “the greenest building is the one already built” is essentially correct. The process of recycling and rehabilitating existing buildings is almost always more environmentally efficient than tearing down and building anew. Every building – new or old – has an impact on the environment. This impact is measured by embodied energy – the sum total energy required to grow, extract, and manufacture a product, including the amount of energy needed to transport it to the job site and complete the construction. Tearing down an existing building wastes that building’s embodied energy and adds to the environmental impact of the new building. All that material must be removed and shipped somewhere else.
From now on, each issue of Columns will include at least one article that demonstrates the interplay between the historic preservation movement and the greening movement. In this issue, we tackle historic windows. Is it possible that restoring historic windows is just as environmentally-friendly as replacing them with new, energy-efficient windows? Read on to find out.
The historic preservation tax incentive program can serve as a useful preservation tool. It encourages historic property owners to recycle their historic buildings rather than to tear them down. As always, I encourage you to contact the Trust for more information about the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive Program, and to learn what steps are involved with making an easement donation.
Thank you again for joining us in our mission to preserve America’s historic architecture.
Steven L. McClain
President, Trust for Architectural Easements
Historic Building Spotlight
New York City’s Last Horse Auction Mart
If you wanted to travel in style throughout New York City in the early 1900s, you had to own a horse and carriage. You might have considered purchasing them at the famous Van Tassell & Kearney horse and carriage auction mart at 126-128 East 13th Street in the East Village. This historically significant 1903 building is, today, preserved and protected in perpetuity, thanks to the dedicated efforts of its owners, local preservation groups, and the Trust for Architectural Easements.
This distinctive red brick and limestone building, with its symmetrical, arched façade, housed one of the city’s most prominent horse auction marts, at one time selling horses and carriages to members of New York City’s social elite. In 1916, Van Tassell & Kearney began selling automobiles in the building. In the 1940s, the building’s open interior was divided into classrooms where men prepared for civil service exams and women studied machine technology. From 1978 to 2005, preeminent American artist Frank Stella used the building as his studio, perhaps drawn to it by its abundance of natural light, which once illuminated prizewinning horses.
The building first drew the attention of community and preservation groups in 2006 when a new owner announced plans to demolish New York City’s last remaining horse auction barn and construct an apartment house in its place. Local preservation advocacy groups attempted to halt these plans by asking the Landmarks Preservation Commission to grant landmark status to the structure, thereby preventing its demolition. Although hearings were held, the Commission has not made a determination regarding landmark status. Instead, the owner and the Commission reached a standstill agreement, which prevented demolition or alteration of the auction mart while the designation was considered.
Despite its uncertain standing under New York City’s ordinances, the Van Tassell & Kearney building is now guaranteed to be preserved in perpetuity, thanks to the actions of its owners and the Trust for Architectural Easements – the holder of its preservation easement.
In an about-face, the building owners, convinced by the community and preservation groups’ interest in preserving the building, sought out more comprehensive protection for the building on their own. They argued that the building was historically significant, and should be listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. The Park Service agreed, and added the building to the National Register on November 20, 2007, declaring it a significant example of a rare late-19th and early-20th century building type – the horse and carriage auction mart.
This listing on the National Register made the building eligible for the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive Program, a government program that uses tax incentives to encourage owners of buildings of historical significance, and of those contributing to registered historic districts, to make historic preservation easement donations to qualified organizations such as the Trust for Architectural Easements. Owners who participate in the Program are eligible to receive federal income tax deductions in exchange for the contractual assurance that they will maintain the building’s historical character in perpetuity.
Historic Home Care
Historic Window Repair
Alison Hardy, the owner of The Window Woman of New England, repairs and restores historic wooden windows. Since 2003, she has restored over 500 historic windows in north-eastern Massachusetts.
Historic windows compete with vinyl and wood replacement windows. Replacement windows are often considered easier to maintain, lower in cost, and higher in energy retention factor (the “R-value”) than existing historic windows. However, a properly-restored historic window paired with a storm window designed for the historic frame can provide an R-value that is comparable to that of a replacement window. If you are considering a high-end replacement window, the cost of restoring your existing historic window is about the same. And, the energy required to construct, ship, and install replacement windows is not expended. “Preservation is a local business,” Hardy asserts.
Replacement windows rarely carry warranties greater than 20 years. Hardy typically restores windows that are more than 100 years old, and which can last another 100 years with proper care. “Antique windows are designed to be serviced over their lifetime,” Hardy says. It is easy to replace a pane of glass in a historic window, but “if a double- or triple-pane replacement window breaks, it’s usually as expensive to fix the pane as it is to replace the whole window.”
To restore a historic window, the window sashes are removed, stripped of glass and paint, and checked for weakness and rot. Broken panes are replaced, often with antique glass, and the sashes are primed and repainted. Once the sashes are re-installed with sash cords and weatherstripping, the window is fully restored.
Hardy uses traditional hand-carpentry methods in her work, as well as environmentally-friendly technologies. For example, Hardy applies steam or infrared heat to remove lead paint from historic window sash, instead of applying chemical paint strippers. These methods are better for both the environment and the historic wood.
Hardy mastered window restoration as a historic house owner. Not wanting to replace her historic windows, she studied window restoration, and opened her own business. She has never encountered a window that cannot be restored. “Window restoration is incredibly labor intensive, but when you see a window restored to its original condition, it’s a beautiful thing.”
Trust Staff Members Work to Restore New Orleans Homes
Three members of the Trust for Architectural Easements staff volunteered in New Orleans for a week in February. They participated in restoration and revitalization efforts that continue today, two and a half years after Hurricane Katrina.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, and Rebuilding Together – New Orleans united to sponsor a massive volunteer effort to help rebuild those neighborhoods hit hardest by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Camp Hope, located in Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish, is currently the largest volunteer base in the United States, accommodating more than 1000 volunteers each week.
Jennifer Brennan, Mary Quirk and Jackie Scheer of the Trust traveled to Camp Hope and, along with three other volunteers, worked on a house in St. Roch. The outside of the house was in fairly good condition. The inside, however, was another story. The group of six cleaned, painted, and installed new floors and crown molding in the home. They were so efficient and completed their tasks so quickly, that half of the group was reassigned for a day to deconstruct another house by salvaging usable materials for other neighborhood reconstruction projects—while the rest of their team stayed behind to put the finishing touches on the crown molding.
The trip was very beneficial to Brennan, Quirk, and Scheer. For Quirk, it was a learning experience: “I was able to see many different styles of architecture,” she said. The hands-on preservation experience was appreciated by all. And, Scheer related the volunteer experience in New Orleans to the Trust’s mission: “It reemphasized the Trust’s mission of saving one building at a time, because that was essentially what our efforts in New Orleans were for: saving one building in the time that we had available.”
Rebuilding Together – New Orleans is a local affiliate of Rebuilding Together, a national non-profit organization that has restored and revitalized more than 100,000 homes over the past 19 years. Thanks primarily to volunteer labor, work is completed at no cost to the home owner. Low-income families in communities across the country are able to live in warmth, safety and dignity as a result of their efforts. In New Orleans, Rebuilding Together and the Preservation Resource Center have restored 69 houses, and are currently working on 36 more. Approximately 5500 volunteers have worked more than 187,000 hours on these homes, but still more volunteers are needed.
Walking Tour of Brooklyn’s Park Slope Neighborhood
-Written by Park Slope resident and architectural historian Francis Morrone
Park Slope is one of Brooklyn’s most attractive historic neighborhoods. A guide to Park Slope will be published this summer by the Brooklyn Historical Society; its author is long-time Park Slope resident Francis Morrone, Brooklyn’s leading architectural historian. Morrone is the author of five books, including An Architectural Guide to Brooklyn; he teaches at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, and lectures frequently. Morrone has prepared an exclusive mini-tour
of Park Slope for Columns; be sure to bring it with you on your next trip to New York City!
Begin at the northeast corner of Eighth Avenue and Lincoln Place. The Montauk Club, designed by Francis H. Kimball and built in 1889-91, leaves no doubt in the viewer’s mind that Park Slope, in the late 19th century, was one of the most affluent communities in the United States. The lavishly ornamented Venetian Gothic-style building recalls 15th-century palazzi on the Grand Canal. Look above the front door for the terra-cotta frieze depicting frock-coated Victorian gentlemen laying the building’s cornerstone.
Walk east on Lincoln Place one block to Plaza Street, then turn right. At Berkeley Place is a mansion designed by Lamb & Rich and built in 1890-91 for George Tangeman, owner of the Royal Baking Powder Company, which grew into a consumer-goods conglomerate. The style of the house is transitional from the Romanesque Revival that dominated the 1880s to the classical that took over in the 1890s.
At Union Street take a left across Prospect Park West to Grand Army Plaza. A day could be spent savoring the abundant artistry of the plaza, which is a formal entrance to Prospect Park. The 526-acre park, constructed largely between 1865 and 1873, was designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, who had earlier designed Manhattan’s Central Park. Both men felt the Brooklyn park to be far superior, and it is now undergoing extensive restoration. Dominating the plaza is the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch, dedicated in 1892, with Frederick MacMonnies’s brilliant bronze sculpture added a few years later. The bronze sculptural groups were added between 1898 and 1901. They were designed by Brooklyn native Frederick MacMonnies, one of the greatest of all American sculptors. This arch is the greatest triumphal arch of modern times, excepting the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile in Paris. The present design of the plaza we owe to architect Stanford White from the 1890s.
Walk south on Prospect Park West to President Street, then turn right to just beyond Eighth Avenue. The distinctive house at 869 President Street was designed by Henry Ogden Avery and built in 1885. The austere façade, with its elegant brickwork and unusual oriels propped up by struts, is an example of the “artistic house” of the 1880s, when clients sought to show their refinement by commissioning unique designs. Here the client was Stewart Woodford, U.S. Congressman, Civil War general, Lieutenant Governor of New York, U.S. Attorney, and ambassador to Spain when the Spanish-American War broke out. In other words, a typical Park Sloper of his day.
Return to Eighth Avenue then turn right to Carroll Street. At the northeast corner is a large “Richardsonian Romanesque” mansion, so termed after the American architect Henry Hobson Richardson’s highly personal adaptation of medieval Romanesque precedents, especially from France. The style seemed peculiarly expressive of the power and ruthlessness of westward-expanding America in the 1880s, and became a national style. Among its masters was C.P.H. Gilbert, who designed this house (built in 1888) for Thomas Adams Jr., whose father had invented chewing gum (after first unsuccessfully trying to use chicle to make rubber tires).
Turn left on Carroll Street. The variety of rowhouses on this block between Eighth Avenue and Prospect Park West is staggering. Every house deserves mention, but for now walk to midblock. On the right, look for the five-house row at 864-874. These were designed by the gifted Brooklyn architect William Tubby and built in 1887. At that time, the Richardsonian Romanesque battled for popularity with the “Queen Anne,” the most willfully eccentric of Victorian styles, with its crazy-quilt combinations of materials, colors, and forms. Here, it’s hard to tell where one house ends and the next begins.
Continue to Prospect Park West then turn right. Walk one block and turn right onto Montgomery Place, as beguiling a street of rowhouses as there is in America. This one-block enclave was developed in the 1880s by Harvey Murdock (later the co-developer of the Long Island resort of Locust Valley). He commissioned a very young architect, C.P.H. Gilbert (architect of the Adams house above) to design the first houses on the street. Gilbert employed a largely Richardsonian Romanesque vocabulary in 20 of the block’s 46 houses that he designed between 1887 and 1892. But he had such mastery of the style that he could vary it in astonishing ways so as to give to the block a picturesque variety, combined with a wealth of sparkling details, to take the viewer’s breath away. One of the best houses is 46, midblock on the south side. This is one of the more modest of the houses on the block. But it is as lovely a rowhouse as its decade produced. The key thing is the brickwork: elegant golden Roman brick laid up in complex patterns, with much use of rounded brick—a testament if ever there was one to the craft of the 19th-century bricklayer. Also note the stained glass: This was built as the home of the prominent stained-glass artist Alex Locke.
The brutely medieval-seeming house at 11 Montgomery Place, designed by Gilbert and built in 1887-88, was Harvey Murdock’s own. Across from it are two sumptuous Beaux- Arts apartment houses, 10 Montgomery Place and 143 Eighth Avenue, by the excellent Brooklyn architect Montrose Morris, from 1910-11; they look like delicious French pastry.
Take a left on Eighth Avenue and walk one block to Garfield Place. Temple Beth Elohim is on the northeast corner. At once monumental and intimate, a consummate work of architecture, this is one of the best classical synagogues in the city. It dates from 1908-10 and was designed by Simeon Eisendrath, who had worked in Chicago for Adler & Sullivan.
At the northwest corner, note the handsome apartment house. It was built in 1903 and designed by Henry Pohlman. His is not a famous name, but he was a superb designer of the sorts of “background buildings” that form the fabric of a beautiful neighborhood. And beauty will out: A place like Park Slope may have its historic ups and downs, but the downs will be shallow and the ups will reach for the heavens.