Columns: June 2009

Steven McClain, President

Steven McClain, President

President Obama’s stimulus package, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, allocates tens of billions of dollars to fund “shovel-ready” projects – improvements to our transportation and infrastructure systems, to our children’s schools, and to our downtowns and main streets. These projects will have an immediate impact on strengthening local economies.

They also present the preservation community with a two-sided challenge. On the one hand, stimulus money can greatly benefit preservation initiatives – from main street revitalizations to historic school renovations. On the other hand, “shovel-ready” projects are likely to be “fast-tracked” in an attempt to create as many jobs as possible, and as quickly as possible.

When that happens, it is unlikely that preservation-related projects will have the chance to receive the close scrutiny they deserve from the preservation community, including local historic preservation commissions and state historic preservation offices, whose staff levels are even now being reduced.

Even the Act’s weatherization program, which allocates nearly $8 billion to make 75 percent of federal buildings and more than one million homes more energy efficient, is problematic for preservation. Tax credits for new windows in an old house reduce more than just a homeowner’s taxes – they also reduce the historic integrity and embodied energy of the building, all the while increasing landfill waste.

I’ve made the point here before that preservation is good for the economy and good for the environment – renovation projects create more jobs and generate more investment dollars than do new construction projects, while at the same time minimizing waste and greenhouse gas emissions. And, preservation conserves our heritage, which gives us a firm footing in these changing times.

This is where the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive Program fits in. It’s an economically viable means by which to preserve a historic building, as well as an additional – and perpetual – layer of preservation protection from a private, nonprofit organization. Every spring, the Trust visits the buildings – currently 829 in number – on which it holds preservation easements to ensure that each and every one is being properly preserved.

Take the time to write to your senators and representatives in Washington, D.C., and in your state capital to urge them to support historic preservation. But, also keep in mind that the historic preservation easement program is the most direct and assured means by which to preserve your cherished architectural heirlooms – in perpetuity. No amount of fast-tracked stimulus dollars can ever threaten that.

Steven McClain
President, Trust for Architectural Easements

Preservation Success

Former Locomotive Factory in Providence, R.I. Gets New, Green Lease on Life

Historic photograph of the old American Locomotive Works in Providence, R.I.

Historic photograph of the old American Locomotive Works in Providence, R.I.

The old American Locomotive Works, located just one mile from downtown Providence, R.I., is alive again after a long silence. But this time, it’s not the hum of machinery that resounds across its 22-acre site, but the buzz of a vibrant, mixed-use community of shops, restaurants, offices, and residences – and it’s all green, too.

The transformation of derelict factories into trendy shopping destinations and residences is not new. It’s been in vogue ever since the 1964 conversion of San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square from an abandoned chocolate factory into a series of terraced restaurants and shops. Old factory and mill buildings – with wide open spaces originally intended for long conveyor belts and big machines – are inherently multi-functional. Large windows let in abundant natural light; strong, durable walls store embodied energy.

Today, there is a new trend in industrial building rehabilitation – LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, an independent, third-party verification that a building project meets certain high standards of sustainable building practices. And, the LEED Council, recognizing that historic preservation is inherently sustainable, has recently revised its rating system to award extra points to projects that rehabilitate existing buildings and revitalize urban neighborhoods.

Outdoor corridor of American Locomotive Works after Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse rehabilitation

Outdoor corridor of American Locomotive Works after Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse rehabilitation

The American Locomotive Works is a prime example. Redeveloped by Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse – a real estate development firm specializing in urban neighborhood revitalization and the adaptive reuse of historic urban sites – this group of 26 abandoned factory buildings built between 1885 and the 1960s “was renovated with sustainable practices and green building techniques from the start,” says Fran Weld, a LEED Accredited Professional who has overseen much of the project’s development.

In fact, the American Locomotive Works is part of the LEED-ND (“Neighborhood Development”) Pilot Program, the test run of a new LEED rating system evaluating projects based on their relationship to the communities in which they are located. Development projects scoring high marks on the LEED-ND scale incorporate smart growth principles (think: “the opposite of sprawl”) as well as sustainable building practices.

The American Locomotive Works – with its diversity of spaces clustered together at a high enough density so as to encourage pedestrian mobility – should score well on the LEED-ND scale. Its solar panels, recycled buildings and materials, low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints and building materials, and organic urban garden will score big points, too.

General view of American Locomotive Works after Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse rehabilitation

General view of American Locomotive Works after Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse rehabilitation

Weld is a strong advocate for the reuse of historic buildings. “The benefits are many,” she asserts. “One can realize enormous energy savings and corresponding reductions in operating costs through a building rehabilitation that is responsibly designed. From window treatments, to HVAC controls, to minimal lighting design, and even on-site alternative energy production, there is a vast array of energy-saving techniques that can be employed to contribute to more efficient operating budgets.”

Weld also firmly believes that “sustainable historic rehabilitation can really poise a building on the forefront of the market. Where historic preservation may have once been deemed ‘just plain old,’ it is now seen as the poster child for re-use, conservation of materials and infrastructure, and building for the future.”

New tenants are now starting to move into the American Locomotive Works, and where machines once churned out choo-choo trains, a community committed to a sustainable way of life is taking root. Historic preservation has made it all possible.

Historic Building Spotlight

Slade’s Spice Mill Rescued, Restored and Rehabilitated in Revere, MA

Historic photograph of Slade Spice Mill

Historic photograph of Slade Spice Mill

It’s an odd juxtaposition. Just north of Boston, an old shingled mill building – constructed partly on a stone foundation and partly on posts half-submerged in a tidal creek bed – stands at odd angles to the Revere Beach Parkway, practically overlapping it. There’s been a mill at this location ever since the 1730s, when millstones, powered by the tidal water of Mill Creek, first started grinding corn and wheat for local colonists.

A century later, in 1827 and under the ownership of D. & L. Slade & Company, the mill began to grind spices from Indonesia and the West Indies – cinnamon, cloves and curries, black peppercorns. These were lucrative products, and the company became the largest producer of spices in New England.

The present mill – the only surviving tidal mill in the Boston area – was constructed in 1901, and it ground spices until 1976. But by 2001, when it was purchased by Robert Brooker – a local resident and no stranger to historic preservation – it wasn’t doing so well any more. The roof was leaking, posts were rotting in the creek, windows were boarded up, and shingles were falling off the walls.

Slade's Spice Mill rescued, restored, and rehabilitated

Slade’s Spice Mill rescued, restored, and rehabilitated

Today, however, the old spice mill is restored and back in use – just not the same use as before. Now it has two complementary functions. On the ground floor, there’s a museum with exhibits on the history of the mill and the Boston spice trade. Lodging facilities on the upper two floors provide the income necessary to pay for the building’s restoration, which was carried out according to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. (These are the same guidelines to which the Trust refers when determining appropriate preservation methods for the buildings on which it holds preservation easements.)

It’s a good solution for the tough preservation challenge of sustaining a building whose original function is obsolete. Mr. Brooker is actually on the lookout for new technologies to produce electricity from the tidal power of Mill Creek – a green outlook for a century-old building.

Slade's Spice Mill timber posts before restoration

Slade’s Spice Mill timber posts before restoration

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, the building is also protected by a historic preservation easement held by the Trust for Architectural Easements. Yearly monitoring visits to the building by the Trust ensure that the mill will be preserved for generations to come.

Slade's Spice Mill timber posts after restoration

Slade’s Spice Mill timber posts after restoration

Slade’s Spice Mill’s Historic Interpretive Center, located at 770 Revere Beach Parkway in Revere, MA, is open by appointment. To schedule, email , or call 781-631-3945. To learn more about donating a historic preservation easement on your historic property, contact the Trust for Architectural Easements, at 888-831-2107 or, or visit the Trust’s website at




Trust News

Sustainability & Historic Preservation Thought Leader Discussion Series travels to Boston and New York City

sustainability_historic_preservation_poster_design_final_boston_nyc_webThis past spring, the Trust for Architectural Easements took its popular Sustainability and Historic Preservation Thought Leader Discussion Series – presented earlier this year in Washington, D.C. – on the road to Boston and New York City. The panels were co-sponsored by the Trust and Island Press, the nation’s leading publisher of books on environmental issues.

Two panel discussions – “How Policy and Regulation Affect Sustainable Development” and “How We Finance Sustainable Development” – were presented in each city. The panelists were local policy makers, developers, preservationists, and architects, whose combined presence sparked unique and thought-provoking discussions on the importance of existing urban infrastructure to sustainable urban development.

In introducing the second panel discussion on financing sustainable development in New York City, Victoria C. McCormick, Vice President of the Trust, asserted that “the financial criteria and models that are currently in use in development employ a short-term horizon on what should be a long-term asset – a building. By taking the short-term view, financing decisions have driven developers to treat buildings as disposable assets. A fundamental paradigm shift is required to once again look upon buildings as a re-usable resource. And, by preserving the energy embodied in existing structures, we will make a significant contribution to developing a more sustainable environment.”

These panel discussions were presented as part of the Trust’s mission to educate the public on the integral part that historic preservation plays in sustainable development.

Podcasts of all the panel discussions are available at, or you can listen to a podcast of Boston panel – How We Finance Development – by clicking on the links below.

For information on the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive Program, please visit, or contact the Trust at, or at 888-831-2107. 

Historic Architecture Guide

The Shingle Style, c. 1880-1910

Shingle Style Bell House in Newport, R.I.

Shingle Style Bell House in Newport, R.I.

The Shingle Style, c. 1880-1910, was a uniquely American architectural style. Primarily used for residences, it was particularly popular in late 19th-Century seaside resorts. Known in its day as a modern, free interpretation of colonial American precedents, the style was christened the “Shingle Style” only in retrospect in the 1950s.

Shingle Style architects sought to create a new, national style that did not rely upon European precedents. Although they borrowed elements from the American StickRomanesque Revival, and Queen Anne styles, they looked to early American colonial architecture – in particular, to the colonial New England farmhouse, covered with a “skin” of locally-wrought, weather-worn shingles – for direct inspiration.

Bell House porch tower, Newport, R.I.

Bell House porch tower, Newport, R.I.

Shingle Style architects also developed free-form floor plans. The rooms of their houses were located not as classical tradition and symmetry dictated, but as necessity warranted, and as imagination suggested, so that their rooms might flow into one another in a new, modern aesthetic. On the outside, the shingles smoothed over the irregular forms resulting from the asymmetrical floor plan.

Architectural elements common to Shingle Style houses included long verandahs, multiple gables, round towers with bell roofs, leaded-glass windows, asymmetrical arrangements, and shingles set in various patterns. Simplicity and a lack of applied ornament were also important characteristics, and were new to an era used to Victorian architectural excess. Unlike the painted ladies, Shingle Style homes were typically colored with earthy tones, and their shingles were often left to weather naturally.

Bell House tower and chimney detail, Newport, R.I.

Bell House tower and chimney detail, Newport, R.I.

The Isaac Bell House, designed by McKim, Mead, and White and constructed in the seaside resort town of Newport, R.I., between 1882 and 1883, is a classic example of the Shingle Style. It is owned and operated as a historic house museum by the Preservation Society of Newport County.

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