Columns: October 2009

Steven McClain, President

Steven McClain, President

President’s Message

Earlier this year, work began on retrofitting the Empire State Building to make it more energy-efficient. When the project is complete, this National Historic Landmark, the tallest building in the world at the time of its completion in 1931, will stand as one of the most easily recognizable examples of how historic buildings can be retrofitted to save millions of dollars on energy costs, and thousands of pounds of greenhouse gas emissions every year.
The building’s owners estimate the retrofit will reduce energy use in the building by 38 percent a year by 2013, with annual savings of $4.4 million, according to an article published by the New York Times on April 6, 2009 (“Empire State Building Plans Environmental Retrofit,” by Mireya Navarro). The retrofit includes insulating approximately 6,500 windows onsite, updating old HVAC equipment, and adding insulation behind radiators – all small changes that will add up to make a big difference.
On June 26, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), also known as the Waxman-Markey bill (H.R. 2454). It calls for “cap-and-trade” and “cash for clunkers” programs, as well as for the establishment of a Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance Program (REEP) to offer financial incentives for retrofitting older buildings for greater energy efficiency.
The first draft of the Senate’s version of the climate bill debuted last week, calling for – among other things – the establishment of national building codes for energy efficiency. As preservationists, we must show our support for these bills and make sure our senators are aware of examples, like the Empire State Building, that prove there is everything to gain, and nothing to lose, by retrofitting an older building rather than tearing it down and building a new one it its place, at great cost to the economy and to the environment.
Of course, when a historic building is protected by a preservation easement, the question of whether to recycle and reuse a building or demolish it and build anew can never arise. Easements protect buildings by ensuring that the latter can never take place. And when we recycle and retrofit a building, we are not only saving on energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions; we are also saving our heritage.

To donate a historic preservation easement to the Trust, call 888-831-2107, or email info@architecturaltrust.org.
Sincerely,
Steven McClain
President, Trust for Architectural Easements

Preservation Success

Original Shutters Come Home to a Bolton Hill, Baltimore, Row-house

209 W. Lanvale St., Baltimore, Md.

209 W. Lanvale St., Baltimore, Md.

It’s a homecoming for the historic shutters of 209 W. Lanvale St., Baltimore, Md. After more than 40 years, the original shutters are being rehabilitated and re-hung on the front façade, which is protected by an easement held by the Trust for Architectural Easements.

The shutters were removed from the house in the early 1960s, and put out on the street as trash for pick-up. They might have gone straight to the city dump had it not been for Tom Ward, a local architectural preservationist. Ward rescued the shutters and stored them in his garage until more preservation-friendly homeowners came along.
Not quite five years ago, his son and daughter-in-law, Pat and Lisa Ward, purchased 209 W. Lanvale St. Finally, it was time for the shutters to reemerge.
Getting the shutters back up on the house has not been easy, Lisa Ward says. Just finding the correct shutters in the garage was a challenge, because Tom Ward had saved many sets of historic shutters from several houses across Baltimore. And, each floor of the house had its own shutter size.
To help determine which shutters in Tom Ward’s garage belonged to Pat and Lisa Ward’s house, and where and how each shutter should be hung, the Wards turned to a painting of their home from the early 1960s, pre-shutter removal. “The painting helped identify the style of the shutters, and we were able to get the measurements [of each shutter] based on the original hardware that still was attached to the house,” Lisa Ward says.
After four decades in storage, the shutters needed some work. Of the 16 that originally hung on the front façade, 13 were in good condition and could be restored, while the other three were “damaged beyond repair,” Lisa Ward added.
Still, the 13 good shutters all had to be cleaned, sanded, re-primed, and re-painted, and some of them had dry rot. The dry rot was removed, and the cavities left behind were filled-in with epoxy. The Wards decided not to scrape away the old paint on the shutters because they liked the way the accumulated paint layers added character to the house.
Hardware from the three damaged shutters was salvaged, and will be used to hang replica shutters, which will resemble the originals as closely as possible.
Restoring the shutters – and the interior of the house as well – has not been easy, but for the Wards, it’s all part of living in a historic home. “The house has a style and elegance that you cannot purchase in a new house,” Lisa Ward says.

“Bolton Hill is a historic neighborhood filled with houses like ours,” she continues. “One of life’s pleasures is to walk through the neighborhood” surrounded by so many lovingly cared-for historic homes, she says. Bolton Hill is lucky to count the members of the Ward family among its residents.

To share your preservation success story with the Trust, email columns@architecturaltrust.org.

Historic Building Spotlight

New Technology Helps Tourists Experience Historic Mansion in Newport, R.I.

Garden at the south facade of The Breakers

Garden at the south facade of The Breakers

One of the nation’s grandest Guilded-Age mansions has entered a new era in historic house museum interpretation. Since April 4, 2009, visitors have been touring The Breakers – a 114-year-old summer seaside “cottage” built for the Vanderbilt family in Newport, R.I. – with the aid of a new audio tour produced by the Preservation Society of Newport County, which owns and operates the mansion.

The new audio tour – titled “The Breakers Revealed” – replaces the docent-led tours given at this National Historic Landmark since 1948, and enables visitors to follow the tour route through the mansion at their own pace. It is easy to use – just slip on the headphones and press the play button on the attached hand-held device. A voice recording instructs visitors where to go, and interprets each room along the way. There is a separate audio chapter for each room.
One of the benefits of the audio tour is that it provides visitors with a “free-choice learning approach to the house,” and allows “multiple points of view, such as excerpts from interviews with former servants, family members, [and] art and architecture critics” to become part of the tour, says John Tschirch, director of academic programs for the Preservation Society of Newport County. Tschirch led the research – “over a decade of work in oral history, architectural and socio-cultural history” – required to produce the new tour.
With the hand-held device, visitors can opt to hear supplementary information about each room along the tour route. Additional audio chapters discuss furniture, artwork, ceiling murals, architectural details, and preservation and restoration issues, as well the social history of the house. “The social history…breathes life into the brick, mortar and wood of a structure. It gives the socio-cultural context for the built form,” Tschirch says.
First-hand accounts of life in The Breakers by Vanderbilt family members and their guests are presented alongside accounts by their servants. For example, a vignette by a Vanderbilt guest describing a scene at a ball contrasts with commentary by maids and butlers about living and working in the house. Reminiscences by those who were once children in the house – both Vanderbilts and servants’ children – are also paired together. Listening to these accounts, a visitor begins to experience the house on a more intimate level.
The tour is lengthy, leading visitors through grand reception rooms, elegant bedrooms, turn-of-the century bathrooms, closets, winding service stairways, a state-of-the-art (c. 1895) kitchen, and a two-storied butler’s pantry. But with the audio tour, the pace is leisurely and relaxed. Visitors may spend as much or as little time as they like in any room along the tour.
The Breakers was designed by Richard Morris Hunt (1827-1895) – “one of the founding fathers of American architecture,” for Cornelius Vanderbilt II (1843-1899), “a key figure in American railroads, philanthropy, and fashionable society,” according to the website of the National Park Service. Constructed between 1893 and 1895, The Breakers was inspired by the 16th-century palaces of northern Italy, and it epitomized the Beaux-Arts style of architecture in the United States at the turn of the 20th century.
The Breakers is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Visit www.newportmansions.org for more information about visiting The Breakers and the other 10 historic properties owned and operated by the Preservation Society of Newport County.
To suggest a building for a future “Historic Building Spotlight,” email columns@architecturaltrust.org.To learn more about donating a historic preservation easement on your historic property, contact the Trust for Architectural Easements, at 888-831-2107 or info@architecturaltrust.org, or visit the Trust’s website at www.architecturaltrust.org.

Historic Architecture Guide

Beaux-Arts, 1893-1920

Rosecliff, Newport, R.I.

Rosecliff, Newport, R.I.

Known for its bold and stately grandeur, the American Beaux-Arts style was named after the Ecolé des Beaux-Arts (“School of the Fine Arts”) in Paris. Founded in 1648, the Ecolé was the most renowned architecture school in the world in the 19th and early-20th centuries. The school boasted an international student body, and welcomed many Americans as students, including Richard Morris Hunt, one of the foremost architects in American architectural history.

An Ecolé education in architecture was grounded in intense study of the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome and the Italian Renaissance. New buildings were designed after these precedents. The Beaux-Arts style, alternatively referred to as the Renaissance Revival style, was marked by stately and symmetrical facades and floor plans, a super-human scale, an abundance of elegant classical details – giant columns, cornices, pediments, and porticos, and the color white, preferably in marble. These enduring characteristics ensured the style’s wide versatility and appeal.

The Beaux-Arts style was first used on a large scale at the World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893. Ecolé-trained American architects (including Hunt) designed the White City, a small city’s-worth of exposition buildings, for the event. The Beaux-Arts style imparted both grandeur and orderliness to the fairgrounds.

Beaux-Arts building in New Bedford, Mass.

Beaux-Arts building in New Bedford, Mass.

After the exposition, the style was widely copied and utilized across the country, particularly for government buildings, college campuses, and homes of the wealthy. Several of the “cottages” built in Newport, R.I., as the summer homes of the nation’s elite were erected in this style, including the Vanderbilts’ The Breakers. Suggestive of Old World opulence, the style fell out of favor after World War I.

To suggest an architectural style for a future “Historic Architecture Guide,” email columns@architecturaltrust.org.