Friday, November 04, 2005

Hidden Historics

With the century-plus age of many of our neighborhoods, followed by demolition and new construction in some places, it is not uncommon to find historic buildings interwoven in our modern urban fabric. A good example is the Clemens house on Cass in North City.

There are many others. If you drive the area near Powell Hall, sandwiched between surface parking lots are individual homes that were built in the 19th century. Another place you see scattered historic buildings surrounded by many vacant lots and some new construction is around the Scott Joplin House.

Many of these buildings are in places where so much of the original historic material has been lost, that the area is no longer eligible for historic district status. And if the buildings themselves don't have any culturally historic significance, they aren't eligible for individual listing on the National Register.

So what about them? Should they be prioritized for preservation, or should our preservation resources be targeted into more intact historic areas?


Anonymous said...

The Clemens house is eligible for individual listing due to who once lived there. Other scattered sites of older unique vernacular architecture are more difficult.

Anonymous said...

If someone wanted to rehab a historic building in an area that has suffered demolition to the point of no longer qualifying as a historic district, I don't understand why the individual buildings remaining shouldn't be eligible for historic tax credits, regardless of their culturally historic significance.

By declaring them ineligible for historic tax credits, it seems like we are writing them off from much hope of ever being rehabbed.

An 1870s building not eligible for historic rehabilitation tax credits just because the buildings around it have all been demolished? Why should that really matter?

Even if it's only one building, if a building provides a glimpse back into a neighborhood's historic roots, isn't it worth preserving?

Think of the Campbell House.

Susan said...

I think a lot of those buildings are eligible. Being the last remaining building in a neighborhood often does make the building eligible for listing. The context may be gone, but there are other factors determining the eligibility of a building. The problem is who pays for the nomination? Alderman are much more likely to use block grant money to pay for entire districts to be listed. If it is one building it is up to the owner to write or pay for the nomination. Which isn't something average people are willing to do themselves or can afford to pay someone to do.

Michael Allen said...

We need to preserve both intact areas and the "last building on the block." As Susan points out, buildings that have lost significant parts of their historic architectural context become more worthy of preserving, due to the fact that these buildings are the last places where there are traces of that context. Stabilizing intact historic areas should be a huge priority, of course, but buildings that stand alone are as vulnerable as those that don't. Look at the high demolition rates in dense, largely-intact Hyde Park and de-densified Old North St. Louis and you'll see that the buildings fall at pretty much the same rate no matter how many neighbors they have. Urbanists need to be on both fronts.