Friday, February 4, 2011

Cincinnati: Fires,"contributing structures', Demolition policy, Too much "Rubber Stamping" not enough preservation

An action plan MUST be developed for adjacent properties. The Preservation Community must do this because our Urban Conservator won't.
Did you know that during the War of 1812 the White House in Washington DC suffered a  disastrous fire?

Burned to a charred ruin during the War of 1812, the President's House became an object of shame and wonder. Talk spread of moving the capital inland with a suggestion to go as far as Cincinnati, Ohio. But Andrew Jackson’s victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans restored national pride and the idea of rebuilding in the nation’s capital became symbolic of triumph.

Certainly a good thing because if the White House had been rebuilt in Cincinnati it would be a non-contributing structure because of 'remuddling' . At least according to our esteemed Urban Conservator Mr. Harris who routinely pulled the 'remuddling" card as a reason to rubber stamp demolition permits.

The White House has been subject to numerous "remodels' over the years.:

James Buchanan added a wooden greenhouse on the roof of the west terrace in 1857, adjacent to the State Dining Room. This simple structure burned in 1867 and was replaced by an iron and wood greenhouse twice as large as the earlier one. In the 1870s and 1880s, additional conservatories were added to the White House, including rose houses, a camellia house, orchid houses and a house for bedding plants. All were removed to construct the Executive Office Building (the West Wing) in 1902. 

In 1909, President Taft had the West Wing enlarged, adding the first oval office. Herbert Hoover remodeled the wing and rebuilt it after a fire in 1929. With the expansion of the staff in the 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt requested additional space, and the wing was renovated under the eye of architect Eric Gugler. He built a second story, excavated a larger basement for staff and support services, and moved the oval office from the south to its present location in the southeast corner, adjacent to the Rose Garden. The term "West Wing" for the new executive office space came into common usage in the 1930s.

 In 1948, architect Lorenzo S. Winslow built a balcony on the south portico for Harry Truman. This was hardly done when the whole building gave signs of collapsing. The brick that Hoban had used to line the stone facade was being stressed to its limits. Winslow began a full renovation of the White House, which, as one inspector put it, was standing up purely from habit.

The Truman renovation retained the original walls, the third floor and the roof, while removing and then reinstalling the interiors within a skeleton of steel structural beams on a new concrete foundation. Two levels of subbasements, and service areas under the North Portico were constructed, and the Grand Staircase was substantially changed. Of the state floor rooms, only the State Dining Room wall panels were reinstalled, but then were painted. Updated conveniences were added, including central air. On March 27, 1952, Truman
moved back into his new home. SOURCE for above The White House Historical Association.

Now I am not one to say that every building must be saved.Often ,especially after a fire it is not possible to restore a structure and certainly the recent fire on Elm, this building, a frame structure, may have been too far gone. However the 'too-far-gone-due-to- remuddlings-non-contributing-structure-rubber-stamp" shows an Urban Conservator who does not understand his duties and responsibilities covering historic district management. For example, what I am NOT seeing, in decisions of the Urban Conservator:

I am not seeing any Historical Narrative that would include the date a structure was built, who resided in the structure and their importance to the community, or any events that may have taken place at that address. In any city with structures as old as ours, this kind of research is critical as part of the determination of the eligibility or contributing status of a structure. Competent, well trained, Urban Conservators know that not just the architecture is a determining factor, but that a property may be historic because of who owned that property, events that occurred there or that property is part of a cluster of properties that represent a community that has a place in time in the history of a region or place. Mr Harris has been told numerous times by OHPO that relying simply on architecture is not acceptable.

The demolition of property by CPS, recent demolition of the property near the convention center and the proposed tile building demolition by the casino all point to a Urban Conservator and a City inspections/permits departments that are seriously 'disconnected' with any preservation interests. In  my view , either the Urban Conservator gets the training he needs, or he should be replaced. Otherwise, preservationist need to complain to Ohio Historic Preservation Office and ask for a review of Mr Harris's decisions.Clearly this needs to become an election issue around the next city council elections as they seem to have no clue what is going on.

The real problem facing the Preservation Community is what happens to adjacent structures to Elm.  In the past they have either been demoed or merely boarded with no corrective action plan in place to repair fire damage OR make sure work done meets Preservation standards. That must change or these nearby buildings are doomed. In my opinion the local groups of interest such as OTR Foundation, OTR ADOPT and CPA need to get together, perform an assessment of damage and develop recommendations that can be provided to city inspections so that repair orders can be issued that are consistent with the need and PERMITS should be pulled based on those guidelines and the properties can be moved toward restoration.

IF the property owner is unwilling or unable to effect repairs, then proper legal steps must be taken, resources found or a process to get the property into the hands of responsible owners must take place. It is clear to me that the Urban Conservators office has no real plan, or skill to create one , therefore it is up to the preservation community to do so.

1 comment:

Dale from Avon said...

I was in Washington DC in the mid 80's and what impressed me the most was all the buildings they were rebuilding. All the old facades were braced with iron framing while the rest of the building behind it was built new. A lot of the buildings here are as interesting inside as they are outside, but when the insides are damaged beyond repair saving the facade is a great idea - whether it is braced or rebuilt.