7. PHILOSOPHY OF PRESERVATION
Americans seem to be eager to destroy their tangible cultural heritage by continually permitting that heritage to fall prey to the bulldozer. As a result, all that remains from certain historical periods today are written accounts and statements by historians. Although our cultural heritage dates back only 400 years, less is known about certain phases of our historical development than is known about civilization dating back much further.
Historic District architectural controls aim at preserving appearance (without change in ownership or use) where the setting is as important as the buildings, or where the interrelationship of a sufficient number of historic buildings creates a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Tucson is a city of valuable historic merit, dating back to the Spanish Conquistadors and later serving as an invaluable link to the entire Southwest. Despite this history, Tucson has yet to establish a historic zoning ordinance, and, consequently, lags behind other cities of similar historical importance within the United States.
Charleston, South Carolina, enacted the first historic zoning ordinance in this country in 1931. Dut to its success, other cities have followed suit. Some notable examples are Providence, Rhode Island; Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico; Alexandria, Virginia, Boston, Massachusetts; Mobile, Alabama; New Orleans, Louisiana; Sacramento, California, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. The first nationwide efforts regarding historic preservation in our country came with the Historic Sites Act of 1935. At that time, Congress issued a statement of national policy on historic preservation, declaring that "it is a national policy to preserve for public use historic sites, buildings and objects of national significance for the inspiration and benefit of the people of the United States." Since 1935, we have as a nation made progress in this field and yet those historic structures and districts which have not made the national roster continue to be destroyed.
The reason for preservation of historic areas is twofold: to provide present and future generations with tangible evidence of lives of important people of the past who have been linked with the particular area, and to serve as an inspiration and benefit for the people of the area both culturally and economically, eventually creating a significant and positive social impact on the daily lives of people and communities where such preservation measures are taken.
Unquestioning acceptance of the "advancements" of science and technology have led to the stereotyped and monotonous cities of today. Yet the rich heterogenous environments we seek from our present urban planners are already with us in the form of historic districts. Their buildings not only relieve the monotony of our urban spaces, but serve as a tangible evidence of our past and provide us with both the diversity and cultural continuity we need within our cities.
The Chief of the Miccosukee Indians said of the Florida Everglades, "You can't make it; you can't buy it; and when it's gone, it's gone forever." Tha statement applied very readily to the struggle for historic preservation. More than brick and mortar are at stake. Our cultural heritage cannot be replaced.
Historic preservation is a means of retaining the order and stability of the past by controlling the unknown consequences of the new. History is a continuous and irreversible process in which events are dependent upon one another. "The past creates the present which, in turn, shapes the future." Our present architectural design approaches can best be understood as the result of historical continuity. With this in mind, the purpose of architectural preservation can be seen as channeling change to assure the extension of a past tradition in future development.
Architectural preservation concerns a building or group of buildings which represent a definite period or architectural style. These buildings should possess the following qualities: aesthetic scale, outstanding desing and workmanship, rarity and quality of detail. Often these structures are valuable for purposes of study of a period style or construction type. When viewed in a group, such buildings frequently possess unique exterior spaces and a well defined scale. There remain a few American cities which possess within their boundaries historic areas which people admire, visit and write about. The dignity of Boston's Beacon Hill, the charm and warmth of Georgetown, Williamsburg, and Old Santa Fe, the uniqueness of the French Quarter of New Orleans, are all excellent examples.
Criteria for architectural preservation include these five: desire for preservation of a period style, uniqueness of material, spatial relationship, personal scale, and quality of workmanship. A period style, relating to architecture, can be defined as a building type which typifies the cultural and sociological characteristics during a specific time of history. For example, the Colonial Period style of architecture in America contains simple, small, plain structures which served the need of early settlers for shelter. As the settlers gained control over the environment, an elaboration of building form developed. Thus another architectural period began, based on past structures, as well as on the sociological and cultural needs of the settler. Whether the historic area in question is in the northeast or southwest, the stages of architectural evolution are similar. The log cabin becomes a statement of the northeastern colonial period as the adobe hut becomes a statement of the southwestern colonialn period. As development proceeds within an area, a building form develops unique to that area and possessing its own peculiarities. Thus, while sociologican needs are usually much the same, the cultural background of the settlers, as well as variations in local climates and materials, produces a wide range of diversity from one area to another.
The form which buildings take during any given architectural period is largely dependent on the type of construction materials available to that area. Construction materials determined building form by limiting or enhancing the settler's ability to copy his familiar building vernacular. He, therefore, had to adopt new construction techniques which resulted in unique building forms regardless of the building form he copied. The building materials within an area contributed greatly to the architectural style of early periods.
When viewed together, a group of historic buildings possess a unique character and value. This character was formed because of the need for a circulation system which provided the lines of communication in our cities. The individual buildings surrounding a square or defining an urban street space create a spatial relationship between each other providing the city with unique qualities. Maintaining this special atmosphere is a primary concern in architectural preservation.
The scale of historic buildings is often personal. By this we mean that the buildings relate directly to the human being. This is true primarily because our historic structures were generally designed for utilitarian needs which out of necessity demanded a direct correlation between the structure and the people using the structure. The buildings possessed an inherent scale, something particularly lacking in the high-rise structures of today.
The last criteria for historic architectural preservation is the quality of workmanship, which often characterizes historic buildings. The draftsman of the past has become extinct and with him the skills he possessed have died. Our older buildings have a quality of craftsmanship which the mechanized procedures of today cannot cuplicate. This is even more apparent when one compares the old and the new. We are all aware of this fact.
What these criteria of historic architecture add up to is simply, "When it's gone, it's gone forever," and we cannot replace it. From an architect's point of view, preservation has proved in several cases to be the most economically feasible solution to a client's problem when a decision whether to rebuild or restore is involved. Two main historic building types are involved in restoration and rehabilitation. The landmark building type which is the epitomy of a period style and a masterpiece of construction usually requires substantial funding and, therefore, does not fall within the economic reach of the average owner. However, the background building type--that type of building which when viewed in its surroundings provides a community with a historic character, is definitely within the means of the average owner. This type of building has proven to be a good investment following historic zoning of older parts of the city.
The economic feasibility of preservation and restoration is little understood and rarely anticipated due to the prevailing belief that preservation is a rich man's field. Today, however, this conception has proven blatantly false, as can be seen in the following documented cases:
"A 1900 schoolhouse serves as an "Architect's Office" in Vermont. It cost $8,500 including land, school desks, a trout stream and a bell that is still in tune. Improvements cost $15,000. Allowing for the land value and with 3000 square feet of space, the building cost came to $6.67 per square foot. To construct the same space new would cost two or three times as much in Fayston, Vt...."1
"A feasibility study was prepared on the soundness and adaptability of an old industrial building in Troy, N.Y., for apartment use. Preservation of the facade and complete renovation of the interior indicated a square foot cost of $21.90, comparing favorably with the cost of new construction and with the advantage of an exterior of substantial character contributing to the architectural texture of the city."2
Similar cases exist throughout the country to prove that preservation of background buildings is economically feasible and beneficial. In fact, the amount of money saved by preserving and rehabilitating historic buildings is often half the cost of new construction.
"All across the country, opportunities for economic benefits from preserving background buildings are being lost. Year by year Americans trade their architectural heritage for a junk culture along the highways. The charming shop on the green is now the discount chain store on the asphalt parking lot. Historic hotels become warehouses while tourists stay in motels on the highway. The replacement or the sprawling new construction is usually of inferior quality and causes sewage problems, more traffic, difficult security, and loss of open space and view. The problem preservationists face is not one of technical inability, but of values and priorities, particularly at local, state and federal levels. Without a murmur, $600,000 is spent to relocate 1 1/2 miles of road, removing trees and buildings and filling part of a river in the process, but it takes the legislature years of debate to decide on preserving a historic hotel at a real savings..."3 Recognition of historical structures with restoration and rehabilitation potential is the first step toward preservation programs.
Segments of the past, each indigenous to its own surroundings, provide a visual and physical link between the past, present and future. National and regional diversity and conflicting interests, however, have left motivation of preservation to the local level.
The historical resources which prompt restoration and protective measures vary with each historic locality. However, the decision to formulate historic districts depends primarily upon the availability of existing structures which capture the architectural "character" and "mood" of the spaces, the extent to which depends upon the quantity of contemporary and complementary structures. Yet few localities have retained unified architectural districts; either all or substantial portions of once homogeneous areas have been destroyed in the natural processes of time. But given a well knit community and some outside help and stimulus (including governmental), a historic community can be saved from hopeless deterioration.
Restoration and preservation of single structures may be feasible by individual efforts. However, when preservation has been sought on a broader scale, historic district designation and legislation have been necessary. Means of funding and encouragement of multi-purpose building usage, both commercially and historically oriented, have made a significant impact upon historic zone development.
Several historic districts, including the Vieux Carre of New Orleans, De Tonti Square in Mobile, and Old San Diego, have developed a compatible and favorable relationship with abutting twentieth century commercial and business districts. (Brief summaries of existing preservation programs in six cities appear in Appendix 4.) The proposed Barrio Historico, adjacent to Tucson's growing Civic Center, affords similar opportunity for commercial and social interchange within a localized area of unique and close-knit historic structures.
Efforts to protect historic districts and the legislation which govern the districts have resulted in the creation of review boards. These review boards determine the criteria for the selection of historic structures, restoration and preservation. The identification of historic buildings differs within independent historic districts, and the general criteria for selection lies with those characteristics and associates of a particular period, era or time span.
The historical structures may reflect a single evolutionary phase of architectural development or represent the interaction and fusing of several consecutive styles and architectural applications. While Chicago's Hyde Park-Kenwood historic district possesses a strong homogeniety of character and associations through a predominance of midnineteenth century Victorian structures, Old San Diego reflects the influence of three architectural styles and cultures imposed upon it. The Vieux Carre district of New Orleans is suggestive of a kaleidoscope of styles which gain integrity through their entire effect.
A historic site, or an area that is to be saved as a historic district, presents a definite problem. The proper formula for achieving preservation is still being debated by many experts and an agreement is yet to be reached.
Unchecked speculation and commercialism can overwhelm and destroy the qualities and atmosphere that have been determined to be desirable in a historic area. When it is decided that an area be declared historic, an ordinance should be prepared for the area to maintain a control over development and to retain an atmosphere of historic significance; without such provisions the area would develop naturally without control to the detriment of the district. For example, the Lincoln Home in Springfield, Illinois, began as a single house museum and is now enveloped by
An example of an area without an ordinance is the John Deere historic site in Illinois. It has no ordinance to protect a defined area, but the society responsible for the project bought the land around the site and managed for a time to keep commercialism at bay. But their efforts have not proven successful; the historic site is now a small island of history in a sea of commercialism.
Once a need for an ordinance is recognized, a method for achieving the objectives is necessary. No universal guidelines have been established, and each area must define its unique character and the qualities it wishes to preserve. Research must be undertaken to decide the approach for development of the specified area to make it a coherent part of the community.
One method is the establishment of an external design criteria to be followed for an area designated as historic. It follows research of the area and lists factors such as building height, setback, general material use, etc., which must be considered. This method when used by itself has not proved completely successful because of the latitude allowed those interested in commercialism.
The other approach is through a style determination, then a set of style requirements. This method often proves to be too strict except for the most competent designer and encourages a policy of modern copies of an old building style. This in turn produces a distasteful atmosphere and sterility in the area. Because there is little or no flexibility afforded the public, there is a tendency for the historic area to stagnate. An approach which is a combination of the two methods is also possible requiring successful weighing of the various criteria. The basis for the formulation of the historic by-laws must be set up and maintained, and the individual success of the historic district can only be determined by looking at what came about and determining if what exists has satisfied the goals that were set up at the beginning of the project.
A comparison of the general structure of the Santa Fe and San Diego ordinances shows basic similarities (Appendix 4). In both cases, historic zones were created to promote the economic, cultural and general welfare of the public and the preservation of a historically significant part of the community. A criteria and/or style determination of exterior design was made for the area, and an ordinance was formulated to express the evaluations. Committees were set up composed of qualified and interested citizens, and the evaluations as to adherence to the standards were left to the committee. The method of control over the area in these cases, as well as many others, has been through the controlled approval of building permits.
A basic format that has been consistent in all of the cities researched is as follows:
Much of the success of a historic district act and of the renewal of an area will depend on the promotion job extended by the agencies and interested groups responsible. The community must be convinced that a historic district will be beneficial to its interests, both socially and economically, and that it will benefit the area as a whole and the individual property owners therein.
In the majority of cases, the strongest opposition will usually come from those persons living within a designated or proposed area. This is naturally understandable, as historic district legislation and preservation has a tendency to be restrictive, especially from an architectural standpoint and more often than not places severe economic pressures on the residents. It is, therefore, desirable in many instances to use the following guidelines:
Promoting the program to the residents of the area is indeed difficult. There are many other aspects to be considered when attempting to do this besides just financial restrictions. Often these historic districts are, at the time of designation, inhabited by a specific minority group or a mixture of minorities. They are generally suspicious and resentful of intrusion by outsiders, particularly those with higher social and economic backgrounds. The government is especially distrusted, be it local, state,
Success will depend upon a proper tenant mix: rich-poor, young-old, black-brown-white. The most successful residential areas are those in which one cannot distinguish the economic or ethnic background of the tenant merely by appraising the structure architecturally or aesthetically. A historic district needs its own economic base, but it cannot be purely a business district. Sections must be designated as purely residential or residential/commercial as in the "Mama-Papa Store."
Also of high priority is the need to promote the idea of preservation to persons and businesses outside the area in question. In particular, attention should be focused on those who would be most able to relocate in the historic district either due to the nature of the business or the scale of the operation. Generally, there is a small range of businesses, which through zoning covenants, qualify for placement in historic districts. A typical, but partial, list might include:
It is desirable to attract merchants and professionals in these categories to move their offices or places of business to the historic district. Several approaches may be taken, but prestige of location is the most common. The responsible agency must be able to show these individuals that their businesses will not be hurt by relocation and at the same time, present certain guarantees, such as adequate parking, lighting, 'police and fire protection. In overall terms, the major significant goal of the entire program is to make the historic district and its residents a functional part of the City of Tucson.
Publicity is essential if community support is expected. "One of the cardinal rules of the real estate business is to let people see you in action. Identify the property as soon as possible and advertise it for sale. Historic Savannah Foundation ran ads in Antiques Magazine and in as many other places as possible to get not only young people but older people as well to come to Savannah."4 A prime means of promotion is an appeal to civic pride. This may be done on a local level through direct advertising such as posters, flyers, and in some instances, billboards. Another approach that has proven to be highly effective in England is the development of a promotional film. This media device is desirable because it is easily transported, can be shown to large groups, and can present the entire story without interruption.
Publicity will play an important role in the development of Tucson's cultural resources. "Magazines, pamphlets, brochures and maps presently published by the city offer an excellent opportunity to inform the resident and visitor of the nature of the preservation district. Care must be taken that the type of promotional publicity used does not sacrifice the integrity of the area for the sake of an imagined selling impact. Misrepresentation of the historical significance certainly should be avoided at all costs. 'Poncho Vias slept here,' is a product of pure commercial inspiration." 5
Restoration and rehabilitation is possible in Tucson, and it can work. With adequate planning and proper care, the Barrio Historico could become a valuable part of this community, both socially and economically.
1. Burley, Robert, AIA, "Economic Determinants,"
2. Ibid, p. 19.
3. Ibid, p. 20.
4. Adler, Leopold, II, "Economic Incentives," AIA Journal, p. 27 (reprint).
5. New Mexico - Development of Historic Areas.