Monday, November 17, 2008

Historic preservation in a down economy, looking at Buffalo, and the carbon footprint

There have been a couple of interesting articles and blog posts over the last few days that made me start thinking about how historic preservation and the economy are linked.

One post by Lynn Becker on a site I very much like, ArchitectureChicago Plus, led me to an article in the New York Times this weekend about how down economies can be good for preservation - this article was about Buffalo and its collection of older important buildings.

The pictures in this post were taken from the article and slide show at the NY times, they are taken by Tony Cenicola/The New York Times. They show the Daniel Burnham's Ellicott Square Building and Louis Sullivan's Guarantee Building.

The article at ArchitectureChicago Plus by Lynn Becker is:

Weekend Reading - Ouroussoff Buffaloed, Kamin at the Piano

An insightful passage is:

"But, of course, historic architecture has two great enemies. One is prosperity, where a historic building is the obstacle to recycling the site to higher density and greater economic gain. The second, however, is poverty, where historic buildings are considered expendable because they no longer seem to possess any residual economic potential."

I would also add, that on a smaller neighborhood level, when there is not enough money to go around, there is also not enough money to do basic maintenance on the old buildings that we are interested in. For example, sooner or later, if you do not fix a leaky roof, water will get in and ruin a building.

The New York Times article is:

Saving Buffalo's Untold Beauty

Nicolai Ouroussoff
Published: November 14, 2008

I took a few quotes out of the article that I thought were very interesting.

About Bufallo and its preservation movement:

"And today its grass-roots preservation movement is driven not by Disney-inspired developers but by a vibrant coalition of part-time preservationists, amateur historians and third-generation residents who have made reclaiming the city’s history a deeply personal mission."

"Later that day I met with a group of local activists who have been rebuilding single-family houses in some of the city’s most run-down historic neighborhoods. On Richmond Avenue, one of Olmsted’s grand decaying parkways, Harvey Garrett, a strategic planning consultant, spent several years renovating a 19th-century Victorian house before an arsonist set fire to it in 2006. He rebuilt it, and he is now one of the city’s busiest community organizers and strongest preservation voices. Dozens of houses are now being renovated along the avenue, and an entire neighborhood that was once considered crime ridden is now livable again."

"What we see is a more egalitarian, diverse and socially tolerant vision of the city. It is both pro-density and pro-history. These residents have come to recognize through firsthand experience that social, economic and preservation issues are all deeply intertwined."

This sounds like an interesting movement. I think that those interested in preservation should join together and start doing their own development. I really feel that preservation and development do not need to be at odds.

The other blog post that got me thinking was on the blog of Vince Michael, Time Tells, this is a great blog that talks a lot about preservation issues.

Saving the Economy with Preservation

Vince Michael

The main point in this post is that saving old buildings is good for the economy, especially since the buildings are inherently local, and therefore the jobs and money stay local.

In this article Prof Micheal talks about some of the green aspects of preservation, which I think he points out succinctly in this quote:

"But back to preservation, which interestingly enough, offers a jobs-rich way to remake the economy. Rehabilitation of existing buildings is inherently sustainable – it makes the most of materials that are already there and takes advantage of carbon footprints made long ago."

I like the reference to the carbon footprints. I have often heard people talking about how preservation can be green, but I like the idea of the stored energy that is represented in a preexisting structure. The materials are already there, and the energy has already been spent on the construction.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Uptown Theater Sold to JAM Productions

The Uptown Theater has been sold to Jam Productions.

Here are a few juicy pics to get you interested. There is also a film that some local film students have created, this lobby shot is from their movie trailer.

Hopefully, with this sale, there will be a renovated theater. This theater is supposed to be larger and more grandiose than the Chicago Theater, which is downtown. The building was supposed to have "more than an acre of seats", somewhere around 4000. The City has had to do some remediation work, and some of the exterior terra cotta on the building has been removed and, I would suppose, stored. The previous owner was a notorious slumlord on the north side, and let the building flood through a leaky roof, and there was standing water in the auditorium for a few years, or so I have heard. Some friends have gone through though, and have said that the building still is very intact, and is still breathtakingly beautiful.

Unfortunately, this theater is not located in Chicago's theater district, so it is not in the most ideal location. On the flip side, there are lots of great live music venues nearby, such as the Arragon ballroom and the Riviera.

Uptown was a very happening spot when this theater was built. There is lots of great 1910's and 20's architecture nearby.

I learned about the sale from both the local NPR station, and a great local blog about architecture (from which I stole this next picture):

If this link puts you at the top, scroll down, and the uptown pics will come in.

More great pictures and history can be found at the website.

If you scroll around, you can even find the orriginal Baliban

Monday, July 28, 2008

Together: Historic Preservation and Green Industrial Projects

I have been having a hard time figuring out what exactly I want this blog to be all about. I have decided that the most interesting thing for me, and hopefully the reader, would be to have it be an idea showcase, both with ideas for buildings I would like to rehab, and for projects that others have done that seem extraordinary.

With that in mind, I think I will mention today a friend of mine that took an old, abandoned, and full-of-bikers building (of the hells angels variety, I believe), and turned it into one of the most impressive historic preservation, green, and industrial projects in the City of Chicago. This is, you read correctly, a green industrial building. This project is made even more impressive with the knowledge that it is a green/thrifty project. John, the owner/developer, is great at bartering. An example of beneficial thrift is that there is wonderful iron work in the building that was done, I believe at least partially, with rent rebates.

I will email him and ask for some before pics, but I came along as he was doing a green roof.

There are a few aspects of this project that are especially fun. On the slightly mundane, but impressive side, John has put in boilers that are 98% efficient. Wow. Apparently the first 90% is not super hard to achieve, but the next percentage points come very hard. There is a system in this boiler (that I incompletely understand) that has the heat exhaust go through a vapor exchanger so that the heat manages to go into vapor or the heat turns water to vapor in a jacket on the way out of the building so that it is conserved and leaves the building luke warm as opposed to really hot (like the exhaust would normally be).

The other great thing about this building is its green roof. John did all kinds of research to find ways around the status quo for green roof supplies, and used all kinds of other materials. But, even more fun, he pixelated his daughters face, and with 9 inch by 9 inch squares, put different colored plants, so that as one passes overhead on their way in or out of Midway airport, there should be a green roof/green baby face looking up at them. That is why these pictures have different plants in seemingly abstract patterns.

This last pic is of two unsuspecting folks standing by some of the cool ironwork. This is a nice example of how an ordinance (you must have railings and ways for people not to fall) into something really interesting.

Monday, May 19, 2008

All too often, one hears this said about a great old building: "it is too bad that there is not the money, or someone with the know how available to save that house, but what can you do. . ." We at the Historic Preservation Development Company are here to try and change that economic equation. If the community that wants to save old buildings combines small investments together with a company that wants to do the actual preservation work and has experience doing it, most of the time the project can get done and make economic sense. While thinking about what I wanted to do to try and save old buildings, and create a business, I had the thought to create the Historic Preservation Development Company. The epiphany I had was that the model of peer to peer lending could be used to save these historic buildings. I have a friend that used to put together the funds to start her own business, so maybe that model can work to buy, artfully restore, and sell old buildings. Often, banks will not lend on houses which have no furnaces and need roofs. From their point of view, and from their perspective, this makes perfect sense. It is hard to sell a house without a furnace. We will therefore skip the bank and use investor funds to save buildings while giving the investors a fair return (10%) for doing something they would like to see done anyway.

I have past experience in banking, building, and government grants, with an education in Art History, Music, and Urban Planning (who says the liberal arts degree is dead?). I am a member of Landmarks Illinois, and Preservation Chicago. I have been working on fixing houses and buildings since the late 1990’s both professionally and serially in homes I have lived in. My day job at this point is giving Tax Increment Financing (TIF) based City of Chicago grants out to small businesses.

Why is this model needed? I always like to show a picture of a beautiful old house that happens to be boarded up and about to fall down, and then say “would a bank lend on this house?”.

If there are those out there with comments or questions, I would love to hear from you.