Posts Tagged ‘Historic Preservation’

I recently had the opportunity to travel Route 66 between Mitchell, Illinois and Catoosa, Oklahoma. This was my fourth trip on this particular stretch since 1998. I have to say that the experience was bittersweet.

My melancholy over the trip has to do with those original highway businesses that have disappeared since I was last down this way in 2007. At least four have been demolished and there is no sign of their ever having been there. Some of the bridges have been closed or replaced, presumably for safety issues. Other restorations are showing their age and need some TLC.

The trip was not a total downer (how could it be?). Most of the original pavement that was there eight years ago remains. Additionally, the signage has been upgraded along the way, so use of the map turned out to be unnecessary (I still refuse to use GPS). This was true in Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Illinois has had a good signage program for years, and what I saw is still looking good.

One of the highlights of the trip was the restoration of the Boots Court in Carthage, Missouri which has been restored to its original appearance. The unsightly gable roof has been removed, and the façade is sporting pristine white paint with red awnings. The neon sign has been restored and repainted in (original?) red. IMG_2869This building is a gem that is worthy of maintaining.

Another highlight was entertaining old friends at Ted Drewes’ Frozen Custard on Chippewa Street in St. Louis. This establishment remains unchanged from my first visit in 1995, and is well maintained. There were thirty or forty people there even after 9:00 PM on a late Tuesday evening in late September. I am certain that as long as they want to keep it open, this business will continue to thrive.

In the category of reasons for optimism, There was a vintage bridge east of Vinita, Oklahoma that was bypassed by a newer structure, but given the way the road was realigned, it appeared that the old bridge will remain in place as a part of history.  I was also pleased to see that a couple of the spans of the westbound Vertigris River Bridge near Catoosa were relocated near their original site and can thus be preserved without creating a hazard to the traveling public. IMG_2878 The eastbound bridge is still carried by steel through trusses.

In the category of tired restorations, the Chain of Rocks Bridge could use a bit of paint again. The restoration of the late 1990s is showing its age as it approaches its late teens. It is clear from the fact that a parking lot has been constructed at the east end along with some signage placed there by the Route 66 Association of Illinois that there is a commitment to keeping the bridge alive. I look forward to walking it for years to come.

I’m not sure of the eventual fate of the truss bridge over the Gasconade River near Hazelgreen. The bridge is, of course now closed, and the rust on the superstructure is visible from the interstate. The first time I crossed this bridge was on a Sunday morning, and the minister was just climbing out of the river following a baptism. The memory of that occasion will keep this bridge on my mind in the future. I can only hope that there is some effort underway to preserve it.

There was one section of the bypass alignment around St. Louis that I hadn’t been on since I was five years old, so this was the first time driving it. Believe it or not, I still remember coming off the Chain of Rocks Bridge and making the right and left turns that put us on Dunn Road. Because of the construction of I-270 and all of the development that has taken place, most of this alignment looks quite different than it did 55 years ago.

There are only a few hundred miles of the old road that I haven’t traveled, and I’ve only been able to string together a few hundred miles at a time. I look forward to the time when I can string together a few weeks to drive the entire route.



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I have posted multiple times arguments for sprinklering buildings.  Most of the time when one thinks of fire protection systems, new construction comes to mind.  When NBC 29 Television in Charlottesville recently reported that the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation installed a new HI-FOG fire sprinkler at Monticello, it dawned on me that there is a place in historic preservation for fire sprinklers.

 That said, when preserving a historic property, first priority is to preserve as much original historic fabric as possible, making “minimal change to its distinctive materials, features, and spatial relationships” 1  To a great extent, it would give one pause to go boring holes in 200+ year old plaster.  But think of the consequence of not doing this and losing a significant historic structure to fire.

 Most of the historic buildings around here are wood framed, as the colonists did not have the resources to construct stone buildings.  As such, given the right combination of ignition and a good draft, the fuel contributed by the unprotected framing would go up in flames quickly running the risk of losing the entire structure and the historic fabric.

 So given the advances in fire protection technology over the last century, it makes sense to sacrifice small amounts of historic plaster in discrete locations for the good of the entire structure.  To be sure, there may be some water damage following a sprinkler activation, but water damage is reversible.  Reducing a historic structure to charred rubble is not.

 So to the staff at Mr. Jefferson’s Monticello, I salute you for taking a stand against fire and for preserving the house for the benefit of future generations.

1.  From NPS Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation

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The green building movement has garnered a lot of attention in the last dozen years or so with many sexy new buildings gaining LEED Certification from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC).  In the 1970’s when I was studying architecture at Virginia Tech the green building ethos was already alive and well and championed by the likes of faculty members Bob Schubert and Dennis Kilper.  The need for environmentally responsive architecture was reinforced by the first and second oil crises (1973 and 1979) during which time the price of a gallon of gasoline tripled.  The environmental geology faculty emphasized the finiteness of the earth’s resources, although logic would lead any reasonable person to recognize this.

Within four months of my graduation, I found myself involved in the reconstruction of the Greene County Courthouse in Stanardsville, Virginia following a gas explosion and devastating fire which burned the roof and original cupola off of the building.  This, of course, piqued my interest in preservation of historic buildings.  During the interim period while the historic building was being documented and reconstructed, we converted an adjacent building into a functional temporary courthouse.  It wasn’t at all attractive, but was functional and because the bricks and mortar were already in place, the county courts were back up and running within a few weeks.

It is at this point that the green movement and the historic preservation movement intersect.  Reusing existing buildings makes use of the massive amounts of embodied energy that is in all existing buildings.  Granted, older buildings require more energy to heat and cool than newer structures, but there are many energy related improvements that can be made to the existing building stock.  Because there are so many existing buildings, even moderate improvements in energy consumption in the existing building stock will have a huge positive environmental impact.  Think about the magnitude of the savings if we can improve one hundred percent of our existing building stock.  Additionally, we will be able to preserve our historical heritage.

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