Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cape-Wide Annual Historic Preservation Workshop

The Cape Wide Annual Historic Preservation Workshop, hosted by the Cape Cod Commission, took place on Monday, April 9th at the Harwich Community Center.  Preservation minded folks flocked to the community center to hear this year's presenters, Virginia H. Adams, David Ottinger Ian Ellison, and Jess Phelps.

Virgina Adams's presentation, Comprehensive Town-Wide Inventories and Mid-20th Century Modernism spoke to the need for each town to survey its historic properties.  Properties that are 50 years old or older can be considered for inclusion in the state and national register of historic places.  Even towns who have completed surveys in the past will have additional properties that can be surveyed.

When researching your home, in addition to viewing survey's that may have been completed in your town, you may also refer to the list which is held by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, MACRIS.  The town of West Tisbury has put together a wonderful video on youtube that explains how to mine this collection.

Marcel Breuer
If your vision of a National Register listed house is one of center chimney's and 6 over 6 windows, Adams reminds us that the cape is home to many mid century modern homes that are historically significant as well.  Architects and designers such as Serge Chermayeff, Marcel Breuer, Olav Hammerstrom and Charles Zendher, embracing the modern aesthetic of the international style, were drawn to the shores of the outer cape.  For more information about the Cape's surviving examples of modern architecture, visit the Cape Cod Modern House Trust's website.

The next speaker, David Ottinger of Antique Buildings and Materials, gave a presentation entitled "Suggestions for Preserving Historic Cape Cod Buildings".  With more than 30 years of experience working on historic buildings, David has in depth knowledge of historic construction methods.  The Cape Cod Commission has posted David's presentation at their website.  He explains that in the 18th century, the term "workmanlike" had particular meaning and was understood by all.  When confronted with todays building regulations, historic building systems must sometimes be altered or enhanced.  However, this can be done in a way that is sympathetic to the original structure.  It is vitally important when restoring your historic home to consult with someone knowledgeable about the construction methods employed by the original framers.  What may seem like a complete loss to the untrained eye, may in fact only require a simple fix.

Dragon tail joint - photo from
 Ellison Timber Frames website
Echoing this sentiment, the next speaker, Ian Eliison of Timberframes, presents "Preserving our Historic Timber Framed Structures".  In slide after slide, Ellison shows images of timber framed structures that look too rotted to be saved.  However, save them he does!  When faced with a beam that is rotted at the end, Ellison shows how a new end can be joined onto the good section, saving the historic members.  You may view the presentation at the Cape Cod commission's website.

The last speaker, Jess Phelps, presented "Non-Regulatory Preservation-Exploring the Available Alternatives".   Though Phelps is not advocating non-regulatory preservation over regulatory (like local historic districts or demolition delays) he explains that where there are no protections or where the protections are inadequate to protect resources, non regulatory methods can help.  Sometimes historic resources lay outside of an existing historic district.  Or the resource may be on the interior, like a Rufus Porter mural, where existing regulations do not have jurisdiction.

One tool that Phelps outlines is establishing a preservation easement, like the 83 easements that Historic New England holds.  The protection is attached to the deed in perpetuity to provide protection long after the current owner has gone.  And, a preservation easement can be attached to interior resources that would not be protected by a historic district.

The workshop left me energized and hopeful that through a multi faceted approach and sharing of knowledge, the Cape's historic treasures will grace the landscape for a long time to come.

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