This article has taken longer to write then I wanted. We have begun demolition on the 300 Buckmarsh house. So seemingly un-related…but completely the reason for my writer’s block! Demolition, which is part of the process when doing rehabilitation, is at the heart of a very passionate debate with historic preservationists. How much is too much? When is enough, enough? When does it “ruin” the fabric of the original structure? And of course, there are few folks out there that always ask….is it REALLY necessary at all?
So, having been out of the academia of preservation for a couple of years, I went looking to see if there were new answers to these old questions. Alas, no new answers were to be found—completely, shocking, I know! The answer-which is always the same-is: it depends. It depends on the structure: as it is, is it safe; or what is the depth of its historic significance? It depends on the owner: what do you want the building to do, and does it meet that need? It depends on the community: does the building function and meet the needs of the community, or does it have possible risks as it stands? These questions and considerations are taken up by owners, communities, and government organizations as they try to create a basis of restoration that works “best”. It’s a many factored process, and to be honest “historic preservation” has many different meanings across the US, and even more across the world!
But today? Today I am concerned only with a lovely little house in a lovely little town in the Virginia commonwealth. So, to answer the questions about 300 Buckmarsh: the pieces of the structure that were removed were additions that were added on over time-they were not the “original” structure. The additions may have functioned well for the owner in the era that they were added, but low ceilings, odd angles, and questionable environs lead them to not be healthy or functional for today’s people. That’s the key to good preservation! A structure that spans the test of time must function for the people that love it in those moments of time. That’s truthfully how a building keeps being a good, contributing member to the built environment of its community. It must function for the people that live, work, and play in it and around it.
That is our vision at Carpenter Beach: to turn 300 Buckmarsh into a home that bridges time. She has “historical personality” and “beautiful bones.” Preservationists know that we do not do what we do for ourselves (no matter how much we love it!); we do it for the next generation, and the one after that. The work being done on 300 Buckmarsh will create a wonderful new home for another integral thread in our community’s fabric. This vision allows a simple home to continue to be a mighty bridge, stitching together the pieces of the past with the possibilities of the future.
**Note, the pictures posted here almost didn’t get posted! I went over to the house after hours, and a very nice policeman made sure I didn’t do something stupid, like get too close or enter the building. Entering structures that are in restoration is not just trespassing, but can be potentially very dangerous. Never enter a structure that is in the process of rehabilitation, especially one that has had a recent partial demolition.