Historic and architecturally significant homes will be saved with each of the first four steps. But preservation Step Five is the most powerful step. It will guarantee that the historic or architecturally significant home will be spared from being torn down. This final preservation step perpetuates the life of a historic or architecturally significant home and heavily penalizes anyone in the future with the proceeds going to the seller or the seller’s heirs if the home ever does get torn down. The more money invested in the renovation of the home, the less likely someone in the future will want to tear it down.
Step Five – Create architectural deed restrictions and architectural easements that allow renovation but prohibit devastation.
Placing architectural deed restrictions and easements on a home is a powerful tool for saving homes. Architectural deed restrictions and architectural easements can be customized for each home in a way that allows a buyer who appreciates architecturally significant or historic homes to renovate or expand the home in the way they desire, while at the same time preserving the best architectural features of the home. Most important, architectural deed restrictions and easements prevent the historic home from being torn down.
Architectural Deed Restrictions and Easements from Early in my Career to Recent Transactions Successfully Saved Homes
Previously I have written that my first real estate transaction was negotiating 22 options on rundown divided-up rent houses on behalf of the Historic Dallas Fund, a revolving fund. My next transactions were selling these homes with architectural deed restrictions and easements that required them to be returned to single-family homes with their original facade. Every few years since then, I have worked with buyers and sellers to include an architectural deed restriction and architectural easement in a transaction.
Last year, one of the most vulnerable historically and architecturally significant homes in Highland Park was preserved with an architectural deed restriction and architectural easement I initiated. This was a small Normandy style cottage designed by legendary Dallas architect Mark Lemmon for his family’s personal residence. Since this home was placed on two large Highland Park lots, making up almost a half-acre of land, it was particularly vulnerable to being torn down. The seller years in advance had put a plan in place to preserve and protect this home. In saving homes, a buyer is just as important as the seller. Buyers and sellers with a shared interest in the community and in the cultural enlightenment of the community are perfect to implement architectural deed restrictions. The buyer of the home was perfectly agreeable to the design restraints that would prevent the front or side facade from being altered or any part of the land sold off. This sophisticated buyer loved history, architecture and Dallas, and was happy to help preserve the home’s legacy. This is a perfect example where the seller did not have to make any sacrifices in the sales price and was able to make a contribution to Dallas and its architectural landscape by selling it to a buyer with the same interest in saving and preserving this significant home.
These Five Preservation Steps Should Be Accompanied with the Right Attitude Towards Historic Homes
These five steps to saving homes will not save every historic and architecturally significant home, but they will save many significant homes that would not be torn down otherwise. All these steps should be accompanied with an enlightened attitude towards historic and architecturally significant homes.
The Architecture Community Should be Supportive of Historic Design
Architects, academics and critics who are in favor of saving historic homes should also be supportive of historicist design for new homes. On one hand, if people are told that historic homes should not be torn down, then on the other hand are told historic designs do not have enough value to be used today, the motivation to save a historic home with a historic design is diminished. Also, it is important to keep in mind that there are different levels of preservation and renovation depending on the prices of the homes in the neighborhood. Modest renovation in less expensive neighborhoods should be as celebrated as elaborate renovation and restoration in expensive neighborhoods. Good restoration stands the test of time even if the finishes are not as extravagant as those found in Highland Park.
Highland Park and Expensive Neighborhoods Have a Preservation Advantage
It is often said that it is harder to save homes in expensive neighborhoods with high lot values. It is true, lots by themselves that cost several million dollars make historic homes vulnerable. However, these expensive neighborhoods like Highland Park generally have the most exquisite and exceptional architecture of the period designed by the finest architects in the city or country. Also, Highland Park homes have a preservation advantage in being saved because the values in the neighborhood justify extensive renovation that replicates and accentuates the finest characteristics of the home that are rarely seen today in new homes.
City Hall Can Also Help Save Historic Homes Without Imposing Extra Restrictions on Property Owners
Rather than prohibiting houses being torn down, or imposing other legislation that makes property owners sometimes feel comfortable, City Hall can create kinder legislation for homes. For instance, many older homes in Highland Park and my hometown of Hinsdale have different setbacks and building codes for the primary and secondary structures. Legislation could be in place that allows historic homes and their secondary structures to be renovated or expanded using their original setbacks and code. If someone expands a secondary structure and then wants to get a permit to tear down the primary structure, the entire lot would have to be cleared.
In addition, quality renovation often takes longer than new construction. If new construction has to be finished in two months, City Hall could allow renovation on historic homes to take three years. A historic home could be defines as anything built over 50 years ago. The least significant homes would be the most likely to be torn down first. More accommodating policies toward historic homes does not punish new home builders.
Shaming Homeowners Does Not Save Historic Homes
Further it is important to realize that preservationists won’t save homes by attacking or trying to shame a homeowner who tears down a house. That approach just fosters mutual animosity. Calling for harsh legislation that prevents homes from being torn down is not practical in Highland Park and many other communities. Proactive steps to privately save homes continue to be successful in every neighborhood and every community.
Draconian Preservation Legislation Will Never Be Enacted in Highland Park
Efforts calling for legislation to prevent homeowners from tearing down their homes places an unfair economic burden on individual homeowners and will never be enacted in Highland Park or other expensive neighborhoods with high land value. While some milder legislation could facilitate preservation, the five preservation steps proposed, supported by the local government, pursued privately or by nonprofits, offer a practical solution for saving homes.
Being Supportive and Appreciative of Those Who Own Historic Homes Saves Homes
While shaming homeowners or calling for harsh legislation does not save homes, what does save homes is being supportive and appreciative of those who own historic homes. Every time someone can publicly compliment, acknowledge or illuminate a historic or architecturally significant home, the better the chances that historic home will be saved. Public affirmation will also prompt homeowners to be more interested in saving their homes and more open to one or more of the five preservation steps for saving a home.
Many Historic and Architecturally Significant Homes Still Stand
Many historic and architecturally significant homes in Highland Park have been lost, but many of the best ones remain. If preservationists think about preservation in a more light, celebrate historic design, laud the homes and the homeowners, and reward those with historic homes with beneficial accommodations, we will be on our way. With a positive, productive and proactive attitude, if preservationists follow any or all of these five steps for saving homes, they will successfully preserve our rich architectural landscape.