Saturday, December 29, 2007

Going National

That’s that plan, anyway. We’ll see if The Nation welcomes me in to its open arms. I started this project a good 3 years ago, and the recent developments of finding an architect and builder’s name has brought it back to the forefront. Well, that, and the fact that it is too damn cold and wet around here to do anything else. If I can’t bang on wood with a hammer, I might as well bang on the keyboard with my fingers.

This is all about getting The Petch House the recognition is so sorely deserves. I’m going to try and get it listed on The National Register of Historic Places. As I said, I started this several years ago, but after writing and editing for months the whole thing sort of petered out when it came time to get pictures taken.

The historic preservation people demand - yes, thats right, Demand! - that the pictures that accompany the write-up be archival quality, black & white photos. These run $300 to $500 to produce. At the time, I was hemorrhaging cash on wiring, plumbing, paint, and tools trying to get this old shack in to a livable state. Spending that much on photos was not in the budget.

Before anyone writes and says that their $129 inch jet printer produces very nice B&W photos, I just want to say that that is not good enough for the listing application. When I was researching the whole process of submitting the application to the State Office of Historic Preservation (SOHP) I found that 99.9% of what is referred to as “Archival Quality” is not really Archival Quality. That term is tossed around so much these days that it has really lost almost all of its significance. The use of the term seems to have really taken off with the whole Scrap Book craze that has swept the nation over the last 5 years or so.

There is the term Archival Quality that is plastered in eye catching letters on packaging in stores, and then there is really Archival Quality materials used by professionals in the trade. The photos must be the latter, and they are not cheap. Now that I’m not building kitchens and bathrooms, though, I think I can find it in the budget to get the pictures produced.

So what does it mean to have your house listed on The National Register of Historic Places? Well, it doesn’t mean much. It is really little more than a feather in my cap and a nice plaque on the front door. In fact, I’m pretty sure I must buy the plaque myself if I want it.

The recognition is little more than just that – a recognition. There are no other restrictions placed on me, the house, or future owners, unless I get any type of Federal or State funding to maintain the property. If the house is listed on The National Register of Historic Places I could gut the inside, build a giant pink pyramid in here, sit under it naked, and eat dog poop. No one cares.

If you’ll notice, in order to list my house on The National Register of Historic Places, I first submit my application to the SOHP. Each state in the Nation has a SOHP. These offices do all of the vetting for the National Parks Service that maintains The National Register of Historic Places. Ninety-nine percent of all applications that make it past the SOHP and are submitted to the National Parks Service for listing, are placed on The National Register of Historic Places. The tricky part is getting past those bastards down at the SOHP. {Me shaking fist at screen} Damn you, SOHP!

I think some people confuse National Landmark Status with The National Register of Historic Places. A National Landmark would be a building or place that is significant to the nation on a cultural or historical level. It could be a battle field or building where an important event took place. The National Register of Historic Places is just a list of buildings and structures that largely only have significance at the local or state level.

Both lists are maintained by The National Park Service. They are in a way just an inventory which archives the architectural history of the Nation. There are currently about 80,000 places in The National Register of Historic Places, and of those, about 2,400 are considered National Landmarks.

The reason there are no restrictions placed on the current or future owners of homes placed on The National Register of Historic Places is because if there were, only nut jobs like me would ever place their home on The Register. It would defeat the whole purpose of The Register. If individual property rights weren’t insured, then The Register would be all but empty.

It is only really when you get down to a local level that cities can place restrictions on structures deemed historically significant, and that has nothing to do with The National Register of Historic Places. It is really no different than the city preventing me from turning my house in to a 24-hour tire shop or strip club. This is what cities do. They create ordinances so that it makes it easier for us to co-exist. If anyone could do anything they wanted with their private property in the city limits the place would be chaos. As far as city ordinances go, preservation ordinances are some of the most benign and benefit the city in the long run. My house could be listed at a National and State level and still not be listed at a City level. These are all separate things.

Even then, if I’m listed locally in my own city, any restrictions are only placed on the facade that faces the street. The level of ignorance about this is astounding. Just tune in to a City Council meeting when they are discussing local preservation ordinances and you will see what appear to be otherwise intelligent people lose the ability to read and understand simple language that spells out the ordinance. For the last time people, NO ONE CARES WHAT COLOR YOU PAINT YOUR BATHROOM!

My own house, which is on the Local Register of Historic Places has very few restrictions placed on it. Only changes I make to the front facade that faces the street has any restrictions on it, and even that has nothing to do with paint color. It pretty much only has to do with windows, porches, and siding. That’s pretty much it. These ordinances are only designed to maintain the historical look and feel of the home as it is seen from the street. Your house, when listed locally, can be little more than a Disney Land façade on Main St. As for the rest of it: Go Hog Wild and butcher your place as you please. Right now, if I wanted to, I could gut the inside, build a giant pink pyramid in here, sit under it naked, and eat dog poop. No one cares.

Hey, maybe that will be my next project.

Hmmmm, eating dog poop under a pyramid. Grrrrllll


StuccoHouse said...

If I had trouble finding green tile, imagine the effort it will take to find a pink pyramid :-)

Good luck on the registry. I'd be curious to know what type of info. they ask in the application.

STAG said...

I hear ya!
In Ottawa, when a developer wants to get rid of a listed property, he boards it up, sort of, then lets street people live there until they wreck the place. It sometimes takes a full year to wreck a place to the point where it can be condemned.
There was a nice piece of property on Bank Street which took a little more than a year for it to be considered dangerous enough to tear down.

It closed a major steet for the eight weeks leading up to Xmas. Typically, the neighbourhood was more annoyed at the loss of business than they were over the preservation of a remarkable old building.
Here is a picture of it....

Ya gotta laugh because it hurts too much to cry!

Anonymous said...

In my town we have several historic districts and through the efforts of those involved we have achieved national historic recognition for whole neighborhoods - modest bungalow and mansion alike. i guess we are lucky in that we have not had totally put out a lot of effort.

We did apply for the Mill's Act which allows a considerable property tax cut for California owners of historic homes. It was time consuming and required a lot of documentation, but it is pretty cool in that our house purchased for 230,000. only gets taxed on 75,000.

Greg said...

Some one had to put a lot of effort. Historical Districts take more work than a single house. More than likely it was a group of people who inventoried the properties in the district. I'm sure it took years. You may be lucky in that you have an active community with a lot of like minded people. That is the real battle when it comes to developing a Historic District. We only recently got the city to jump on board with the Mills Act. That is when you get in to the whole "Federal and State Funding" thing. I haven't gone that far, but I have considered it.

Greg said...

"If I had trouble finding green tile, imagine the effort it will take to find a pink pyramid :-)"

Well, considering its me, I would most likely make the pyramid myself out of old-growth redwood lumber and then paint it pink with the highest quality in-door latex paint I could buy. Ooooo, and maybe some cast iron Eastlake bin pulls on it so I could move it around the house. I could Steampunk the hell out of that thing.

Ron said...

Sorry, Greg, I only now noticed you had two posts on this subject, and commented on the most recent one first. Still, remember you have to first go the local Historic Preservation Commission with your application.

You are absolutely correct about the local preservation ordinance only covering the "streetscape", but believe it or not there are actually 50 or so homes in Eureka which do have covenants on the title which restrict somewhat what you can do inside.

These are the homes covered by what are popularly called the "Caltrans Covenants". A few decades ago the State Transportation Department (Caltrans) was going to construct a freeway through the middle of town, and in preparation for this started purchasing the homes in the right-of_way, a swath two blocks wide and a couple miles long. They purchased about 100 homes, and rented most while they waited for the project to begin.

Among these were some really nice historic structures (I own one of them at Washington and A). When the freeway plan was fortunately abandoned Caltrans decided to sell them, but first put restrictive covenants on about 50 of the more historic homes that protected historic features, including the inside. So our home on Washington and A for example prohibits removing distinctive outside features on all four sides including the back (water table, fish scale siding, brackets, windows, etc), AND the inside such as the staircase, clawfoot tub, doors, kitchen cupboards, etc) without permission of the Eureka Heritage Society to whom the covenants were assigned.

I am not sure how many cities have homes with such restrictions, but here in Eureka we sure do. The convents are attached to your title so they pass to the next owner if the property is sold.

Ragnar said...

What would be the mag
tter with getting a classic analog camera, buying a B&W film and have the pictures developed? That would be more expensive than color prints off a digital picture, but still much cheaper than buying a new printer - besides, ink and paper are often more expensive than having the pictures printed by a professional. I burn mine on a CD and drop them at the supermarket.

Greg said...


Actually it wouldn't. As I said, the cost is $300 to $500 for just a basic set of prints.

The cost is in the paper and the professionally developed prints. You can't just drop off the film at the Photo-Mat. The National Parks Service gives specific guide-lines about what developing process, inks, and papers can be used for the photos to be considered archival quality.

If I bought the $200 printer it comes with a full set of ink. A package of high-quality paper is about $25. As it turns out, I found one of the listed Epson printers at Staples (a large office supply place) for $99.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Local Preservation Ordinances pertain to any facade that can be seen from a person standing on the sidewalk. So if your house stands alone that means at least 3 sides, and if you are on a corner like I am, all 4. If there are bushes or fences interrupting the sight lines then whatever is behind them "can" be altered if approved.


Greg said...


You may be right. I tend to write in general terms. I don't quote the text of the ordinance, and anyone thinking my blog is a good place to get the actual facts, is making a big mistake.