If you think historic preservation is the archaic, lofty pursuit of the stately elite, the folks at the Architectural Heritage Center (AHC) beg to differ. They’ll convince you that historic preservation is all about preserving the livability and historic character of Portland and the Northwest — and that it applies equally to the grand courthouse and the modest bungalow.
Owned and operated by the Bosco-Milligan Foundation, the Architectural Heritage Center empowers people to preserve both landmark buildings and the regular homes and storefronts that collectively define our neighborhoods, culture, history, and create quality of life. They believe preserving historic buildings is essential for sustainability. The greenest building is the one already standing.
The AHC is a membership-based organization whose activities include delivering more than 40 education programs each year on topics ranging from researching your house history to architectural styles, period-authentic renovation to vintage home tours, do-it-yourself workshops to neighborhood history.
They also mount gallery exhibits, which are largely drawn from the Bosco-Milligan Foundation’s renowned collection of architectural artifacts. At any given time you’ll find stained glass windows, sculpted ornamental figures, vintage lighting, Victorian cast iron, and historic hardware on display. It all tells a story — and represents craftsmanship and materials that are very hard to replicate today.
To the AHC, preservation does not mean being frozen in time. New isn’t inherently “bad,” nor is old inherently “good.” But they believe a vintage building shouldn’t be demolished without careful consideration of its architectural, environmental, and cultural value, or without exploring possibilities for re-use. They also believe that in-fill construction should be compatible with the character, style, and scale of traditional neighborhoods.
For many, the AHC serves as a sort of “Clubhouse for Old House Geeks” (this according to author Paul Deuscherer) in that it’s a place where people can connect with expertise and resources, both through their programming and an online resource directory of craftsmen, goods, and services pertinent to those working on a vintage property. People renovating older homes — and now homes from the ‘50s are officially “historic” — can learn from the experiences of others who have tackled similar problems. Many new attendees are surprised to learn how well you can incorporate modern conveniences and energy efficiency into an older home while still preserving its historic features and original materials.
One upcoming AHC programs relevant to old house renovations is the Old House Fair. This popular free event offers the perfect opportunity to pick the brains of some of the best old house experts in the Northwest on anything from foundation to roof to garden. Mini-seminars run throughout the day and attendees are welcome to bring photos and questions pertaining to their house.
Are you a historic preservationist? If you ever walk by an old building and marvel at its craftsmanship… if you appreciate the grain and patina of fine old woodwork… if you love a tree-lined street of old houses with front porches… if you own (or dream of owning) a great old house with real craftsmanship from an era when “they knew how to build ‘em,” you just might be!
The Architectural Heritage Center
701 SE Grand Avenue, Portland, OR 97214
Tips for Old House Renovation:
- Know what you’ve got. Learn what style of house you have, try to determine what is original and what may have been “remuddled.” (“What Style is My House?” is a program offered annually at the AHC.)
- Keep as much of the original as possible. Even in kitchens and baths, don’t assume original cabinets, counters, and sinks can’t be refurbished. Reusing original elements is more authentic and sustainable.
- If the original is gone, remodel in a period-authentic manner — it will never look dated.
- Consider incorporating salvaged house parts, hardware, lighting, etc. into your projects.
- Visit your neighbors. Often neighboring houses were constructed with similar features — you might learn a lot by looking next door.
- Don’t assume you have to replace old windows. Only 15% of heat loss is through windows — most is lost through walls and roof. Adding wood storm windows, along with proper sealing, is less expensive, can be just as energy-efficient, and is far more authentic.
- Do the basics first. Address the foundation, roof, electrical, heat, etc., before diving into more “cosmetic” projects. That way a broken pipe won’t force you to rip up the expensive tile you just installed.
- Choose a contractor that respects older homes and knows how to work on them. (There’s a list on the AHC website’s Resource Directory.)
- Be aware of hazardous materials. Lead paint and asbestos are often found in older homes but with proper techniques, they can be removed safely.
- When uncertain about a course of action, remember the preservation mantra: “Do no harm.” Don’t do anything that can’t be undone if you’re not certain the changes are right for your house.