What Local Historic District DOES NOT do: · Does not regulate paint colors · Does not require repairs or renovations to be made · Does not increase taxes beyond normal increases for the City or County · Does not prevent additions · Does not prevent non-contributing homes from being demolished · Does not require use of historic materials or historic building methods · Does not require that you open you home to the public · Does not restrict routine maintenance of properties
What Local Historic District DOES do: · Recognizes that Oakhurst has a distinctive historic character important to the overall character of the City of Decatur · Encourages creative and compatible development with historic areas · Requires that a Certificate of Appropriateness be obtained for exterior changes to contributing properties, demolition of buildings, and new construction. · Applies only to major renovations to the exterior of your home. Interior renovations are not restricted.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ponce de Leon Court

The historic Ponce de Leon Court neighborhood will be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of its importance to the history of Decatur's development and its unique architectural and landscape features. The nomination is being prepared by Georgia State University graduate student Amanda Brown and the application is in the final stage of editing. Once completed, the nomination will be presented to the Historic Preservation Division's National Register Unit who will review the appication and submit it to the Georgia National Register Review Board for approval. For additional information on the National Register go to www.gashpo.org.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Decatur Historic Resource Survey Completed

In March 2009, the City of Decatur engaged the services of Keystone Preservation Associates and Morrison Design, LLC to conduct a city-wide comprehensive survey the City's historic resources. The survey has been completed and the findings will be presented to the public on Wednesday, November 4th at Decatur City Hall in the City Commission Meeting Room starting at 7:00 p.m.. The presentation will be made by the consultants who will provide information on the methodology used for the survey and the subsequent results. There will be an opportunity for the public to ask questions.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fighting Clouds in the Silver Lining

Background: Highlands is a neighborhood in Denver Colorado built from 1893 - 1920 by the working class that has endured decades of change and continues to be a vibrant melting pot.

The revitalization of Highlands since the 1990s has not been without a downsider for many Highlanders, especially those concerned with keeping intact the area's small-scale historic character and rich ethnic diversity. As gentrification has pushed up property values, lower-income residents are nudged out, creating what artist and entrepreneur Chandler Romeo calls a "loss of multip-culturalism" in the area.

Moreover, as the neighborhood has become more desirable, developers have cashed in on the decades-old zoning code and begun demolishing older homes once again, as they did in the 1960s, in order to build large multi-unit structures. Although Blueprint Denver - an expansive reworking of the city's zoning code adopted by the city council in 2002 - provided some guidance for preservation, its impact has been watered down by an economic recession and pro-development city politicians. Demolitions have been most prevalent in West Washington Park, Cherry Creek and West Highland, although nearly all of the city's older neighborhoods are feeling the effecs of this process. Between 2003 and the end of 2005, acording to a May 2006 report in the Rocky Mountain News, annual demolitions of single-family and duplex homes jumped 63 percent.

Efforts are underway to establish additional historic districts (beyond the city's current number of 44) to help curtail rampant demolition. Historic Denver and several neighborhood associations have played an important role in this struggle, and nascent anti-demolition groups continue to form. Realtors have led the call for action in many areas, recognizing that homes in the least-dense R1 zones typically sell for more, since homebuyers want to buy into stable neighborhoods with little threa of change in local character. A recent bright spot for proponents of downzoning in West Highland was the creation last year of the Wolff Place Historic District, an area several blocks west of Highlands Square, which will help protect 110 homes within its boundaries.

From American Bungalow Issue 56

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


"McMansion" has become increasingly common in our vocabulary as traditional homes consistent with the local architectural style are torn down and replaced by hotel-sized, out-of-place dwellings. The term McMansion, coined for comparisons to McDonald's restaurants for their ubiquity and mass-produced style, seems even more appropriate considering statistics cited in two major newspaper articles:
From the Los Angeles Times last July, "Leveling Restrictions on McMansions," by Nicholas Riccardi: "In 1973, the median size of a new American home was 1,525 square feet; in 2006, it was 2,248 square feet." And from 2002, the Washington Post's Shannon Brownlee wrote in "Portion Distortion—You Don't Know the Half of It:" "As early as 1972, for example, McDonald's introduced its large-size fries (large being a relative term, since at 3.5 ounces the '72 "large" was smaller than a medium serving today)... But price competition had grown so fierce that the only way to keep profits up was to offer bigger and bigger portions. By 1988, McDonald's had introduced a 32-ounce 'super size' soda and 'super size' fries."
Both articles point to the fact that McBigger isn't always McBetter.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cents and Sensibilities

Older homes in designated historic districts are drawing attention like never before. Residents not only appreciate these mature neighborhoods and the qualities that make them special, they also appreciate their - well, appreciation.

To answer the often-asked question about the economic impact of designating residential districts as historic, the Los Angeles Conservancy reviewed several studies of historic districts in Texas, Indiana, Georgia and Virginia that found that neighborhoods bearing the "historic" designation appreciated faster over the two decades from the early 1970s to the early 1990s than similar neighborhoods that lacked the designation. Although the data are now somewhat dated, they end to confirm what other researchers have since found regarding the impact of historic designation on property values.

In Galveston, Texas, it was determined that "between 1975 and 1991, prices increased an average of 440% in the East End Historic District and by 165% in the Silk Stocking Historic District. By comparison, the prices in other neighborhoods over the same time period increased an average 80%."

In Elkhart, Ind., the rate of appreciation of properties in a particularly depressed historic residential area mirrored the rate of appreciation of the entire Elkhart market, and in Evansville, appreciation in one designated area outpaced that both in an adjacent undesignated area of the same vintage and residential style and in the overall Evansville market.

In Indianapolis, "property values in the local historic [residential] distric increased at a rate [that] exceeded the rate of both an adjacent, highly similar and unregulated neighborhood and the larger area of Indianapolis."

Other findings pointed to more consistent home ownership in Indianapolic historic districts. "In almost identical Indianapolis neighborhoods, the 1980 ratio of home-owners to renters was close: 34% of residents in Fletcher Place were owners and 29% in Holy Rosary - Danish Church. By 1990, while homeowners increased to 38% in Holy Rosary-Danish Church, the ratio of owners to renters had nearly doubled in Fletcher Place, rising to 66%.

In Rome, GA., the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department found that "between 1980 and 1996, designated properties increased in value 10% more than non-designted properties and locally designated properties increased in value almost 80% more than those only nationally designated."

Virginia cities confirmed the same trend. In Richmond, the value of properties within a designated district, Shockoe Slip, inceased at a steep rate compared to the rest of the city. Between 1980 and 1990, the total assessed valuation rose by 245%, from $23,135,886 to $56,761,000. Citywide, the increase was only 8.9%.

A study of Fredericksburg found that properties in the city's designted historic district gained appreciably more in value over the past 20 years than properties located elsewhere in the city. Between 1971 and 1990, residential properties in the historic district increased in value by an average 674%, while residential properties located elsewhere in the city increased in value by an average of 440%. In 1971, the average residentia property value was $17,920 in the historic district and $17,060 in the rest of the City. By 1990, average values had risen to $138,697 in the historic district and $87,011 outside the district.

It's little wonder that interest in historical districts is on the rise. Ken Bernstein, manager of the Los Angeles city planning department's Office of Historic Resources, told the Los Angeles Times recently that "the success of the Historic Preservation Overlay zones, or HPOZs, has caused an explosion of interest in the last decade." Until ten years ago, there were only eight zones in the city. Today there are 22, and designations are pending in another 16.

From American Bungalow , issue 57, spring 2008, page 125 - 126.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Wonderful Article on Miami

Here is our favorite quote from the article:
"With the pressures of development, however, we are not only losing a significant part of our cultural heritage, but as those families are forced to move out, those neighborhoods are irretrievably losing their distinctiveness. In the words of historian George, "[As] we continue to lose our older buildings we lose more of our collective historical memory, our sense of place, our awareness of the rich past of our community. And we lose a vital source of enrichment in our lives.""
Sounds very familiar.

Miami's Bungalows: Orphans of Perpetual Boom
by Jose Vasquez

"Ninety years ago Miami didn't exist," wrote T. D. Allman in his 1978 book Miami: City of the Future. "[Yet] the Miami experience has recapitulated the experience of America-the dream that if only people pushed far enough into the uncharted vastness, they could escape the cold and corruption of the past and build for themselves a sunny and virtuous new world."
Miami is one of America's youngest cities. It was incorporated in 1896 on a three-mile-wide strip of land along the Miami River between Biscayne Bay and the eastern edge of the Everglades. Serious development began a decade later, when the influx of new residents and the expansion of residential and commercial settlement prompted the dredging of the first canals to drain water from the swamps on the city's western edge. By the early teens the city was growing in earnest. By 1920 the population had quadrupled.
That growth spurt, however, was just the ignition phase of what came to be known as the Florida Boom. Over the next five years, the city ballooned to 10,000 acres as South Florida became the nation's winter playground and the scene of frenzied real estate speculation. "The great boom did not just happen," wrote historian Arva Moore Parks. "[It] was created by Miami's incomparable climate, an abundance of available land and an extremely clever group of promoters" who tried to impress investors with "promises of an earthly paradise." It was not long before South Florida fell prey to this speculative real estate market. By 1925 the skyrocketing cost of living had created a severe housing crisis. The only railroad operating in South Florida, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of construction materials being shipped to Miami, imposed a temporary shipment restriction that limited cargo to fuel and sustenance goods. The following year a powerful hurricane laid waste to vast expanses of Miami and hastened the collapse of the teetering real estate market.
Unsung Treasures
Although South Florida has seen several booms since that first one, a primary legacy of that era was a belt of bungalow communities stretching along South Florida's east coast from Broward County in the north, covering Miami-Dade County and reaching south almost to the Florida Keys. These Florida bungalows have proven to be extremely resilient. For nearly 80 years, they have endured the region's humid, unforgiving climate and the assaults of countless tropical storms and hurricanes.
When I moved to Miami nine years ago I was struck by these highly idiosyncratic homes. In all of metropolitan Miami I could not find two that were exactly alike. Promoted as a "home of marked singularity," the bungalow was distinguished not only by an efficient plan and the use of the latest modern conveniences, but also by a meticulous attention to construction details. Multiple roof profiles, wide overhangs and flexible and efficient interior organization were prominent architectural features. Designers lavished special attention on their deep front porches. The use of such architectural elements as wood sideboards, trim, cornices and columns succeeded in making the textural and sculptural qualities of the structures stand out in the bright tropical sunlight. Today, although many of Miami's historic bungalows remain intact- a conservative estimate would place the number between 800 and 1,500, although thousands more may stand concealed beneath heavily altered exteriors- they are being systematically demolished or left to decay in the superheated real estate market that has dominated Miami in recent years. The loss is most evident in the area once known as the Edgewater subdivision, an eclectic neighborhood of California and Spanish Mediterranean bungalows that was developed north of downtown during the 1920s. During the past five years I have witnessed many instances in which whole groups of bungalows have been demolished over a weekend. Of several hundred that stood in the area five years ago, only a few dozen remain.
Tropical Domestication
The earliest reference to the bungalow in Miami, specifically the "Belvedere" type (so named for the often cross-gabled upper story, which was opened up to serve as a sleeping porch during the warmest months), can be found in a series of articles published beginning in 1916 in Tropic Magazine. The author praised the airplane Belvedere bungalow as highly suitable and adaptable to Miami's subtropical conditions. By the early 1920s the homes figured prominently in local real estate ads. Leafing through newspapers, one could find countless advertisements and articles extolling their virtues and the advantages of homeownership. "The word, Home, would bring up the whole history of our lives," wrote J. S. Andrews. "We want that little word to stand as a symbol of creative life and constructive happiness. We want the word 'Belvedere' to mean a Florida home, a Miami home."
The new developments consisted mostly of bungalow types clad in different styles, ranging from the popular California Craftsman to Spanish Mediterranean and Mission. Many Miami bungalow designs were indigenous re-interpretations of the California bungalow. Many of those models were sold as kits by Sears, Roebuck and the Aladdin Company throughout South Florida. Others were adapted by individual builders from designs in popular plan books of the time.
Miami's bungalows were the first widely built residential structures to embrace South Florida's early vernacular building traditions, making use of passive climate-control solutions such as raised floors, projecting overhangs and cross ventilation and incorporating indigenous materials-pine for the buildings themselves and oolitic limestone or "coraline" for foundations, chimneys and porches. Windows and porches were often shielded by canvas awnings or wire-mesh screens, giving rise to what eventually would become known as the "Florida room" and an aesthetic centered on a new, healthy lifestyle in which subtropical conditions were domesticated.In many respects we can see in these bungalows the early introduction of concepts and spatial themes that were to be refined and developed in the Miami Modern (MiMo) tropical home. Yet Miami Bungalows are still the most undocumented, overlooked and unprotected historic building type in South Florida. As Miami Herald architecture critic Beth Dunlop has recognized, "They are the unsung treasure of Miami's architectural lexicon and probably the least understood."
Preservation Changes
Many American cities- and many more neighborhoods in cities and towns across the country- have placed individual homes and entire communities of older bungalows under the protection of historic preservation ordinances and zoning restrictions. Owners have been encouraged by state and local tax incentives to make long-term commitments to restore and maintain their properties. Several Florida cities, including Tampa, St. Petersburg and Lakeland, are home to bungalow preservation associations that have worked with municipal governments to create bungalow historic districts. Unfortunately, Miami has no bungalow preservation association, and no historic district protecting any of its heritage bungalows.
In the 1980s, Miami-Dade County and the city both created historic preservation boards, which have had successes in such places as South Beach and the Art Deco district. In the old bungalow communities, in the opinion of South Florida historian Dr. Paul George, "preservation efforts haven't been a priority for large numbers of new arrivals trying to "make it." [And] the rising value of land makes it difficult for investors and developers to justify preserving the old when they can make more money by building anew-and vertically- on a site."
Many bungalows in more affluent neighborhoods have been lovingly restored and maintained, but these are exceptional cases. The only bungalow that is officially protected, the J. Jacob Hubbard House, a perfect example of a California Belvedere bungalow located in the area now known as Little Havana, was bought by the state several years ago and is now in the care of the Dade Heritage Trust. The trust has made plans for the restoration of this historical structure with the aim of revitalizing the surrounding neighborhood. It is hoped that its rehabilitation will inspire a renewed sense of pride among the community and encourage residents to reclaim their historic housing legacy through the promotion of the collective benefits of home ownership.
Whether any of this will happen is very much an open question. The challenges facing the preservation of Miami's bungalow legacy are nowhere more evident than in Little Havana, an area surrounding Southwest Eighth Street that can claim to have the highest concentration of 1920s bungalows in the city.
The dynamic commercial strip along Eighth Street, more famously known as Calle Ocho, is the centerpiece of the city's most vibrant and ethnically diverse residential district. The annual Calle Ocho festival, held over two weekends in March, draws close to a million people from around the world. There is a tangible sense of pride among the residents, who represent the coalescence of two cultures-that of traditional middle America and that of mostly Spanish-speaking Cuban emigres who arrived in the 1960s and more recent arrivals from Central America. Hispanics comprise just over 90 percent of the population.
Within this culturally integrated population, however, there exist stark socioeconomic disparities between those who live south and north of Eighth Street. In the blocks south of Eighth, more than 45 percent of the homes are owner occupied; they are thoughtfully painted, their lawns and gardens perfectly kept. The average home is valued at $350,000.
Northeast of Eighth, in the area directly abutting downtown known historically as Riverside, a predominantly low-income population lives in a mixture of single-family homes, duplexes and apartment buildings where fewer than 10 percent of households are owners. In this once exclusive development there are increasing numbers of empty lots among new apartment towers. The modest bungalows that remain, some among the oldest in the city, have been converted into shops or partitioned into cramped rental units.
Of these two areas, Riverside has experienced the more aggressive redevelopment in the last three years and appears to be at far greater risk historically. As property values have risen, renters have been forced out in greater and greater numbers, confronting the city with a crisis in affordable housing.
Despite the sense of foreboding one can read into this situation, the neighborhood is still a lively and colorful community that hundreds of families call home. As I stroll along the tree-lined streets, I do not sense among the residents an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. In this place-this community-the idea of the bungalow as "all-American" home is still alive. It is not the mid-century home of perfect manicured lawns, sheltered back patios and hidden family life. This is a community in which the streetscape, as seen and heard from the ubiquitous bungalow porch, plays a significant role in domestic life.
With the pressures of development, however, we are not only losing a significant part of our cultural heritage, but as those families are forced to move out, those neighborhoods are irretrievably losing their distinctiveness. In the words of historian George, "[As] we continue to lose our older buildings we lose more of our collective historical memory, our sense of place, our awareness of the rich past of our community. And we lose a vital source of enrichment in our lives."
As a professor of architecture at Miami Dade College, I have made a practice of involving my students in architectural documentation projects that broaden the scope of their architectural education. Last year, the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, located in downtown Miami, accepted my proposal to organize a documentary exhibition on Miami's bungalows as a way of helping to increase public awareness and understanding of this endangered architectural legacy. The exhibition was well attended and drew gratifying coverage from the local press. My students and I were proud of this work. Whether the exhibition changed anything remains to be seen.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rockaway Beach in Peril

Known as the poor man's Riviera, Rockaway Beach—a thin 7.5-mile snake of sand that hugs the coastline of Queens and Brooklyn in New York City—was once the summer home of the Vanderbilts, the Longfellows and the Astors. In the 1920s, many of these grand estates were divided and sold to developers, who built small communities in the popular architectural style of the time, and the bungalow colonies of Far Rockaway, N.Y., were born.
Now those beachfront bungalows and their public waterfronts are endangered: Only 100 of the 300 original houses remain. Dwarfed by massive new buildings—80 percent of all Queens nursing homes reside in Far Rockaway, and sprawling housing projects continue to grow, despite public easements—and unprotected by landmark status, the fate of these last bungalows is still up in the air. Though both national and New York City legislation mandates preservation and compatible development, the laws don't work unless someone enforces them.
Richard George in his bungalow, with high-rises in his back yard (Tim Davis)
That is precisely why Richard George, president of the Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association of Far Rockaway, Inc. (BBPA) is suing New York City's planning department and department of buildings, claiming they have violated their own initiatives. Founded 20 years ago, the association has tried a number of tactics to promote preservation. "Once I had to come and stand right in front of a bulldozer," George says. That was in 2001, and until last year, the city was still approving demolition permits. So George's group is taking the fight off the construction site and into the courtroom to protect the integrity of this humble neighborhood.
Rockaway Beach's six-mile boardwalk (the country's second longest, after Atlantic City, N.J.,) was once adorned with bathhouses and brothels, amusement parks and luxury hotels, which bloomed to life in the summer and were left sleeping for the winter. But during post-World War II expansion, Rockaway experienced the same decline that faced nearby places like the Bronx or Jersey City: Suburban settlements bypassed areas directly outside the metropolitan center, leaving boroughs subject to blight.
Their location, 20 miles from Manhattan, makes the bungalows particularly difficult to protect. Anthony C. Wood, longtime New York preservation activist, supports Richard George and his heroic efforts to save the houses. "These bungalows are really diamonds in the rough," he says. "Part of getting people on board is to get them to see the buildings, to fall in love with them. But the fact that they are so physically remote makes it hard. If they were in Manhattan, there'd be an army to protect them."
Dwarfed in Rockaway Beach (Tim Davis)
Many of the bungalows in this neighborhood—stretching from Beach 24th St. to Beach 27th St. between Seagirt Boulevand and the boardwalk in the Wavecrest area of Far Rockaway—were designed as soldier's housing in nearby Gravesend, then hauled by barge around the bay after World War I. The colony, built 80 years ago on the site of what was once the Dickerson estate, served as a humble summer retreat until its comeback in the mid-1980s.
The Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association was established in 1984, when year-round residents started to trickle into Rockaway Beach. But at the same time that the houses were at last owned instead of rented, and properly tended, development sprouted all around them. The 1918 deed from the four-acre Dickerson estate clearly affirms that an easement—guaranteeing public access to the waterfront—be preserved, but it wasn't until bungalows were demolished and easements violated that the association sprung into action.
In 1988, property owner Zion Halilli sold off his one-acre waterfront parcel to developers, who razed more than 50 bungalows on three city blocks. "They did it in the winter, when most of us weren't around," George says. "By the time we got back in the spring, they were gone." Yet the lot remained empty until 1998.
That's when the New York State Housing Trust Fund Corporation received an application from the Queens-based Margert Community Corporation to erect a multi-story apartment building there called Wavecrest II, despite the colony's easement. Magert originally promised garden apartments but later decided the building would contain 122 units of low-income housing.
"If public easements are ignored, it paves the way for the place to be chopped up, for further erosion," Wood says. "The sense of place is kind of what hangs in the balance."
Built on the site of 50 demolished bungalows, Wavecrest II looms above a modest bungalow. (Tim Davis)
Although the association challenged the application on the grounds that it would illegally usurp public access to the waterfront and violate federal and city laws, it was too late. Many Queens political heavy hitters, including former Borough President Claire Shulman and Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, supported the Wavecrest II application.
No one seemed concerned with the impact a six-story building would have on the modest neighborhood of one-and-a-half story, single-family homes—or with the legal clause that requires appropriate development. Neither did officials consider the easement, the right to ease, accommodation, and privilege to use land owned by another person. Both Margert and the city's planning department refused to comment for this story.
According to the Coastal Zone Management Act, which Congress passed in 1972, one section, Title 16, Chapter 33, Sec. 1452, states should give "full consideration to ecological, cultural, historic, and esthetic values as well as the needs for compatible economic development" and maintain "public access to the coasts for recreation purposes" while assisting "in the redevelopment of deteriorating urban waterfronts and ports, and sensitive preservation and restoration of historic, cultural, and esthetic coastal features."
Rockaway Beach juxtaposition (Tim Davis)
The New York City Waterfront Revitalization Program (WRP), adopted in 1982 and revised in 1999, is the city's own version of the Coastal Zone Management Act, intended to locally enforce the national act. In its own charter, the program states, "The guiding principal of the WRP is to maximize the benefits derived from economic development, environmental preservation, and public use of the waterfront, while minimizing the conflicts among these objectives. Through individual project review, the WRP aims to promote activities appropriate to various waterfront locations."
But if compatible development balanced with aesthetic values is the goal of the law, the reality is quite different. Today Wavecrest II hovers over the bungalows, violating their easements and spreading its pink brick wings across Beach 14th Street. Yet if the BBPA has its way, that will all change.
"They built private property on a public easement," George says. "The Coastal Zone Management Act says development has to be compatible with the character of the neighborhood, and they did not properly conduct a detailed environmental impact study. So the project is null and void." The association wants the city to restore the easements, perhaps even removing developments like Wavecrest, and protect the bungalows from future demolition. It hopes to require the city to review past applications and reverse inappropriate and illegal development.
"There are precedents for this sort of action," Wood says. He's referring to the "too-tall" tower at 108 East 96th Street that, due to a zoning error by the department of buildings, was forced to demolish its top 12 floors.
It could be months, even years, before the lawsuit is decided. But in the meantime, development on public easements and demolition of bungalows has temporarily come to a halt. Key city players are now behind his association, George says. "We even had the Astors come out here and give us support," he says. "Just like in the old days."