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.

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.