Historic Designation Quandary

OLD historic article brought back from 2010

After reading a letter to the Editor in the Biscayne Times written by Peter Otto, I have to add my 2 cents.  Here’s what Peter writes:

Shorecrest, We Implore You:  Don’t Get Historic on Us – After reading Erik Bojnansky’s story about efforts to expand the MiMo/Biscayne Boulevard Historic District (“They Want to Grow MiMo,” December 2009) and Richard Laird’s enthusiasm about having his Shorecrest neighborhood designated an historic district.  I feel compelled to offer a few words of caution.
Why would you want to surrender your right to do as you please with your own home regarding the yard, hedges, paint jobs, remodeling, window updates, or any other privileges that come with being a homeowner? If Shorecrest were to be designated an historic district, residents would receive nothing but rude impositions from a group of Miami bureaucrats who will act as if they own your property.
Mr. Laird, as president of the Shorecrest Homeowners Association, this is not something you should desire. Take a look at the homes within your neighborhood.  My own tour through Shorecrest was a pleasure as it includes creative landscaping and wonderfully updated homes.
That is not the case in my historic district, which suffers from exactly that which you desire.  We are prevented from doing any of the creative wonders I see in Shorecrest, so unfortunately we opt for neglect instead. I suggest you retain your independence and your wonderful neighborhood.

There are 2 sides to the historic preservation coin – one side is the romantic preservation of the original architecture, features and context.  The other side is the not so pretty side which includes bureaucracy, as Mr. Otto so well puts it, and a not so well structured method of getting to the pragmatic side of this quandary.

Many of you know that I served on the Miami Shores Historic Preservation Board for over 5 years.  This was a purely voluntary role and during most of my sentence term, I was the only architect on that board.  The other elected members knew nothing about historic preservation or architecture (except for a few that owned and had restored historic homes), and were learning on the job.  

I can’t begin to express my frustration with voting and final decisions coming from the board.  Tax paying citizens being told how to restore their historic homes from a group of individuals with no real historic preservation training…..(SIGH).

During my term many things got shoved under the rug – a historic house installing the wrong awnings, therefore going against the historic preservation board’s decision,  constant mistakes by the permitting department regarding previous board decisions, and council overruling board’s decisions on a regular basis.  So why have a historic preservation board at all?  The final straw was when the city gave the chairman of the preservation board an order to pressure clean his Historic Cuban Barrel Tile!!  Blasphemy!

It wasn’t all bad though, we created an informative brochure about mediterranean revival homes and correct features for restoration.  We had several tours of historic homes where we pointed out correct restorations and original features of the homes and also were in direct contact with Dr. George, local historian with The Historical Museum of Southern Florida. Through the years I have seen historic homes destroyed because of lack of education or just plain ignorance from owners.  I’ve also seen gorgeous restorations from people that took the time to learn historic appropriateness. 

When I hear the words “creative wonders”, as Mr. Otto points out above, my stomach starts turning because this can either be really great or really, REALLY BAD. (and unfortunately, most of the time it fits into the really bad category)

So there is a conflict – the 2 sides of the historic preservation coin cannot get along.  Some cities have achieved this better than others, and some kid themselves about how well they do (like Miami Shores….hate to say it, but it’s true). 

Most homeowners don’t want to designate their homes historic and I don’t blame them one bit.  Historic Districts tend to address preservation as despotism instead of going out of their way to educate home owners about what they have. It always goes back to education – so what if cities sent historic home owners resources about their homes and their restoration? 

Start with The Secretary of The Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, have workshops from local historians, tours to enlighten residents about their local gems.  The problem is that it takes time and dedicated people who have to go through a lot of hurdles to get anything achieved (like yours truly). So what do we choose? free reign and creative destruction of our historic districts? or bureaucratic despotism?  [sensible regulations would be a nice compromise…in my dreams]

**if you are curious about the Coppertone Girl’s history – read THIS**

**originally published in Jan/2010

2 thoughts on “Historic Designation Quandary

  1. Good morning Ines,

    thank you for being my favorite Sunday morning provocateur!

    I loved reading your distillation of a very troubling issue that many people face relating to Historical preservation of communities: The right of the individual over their place in the overall community.

    What are One’s responsibilities to one’s neighbors?

    Should one be allowed to express their “Creativity” (as Mr. Otto calls it – I cringed too!) when it causes a headache for the guy across the street?

    And who determines what good taste even is? (Maybe I’m even wrong in assuming people care about good taste! You know what they say about ASSUME-ing…)

    And then there’s the question of a neighborhood even having historical significance worth emulating or preserving? Who makes that determination?

    I’ve been in the same painful position as you have, serving voluntarily on community boards that did not have either the background or expertise to exercise their charge, and, alternatively, with a highly qualified board that did not have the support of the “higher-ups” in local government to make any sort of difference. I’ve also lived in communities where that One Bad Apple, that One Pig-headed Developer or Obstinate MeMeMe A-hole thumbs their nose, and wallet, at the local boards, and ruin it for everyone. It’s a bitter pill. (Can you tell I’m bitter???)

    But here is one question I would openly pose to you, as you stand in a unique position of understanding both sides of that damnable coin.. architecture and real estate…

    DO you know of any PROPERTY VALUE benefits to living in a historically-protected community? Maybe it comes down to dollars and sense when talking with characters like Mr. Otto. Maybe its the only way to make the argument for greater control… does it mean that my home, my neighborhood, will be considered more desirable in the future, and will increase my property value over time? Will the additional costs of maintaining my home in a historically appropriate way be offset by its long-term gain? How do historically-maintained communities fare against unregulated ones from a financial perspective?

    Does Money talk? and can it talk sense to these mavericks that still think the rule of the Wild West is what our culture is based on.

  2. Have I told you I love you lately? : )

    There are certainly property value benefits from living in a historically designated home – no matter how much people complain. Historic Morningside is one of those areas. If we study property values of Morningside in the past 10 years, it would blow people’s head right out of the water, but they are one of those communities that do it right.

    Even in areas like Miami Shores (that also make me bitter) – historic homes sell for more than others (even if not designated) – same applies in Coral Gables.

    You pose a good question about what the criteria is about designation and of course many of the “creative improvements” are left to a very subjective interpretation where beauty is in the eye of the beholder and in many cases the beholder is whacked in the head.

    National designation is much tougher with proving historic relevance not just date home was built. In miami-dade, however, the home needs to be 50 years or older to be eligible for historic designation. I’ve seen butchered homes designated and then new home owners taking the time to undo the wrong and restore correctly, others just sit there awkwardly waiting for the right hand.

    I’ve also been witness while showing historic homes of people talking about removing priceless historic features from the home and I’ve never been able to sit idly by – instead take my time to explain the historic relevance (maybe costing me deals, but I couldn’t live with myself otherwise).

    I’m not familiar with a lot of the inside intricacies of each particular city – but yes, it’s all about value. It would make a really interesting study to see how different areas have increased in value (even with market downturn) because of their historic architecture.

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