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Principles of Sensitive Rehabilitation

As Historic Preservation Commissioner for the City of Monrovia, I had the privilege of attending the California Preservation Conference in Santa Rosa recently. Much of the discussion and many educational sessions addressed the restoration and rehabilitation of historic properties. In that connection, I thought it would be good to share with you, as an owner of historic property, the basic principles for sensitive rehabilitation as published in an article on “What Every Restorer Should Know” by Susan Morse. These “do’s” and “don’ts” are aimed at both the veteran preservationist and the first-time restorer. I have made my own comments after some tips in parentheses.

  • Make every effort to use the building for its original purpose. (In other words, if it was built as a single family residence, that’s probably the best use of the property.)
  • Do not destroy distinctive original features. (Those crown mouldings and old fixtures contribute to the character of the home.)
  • Recognize all buildings as products of their own time. (Keep that original carriage house and figure out a use for it Maybe a garage?)
  • Recognize and respect changes that have taken place over time. (However, if the changes took away from the history of the home, such as paneling over plaster, put it back the way it started.)
    Treat distinctive stylistic features or examples of skilled craftwork sensitively. (Protect that Batchelder fireplace and those hardwood floors!)
  • Repair, rather than replace, architectural features when possible. When replacement is necessary, new material should match the old in design, composition, and color. (Keep it within the character of the house.)
  • Clean facades using the gentlest methods possible. Avoid sandblasting and other damaging methods.
  • Protect and preserve affected archeological resources.
  • Compatible contemporary alterations are acceptable if they do not destroy significant historical or architectural fabric. (Updated kitchens are okay!)
  • Build new additions so they can be removed without impairing the underlying structure. (Purists may want to put that family room back into the original sleeping porch.)

I hope this information is helpful as you tackle the restoration and preservation of your old home. As Monrovians, we have a duty to keep our historic properties standing and in good condition. You are the holders of our history and our future!

For more information, contact the me or the Monrovia Old House Preservation Group.


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