What Not to Do: Bad Things Can Happen to Good Buildings

Somewhere on Queen Anne / Photo: Historic Seattle

We’ve all seen those home improvement and design shows on cable tv that depict transformations of drab, boring houses or apartments into fabulous newly redesigned spaces. Instead of showing you what to do, we’re going to show you what not to do. In preservation, there’s something called “integrity,” which refers to the measure of authenticity of a property’s historic character. A building with no or few alterations has high integrity. A building that has been altered significantly has little integrity. Talk of integrity comes into play when evaluating a building for local, state, or national register listing. But in everyday life, we’re looking at curb appeal (or lack thereof) and gut reactions.

Our first “What Not to Do” shows an unfortunate facade on a 1915 house in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood. A peek at the side or rear facades reveals some of the original house. Everything has been altered on this residence—windows, doors, cladding, roof, and form. The original house is essentially unrecognizable now. Don’t try this at home.


7 Responses to “What Not to Do: Bad Things Can Happen to Good Buildings”

  1. 1 Hal January 24, 2010 at 1:45 am

    “In preservation, there’s something called “integrity,” which refers to the measure of authenticity of a property’s historic character. A building with no or few alterations has high integrity.”

    By that definition, any structure or complex of structures that have been accreted to slowly over time has no integrity. For example, you’re implying the Louvre, Versailles, the Ponte Vecchio, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Forum in Rome, the Parthenon, the Forbidden City, Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, The Shambles in York, Mont St Michel — all of them have little integrity according to this definition.

    You might want to think about modifying your definition to more closely match the observable world. Either that, or consider whether “integrity,” as defined, is all that useful to measure a building’s value.

  2. 2 Queen Anne Native January 16, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Well yeah, that’s not something I would consider lovely either. But contrary to popular opinion, not everyone on Queen Anne has deep enough pockets to update their houses in the most aesthetically pleasing, historically correct way. They shouldn’t be ridiculed into spending more than they can afford just so the two-lawyer families jogging by with their expensive strollers and iPods can feel good about how everything looks like a scene from The Truman Show. There could very well be someone in that house who lives on a fixed income — perhaps someone who has lived on QA since the ’50s, when you didn’t have to be in the top 5% of earners to buy a house here. Sometimes your desperate need for new siding and new windows to keep the cold from seeping in happens to coincide with a flat wallet, and you hire your nephew’s DIYer friend. It’s not like clothing where you can keep up standards by having one nice thing instead of four crummy ones — when the point is to keep out the cold, you can’t just replace one of your windows, or have just a little bit of historically correct new siding put on.

    Part of what makes urban living more interesting than living in a suburban enclave is that in the city, there is some variety. You can tell the houses apart. Not every house was built in 2003 in one of five floor plans and painted one of five possible tasteful color schemes. If you want everything to look all perfect and nicey-nice, move to a cul-de-sac in Sammamish.

  3. 3 David Sucher January 16, 2010 at 8:37 am

    I’m puzzled by the presence of the garage.

    Was that part of the recent remodel? If so then it appears that the City allowed a curb-cut on the street. But I thought that such curb-cuts are forbidden if there is an alley. And since QA has many alleys, I wonder if we could get some clarification about what happened here and when.

    My question is important because part of the problem with the house is the huge and prominent garage door. Now if that was allowed by the City then that is a systemic problem.

    But if the garage has been there for decades, then we shouldn’t mix-up issues and apply modern sensibility to a house which was in context at the time it was remodeled. (The 1950s?)

    And it appears to me that the garage is not new — look at the discolored concrete drive and the side-hinged garage door. The “mistake” of the garage has been there for years, I think.

    Now I realize that this post does NOT make any claim about WHEN this remodel was done. But I got the sense that it was recent. And so while I agree with the bottom line — it’s not a fetching facade — I think the historic context of WHEN it was done is important and should be included.

    Historic context of the remodel is especially important as this post singles-out someone’s home for public ridicule (let’s not mince words) and I think we should be very very careful when we do so and explain the whole history. No point in hurting people’s feelings; someone lives there and may love it. It’s ironic that a blog devoted to historic preservation should be so a-historic.

    I guess I am just a bit discouraged by the haut en bas tone here.

  4. 4 Alicia Langford Otani January 11, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    Gahhhhh! My eyes, my eyes! This remodel is less a crime against architectural integrity than it is a crime against all sighted individuals. There is just no reason for that EVER.

  5. 5 Darcy MK January 11, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    I couldn’t agree more! “Don’t try this at home.”
    The word that comes to my mind is RESPECT! We need to respect our historic buildings and their integrity. Let’s face it, if you were nearly 100 years old you might need a little sprucing up too. But wouldn’t you want it done respectfully and not in something that was meant for a twenty year old?!

  6. 6 Gary Gaffner January 8, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    I have two thoughts about judging whether someone else did a bad thing, on the built environment as well as on people. On people I meet for the first time, I try to withhold judgement until I get a better all-sides view surrounding that one life, and try to hear from those who have witnessed a larger portion of the life I am judging. Likewise on architecture, or the lack of it in a broader sense.

    Before judging the above home on Queen Anne and rendering a “bad” grade, I would like first to see it from all sides and in the setting in which it sits. I can imagine some settings within Seattle in which it might appear magnificent and quite creative compared to its neighbors…though not too likely anywhere on Queen Anne. Secondly, I would have to talk to those who are residing next to, behind, and across the street from what exists there now, to understand what it replaced. Suppose it had been a burned out hulk sitting vacant for a decade,…a crack house…or occupied by ever-changing residents so disruptive to life on the block that almost ANY physical change was deemed a huge improvement to life’s wider context, nearby.

    Sorry…I’m sure I wouldn’t like what you see from the curb only, though obviously at least one person does, but my hope is always that time will heal. Q.A. residents will remember the classic home down on West Kinnear Place that was painted in zebra stripes, maybe 20 or 30 years ago, to much deserved clamor…healed some 5 or 10 years later.

    If you wish hard enough, maybe the skimpy faux vertical half-timbering above, which might even just be painted on, will meet the same fate. Try crossing your fingers and “hoping to die”, and you might be able to accelerate it. Gary

  1. 1 Blogging about your bungled bungalow | Seattle News Trackback on January 14, 2010 at 2:09 pm

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The writers who post entries on MAin2 represent various views and opinions. The blog posts do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Historic Seattle.

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