Back in March, I wrote about the mysterious construction project around the corner from my house, on the corner of Winter and Chestnut Streets. The entire outside, the entire inside and much of the frame of the house was removed and then construction stopped. It’s now a month later and it still looks like what you’d see the day after a bad fire.
It turned out that, as suspected, it had to do with problems between the developer and the Upper Falls Historic Commission. The building is indeed a historic building from the 1800’s and under the Historic Commission’s jurisdiction.
I don’t all know the details but the case does raise general issues about the Commission’s approach to historic preservation. When this building project is completed, there will not be a single shred of the original historic material visible from either the outside or the inside of the building. The only original wood will be buried deep within the walls.
Two years ago, the building next door was rebuilt the same way – stripped to the frame and then totally rebuilt. The resulting building is a replica of the original building.
I understand the value of building a replacement that is a replica of the original, when the original is too far gone to preserve. Building a replica while preserving the internal wooden frame has no additional value to the neighborhood though. It’s only effect is to unnecessarily drive up the costs and construction schedule of these kinds of projects.
Even more puzzling, when doing any work on my own house, I only need Historic Commission approval if I change something that’s visible from the street. So why in this case, is the Commission concerned with, or have jurisdiction over, invisible wood buried inside the walls?
What do you think? Is there any valid rationale for driving up the cost and complexity of these kinds of projects, just to preserve original, but invisible, building materials … or is there something I’m missing here?