Historic preservation month post: building the capacity for self-help and "Rehab Addict" as an example of how more could be done
The first section of this post is an extract from a March entry. It comes up again because Suzanne and I just "argued" about this issue, and how Nicole Curtis (see below) keeps writing on her facebook page that she can't be the savior in response to all the plaintive queries she gets about helping people save historic houses in their various neighborhoods across the country. (S is a fervent believer in tough love...)
I keep saying that Nicole Curtis, and especially DIY Network and the HGTV Network, should step up and provide more information and resources so that people can better help themselves and build their own capacity to do what historic preservation minded house rehabbers do....
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Rehab Addict," featuring Nicole Curtis, who grew up in Metropolitan Detroit and now does architecturally-sensitive rehabs of problem properties in the Minneapolis and Detroit areas, which are featured on her show ("Nicole Curtis of 'Rehab Addict' no ordinary house flipper," LaCrosse Tribune; "DIY Network's new 'Rehab Addict' tackles burned-out Detroit home," Detroit Free Press).
I like the show because most of the others on those networks are all about new construction and ripping the guts out of houses (even though I am generally appreciative of the quality of work done on the "Property Brothers" and "Income Property" shows, and the hosts of "Flip or Flop" are reasonably respectful of historic qualities in certain of the houses that come into their possession).
.. yes, I know that there is the "This Old House" program on PBS and the companion magazine (which is great), but that show is a lot more hoity-toity in that they do projects that cost many hundreds of thousands of dollars, while the projects that Nicole Curtis does are much more typical of a normal person's budget and capability.
It amazes me to no end that the National Trust for Historic Preservation isn't a program sponsor and doesn't work to "utilize" Nicole Curtis and the Rehab Addict show as a way to increase the awareness of the value of historic preservation-based approaches to housing improvement and community revitalization.
Nicole has a Facebook page, which sometimes unfortunately for her, isn't run by a publicist--she writes it herself.
And as a person in business, but with a tv show, she gets lots of plaintive contacts from people asking her to fix up problem properties in their communities. Her response is "You've got to do it yourselves."
Of course she is right but at the same time I would argue that this is an opportunity to step in and step up and provide more in the way of guidance and resources... explain the process, the back story, of how things work, so people can begin to figure things out for themselves without having to start absolutely at square one.
First, while it's not her responsibility to lay out the process or information sources people need, DIY Network could do a better job providing support material on its website--for the most part it doesn't--for this show (and others) giving people more in depth information or at the very least a link list of resources.
E.g., a search on the term "National Trust for Historic Preservation" yields one hit on the DIY Network website and seven hits on the HGTV website. The hits have no real actionable information.
HGTV and NTHP used to work together a few years back before I started watching the channel, but it appears that this relationship has run its course.
Third, DIY Network/HGTV Network could work out a couple of special episodes for "Rehab Addict,"about how preservation works in terms of taking a project on and rehabilitating the house (e.g., with manuals like the now out-of-print "Rehab Rochester" and similar publications as good resources), how the historic designation process works at the state, local, and national levels, how to create a historic district and what it means, short features on different historic preservation organizations, projects, and resources, etc.
This should be done in association with preservation organizations and building materials salvage groups, that aren't the normal "how to" shows that she does for each episode on a specific part of the house, but are more about the "back story" and process.
For example, in Lancaster, PA, the Lancaster Housing Opportunities Partnership does the same kind of work that Nicole does. See "Nonprofits work to rejuvenate a Lancaster city neighborhood one home at a time."
In Cleveland, both the Cleveland Restoration Society and the Famicos Foundation--a Catholic charity--do amazing work. In Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation is amazing as is Design Center Pittsburgh, which provides assistance to homeowners seeking to do quality renovations, etc.
But there are many great preservation groups across the country and hundreds of positive examples that can be used.
Fourth, DIY Network/HGTV ought to create a form of "public service commercials", switching out an occasional network promotion spot (called a "bumper") in favor of spots that promote historic preservation organizations, projects, resources, etc.
There are many resources. Sadly, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is seriously dialing back on their publication programs. They have published hundreds of manuals and materials (including the Main Street commercial district revitalization program) over the years which are incredibly helpful. Now these items are very hard to find and I regret tossing old copies of their annual bookstore catalog to use as a reference for finding materials.
Here are three examples of the kinds of resources that the NTHP used to make readily available (from 2006):
-- "How to Preserve a Historic Home," National Trust Resource Center, Information Sheet #1
-- "How to Preserve a Historic Building," National Trust Resource Center, Information Sheet #2
-- "Working with Contractors and Architects; Finding Supplies and Furnishings;. Interior Design and Decorating, National Trust Resource Center, Information Sheet #32
2. The National Register for Historic Places, the unit of the National Park Service tasked with managing the federal historic preservation program, publishes many useful materials about the process of creating historic districts and different types of cultural resources and themes, as well as on the technical process of historic preservation.
3. Many great resources are produced by local and statewide historic preservation organizations. Although one of my favorites, the Rehab Rochester manual, published by the Landmark Society of Western New York, is out of print (but still available via the miracle of archive.org).
DC's own Capitol Hill Restoration Society has produced many bulletins over the years about various elements of historic houses, architectural styles, etc.
The guide on creating a historic district published by the Historic Districts Council of New York City is specific to NYC but I think very helpful for understanding the overall process.
4. Local and state historic preservation agencies publish important resources. For example, I mention from time to time particularly great examples of local historic preservation manuals, such as from Montgomery County Maryland, the Richmond, Virginia, and Roanoke, Virginia, along with the Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual.
I have always found useful materials published by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency on "Main Street Design" and the Illinois Main Street program, but there are many such resources available to us.
5. Including international resources published by programs in other countries, especially the UK, as well as by UNESCO and other organizations.