Respectful rehab: keeping your house historic

By Janice Calpo Special to the Viewpoint

Curtis Park is recognized citywide for many great qualities - the park with all its activities, an abundance of trees, setback sidewalks with historic streetlights, and a friendliness that comes with being a long-established neighborhood.

High among the qualities that set Curtis Park apart is its remarkable collection of historic houses. Every one of these houses is important to the collective history of the neighborhood. For homeowners looking to renovate or add on, an understanding of what lends historic significance to an older house will help guide decisions that are respectful to the house and its place in the historic neighborhood.

The houses of Curtis Park were built predominantly between 1907 and 1940. California bungalows and Craftsman homes of the early part of the 20th century stand alongside Tudor and revival styles of the 1920s and 1930s, as well as other styles that were popular during the period when Curtis Park was established. All represent early ideals that became part of the architectural character of Curtis Park.

No matter the particular style, however, older homes are a composite of their individual features: roof form, porches, window style and arrangement, building materials, and architectural details that add up to a unique statement about the house. Alteration or destruction of these features would erode the very essence not only of the house, but of the neighborhood in which it lies.

Here are some considerations homeowners can make when undertaking a remodel or renovation of their historic house. Taking into account three of the most important features that define its character can help preserve the integrity of the house and its relationship to the neighborhood.

Windows reflect the distinct craftsmanship of the home's era or origin. They are set at a depth within their frames and have moving sash with muntin (wood) dividers that stand out visually and show relief and texture. Windows in homes now reaching 60 to 100 years old may be encountering problems normal to their age -- sticking or rattling, latches breaking, broken sash cords, built-up or peeling paint, or failure to be air tight. These types of problems are among the easiest to fix, and can be done by the homeowner or with professional help. A tune-up and proper weatherization can put these windows back in working order and provide energy efficiency for another 100 years (much longer than the life expectancy of a replacement). The loss of a historic window leaves a void that can never be filled by flat vinyl.

Façade materials:
Original sheathing, such as the wood or shingle siding of a bungalow, the brick of a Tudor or the plaster of a Spanish Revival are also part of the original craftsmanship that lends a distinctive texture and has developed a patina over time. Removing or covering over original facade materials with stucco or modern siding can result in a sanitized look that diminishes the historic feel of the house and its association with the era to which it belongs. Repair and maintenance of original siding will keep a house weatherproof and looking neat while retaining its historic qualities.

One of the most critical ways older houses relate to their neighbors is through their size, mass, and setback. The houses along each street are generally a similar size and form, and follow a continuous rhythm. Changes to the roofline or volume of a building can cause it to stand out from or loom above the others and break that visual continuity. By generally orienting additions to the rear of a house, floor space can be gained while the essential form of the original house is preserved at street level along with its relationship to the neighbors and the rest of the neighborhood.

Janice Calpo of Donner Way holds a master's degree in historic preservation from the School of Architecture at the University of Oregon. She is a founding member of the SCNA Heritage Committee and played a lead role in the recent Curtis Park historic survey. She works at Caltrans as an environmental planner and architectural historian.