In 1966, those who sought to preserve the nation’s historic places thought it was all about holding back the bulldozer.
After passage of the National Historic Preservation Act 50 years ago, few would have dreamed it could come to holding back the sea.
As a new generation takes leadership of the preservation movement, they are focusing on climate change and sea-level rise as well as obsolescence, neglect, market pressures, flood insurance and zoning-law changes that favor the redevelopment of historic places.
At the recent Florida Trust for Historic Preservation conference in Tallahassee, several sessions were devoted to sea-level rise, FEMA flood-zone regulations, insurance and related matters, said Bradenton architect Linda Stevenson.
Q&A: Linda Stevenson and Lorrie Muldowney
“They made changes in the flood-insurance program, and certain exemptions for historic buildings are no longer,” said Stevenson, who was among the local preservationists to win prestigious awards this year from the Florida Trust. Individual Distinguished Service awards were presented to Lorrie Muldowney of Sarasota and the late R.B. “Chips” Shore of Bradenton.
“It was one of the more eye-opening sessions I have attended,” said Stevenson, who teaches at the University of Florida. “We need to be worried here. We really do.”
Miami Beach has a well-known problem with nuisance flooding. Although some critics of climate-change theory attribute the problem to subsidence because of overbuilding, it is clear that no matter the cause, flooding is a threat to older buildings that were constructed on grade.
“Miami has it worse than we do at the moment,” Stevenson said. “But NOAA did a big study on sea-level rise all around the coastal United States, and in one of their charts, St. Pete is going to be hit with nuisance tides, and it is going to become a regular occurrence in perhaps another 20 years.
“So the pace of this is accelerating at an alarming rate,” said Stevenson, who was presented the Roy Graham Award for Preservation Education. “It is quite sobering, because what do we do with these resources, let alone historic resources right at the coast?”
New buildings are regulations on building in a flood zone, but raising old, historically designated structures is problematic beyond the cost.
“If it is on the National Register,” Stevenson said, “that always was a dilemma, because once you elevate the house, you risk losing your designation. In the national preservation scene, these issues are being debated, and you will see some changes coming out of the regulations for historic designations in the next few years.”
It’s the National Register of Historic Places, not the National Register of Historic Buildings. Moving a structure can cost it is NR designation, and elevating one could have the same result if it is determined that the connection with the site has been compromised.
However, with flood insurance premiums expected to rise, perhaps sharply, in the coming years, building owners may have no choice but to elevate, or, in rare cases, move structures out of the flood zone.
“Are you changing the context of the house?” said Stevenson, whose local preservation projects include the mansion Ca’ d’Zan at The Ringling and the Venice Train Depot. “The old-school thinking is, if in its relationship to the ground, that you are changing one of its important features, then there is a certain point past which you might damage that relationship.
“But I am thinking this is going to become such a commonplace occurrence that perhaps that issue will need to be revisited. It is a serious challenge we are facing. We are going to have to find a solution somewhere. No one has the answer yet, but everyone is talking about it.”
Preservationists also are focused on preserving what they can as Florida adds 1,000 new residents each day, leaving many longtime residents worried that their communities are losing their charm.
“People feel displaced and perhaps a bit disoriented,” Stephen said. “It is always the hardest thing: How much development do you encourage in the community, particularly when the scale suddenly changes dramatically?
“In preservation, we can’t really say that we want to arrest things in time,” Stevenson added, “because that is not how human beings evolve. We need to accommodate the world as it changes, so sometimes we define historic preservation as the ‘art of managing change over time.’ ”
Change is easier to manage when historic properties are relatively small and privately owned. Two local buildings were noted by the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation at its recent convention.
The Umbrella House Rehabilitation and Shade Structure Reconstruction was named an outstanding achievement for 2015, while the South Gate Community Center, also in Sarasota and designed in the mid-1950s by architect Victor Lundy, was added to the watch list of 11 “most endangered historic sites” for 2016.
The Umbrella House, designed by architect Paul Rudolph in Sarasota’s Lido Shores, is considered by many as Sarasota’s most important midcentury modern house because of the shading structure that covered both the house and the pool when it was built in 1953. But a storm in the 1960s knocked down much of the “umbrella,” and the rest of it was removed until then-owners Vince and Julie Ciulla rebuilt the section over the house around 2010.
In 2015, the Ciullas sold the house to Bob and Anne Essner, and they hired Hall Architects of Sarasota to rebuild the entire umbrella with durable materials and renovate the landscape.
“The Umbrella House’s innovative design redefined the American home for the subtropical climate in the post-war era,” wrote the Florida Trust in a statement. “The completed project is open to the public by special arrangement to allow today’s visitors to experience one of the nation’s most important residential buildings and one of our most significant examples of regional modernism.”
The South Gate Community Center is a midcentury modern pavilion that has retained the same use since it was built in the 1950s.
“The structure of the auditorium is exposed laminated wood beams supported by wood columns at two sides with floor to ceiling glazing,” states the Florida Trust. “The other two structural walls are brick. ... There are a number of issues of concern at this time: ponding on the flat roof, rusting reinforcements in the arched brick wall, causing the brick to crack and crumble. The air-conditioning systems have been modified and added onto over the years, and these alterations have affected the aesthetics of the building considerably.”
The creation of the non-profit Foundation to Preserve Victor Lundy’s South Gate Community House Inc. in 2014 put the building on the path to restoration. The foundation is fundraising to pay for a comprehensive study by architects and engineers to decide what steps should have priority.
In honoring Muldowney, Stevenson and Shore, the Florida Trust noted their career-long preservation efforts:
Individual Distinguished Service Award: R.B. “Chips” Shore, Bradenton.
“For 38 years, R.B. “Chips” Shore, Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller, spearheaded numerous historic preservation efforts, helped organize and support four local history organizations, educated and encouraged historic preservation and heritage education and served as the engine for making historic preservation a community priority,” the Trust stated.
“Combining his background in finances and technology with his love for his hometown, Shore worked successfully to save and restore 26 buildings, including the 1913 Courthouse and 1918 Carnegie Library, a 19th-century steam locomotive, several historical boats and farm equipment. Before his death in 2015, Shore realized a lifelong dream of restoring Manatee County’s 1913 Historic Courthouse, the re-creation of its original courtroom and return of its landscaping to a native, historic setting.”
Individual Distinguished Service Award: Lorrie M. Muldowney, Sarasota.
“Lorrie has worn many hats during her career, and there is one thread that held them all together — historic preservation,” the Trust stated. “For 23 years, she worked for the City of Sarasota or Sarasota County, always diligently working to save the irreplaceable.”
Muldowney’s achievements include helping preserve the historic Siesta Key Summerhouse Restaurant from demolition during a redevelopment of the site, while also ensuring that it remain open to the public. She was facilitator and subject-matter expert for the rehabilitation of the Gateway Bank, designed by architect Jack West in the 1970s. It also was to be demolished.
Muldowney also helped research and develop content for the award-winning “Tour Sarasota Architecture” and “Tour Venice Architecture” guide books.
“Lorrie is an excellent example of what can be done if you are willing to put your heart and soul into preserving our past for future generations,” the Trust stated. “She often asks, ‘If not me, who?' ”
Roy E. Graham Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation Education: Linda D. Stevenson, Bradenton.
Stevenson received her Ph.D. from the University of Florida in 2011. The following year, the university hired her to serve as an adjunct professor in historic preservation.
“This was the first year of the implementation of a new strategic plan that involved revisions to the curriculum and certain core courses,” states the Florida Trust. “Linda was instrumental in reaching these goals, including ‘Introduction of History and Theory of Historic Preservation.’ Linda helped recreate the introductory course, balancing the course content to examine historic preservation from both an international and national, and statewide perspective.”
Stevenson also has revamped and taught the “Preservation Building and Technology” class.
Stevenson has been a co-director of the Preservation Institute Nantucket since 2012. She also has mentored graduate students, many of whom have gone on to work in design with a historic preservation focus (architecture and landscape architecture), cultural resource management and local government.