Saving buildings can reward developers and community

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Architect Wilbert (Bill) R. Hasbrouck is a staunch advocate of preserving vintage buildings as valued reminders of the nation's past. Yet, as head of his own Historic Resources firm, he says preservation must go hand in hand with a planned re-use of a single structure or restored area.

Mr. Hasbrouck is a pioneer among the growing number of preservation architects who specialize in restoring individual buildings or larger areas to their original condition.

''After all,'' he says, ''the natural environment has its Sierra Club, but too few people fully appreciate the need to preserve the buildings we use every day.''

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People need ''a sense of place to know where they are today and where they are going tomorrow,'' he declares.

''We use the preservation process to stabilize the building, decide the steps needed to restore it, and to consider the best uses.

''In today's depressed real estate construction market,'' Hasbrouck goes on, ''it is financially far more practical to preserve worthwhile older buildings than to build new.

''Sensitive rehabilitation of older structures provides profits; avoids displacement of people; and makes use of already-existing water, electricity, streets, and sidewalks.''

Mr. Hasbrouck draws on his 20-plus years of architectural-preservation experience and involvement in professional groups to tackle ''or sometimes turn down'' a variety of rehabilitation projects.

A fellow of the American Institute of Architects and a past president of the Chicago School of Architecture Foundation, he has been the architectural consultant for a variety of historic restoration projects, ranging from Chicago's Romanesque-style John J. Glessner House and McCormick mansion to the suburban Oak Park Frank Lloyd Wright National Historic District and the Widow Clarke House, considered the city's oldest existing residence, dating back to the mid-1830s.

His other restoration projects include consultation on the interior restoration of Milwaukee's 1890s Pabst Theater; the 1917-vintage Woodbury County courthouse in Sioux City, Iowa; and at present, the 1874 Delaware Building in downtown Chicago.

Because he believes that ''restoration and adaptive use of office space is the only game in town today for the real estate economy,'' Mr. Hasbrouck advocates carrying out historic preservation to serve the developer.

''Restoration architecture is a profession and a business, not a spare-time hobby for the dilettante,'' he says.

''First-class preservation requires that a building's final appearance be as authentic as possible and that, when finished, the structure serves the users well.''

Mr. Hasbrouck is concerned that some owners ''want to historicize their rehabilitated building, adding architectural elements that were never there,'' he sighs, adding that he subscribes to the Mies van der Rohe dictum that ''less is more.''

The architect's preservation views are reinforced by Amy Hecker, executive director of the Landmark Preservation Council of Illinois.

''Older rehabilitated buildings are very marketable and certainly competitive with many newer structures,'' she says.

Adhering to the strict standards for historic restoration set by the Department of the Interior creates ''a more attractive and salable structure than if new features inconsistent with the original architectural design are added,'' she says.

At the same time, Ms. Hecker disagrees with the Hasbrouck premise that rehabilitation of older buildings has far greater financial advantages than new construction.

''New construction nationally is still very competitive with rehabilitation, and many investors prefer to put their money there, with both private and public dollars available,'' she says. Yet she is concerned about the consequences of losing federal funds for state preservation projects.

''States are using this money to review tax applications, prepare applications for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, and for environmental reviews,'' Ms. Hecker says.

''If federal funding is eliminated, there will very likely be no more state preservation programs.''

She sees historic preservation as ''a basic cornerstone of neighborhood revitalization,'' reflecting the pride of the individual property owner. With these benefits, ''historic preservation should be given a much higher priority in the nation's city and suburban planning process,'' she adds.

Existing structures with architectural merit should be given a reprieve from the wrecker's ball until creative new uses can be found, according to Chicago architect Cynthia Weese, a partner in Weese Seegers Hickey Weese.

''Some states like Texas have a mandated 90-day cooling-off period to delay razing an old building designated as a state or local landmark, or which has strong support for its preservation,'' Mrs. Weese says.

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