It has become obvious that in order to maintain the high standard of quality and tradition that historical landmarks represented in their once prideful communities, a way has to be found to make these wonderful and curious old buildings usable.
In many cases, progress has passed them by. What is to be done with the beautiful old mansions, libraries, post offices, train stations, banks, office buildings, and warehouses that are in various states of decay and deterioration? Many are vacant or abandoned and cannot be restored due to a lack of funds and code requirements. There are few legal uses for them, which would generate enough income to justify their costly repairs and continual maintenance needs.
These beautiful old relics are no longer viable economic entities. They simply cannot compete when shackled by the chains of today’s unsympathetic building codes. Quite naturally, these intricate and wonderful buildings do not fit into the fast-food mold that the building codes envision. This is precisely what makes them charming, unique, and worth preserving.
All this brings me to my point. These intricate buildings can never be built again. We simply cannot afford to take the chance of losing these precious assets due to restrictive laws. What better way to achieve this goal than to provide legislation, which will help preserve these landmarks and ensure that they weather the passage of time gracefully?
Provisions in city and state charters must be drafted which would automatically exempt historical landmarks or buildings from the laws. Perhaps, federal legislation would be more effective. A clearly defined blatant cushion of protectionism in the form of preferential treatment is needed, one which exempts these wondrous gems from red tape, artificially inflated fees, and stringent building and zoning codes.
What other properties must endure must not apply to historic buildings. Landmarks are special. Treat them as separate, but NOT equal. Let them stand alone and aloof, impervious to the whims of the bureaucratic process.
The concept of protectionism for landmarks must exist outside and apart from the ordinances and restrictions that govern present-day developments. Without accepting these principles, we all take a huge chance of losing a part of our historical charm and identity.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with preferential treatment when it benefits our community goals of keeping our cultural heritage intact. These landmarks renew our faith in craftsmanship, design, and the beauty of human work. Without special help, our rich heritage (or at least what’s left of it) will be hauled piecemeal to the dump, lost forever or become fair game to the graffiti tagger.
The old buildings and mansions should be allowed unlimited access to filming and new uses such as restaurants and loft living. The permit process should be made easier and free to encourage the use of these buildings. Large tax credits should encourage their reuse.
The elitist neighbor complaints, which push the development to other areas, should be ignored when it comes to landmarks because it is the only way the owners of these buildings can earn enough money to at least keep their buildings. A “working” building won’t fade away or be demolished to a developer for land value.
The trickle-down effect will soon benefit all the trades associated with preservation. City and state lawmakers must realize that there is nothing wrong with openly giving preferential treatment to a past gone era. In return, these beautiful old jewels will continue to grace our streets and remind us of our bygone heritage.
By Mark Slotkin