If you read the Bible, you’re going to find many commandments in the old testament. But if you want to boil them down – the fundamental principles are found in just ten commandments. Well, it’s the same way with all the guidelines and preservation principles that have been outlined in the Local Historic District Study Committee draft proposal. They are all based on ten basic principles of historic preservation. When the Preservation Trust champions historic preservation, they are basing their advocacy and statements on those same ten principles. When the Newburyport Historical Commission deliberates, they are using the same ten. Even the Community Preservation Committee when judging a project that claims to be based on historic preservation, the ten principles are taken out as a rule stick.
When citizens go on and on about power-hungry local historic district commissions; they fail to understand that the principles are pretty clear and puts in check any extremist views based on fanaticism. Now, human nature is such a thing that we will periodically find someone who is heavy-handed no matter what board or commission they may attend.
So, keeping that in mind, it is important for all of us as citizens to know what the ten historic preservation ‘commandments’ are – so if a future LHD commissioner goes off the deep end, we can say, ‘Uh, uh, uh, thou shalt not…” These ten have been created to help preserve the distinctive character of a historic building and its site, while allowing for reasonable change to meet new needs. These are not brought to us from God and Moses but from the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation which is recognized across the United States and observed by hundreds of organizations.
And they are pretty straight forward and are designed to be applied to projects in a reasonable manner, taking into consideration economic and technical feasibility.
1. A property shall be used for its historic purpose or be placed in a new use that requires minimal change to the defining characteristics of the building and its site and environment.
2. The historic character of a property shall be retained and preserved. The removal of historic materials or alteration of features and spaces that characterize a property shall be avoided.
3. Each property shall be recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or architectural elements from other buildings, shall not be undertaken.
4. Most properties change over time; those changes that have acquired historic significance in their own right shall be retained and preserved.
5. Distinctive features, finishes, and construction techniques or examples of craftsmanship that characterize a historic property shall be preserved.
6. Deteriorated historic features shall be repaired rather than replaced. Where the severity of deterioration requires replacement of a distinctive feature, the new feature shall match the old in design, color, texture, and other visual qualities and, where possible, materials. Replacement of missing features shall be substantiated by documentary, physical, or pictorial evidence.
7. Chemical or physical treatments, such as sandblasting, that cause damage to historic materials shall not be used. The surface cleaning of structures, if appropriate, shall be undertaken using the gentlest means possible.
8. Significant archeological resources affected by a project shall be protected and preserved. If such resources must be disturbed, mitigation measures shall be undertaken.
9. New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction shall not destroy historic materials that characterize the property. The new work shall be differentiated from the old and shall be compatible with the massing, size, scale, and architectural features to protect the historic integrity of the property and its environment.
10. New additions and adjacent or related new construction shall be undertaken in such a manner that if removed in the future, the essential form and integrity of the historic property and its environment would be unimpaired.
Maybe we should carve them in stone and put them around the Newburyport Historic District as a reminder!
PS. If everyone would understand these ten, we could cut down on crazy editorials who claim that the LHD commissioners (even the ones from the future) would go off the deep end.