«Title of Document: ARCHITECTURAL SALVAGE: UNDERSTANDING THE VALUES AND IMPROVING THE PRACTICE Margaret Prest, Master of Historic Preservation, ...»
Title of Document: ARCHITECTURAL SALVAGE:
UNDERSTANDING THE VALUES AND
IMPROVING THE PRACTICE
Master of Historic Preservation,
Directed By: Dr. Donald Linebaugh,
Historic Preservation Department It may be an increased interest in recycling or the thrill of hunting down the prefect solid wood door or the belief that somewhere exists a claw foot bathtub to replace the one that was lost in a previous renovation, but whatever the reason, the practice of architectural salvage is on the rise. While many salvagers consider themselves preservationists because they prevent unique items from being destroyed, some preservationists see the practice as detrimental because once an item is removed from a building it loses its original context and its history can easily be lost. Multiple values guide the actions and beliefs of both groups and in some cases they share the same values. This paper will consider some of the values driving the actions of historic preservationists and architectural salvagers and explore ways to use this knowledge to improve the practice for the benefit of all.
ARCHITECTURAL SALVAGE: UNDERSTANDING THE VALUES AND
IMPROVING THE PRACTICE
Professor Donald Linebaugh, Chair Professor Sidney Brower © Copyright by Margaret Louise Prest Dedication To Christopher… I am so glad you decided to come along for the adventure.
ii Acknowledgements First and foremost, I would like to thank Dr. Donald Linebaugh, the primary reader for this project and the director of the Historic Preservation Program, for all the support, encouragement and advice he has provided over the last two and a half years.
As a result of the copious amounts of blue marks he provides on every draft of a paper, my writing continues to improve and I have learned to think more critically.
Without his dedication to all his students, HISP would not be the valuable program it is today.
I would also like to thank my other reader, Professor Sidney Brower in the Urban Studies and Planning Program, who took time out of his last semester before retirement to meet with me and make sure I was thinking outside of a preservation bubble.
Thank you also to Jennifer McInerney, my friend for eighteen years and my editor for the past ten years. Your helpful suggestions always make for a stronger paper.
And lastly, I would like to acknowledge my parents who took me to my first salvage shop when I was a little kid and who have supported me in all my endeavors.
Table of Contents
List of Tables
List of Figures
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Historical Context
Chapter 3: Architectural Salvage Today
Chapter 4: Values in Architectural Salvage
Chapter 5: Preservation Values
Chapter 6: Analysis and Conclusions
Figure 1 – Arch of Constantine
Figure 2 – Lawrence Room (Jacobethan Room). De-accessioned from the Boston Museum of Art Collection in 1930
Figure 3 – Study, Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan... 8 Figure 4 – Richmond Room, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.............. 9 Figure 5 – Framing timbers with unused mortises in the chicken house at Bostwick, Bladensburg, Maryland
Figure 6 – "Day" discarded at the Meadowlands
Figure 7 – Doorknobs on display at Materials Unlimited, Ypsilanti, Michigan......... 17 Figure 8 – Mantels. Architectural Antiques Exchange, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.. 17 Figure 9 – Independence Mall marble. Provenance, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania...... 17 Figure 10 – Baluster candleholders
The first time I walked into Materials Unlimited, an architectural salvage store in Ypsilanti, Michigan, I spent hours wandering around and daydreaming about all the beautiful items they had for sale. In this store, I could purchase glass door knobs that turned purple with age, a set of built-in bookshelves so large they would not fit in my post-war ranch house or a claw foot tub big enough for an adult to take a bath or a child to swim in. My first introduction to these types of architectural elements was seeing them in restored homes I visited, and so I was pleased to know that someday I could purchase these materials for my own home. Since that first visit to Materials Unlimited, I have studied the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and learned about the importance of context when considering any historic items. This paper stems from a conflict of multiple values that is pulling me in two different directions. While I do not want to see buildings torn apart and their elements sold off, I also do not want to see these items thrown into a landfill when people would be happy to reuse them in many different ways.
Over the past few months, I have read about the practice of architectural salvage with the hope of reconciling or at least better understanding my very mixed feelings on the subject. I also read pieces by Randall Mason and Alois Reigl about the different values embodied in historic preservation in order to understand the conflicting values of preservation and salvage. Almost all of the literature I reviewed about salvage sang the praises of the practice and those that did not, presented both the pros and the cons and still found it a good idea.
As I looked for more information on salvage, I was excited to discover an
education session at the 2011 National Trust Conference entitled “Building Nuggets:
Architectural Salvage and the Standards.” I walked into this education session expecting to hear from people who struggled to figure out how the competing values of preservation and salvage could be resolved. Surprisingly, exactly the opposite message was embraced by the presenter and most attendees. As might be expected, the main concern related to the use of salvaged elements focused around the issue of context. Many participants felt that if a salvaged element was reused in a building for decorative purposes the building owner was creating a false reality that deceived visitors into believing the element was original to the building. The vast majority of people who spoke during the session believed that as soon as an element was removed from a building the element lost all of its context and history and so it should not be removed from its original location under any circumstances. I got the impression that people would rather see elements thrown into a landfil then reused out of context.1 As someone recently trained in the field of historic preservation, I will admit I was very surprised to find that this “all or nothing” perspective was still so prevalent.
I left the workshop convinced that preservationists need to continue to work to rehabilitate and preserve the built environment, but when total preservation of a building is not an option we need to be willing to pursue other avenues to preserve some important architectural elements. The debate I was having with myself boiled down to the title of a book edited by Michael A. Tomlan called Preservation of What, Laura Pinney Burge, “Building Nuggets: Architectural Salvage and the Standards” (presentation, National Preservation Conference, Buffalo, NY, October 19-22, 2011.) For Whom?2 What is salvage preserving and for whom and what are the diehard preservationists at the education session preserving and for whom?
As noted above, the debate about architectural salvage comes down to a question of values. Some people believe an architectural element only has value to society if it is seen in its original context so viewers can understand it in relationship to an entire historic property and if it retains its “authenticity.” While recognizing the value of context, other people place a high value on the history, artistry or craftsmanship of an element and would rather see it reused than lost to the world completely. Still others see the financial and environmental value in reusing salvaged materials when possible. A major trend in preservation scholarship is a fuller appreciation of the complex and often conflicting values that are present in most historic preservation situations and architectural salvage is no exception. I argue that there are positive and negative aspects to the practice of architectural salvage, but to eliminate its use would mean the possible loss of many historic resources as well as an increase in the amount of construction waste disposed of each year. Not every building can be saved from demolition and if the architectural elements and reusable materials in the building are not salvaged they will be destroyed. The questions addressed in this paper include how the modern day salvage industry developed, what values are held by those who support salvage and those who oppose it, and if people do have concerns with salvage, whether there are ways to improve it and better the industry for all.
Preservation of What, for Whom? Critical Look At Historical Significance, ed. Michael A. Tomlan (Ithica, NY: National Council for Preservation Education,1997).
The paper starts with an overview of the history of salvage dating back to Roman times. I will then explain how architectural salvage works today and who is involved in the practice. Next, I will discuss in detail how salvaged items are used today and the values held by people who support salvage, and follow that with information on the values held by preservationists and how those conflict with the practice of salvage. The paper will conclude with an analysis of the practice of architectural salvage and recommendations on how to improve the practice.
Chapter 2: Historical Context The use of salvaged architectural materials dates back more than two thousand years and reflects a range of values. Throughout that time period builders and owners chose to use salvaged materials for many reasons. Limited resources, the desire to display items of conquest taken during war or an opportunity to show off wealth and a sense of culture were all reasons to use salvaged materials in the past and some of these reasons still drive the practice today.
Once a quarry yields all of its marble or an old growth forest is cut down, the only way for a builder to gain access to those resources is to import materials from a greater distance or reuse available pieces. By late antiquity, most of the marble used in buildings in Italy was second hand because the quarries could no longer produce the quantity builders wanted.3 Until the twelfth-century, Britons used stones from standing or collapsed Roman buildings to build their new churches. The practice eventually tapered off because they exhausted the ruins’ supply and because the shift towards intricate gothic architecture required different materials.4 In both of these cases, economic and uniqueness values drove the use of salvage. If another building did not come down, a new one could not be built because the type and quality of the building materials were unavailable otherwise.
The other type of salvaged material or spolia found in structures still standing today are the spoils of war or the items one group would take from another as a sign Dale Kinney, “The Concept of Spoila,” in A Companion to Medieval Art: Romanesque and Gothic in Northern Europe, ed. Conrad Rudolph (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 233.
of triumph.5 One of the most well-known examples of this type of spolia is the Arch of Constantine in Rome. This triumphal arch was constructed in 312 AD and is decorated with reliefs taken from other monuments (Figure 1). Some scholars believe the reliefs were used because builders constructed the arch over just a few years and did not have time carve new panels. Other scholars argue the designer took specific panels from other monuments in order to make the comparison between Constantine I and Roman rulers of the past by displaying his conquests.6 If this is the case, builders stole these reliefs off other monuments in order to celebrate Constantine I‘s victory in war and they obviously placed a high value on the uniqueness of the materials they were taking as well as their historic, cultural and decorative value.
A more recent example of destruction and reuse as a sign of victory occurred in England between 1536 and 1540. During this period, Henry VIII encouraged the vandalism and demolition of the great monasteries throughout the country as a sign of his power and the rise of the Church of England. People following Henry VIII’s wishes treated the cathedrals as quarries.7 This is one of the last broad examples of spolia. After that period, more and more people took to paying great sums of money for architectural elements, although theft of architectural elements does continue to this day.
From the seventeenth- through the nineteenth-century, homeowners often salvaged large items such as mantel pieces, staircases and wood paneling from their Ibid., 235.
John Harris, Moving Rooms: The Trade in Architectural Salvages (New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 2007), 20.
family homes and installed these items in new buildings. Wood paneling which people used as insulation was less expensive than tapestries, so it was not uncommon to see this material moved from one building to another.8 Also during that period, wood was becoming increasingly scarce in England and other European countries and so it continued to make financial sense to move wooden objects from one location to another.