Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Landmark Criteria is not Enough

If there is a request for a building to be demolished, not within the historic district(s), and built prior to 1926, Zach Studenroth, the historic consultant to the Board of Architectural Review and Historic Preservation (ARB), is required to review the request and fill out a form at the building department named a Demolition Evaluation. On this form Zach answers yes or no to whether or not the building meets any of the five landmark criteria. Those are:

Special character/historic/aesthetic interest or value?
Identified with historic personage?
Embodies distinguishing characteristics of architectural style?
Work of designer who has significantly influenced age?
Represents established and familiar neighborhood features?

There are also two areas where Zach can elaborate: General Description and Architectural/Historic Integrity. And at the end he provides his recommendation.

My issue here is not with Zach. My question is whether or not this form adequately provides the opportunity to save a structure from being demolished. Our community’s historic fabric has been drastically depleted which makes our responsibility to protect what’s left very serious. I believe that sometimes a building might not be very attractive, and might not meet any of the criteria for landmarking, but is still very much a part of the story of the village’s evolution and therefore worth saving.

You can see samples of these old historic structures on the grounds at the Southampton Historical Museum. They are nothing architecturally really to speak of, but their function speaks to the history of the village. They create a narrative. They are tangible connections to our past. The pending demise of 106 Meeting House Lane is completely related to this argument. Oh why can’t Ralph Lauren’s fondness for historic structures extend into Southampton?

“If we do not care about our past, if we do not write history and biography, take photographs, make films, save buildings and whole towns, and protect the works, too, of the industry and science of our rich, diverse, and protean culture, then we are being irresponsible in the extreme.” David McCullough