Conservation vs. Historic Preservation

By Denise Ruttan

house windowsThe Corvallis City Council heard two viewpoints on historic preservation at its Feb. 2 meeting, when it waded through two hours of testimony on, of all things, windows.

On one hand, you have owners of historic homes who just want to replace leaky, rotting wood windows with something a little more durable. However, homeowners face a strict land use process if they want to change anything—they must first apply for a historic preservation permit with the Historic Resources Commission.

On the other hand, you have historic preservationists who are passionate about maintaining a building’s historic heritage. They say the most authentic way to do that is to only use genuine materials. But are those really completely opposing viewpoints?

Applicant Bob Hamilton of Bashful Bob’s Windows and Doors had already been through the paces at the Historic Resources Commission. That body denied his proposal to replace wood windows with fiberglass-clad wood windows at the Farra House and denied part of his request to do the same at the William Lane House. He appealed that decision to the City Council.

The fiberglass-clad wood windows are a new product on the marketplace. They look visually similar to the rest of the house, but are more energy-efficient, Hamilton said. Moreover, the City already approves aluminum-clad wood windows for historic homes, he said.

Farra House owner Ann Smart said she didn’t want to impact the historic integrity of the house. But eight or nine Oregon State University students live in it as part of a service-based learning community and the damaged windows were becoming a problem.

“The existing wood windows have been shown to leak, which causes moisture that has rotted out the window frame,” Smart said. “The ability to use double-paned windows will improve the livability of the house.”

But B.A. Beierle of Corvallis-based Preservation Works took a harder line.

“One of the issues I have with relying on visual appearance is that you’re talking about two different things—what it looks like versus what it is,” Beierle said.

She said salvageable wood is becoming a cottage industry because of the need for it in historic homes like these.

Hamilton, meanwhile, said the same old-growth knotty fir used in the 1800s is a material that is not easy to find. So what is an owner of an historic home to do?<

The Council will decide that at its next meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the Corvallis Fire Station #1, 400 NW Harrison Boulevard.