In the past decade, there have been increasing instances of church closure. So what happens when a church is no longer needed? When a congregation moves, or a denomination consolidates, something must be done with the old places. Other congregations, or sympathetic groups may purchase and re-use the structures. However, without a program or strategy for transition, many of these buildings face demolition, or are re-purposed in ways that cause lingering hurt or sadness for the surrounding community.
A recent conference in Albany, New York brought together preservationists, developers and public officials to focus on the unique challenges of preserving closed churches. In an article about the conference, the Albany Times Union quotes our colleague, Tuomi Forrest, of the Partners for Sacred Places. “We are on a cusp of accelerated closures and mergers." The number of vacant religious buildings is on the rise and will continue to grow.
The day-long conference featured panels and presentations with ideas for adapting these structures and examples of successful conversions. There are some good examples of churches converted to condos or apartments. One of my favorite is a project from the 1980’s by Boston architect Graham Gund. He successfully transformed the remains of a church that burned into a condominium project called “Church Court.”
Several years ago, I visited a church in Vermont that was turned into a pharmacy. That visit, and visits to several churches that are for sale, have started me thinking about the re-use of sacred spaces.
Heimsath Architects has addressed this issue on several occasions with congregations renovating, replacing, or re-purposed their old worship spaces. Sensitivity to the unique issues in each community has been fundamental to making each case a success.
In the case of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, we facilitated a process of discernment with participation of the entire congregation. After considering all alternatives, the large majority agreed that the old chapel should be torn down in order to build a new worship space on the same site. The old chapel was not historic, however, we felt the need for extra sensitivity to this issue. The materials and proportions of our new church design recall the original church.
But when a congregation leaves an otherwise useful building, it becomes a special challenge to find ways to preserve and/or adapted the structure to new uses. A large number of vintage churches are architectural or community landmarks. The Times Union article also notes an unsuccessful attempt to convert a closed church into a brewery. That brought back an old memory from my childhood in downtown Houston, Texas. A nightclub opened in an old church in the Montrose area. Re-named “the Sanctuary,” the establishment closed quickly, and the church was summarily torn down.
What happens when a place of sacred worship no longer serves its purpose is a fascinating question. Some religious traditions suggest that a place, once sanctified, can never be abandoned or secularized. Other faith traditions have rituals or activities associated with “de-sanctifying” a space.
The conference, sponsored by the New York Landmarks Conservancy, is just a start in addressing this complicated challenge. The big issues of community sentiment and tradition need to be addressed with exceptional care. One conference attendee mentioned how deeply communities were beset by grief at the prospect of church closure. This just shows again how a place of worship has connections to its neighborhood, its town, and to its congregation that makes it unlike any other building.
Do you need resources for your older church? We’ve collected some of our best practices for reviving and keeping historic buildings, including churches, in good shape. Download “The Care and Feeding of Your Historic Building.”
With this post, we begin a three-part series on what it takes to produce a great Master Plan. If you'd like to have a copy of all 10 Essentials, you may download them now.
The Master Plan is a crucial first step when a church or religious community prepares for a building program. The success of the Master Plan can determine the success of all the later steps of design, fundraising and construction.
These 10 Essentials have come from experience with literally hundreds of churches and religious communities. When we develop a Master Plan, we are creating a plan for action. These efforts prepare a congregation for the changes and challenges they will encounter in completing a successful building project.
1. Examine ministry goals
-- who are we? Whom do we serve? Where are we growing now? Where will we need to grow? Many congregations or religious groups have spent considerable time and effort in determining their goals, but sometimes these conversations haven't started.
The Master Plan should begin with a review of reports and other documents that clarify the group's mission. An important part of Master Planning is to develop an understanding of how all construction projects and future developments will reinforce the main purpose of the organization.
2. Analyze existing programs for current needs and future growth.
This analysis is specific to the kinds of spaces that are needed for each use, and the adequacy of the existing facilities in providing for them. Examine immediate needs, but also account for long-term growth.
Consider new areas of ministry. Are there activities that currently use little or no space, but will need to be accommodated in the future?
3. Thorough assessment of existing buildings considering their potential for adaptive reuse.
What changes are needed to address code deficiencies or fix other problems? Would an upgrade or addition make an existing building more useful? Can a new use be accommodated in an existing space?
If an existing structure is to be removed or demolished, what are the costs? When any major change is contemplated, consider who will be impacted by the changes or demolition. Have they been adequately included in the decision-making?
Look critically at existing buildings for ways to make upgrades or changes so they can fit with and enhance the new construction.
Christ Episcopal Church in Temple, Texas was built in 1915.
There are so many things that have changed in our society in the past 100 to 150 years, it's surprising that in many ways, today's church is a lot like the place of worship in the 20th, or even the 19th Century. In some important ways, however, church design in the 21st Century can be radically different. While there has been a lot of discussion recently regarding traditional versus contemporary church designs, our experience suggests that most congregations have a strong interest in both. Rather than choosing between two opposites, many groups celebrate their rich heritage of worship while adapting and updating to the present-day world. Christ Episcopal Church in Temple, Texas, after the preservation and expansion project.
Among the major differences between the modern worship space and a 19th or early 20th Century church would be the technology. We wouldn't see electric lights or projected images in any church gathering. There wouldn't be any amplified music, or microphones for preachers or singers. There would be no air-conditioning or indoor plumbing - that means outhouses, no bathrooms! No one would remind you to turn off your cell phone before the service.
The way a congregation used their church building would also be different.
Though a congregation would gather for Sunday service, there may be little or no other activities at the church during the week. You wouldn't see a large fellowship hall or large narthex or gathering space. At most there would be a small foyer through which everyone exited, single-file. University United Methodist Church, Austin, Texas - image from the 1920's.
There would be no need for a parking lot. Most congregation members lived nearby and nearly everyone would arrive on foot. A few may come by carriage and even fewer may use the newest mode of transportation, the motorcar. In larger towns, people might arrive by street-car or train. And forget handicap access. The church front door was often up a large flight of stairs. The main floor level was raised up high above the street, perhaps to better catch prevailing breezes on hotter days.
However, many elements would be quite familiar. There would be a place for reading the gospel and preaching the sermon - we'd recognize the pulpit, though we might call it an ambo. In many Christian churches, the sacraments would have the same meaning and the same elements - a table for the Eucharistic meal, a font for baptism. Today, however, the font may be greatly increased in size and prominence.
Some elements have changed in subtle, but important ways. In the old church, the altar would most likely be against a wall and the celebrant would turn his back to the congregation as he faced it. Now, the altar is almost always free-standing, the symbolic table for the gathered community. The minister faces the congregation during the Eucharistic celebration. An altar rail or a rood screen in the old church defined a separation between the congregation and the ministers. Today, some groups may have an altar rail for the distribution of the Eucharist, but large openings make them less of a barrier.
In a 19th or early 20th Century church, there would be an emphasis on music, possibly with a pipe organ, or piano and choir. There would be a focus on liturgical arts, in the stained glass, perhaps sculpture, or painting. There might be a sacred landscape, though in the old days, they might call it a Jerusalem garden. University United Methodist Church - A new entery plaza makes the historic front door fully accessible.
We work with many congregations who are stewards of older and sometimes historic churches. We also work with many congregations building new places for worship. A key question always is to look ahead to the decades to come. We find the best solutions focus both the past and the future. This means a focus on those most timeless elements of worship, and a realistic appreciation for flexibility in order to accommodate change.
Imagine a world without any gas stations - none on the roadway, none in the neighborhood. Imagine a stoplight with waiting cars and no smell or fumes. Imagine a busy street without the rumble of engine noise. Don't just imagine these things, get ready for them. Electric cars are coming and there are big implications. Avoiding the high cost of gasoline is just the beginning. The electric car implications are big. This revolution will have a lasting impact on the built environment.
A remarkable documentary on electric cars aired recently on PBS. It inspired me to take an electric car for a test drive. A collection from Ford was on display at the Mueller development, giving neighbors an up-close look and feel for the car of the future. I can't claim I'm a car expert, but the drive in the electric Ford Focus
Watch It's Baaaaack! on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.
The best thing about the electric was that in every way it was just like a gas-powered vehicle. The pick-up and responsiveness was sharp and immediate. The car handled beautifully. I could honestly say that if I got behind the wheel without knowing the Focus was electric, I would have no idea there was any difference. Well, I might have sensed that there was no obvious gear shifting, or missed the engine rumble, but that's not generally noticeable anyway in a high-end car.
OK, there will be some trade-offs for embracing electric cars at this time. The range does have limits. The Ford people suggest 75 miles before the next charge. The Nissan Leaf
, a smaller vehicle, boasts a range of 100 miles. While range limits sound scary, the vast majority of car trips are for short distances. How worried are we about jumping in the old gas-guzzler with less than a quarter tank? Over time, better batteries and a proliferation of charging options should make the range constraint go away. As will the cost premium. The technology is quickly becoming more available, and already costs are coming down.
So I drove what I can easily say is a great car, electric or otherwise, and imagined the implications. Why do we need gas stations? I imagined plugging in at the grocery store for a long-ish charge, or at the dry cleaners for a quick one. We could skip the truck stops on our cross-country treks and recharge both car and driver at a rest stop or coffee shop. I thought of all the residential neighborhoods near highways that need sound screening and barrier walls to dampen the noise. Maybe the walls could be replaced by trees and bushes.
I imagined crosswalks near busy streets without the heat and fumes of idling engines. And I began thinking of the best way to feed a charging station in our driveway. It really isn't too difficult, the drive is close enough to the house to just add a receptacle in the wall.
An electric motor needs fewer repairs, and should run much longer than its gas-powered equivalent. So what should be done with all those garages? And the gas stations, what about those? Well, once the old storage tanks are removed, we should have an adaptable structure, ready for retrofit. As an architect, I have begun to imagine all kinds of incredible people spaces made out of those old car spaces. In four or five years, who knows how many other ways the electric car will hasten environmental change?
Here's an interesting feature on the Museum of Divine Statues, a new establishment for preserving discarded liturgical objects.
Among the many challenges posed by the closing of an old church or religious building is what happens to the sacred art or liturgical objects. They've been part of sacred rituals or prayers by generations of worshippers. They can't be tossed out or just sent to a yard sale.
This is a particular concern in the Catholic Church. Many (older, pre -1950) churches are being consolidated into single parishes, resulting in closed buildings and left over liturgical furnishing and artifacts. What happens to these items? Can they be refurbished or reused?
Our first encounter with this issue came as a complete surprise. In 1959, Clovis and I lived for a year in Rome on a Fulbright scholarship. When we perused a local flea market, we found a jumble of old church statues and liturgical objects. We didn't ask whether the most sacred objects were reserved only for the clergy, but there were many objects that were appropriate for non-church use. We bought a pair of ornate candle holders which we still use today.
The US Conference of Bishops' document, "Built of Living Stones," offers guidelines for the disposition of liturgical objects and art in general, but defers to each Bishop to determine the appropriate norms for each diocese.
Liturgical objects that are no longer needed can be donated to another church. The Diocese of Greenburg has donated liturgical furnishings to a Vietnamese monastery in San Bernadino, California, and to the Apostles of Jesus in Africa.
The New York Times recently featured an interesting solution in Cleveland. As an avocation, a local resident began restoring and salvaging old statues. With the help of donations, he bought one of the recently closed churches and has turned it into the Museum of Divine Statues.
Some liturgical objects have found their way to liturgical art and antique dealers for resale. DC Riggott sells church antiques, and will only sell sacred items to clergy or churches. King Richard Religious Antiques makes every effort to find Catholic homes for these sacred objects in new or renovated churches or in private chapels.
Recently Heimsath Architects was commissioned for the liturgical design of the Maxwell Chapel at the Seton Children’s Hospital in Austin. Though the Chapel is used for all faiths, it also needed to function appropriately for Catholic worship. We recommended a prominent location for the tabernacle, positioned at the base of the stained glass window we were designing for the space. In the Catholic Church, the tabernacle is the location for the reserved Eucharist. The design and location of the tabernacle must be carefully planned and considered for both ritual and symbolic purposes.
We had several ideas for an appropriate tabernacle design, but before we developed them, our client was contacted by Carl McQueary, the archivist for Seton Hospital. Years ago he had purchased an antique tabernacle from a dealer who gave him limited information about its provenance. He did know that the tabernacle came from a small country church in Italy. From the look and construction, he suggested that it dated back to the 1800’s.
When the tabernacle was brought to our office the exterior was in excellent condition but the interior, lined with brocade fabric, was worn and stained from years of use. We found a suitable new fabric and carefully replaced the interior lining.
The refurbished tabernacle is donated to the chapel in memory of Carl’s father. It is a reminder and connection to the past for the people who worship there today.
We've worked many times to save or re-use these sacred items. It's clear to us that the disposition of an unused liturgical object should take serious consideration and respect, no matter which faith tradition it comes from. With some creative thinking, there may be many ways and many locations appropriate for re-use. There's something very gratifying about giving new life to a sacred object. It is a reminder of the past and the generations of worshippers who preceded us.
In 2003, Bishop Gregory Aymond blessed the new shrine of the Virgin Mary at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Ellinger, Texas. Heimsath Architects designed the shrine as a re-creation of the original. The relocated liturgical statue is historic.
Which building is the greenest? How about the one you already own?
The results of a ground-breaking study were released last week by The National Trust for Historic Preservation. The data shows for the first time how an old building stacks up against a potential replacement building. Even a highly efficient new green building doesn't pay off compared to a renovated or upgraded existing structure. The sustainability advantages of keeping an existing building vary widely based on the building's age, the use, materials used and the climactic region. However, using life cycle analysis for materials and energy consumption, in nearly every category studied the advantage goes to the renovated building.
Before and After - Just empty buildings when we started, but with renovation, addition and adaptive reuse they were transformed into our office.
The study, titled "The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse," begins with some surprising statistics. Every year in the US, nearly a billion square feet of existing buildings are demolished. The report cites the Brookings Institute projection that between 2005 to 2030, at our current rate, nearly one quarter of all existing structures will have been torn down and replaced. While it may not be efficient or cost-effective to save every building, we can only conclude that this trend points to a colossal waste.
Since the early days of the firm, we've been re-using, renovating and adding on to preserve existing buildings. It's great to find even more reasons to keep an old building, and we hope more people will take a fresh look at the buildings they already own. I've included several before and after images to show what's possible when we get creative about preservation and reuse.
This house had been upgraded on the interior so the new porch addition gave it an entire new look.
By expanding to the sides and reworking the structure, the addition doubled the seating and completely transformed the worship space. St. Albert of Trapani, Houston, Texas.
The old steeple was recreated from historic photographs as part of the major restoration and preservation program.
This is the fourth and final post in a series about historic inn preservation. Clovis Heimsath offers his tips based on the project to preserve the Country Place Hotel in Fayetteville, Texas. Maryann and Clovis Heimsath are both the hotel owners, and are associated with Heimsath Architects. The building was completely renovated and restored in 2003.
Tip #10: Zone the building for heating and air conditioning.
While the first floor rooms may be used throughout the week, bedrooms are occupied only part of the time. Individual units in each room can be desirable but may not the best solution. For the Zapp Building, we couldn't use the common "thru-wall" units. They would have been impossible to install in the solid masonry walls. We didn't want to ruin the views by placing units in the windows. We opted, instead, for a series of central air conditioning and heating systems. We placed a glass door in the second floor hallway to create two separate zones for the upstairs rooms.
Tip #11: Consider a fire sprinkler system.
Some jurisdictions will mandate these systems for any hotel. Others will provide some incentive for including them in the project. It is particularly important to be aware of historic and aesthetic issues when putting in a fire sprinkler system. The systems are quite costly and there are specified locations and clearances for the pipes and the sprinkler heads.
We've found that many of the installers have little or no sensitivity to the building or the look of their systems. In other situations, we have seen pipes run at odd angles and unsightly valves placed in unfortunate locations. For the Zapp Building, we chose a company that took the time to locate the components in such a way that they are unobtrusive. Finding a good location for the large valves and supply pipes took some serious consideration. By expanding a closet, we were able to meet code requirements without taking up valuable floor space. We opted for exposed pipes in the rooms, but located them near the walls and ceilings so they blend in with other building elements.
Tip #12: Develop a Business Plan and Market Plan.
Put into dollars every detail you know or are projecting. What is the cost of keeping the hotel open, even before any room is rented? What is the cost to clean and maintain each room after your guests leave? We made pretty good projections of our costs, and we regularly update them. So we know how the profit margins differ between the rental of one room versus the full hotel.
The market plan must have room rates. These should be in line with your target customers. For example, if you are projecting a full hotel during hunting season, is it realistic to project premium rates when there are cheap bunkhouses and camps in the area? With our refined accommodations, we rarely have hunters at our hotel, but occasionally we do get their spouses. You need to make realistic estimate for vacancies, and these may range widely during the different seasons of the year. Be especially conservative in projecting for the early years of start-up.
Tip #13: Determine dining arrangements:
Will you provide breakfast or other restaurant meals? After a short period of providing dinners as well as breakfast, we determined that a gourmet breakfast is a wonderful plus for our overnight guests but any further meal preparation is beyond the scope of an ordinary inn keeper. We did however place the kitchen so it can serve both our breakfast dining area and the large public room. For now we welcome catered parties. In the future if someone opened a full-time restaurant it could be serviced without radically modifying the kitchen.
Breakfast is served at the Country Place Hotel.
Tip #14: Think Public Relations from the beginning.
While the renovation took over nine months to complete, we showed the building to curious neighbors and visitors all during construction. This paid dividends. Many of our first guests were visiting relatives of our neighbors and visitors that had followed the construction. We established a website countryplacehotel.com and updated it often as the project was completed. Today the vast majority of our reservations come through the website. It is linked to Chamber of Commerce websites in neighboring cities.
Tip #15: Research reservation systems or services.
The Country Place Hotel is a small operation and we are able to service reservations in-house. This does require a significant commitment from one of our most dedicated staff members. At any hour, she knows that someone may call and she'll be ready to cheerily take a reservation while checking for availability. If for any reason, she misses or can't take the call, one of us is ready to call back within minutes.
For larger operations, reservation services may be a better option. Be sure to determine the cost per reservation, and be realistic about the number and frequency of calls you anticipate. Even more important, call the service regularly to check on the helpfulness and the tone of voice. The people taking those reservations are in every sense representing you and creating an impression about your inn.
Finally, jump in with enthusiasm!
Maryann smiles with pleasure as we recall the renovation process. Today we are delighted when the breakfast room is filled, many with returning guests and our close friends.
The old hand-pulled freight elevator is a favorite at the Country Place Hotel. The pieces aren't operable, but all the elements have been left in place with a display about the mechanical operation.
Would you like all 15 Tips in one place? Use the link below and we'll send you the full Historic Inn Preservation publication.
This is the third post in a series by Clovis Heimsath who offers his tips for preserving a historic inn. The Country Place Hotel in Fayetteville, Texas is owned by Maryann and Clovis Heimsath. The building was completely renovated and restored in 2003 and now, with many years of success, the hotel is an established institution.
Tip #7: Bring the general contractor into the process early.
The contractor can be an incredible resource in the planning and design stages. His or her ability to provide pricing and to discuss practical issues of construction can save time and dollars during construction. Often, the contractor will consult special craftsmen or subcontractors who may weigh in on particularly challenging items. For example, we tested the plaster to estimate how much was damaged and to verify that our patching solution would work.
Many general contractors will consult in the pre-construction phase and share the bidding information as they get costs from their subcontractors and suppliers. This form of open book bidding is also referred to as a "negotiated contract." We pre-selected the best contractor for our hotel renovation and then worked with him as a partner throughout the process. This arrangement gives the owner a great deal of control and helps foster a sense of teamwork that continues throughout the construction process.
Tip #8: Keep the original building intact wherever possible.
The Texas Historical Commission gave us good direction for the renovation, which allowed us to receive a partial tax credit on the cost of the renovation. The aesthetic result of working within the guidelines far outweighed the occasional additional costs.
Sometimes, to preserve one area, you must be flexible in another area. For example, we had considered sloping the walk in front to make the front doorway accessible, but the Commission's reviewer was concerned that by raising the sidewalk, we would destroy the historic metal sills at the entry doors. We all agreed that the better option was to add a new door just around the corner. The new door was placed in a window opening, and became an alternate way into the parlor.
This new entry fully meets ADA accessibility standards. The two existing street entries remain intact and preserve the special metal steps that were cast for the original building. We agreed with the Texas Historic Commission that retaining the side window was much less important than keeping the main entry doors and steps intact.
Tip #9: Place furniture from the beginning.
Work with your architect and/or an experienced interior designer to be sure each item fits in size, location and design. Provide enough room for groups of people to mingle and move about. This is particularly important in the dining area. If people can't move about easily, even when the tables are full, they may feel cramped and hemmed in. What is often overlooked is the fact that furniture placement determines to a large degree the electrical layout. Don't forget outlets for lighting and even computer and phone chargers.
If it is possible, get creative with the materials removed during renovation. We reused the wood from a demolished wall to make tables for the dining room. These beautiful planks are a small, but well-appreciated detail that reconnects with the building's long history.
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Here is the next installement of Clovis Heimsath's advice derived from a premier historic inn renovation program. He and Maryann Heimsath are inn keepers of the Country Place Hotel in Fayetteville, Texas.
Tip #4: Have a professional conditions assessment.
An expert can objectively evaluate everything from architectural merit to structural integrity. As an architect, I could immediately affirm the fine proportions and details of the Zapp Building, but we had to look closely to see how well the solid brick building had fared over 100 years. We hired an engineer to evaluate the structure, inside and out. Fortunately, the cracks and loose bricks on the exterior 18-inch walls were superficial and inexpensively addressed. However, there was standing water in the basement. There are not many basements in our area, and this one is rumored to have housed a speakeasy during prohibition! To dry the space out, we reversed the grade so it would drain away from the building and installed a sump pump. Though we needed some of the space for the mechanical equipment, guests are thrilled to navigate the creaky steps and imagine what it was like to sneak in for a clandestine drink.
Tip #5: Get to know your local and state historic preservation agencies.
These agencies can be great resources. Many keep files of historic records and photographs that may have information on your building. Some agencies will conduct an evaluation of your building and make specific recommendations to guide your restoration program. You also need to understand the relationship these groups have to the permitting process. Some are asked to make recommendations when permits are submitted. Others have considerable jurisdiction and may have the final say about your planned program. Also, the local or state preservation office is involved in reviewing applications for the National Register of Historic Buildings. In whatever capacity, these groups work to implement a great resource, the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.
With assistance from the Texas Historical Commission, we were able to place the Zapp Building on the National Register. When we undertook the major renovation, which added private baths to the second floor bedrooms, the historic designation allowed us to keep the original doors to the rooms. Though they are slightly narrow by today's standards, we otherwise would have been required to replace each one to achieve the nominal width in the modern code. As we learned from our experience, your preservation agencies are going to have an interest in your project, so it never hurts to ask for their help or suggestions.
Tip #6: Develop or locate accurate measured drawings.
Many old and historic structures have been recorded. Check to see if any local agencies have original drawings. In Texas, several non-profits and universities have substantial drawing archives and we have frequently found amazing documents that were thought to be lost. Another great resource is the Historic American Buildings Survey. HABS was begun in the 1930s by the US Department of the Interior through the National Parks Service. If you do obtain original or old documents, don't assume that they are completely correct. Have the architects and contractors check any sensitive measurements for accuracy.
If there are no drawings, have your architects provide measured drawings. With some reasonable extra effort, your building can be properly recorded and documented in preparation for the renovation drawings. Even if you are only planning limited renovation work, we strongly recommend documenting the entire building.
For our project, we had to make measured drawings from scratch. It turns out that the Zapp Building is roughly 35 feet in width and 100 feet in length, but nothing is completely square. To complicate matters, the building has a series of interior columns, approximately 12 feet apart, that run the length of the building. These oddly placed columns are yet another interesting component of the building's history.
The Zapp Building was originally a department store, and the second floor was only a balcony supported by these columns. Sometime in the early years, the open space was floored over to create a complete second floor. At some point, interior walls were added upstairs to create a central hall with rooms on both sides. These partitions were just thin slats of wood, but the rooms soon became popular with the salesmen and itinerant workers who came to town. This was called a "drummer's hotel" which provided cheap rooms with only one toilet down the hallway. We documented all of the remaining walls, doors and other interior oddities (a hand-operated freight elevator remained in workable condition) in order to plan our renovation.
Can't wait to see all 15 Tips? Download all of them here.
The Zapp Building in this historic photo was already a landmark.
In 2003, Maryann and Clovis Heimsath transformed the historic Zapp Building on the square in Fayetteville Texas. The 100 year-old structure was given a complete historic renovation to better accommodate the Country Place Hotel.
Clovis and Maryann recently reflected on their accomplishments and came up with some of the biggest lessons they learned from the experience. Clovis offers a list of 15 tips that he recommends to anyone contemplating the renovation of a historic country inn. We'll share these as a series - look for them in the next few weeks.
15 Tips for Restoring A Country Inn
by Clovis Heimsath, FAIA
Tip #1: Engage an architect from the very beginning.
Since we are affiliated with Heimsath Architects, Maryann and I could rely on both our own experience with older buildings and the many resources provided by our colleagues in the firm. As a team, we evaluated a range of options for the design. We also looked at issues concerning permitting, including accessibility requirements. We determined budgeting priorities with the help of our initial cost projections and later detailed estimates. We looked at priorities for either restoring or completely replacing a variety of original materials that were damaged or had exceeded their useful lifespan.
It was very important to balance preservation of the historic character with cost and performance. For example, we opted to replace the original metal roof with a new one. We oversized the downspouts and lined the gutters with modern elastomeric materials. This made sense since the roof area was screened from the street and therefore did not impact the historic image of the building.
Introducing some modern materials made sense on the roof. The old one had apparently leaked along the edge and had been damaging the interior of the masonry walls long before we bought the building. The new roof finally fixed the problem for good! The plaster walls below, though badly deteriorated, were patched and restored. We could have rebuilt the interior with new wall surfaces, but the look and quality of the finished plaster was worth the effort. All of these considerations required the overview of an experienced architect, who prepared the proper documentation, drawings and specifications to make the project happen as it was envisioned.
Tip #2: Know your location.
Fayetteville Texas is midway between Houston, Austin and San Antonio. It is a small, picturesque settlement and the entire town was recently designated a National Register Historic District. Fayette County is a regular destination for bicyclists, artists, weekenders and retirees. Be sure any building you are considering is in a town or neighborhood that can draw visitors. Determine who will be your customer and understand why they would come to your location.
The best way to get to know an area is to stay there over a period of time. Our family has lived in Fayetteville for years. We actually bought the old Zapp Building in the 1970's and had used it as a restaurant and offices. Decades before, we had even turned the old upstairs into an informal Bed and Breakfast. But we weren't ready to run a fully-functioning country inn, and it's doubtful that, at the time, the area could have supported one. When we proposed this renovation, however, the area was ready. Everyone in town welcomed the restoration of the Zapp Building and eagerly anticipated the coming of the new Country Place Hotel. The building is arguable among the finest structures in area, and would certainly have been lost if we hadn't purchased it years before.
Tip #3: Research country inns.
There's no better way to learn about country inns than visiting other establishments. Start on-line then arrange for a visit in person. We set up a research visitation program, and toured at least a dozen country inns and bed and breakfasts. As often as possible, we made a reservation to stay over and then invited the owners to dinner. We discussed a lot more than room rates and recipes. Among many specific suggestions, we were encouraged to provide a large public room for community activities. The space we provided we call the Moravia Room. Today, among other activities in that space, we have a two-weekend Fayetteville Chamber Music Festival with the musicians reserving the whole hotel for ten days.
Can't wait to see all 15 Tips? Download all of them here.