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.
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