Mt Lebanon Magazine

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Pittsburgh, PA 15228

Mt Lebanon Magazine

The official magazine of Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania

historic preservation details: above the standard

This post is part one of a five-part series by Yvette Yescas. Navigate between them below.

Click here to see the map of Mt. Lebanon’s historic districts.

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In recent years, historic preservation efforts in Mt. Lebanon have gained steam. The Historic Preservation Board gained the support of the Commission to pursue a National Register nomination, the Historical Society of Mount Lebanon is working diligently to attain and rehabilitate the McMillan House, and, increasingly, residents are wondering how they can preserve the historic character of their communities. This blog will be the first in a series that will introduce readers to historic preservation standards and attempt to give some general guidance on matters of preservation.

Currently, Mt. Lebanon does not have preservation design guidelines for the remodeling or rehabilitation of historic properties. Luckily, the National Park Service has produced standards and guidelines that are broad enough to give guidance for all communities, while specific enough to advise property owners that are interested in preserving the historic character of their homes or buildings. These guidelines are published online here:

Photo by National Register volunteer, Jon West

It is a lengthy document, which is why I want to introduce it to you in small pieces. The guidelines cover the restoration, preservation, reconstruction and rehabilitation of historic properties. It begins with 10 broad standards for rehabilitation, which are developed into more specific guidelines that address building materials and other preservation considerations, including “Recommended” and “Not Recommended” approaches, treatments and techniques.

The 10 standards are:

  1. A property shall be used for its historic purpose or be placed in a new use that requires minimal change to the defining characteristics of the building and its site and environment.
  2. The historic character of a property shall be retained and preserved. The removal of historic materials or alteration of features and spaces that characterize a property shall be avoided.
  3. Each property shall be recognized as a physical record of its time, place and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or architectural elements from other buildings, shall not be undertaken.
  4. Most properties change over time; those changes that have acquired historic significance in their own right shall be retained and preserved.
  5. Distinctive features, finishes, and construction techniques or examples of craftsmanship that characterize a property shall be preserved
  6. Deteriorated historic features shall be repaired rather than replaced. Where the severity of deterioration requires replacement of a distinctive feature, the new feature shall match the old in design, color, texture, and other visual qualities and, where possible, materials. Replacement of missing features shall be substantiated by documentary, physical or pictorial evidence.
  7. Chemical or physical treatments, such as sandblasting, that cause damage to historic materials shall not be used. The surface cleaning of structures, if appropriate, shall be undertaken using the gentlest means possible.
  8. Significant archeological resources affected by a project shall be protected and preserved. If such resources must be disturbed, mitigation measures shall be undertaken.
  9. New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction shall not destroy historic materials that characterize the property. The new work shall be differentiated from the old and shall be compatible with the massing, size, scale, and architectural features to protect the historic integrity of the property and its environment
  10. New additions and adjacent or related new construction shall be undertaken in such a manner that if removed in the future, the essential form and integrity of the historic property and its environment would be unimpaired.
Photo by HPB board member, Ben Wetmore

Reading those might make preservation seem daunting. A first thought might be: “I can’t afford the historic material for my roof” or “they don’t even make that anymore!” These are real concerns, and they are addressed later in the guidelines, which give guidance on important considerations when you cannot conform solidly to the standards, such as maintaining the same visual appearance with a substitute material.

I’ll delve into considerations and recommendations for everything from roofs and windows to additions and accessibility considerations in future blogs. Stay tuned!

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  1. Author’s gravatar

    Familiarity with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and related Guidelines for the preservation, restoration, rehabilitation, or replacement of significant elements is a “must” for conscientious residents and owners of older homes.

    Yvette Yescas provides an important service to residents of Mt. Lebanon and locally elected and appointed officials who frequently serve as decision-makers by introducing the Standards and related Guidelines in easily understood steps.

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