Today I cried. On the floor. Gut-wrenching sobs. Fifty-six years old and I’m crying like a baby.
No words can begin to describe the cutting pain felt. No words exist to describe the sense of loss. My partner and I feel bewildered and our efforts discarded.
We feel empty. And numb.
It is always tragic when the interior of any historic building is gutted, but the pain is especially acute when it is done to a building which has just emerged from a six-year renovation by devoted historic preservationists.
In most old buildings which have been recently renovated, it is fairly easy to distinguish original features from new work, even by those who do not have a formal design education or historic preservation background. Clumsy renovations far outnumber those which are done in a thoughtful and considered manner. It is not always easy to make new work and necessary alterations flow seamlessly with existing historic fabric. After all, if it were easy, our towns and cities would not be littered with so many distorted structures exhibiting “a little bit of this and a little bit of that”.
Prior to its renovation, the future of the former church building was quite grim. It was located in a small (and shrinking) town in the Midwest. It had suffered decades of neglect and alterations. It had been stripped of its stained glass windows and the openings were filled with plywood. Yet against all odds this building found stewards (my partner Jim and I) who were able to give it a second chance. We were able to combine our respective skills and knowledge, acquired over our lifetimes, to make this highly visible building a source of pride for its community once again. We converted it into a house and it was our priority to do it in the most sensitive way we could. The “before and after” images, below, will show you how the building looked when we started the project, and how the building looked just before we sold it last year.
The photos at the bottom of the page depict the building as it is today.
The ostensible justification for all of this waste and destruction is water infiltration from a storm damaged roof! The leak was in one corner of the kitchen, and the bulk of the water went straight down to the basement. There are no stains on the ceiling in the photo above – just needlessly destroyed plaster. Even if it had gotten wet, it would have dried out if allowed to.
The house in the photographs below was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It sat vacant for over 10 years with a damaged roof until it was purchased by someone who appreciated its character and history. The restored house retains its original wood floors and wood trim. It will no doubt sell quickly because it retains its historic character and appeal.
So why were the beautifully restored fir floors in the former church ripped out and discarded? Why was all of the beautiful woodwork similarly destroyed? Why was all the original plaster ripped out? Whatever replaces these things – if they are ever replaced – can never bring back the actual history that was permanently destroyed. New materials will be just that; new. And soulless. It simply boggles the mind.