Update: Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties

The National Park Service has issued an updated version of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring, and Reconstructing Historic Buildings (whew!).  Last revised in 1992, it was recently updated as part of NPS’s “A Call to Action: Preparing for a Second Century of Stewardship and Engagement”.

The revised standards more fully develop topics in the previous editions, address the treatment of buildings of the last half of the twentieth century (which introduced new materials and systems, such as composites and curtain walls), include building code-required work, and eliminated energy efficiency (which is now addressed in 2011 in the Guidelines on Sustainability for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings).  The Standards provide guidance for the maintenance, care, or remodeling that might occur through an illustrated set of recommended or discouraged practices easily understood by architects, contractors, staff, and board members. A big thanks to NPS and Anne Grimmer for providing these new guidelines.  They’re free online and every house museum in America should adopt these Standards to help preserve and maintain their buildings and structures.

The Standards are designed to guide work on buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but I’ve used them in long-range and interpretive plans for house museums no matter their landmark status.  Secondly, rather than the typical application of one treatment for the entire building, it is applied selectively, with different treatments for different spaces. Most house museums are furnished to a specific era (“period rooms”), but they also often have to accommodate a wide range of other uses, such offices, school programs, and special events. determining which treatment—preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, or reconstruction—is most appropriate for each space creates zones that balance modern uses with historic preservation.

This is the approach Engaging Places used at the Rosen House, a 1930s Mediterranean Revival mansion that is part of the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts in New York.  To navigate competing functional and preservation goals, we determined different preservation treatments for specific areas of the Rosen House based on the Standards. This allowed for a wide variety of uses, including exhibitions, period rooms, concerts, classrooms, retail sales, offices, and food service in the same building while protecting the historical integrity of the house. A floor plan indicating the various zones is coupled with the Standards to clearly communicate what’s acceptable and what’s not (pdf of Rosen House’s First Floor Treatments)

San Francisco Heritage is contemplating zoning as well for the Haas-Lilienthal House as part of their preservation and furnishings philosophy for their house museum, which also accommodates residential uses along with active multifunctional programming spaces, offices, and museum period rooms.

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