TO PRESERVE OR NOT TO PRESERVE
Preservation, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, contains the root “preserve” which means to maintain something in its original or existing state, retain, maintain, and keep safe from harm or injury. Based on this definition one could come to a logical conclusion that Historic Preservation at its core is simply the act of maintaining in as original a state as possible those structures and landmarks that are of historical significance. However if you were unlucky enough to have to sit through the most recent Little Rock Historic District Commission board meeting you would not be able to make this very logical conclusion.
700 Rock Street, East Elevation
An application was brought before the Commission by the First Lutheran Church, owners of 700 Rock Street, for roof replacement. The building in question was built circa 1881 in the Italianate Style and is a wonderful example exhibiting decorative porches, cast stone lintels and trim, and an original slate roof with widow’s peak. The applicant sited financial difficulty and requested a certificate of appropriateness to remove the slate roof and replace it with architectural asphalt shingles.
700 Rock Street, South Elevation
Now, before you accuse me of not being sensitive to the challenges of a non-profit organization to fund such a project as the replacement of a slate roof with new slate, lets come to a right understanding of this situation. First, the organization purchased the building some time ago after it had already been renovated for the purpose of leasing office space (i.e. no longer a single family home) and the property is currently income producing for the church. At the time of purchase the church was no doubt aware that a slate roof was existing. At some point during their ownership the roof began to leak. Insufficient attempts were made to repair the leak and now significant damage has been done to the interior due to the persistent leaks that were never properly addressed. If the church had been responsible in their care of this very significant structure they would have either replaced the slate long ago when the leaks began or could have begun a fundraising campaign to raise the necessary funds to replace the slate. Instead the church has elected to take the cheapest route possible simply removing the historically significant slate roof and replacing with asphalt shingles.
700 Rock Street, North Elevation
Heritage is important and deserving of protection. If you make the decision to put yourself in a position of stewardship you should be prepared to accept the full responsibility of that position. In this case, it should mean maintaining this structure in its entirety from roof to foundation, wall to wall. If you find yourself unable to fulfill the full burden of that responsibility you should then pass the building to someone who can. And for a commission, whose sole purpose is to protect the integrity of the historic district, to approve the removal of one of the only true slate roofs left in the entire district and from such a significant piece of architectural heritage as this is such a gross failure and a direct contradiction to not only the spirit of Preservation but also to the letter of the Guidelines we are charged with upholding. I am ashamed to call myself a commissioner.