[caption id="attachment_4506" align="alignnone" width="600"] Fleur-de-Lys Studios - From Wikimedia Commons[/caption]
...the greatest challenge is perseverance in changing attitudes and illegal social behavior in a community that has seen disinvestment."
Let's start off by stating the obvious: Providence is able to hold its own when it comes to the charm and uniqueness of  19th century New England architecture. Not only do we pride ourselves in our city's blend of historic and modern cityscape, but we put a lot of effort (and money) into making sure we highlight and preserve our past. Here's an interview by Providence Revolving Fund's Clark  Schoettle detailing the do's and don't's in preserving the architectural charm of Providence's historic properties.

1. Let's say an investor, property owner or potential homebuyer is looking to purchase a local historic property, what elements of the home should they:

...preserve first... ...discard if in poor condition... ...invest the most $$ in... When evaluating an historic property for renovation it is important to determine what is "character defining" so that you don't inadvertently destroy elements of the building which add to its value. Typically these elements relate to the architectural character of the building and would include architectural massing, interior and exterior materials, interior layout, and unique or irreplaceable details. On the exterior we would want to first preserve or replace in kind the exterior siding, masonry porches, cornice, etc. Large, prominent chimneys should be preserved, while secondary chimneys that are not used may be considered for removal if it improves the interior floor plan. Existing wood windows should be preserved if they are in good shape and a good storm window is installed. If the windows are in poor condition they we would consider replacing them with a high quality thermal window which matches the original window as closely as possible. The new window should have an exterior grid which matches the original configuration, and the glass dimensions should be as close as possible to the original. You should carefully evaluate the return on your investment on windows. A well maintained wood window with storm that might cost $600 is only about 10% less efficient than a good thermal window with grid that could cost $1,500 and only last for 15 years before the seals start to fail. A slate roof should also be preserved and repaired if possible. If more than 30% of the roof needs replacement, we would typically consider replacing with an architectural asphalt shingle which matches the slate color and appearance or replace with new slate, depending on the budget. An asphalt roof might last 40 years and a slate roof will last up to 150 years.
I would advise a new owner to invest their money in the exterior building to make sure it is water tight and to upgrade the heating and electrical systems. Next I would focus on bathrooms and kitchen.
On the interior we would evaluate the heating and electrical systems and upgrade or replace them depending on the age, condition, and relative efficiency. We would also carefully evaluate the interior floor plan and consider alternatives to improve internal flow, kitchen design and bathrooms. Features like fireplaces, staircases, wood and plaster moldings, and original wood floors should be preserved. Ideally changes can be made that improve and modernize the interior for contemporary use without sacrificing historic character or making monumental changes to the floor plan. you need to make sure your program fits the building and not force it too much. I would advise a new owner to invest their money in the exterior building to make sure it is water tight and to upgrade the heating and electrical systems. Next I would focus on bathrooms and kitchen.

2. What are some key home elements that are unique to Providence's historic properties? Be specific.

Providence architecture is pretty typical of other 19th century New England cities. However there are some distinctive characteristics. In Providence it is normal to see large single family houses on small lots, even though the house design would be comfortable on a lot three time the size. This density creates a certain intimacy that is part of Providence' charm.

3. Architecturally speaking, what decade or era do you find to be the most reflective of Providence's heart and soul? 

That's a hard question. I think I would have to say the Turn of Century (1890-1910). This represents the period of significant construction and growth in the city, including most of the buildings downtown, the East Side, Broadway and Elmwood, industrial mill building, and iconic buildings like the Fleur-de-Lys Studios, Cranston Street Armory and the State House.

4. What is your favorite historic property and why?

I would have to say the Fleur-de-Lys Studios at the Providence Art Club. Built in 1886 by artist Sydney Burleigh and architect Edmund Wilson, this building represents a unique collaboration of art and architecture. The craftsmanship is extraordinary with wood carvings and rendered stucco panels allegorical Greek figures with halos representing art, architecture and painting. Even though it is so unusual and quirky, it seems to fit right in with its Greek Revival and Federal Style neighboring buildings. To see it in the afternoon setting sun reflecting off the gold leaf halos is a truly wonderful sight.

5. What do you consider to be the most challenging aspects of stimulating community revitalization? What is the easiest? 

You need the convergence of three elusive conditions:
1. A geographic area with appealing character and location. 2. Opportunities and incentives which can encourage individuals to share a vision and create a critical mass. 3. Individuals that are willing to take a risk and work together to create something greater.
Even with these three elements the greatest challenge is perseverance in changing attitudes and illegal social behavior in a community that has seen disinvestment. It is an incremental process which takes time. That is why burn-out is so common. Maintaining leadership and engagement is difficult. The vision needs to be strong enough that subsequent leaders will emerge as those that came before become tired of fighting the fight for change..

6. Can you tell us more about the Preservation Resource Center?

The Preservation Resource Center is a collection of materials and technical assistance located at the Providence Revolving Fund which are available to assist property owners with their rehab projects. We have a nice meeting space for small lectures and workshops; a library ; material samples; and architectural salvage. We also offer paint consultation; building assessments; renovation cost estimates; and historic tax credit consultation for a modest fee. To learn more about the Providence Resource Center, visit


Jim DeRentis
Sales Associate

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