In a recent news article I read about a magnificent 1854 Greek revival house in the Midwest that had been torn
down to make room for a parking lot! Though it was owned by local government, no one, not even the historic
preservation commission, was allowed to salvage the building’s artifacts. Instead, this two-story marvel, with
walnut staircase, floral motifs, cast iron mantel and countless other treasures became a pile of rubble.
I got to thinking of the salvaged materials TRP received from the deconstruction of Ray Bradbury’s home in
Los Angeles. We turned the 2×6 tongue-and-groove roofing into 451 sets of bookends (as in Fahrenheit 451,
Bradbury’s most famous book). Within two weeks we sold all but two sets for $85.00 each. TRP retained two
sets and donated one plus a check for $1,000.00 to the Ray Bradbury Institute at the University of Indiana.
With these two incidences in mind, I think both professional and amateur preservationists will understand that
there is more to preservation than saving buildings. When the opportunity to save a whole building is thwarted
by the community, city, or courts, and a cherished structure must come down, one preservation alternative
remains: salvage its parts.
When the components of a significant building are preserved through deconstruction, people have the
opportunity to acquire a piece of history. The issue of expense invariably arises because deconstruction costs
more than traditional smash-and-dash demolition. However, if adopted, the following scenario would mitigate
the additional expense and enhance the coffers of local historical and preservation societies.
A company of talented and certified deconstructionists is hired to slowly and methodically take the building
apart, board by board, piece by piece, making its individual elements available for purchase and installation in
other buildings — public or private, residential or commercial.
TRP works with a number of certified deconstruction contractors and is familiar with others around the country.
Any one of these companies could form a Rapid Deconstruction Strike Team willing to deconstruct the building
for the demolition cost specified in the permit already in hand. Following deconstruction, TRP, with assistance
from local historical groups, would authenticate the salvaged materials. This would in most cases substantially
enhance their sale price, as occurred with the Bradbury house (in that instance, Bradbury’s daughter signed
the letter of authenticity). This extra value would be used to compensate the deconstruction contractor for the
difference between the deconstruction cost and the demolition price previously received. Any balance could
then be donated to the historical group that helped to establish provenance.
Call me when you see a historical building being relegated to the landfill.