Preserving buildings communicates our history to the future

So you own or live in an old building and would like to preserve it but wonder what that really means?

Generally, historic preservation is a process of protecting, maintaining and/or stabilizing the existing materials, form and integrity of a historic building, while protecting its heritage value.

Preservation can include both short-term and interim measures to protect or stabilize the place, as well as long-term actions to slow deterioration or prevent damage to it. The ultimate goal is to preserve the ability of an older building to communicate its history and character to today’s and future generations. 

Historic preservation, like any system of values, has a philosophical basis or ethic. These general ideas for the process of historic preservation are important to understand whether you are looking to give your 1920s bungalow a face-lift, or you’re enhance a storefront on Main Street or just interested in what they are doing to that old building that has scaffolding around it.


The first step in treating a historic building is to identify those architectural features that give a building its visual character.  These character-
defining features should, whenever possible, be retained and preserved rather than altered, covered, destroyed or replaced.


After identifying and retaining the essential materials and design features, protect and maintain them. Keeping buildings in good physical condition lessens the need for expensive major repairs or replacements. Regular maintenance includes such treatments as filling in cracks in stucco, repainting, caulking and securing flashing.


When character-defining materials and features become well-worn or damaged, additional repair work of the original fabric is recommended. Repair should begin with patching, reinforcing or upgrading measures first. The next level of repair involves limited replacement with matching or compatible material when encountering badly deteriorated or missing pieces.


It is preferable to repair rather than to replace. But, when a feature is missing or dangerous, or the extent of damage precludes repair and physical evidence exists to document the nature of the feature, then replacement may be appropriate. When replacing, use matching or compatible materials and repeat the original design, unless the original design has design flaws, such as flat window sills which drain improperly.


Relative to historic preservation, over-improving means work intended to improve the appearance of a building by making it fancier or by changing the style. This kind of work is highly discouraged.

Each particular building has its own character and unique qualities. Buildings are not more significant because they are bigger or more decorative. Plain buildings have as much historical and architectural value as high-style buildings. Small buildings are as important as large ones, and mid-20th century buildings may be as significant as late-19th century ones.

Over-improving and/or modernizing changes the historical character of the building and makes it ineligible for historic designation. Replacing the original windows, putting on siding, or covering a wooden structure with stucco are a few of the things to avoid when working on a historic structure.

Remember, there is no greener building than the one that already exists. Historic preservation is simply a form of recycling.

Kristen Ashbeck is a senior planner with the Grand Junction City Neighborhood Services Division and serves as staff to the Historic Preservation Board.

Have a question about a historic structure? Email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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