Never Too Late
On May 22, the New Haven Preservation Trust presented Habitat for Humanity with an award for their preservation of the Brown-Foote House at 387 Lenox Street. Later that day, Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Haven celebrated the completion of their project with a gathering at the house. The Trust’s Director of Preservation Services was invited to speak at the event. Her remarks are below.
Good afternoon everyone. I would like to thank Habitat for Humanity for inviting me to speak to you all this afternoon. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Elizabeth Holt and I am the Director of Preservation Services at the New Haven Preservation Trust. When I began my job at the Trust one year ago I was thrilled to learn of Habitat’s restoration of the Brown-Foote House here at 387 Lenox Street and that the Trust was involved through our Historic Structures Grant program. And even more so that I would be working in a city that valued this kind of preservation work.
In the past, historic preservation was seen as a practice only focused on grand architectural landmarks such as mansions, skyscrapers, and train stations. However, in recent years, preservationists have shifted their focus to also celebrate neighborhoods, downtowns, and even rural areas that are perhaps less grand architecturally, but no less important to our history. It is neighborhoods, and houses, like this that exemplify this effort.
With the price of new homes, and the cost of living, increasing across the nation, our historic neighborhoods and houses are needed now more than ever, but there is often a missed connection between affordable housing and historic preservation. In reality, the two should go hand in hand.
Affordable housing is an issue of urban policy, environmental conservation, and community and economic development. It is often argued that these issues can be addressed through policies such as Transit Oriented Development, New Urbanism, and New Community Design, but older and historic neighborhoods are what these new ideas are based upon. Older and historic neighborhoods are already transit oriented. They aren’t new urbanism, they are real urbanism. And they aren’t new community design. They are the model upon which new community design is based. And in many cases, the greenest building is the one that has already been built. Preserving old buildings saves historic building material, thus preserving our scarce environmental resources. In a time when we are constantly reminded that every plastic bottle and straw will end up in our oceans, shouldn’t we also strive to recycle our buildings?
I recently read of historic architecture, it isn’t good because it’s old, it’s old because it’s good. To build cheaply is to build something that will not last. But to build well is to build something that will stand the test of time. Preservation respects the efforts of those that came before us so we may pass our historic, architectural, and cultural heritage on to those who will come after us.
I commend Habitat for Humanity for the extraordinary work they have done here in bringing this house back to life. A new house, no matter how sensitively designed, would not match the historic and architectural integrity of the preservation of the Brown-Foote House. This house, and Habitat for Humanity, prove that it is never too late to save a historic building.