History Lessons

Historic preservation is an interesting term. Often it’s defined by specific criteria when a project is being evaluated for its significance, or when it’s in consideration for tax credits; but, historic preservation is also commonly defined by, or informed by, how we feel about a project, community or the people that will be impacted by it.

Bill Warwick of Barton Partners, winner of this year’s North Atlantic, Best in Region BALA award for Alden Park, defines historic preservation as “paying respect to the existing structure, and contributing to the community.” In addition to Barton Partners’ preservation experience, it may be Bill’s history buff status, the firm’s many multi-family successes or its proximity to preservable buildings in and around Philadelphia that attracts clients to Barton Partners for preservation projects.

“The Alden Park project was a really unique opportunity,” said Bill. “We were excited to work with a client that was interested in bringing back the original structure of the building and restoring it to its former glory. Also, you can’t beat the location, it’s simply gorgeous.”

Photo by Marc Harary

“With historic preservation projects, we really see it as a chance to lift up an entire community. If a building in the community is battered, it can become more than an eyesore. I think that dilapidated old buildings that stand in disrepair for years can negatively impact how people feel about themselves, where they live and their place in the world.  If we can go in and give a building new life without demolishing it, and bring back the charm and the character of its heyday, it can instill a sense of pride in the community.”

Bill’s love of history spills into his personal life too. “A few years ago, I was doing some family research and discovered my great grandparents, who’d immigrated to the Philadelphia area, were buried in an old, rundown cemetery in the city. I honestly had no clue.” For the last six years, Bill has volunteered with The Friends of Mount Mariah Cemetery working to restore and maintain the cemetery and the two historic buildings on the site. The efforts are focused on bringing green space back to the community. “All of the volunteers have done an incredible job cleaning up the cemetery. It’s gorgeous. Now people come to take advantage of nearly 200 acres of green space, bird watch and just enjoy the area.”

Bill is also a member of The Carpenters’ Company of the City and County of Philadelphia. With members including architects, building contractors and structural engineers, the nearly 300-year-old Company’s mission includes preserving and maintaining Philadelphia’s historic Carpenter’s Hall and sharing the history of building construction with the public.

“Whenever I get a chance to do something that’s historically related, I try to jump on board. I’m really glad that our office is associated with that kind of work, too.”

Photo by Marc Harary

Bill often serves as a BALA judge, and when asked how he would evaluate the historic preservation entries, he said, “Judging historical preservation can be super subjective. Sometimes it’s really all about the complexity of the project and homing in on which project might have been more difficult to accomplish. Things like how damaged a project was to begin with vs. the end result, or how big of a challenge it was to get back to the original design, or how true the project stayed to the original interior, or how the interior and exterior relate to each other. It seems less about the quality of the work, because it should all be high-quality, and more about whose project presented the biggest challenges, and how applicants addressed those challenges with historic preservation top-of-mind.”

“There are a plethora of old buildings in the Philadelphia area that are turning over,” he said. “There’s old factories and mill type buildings. A lot of them may not be registering as historic, but they are staying true to the original design and the look and feel of the building, which is a good thing.”

Bill Warwick, AIA, Principal at Barton Partners

On the Alden Park project alone Barton Partners replaced 8,000 windows, with many in an advanced state of disrepair, and none of them even coming close to meeting any of today’s energy efficiency standards. The firm had to prepare extensive documentation detailing the profiles, sizes and other relevant information for all of the Alden Park windows. Barton Partners worked with the window company to submit profiles that were acceptable to the historic commission to ensure they preserved the look and feel of the building, and met or exceeded standards, to receive the necessary tax credits.

The other major challenge on the Alden Park project was the brick work which required significant repair or replacement.  “It was a huge undertaking for our team and required collaborating with several contractors,” Bill shared. “When possible, brick was salvaged from areas on the property to replace the badly damaged or destroyed areas near the very top of the building. Adding to the difficulty, the walls were are not always flat where we had to pay extreme care and consideration to preserving design details like cut stone and carved accents throughout the façades.”

One of Bill’s favorite recent projects was the repurposing of a horse barn on a DuPont estate in Newton Square, Pa. into a clubhouse for an active adult community. “Mary Cook & Associates from Chicago was the interior designer, and they did a fabulous job,” said Warwick. “We added the front entry feature, which mimicked two small silos on the estate, and added a rear veranda and elevated patio. Overall, we tried to let the building speak for itself, and even though this wasn’t historic preservation, I’m glad we had the opportunity to honor the history of the site, and the original architecture, and make sure both were reflected in the end project.”

This post is part one of a nine-part series on the 2018 Best in Region winners. Do you have a BALA-worthy historic preservation project? Consider entering it into the awards, open through September 1.

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