Interested in moving into an historic district, whether in Old Towne Orange or downtown Charleston or somewhere in between? Do your research first—take advantage of museums and restored homes that are open to the public, learning from the architects, designers and curators involved in the restoration process.
For example, glean wisdom from Heritage House Museum curator Lynn Vooheis, who could tell you that the Riverside Museum Associates purchased the Bettner home in 1969. The house had only been occupied by one other owner following Catharine’s death in 1928. Exterior and interior renovations restored the home to a condition that accurately portrays “daily life, special activities, tastes and fashions of a segment of Riverside’s early population,” Voorheis says.
Also before you start touring Queen Annes with “for sale” signs and making a restoration budget spreadsheet, take a look at these pros and cons by Jeff Frankel, the preservation chairman of the Old Towne Preservation Association of Orange, California.
• Rich area history that associates individuals with the historic structures.
• Confidence in the fact that owners cannot drastically alter their homes
due to standards that are in place.
• Commonly zoned for single-family development.
• Visual appeal: Each home is unique.
• Property values are generally higher in historic districts, and properties retain their value.
• Historic homes have character and unique features; they are usually built better with superior materials than most contemporary homes.
• The community tends to be close due to shared interests, such as restoration,
rehabilitation, collecting antiques, etc.
• Generally there’s an organization associated with the district that brings people together.
• Pride in ownership that you do not find in most contemporary housing developments.
• Tax incentives are usually available for historic structures (such as California’s Mills Act).
• Building materials and hardware may not be readily available and can cost more for historic homes (plumbing, hardware, etc.).
• Qualified contractors and craftsman can be difficult to find (for example, I had a hard time finding an experienced interior plasterer and roofer for my style roof).
• Often cities will take advantage of the draw that a historic district creates; a city may propose what some may consider inappropriate land-use/zoning laws, which increase density.
If you’ve decided that living in a historic district is right for you—great! Learn more about what to expect at otpa.org and preservationnation.org.
By Rebecca J. Razo
Photography by Jaimee Itagaki