Inner Beauty – Lessons from decladding buildings

Sometimes true beauty is what lies underneath the skin, and this is especially the case for otherwise handsome buildings that were reclad in the 60s and 70s with facade systems more fashionable at the time. There is truly a pandemic of historic building stock, with “good bones” and Victorian details, that have been covered up in aluminum or EIFS over the ages. Oftentimes building owners were told this was “the fashion” at the time, as well as easier to maintain. My friends at Heritage Ohio call these cases “Mr. Muddle buildings,” and have a fun little display for presentations where they do awful 70s-era things to buildings.

This is has been especially the case in the cities I’ve lived in, Oklahoma City, Cleveland, and Columbus. Currently in Columbus, the oldest-standing building in downtown was previously pitched for demo until it was realized that the historic facade was entirely in-tact under its awful gray aluminum facade. Being redeveloped by a historic-minded developer, the project shifted to preservation and I was able to snap some great photos of the facade removal:

Proposed for renovation with 40 residential units, I am sure this will be a great project. Perfect example of someone turning an eyesore into a great asset by realizing what existed in the first place and not throwing the baby out with the bath water.

This is similar to the Schofield Building in Cleveland, anchoring the key intersection of 9th and Euclid, which is a gorgeous neo-classical building that someone thought needed to be aluminum instead. This building become a high-end Kimpton Hotel that opened just before the Republican convention.

These don’t always go so swimmingly. In Oklahoma City, when the horribly over-leveraged SandRidge Energy Corporation wanted to expand its corporate campus, the city violated its own downtown plan and city code and granted demolition permits for SandRidge to demolish 6-7 structures, only one of which was historic, to create a park-like campus setting in addition to one new build. The end result was SandRidge tore the buildings down, completed the proposed scope (but not additional buildings that were vaguely promised by the Rogers Marvel firm), and then instead of growing laid off thousands of workers and had to sell off the new building.

The historic building they demolished was the India Temple, a former hotel that was at the time downtown’s oldest-standing building, and briefly served as the State Capital after the state seal was moved from Guthrie to OKC while the new capital was under construction. This building was reclad in the 70s as well, and demolished on the merits of the ugly 70s facade, with no interest in preserving or even further discovery of what laid beneath. The local newspaper reportedly interviewed the contractor who installed the 70s facade, who stated the historic facade was entirely preserved underneath.

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This plays out in nearly every city I am sure. While I don’t at all mind when cities tear down legitimate eyesores that lack options, I think all could benefit from looking more closely before they issue demo permits. Sometimes that ugly duckling is hiding a really cool building underneath, and once torn down, that can never be recreated. Preserving a cool older building lends itself to finish products with a vastly longer shelf life than new-builds, and all cities need to be reminded of this, with no one particular city standing out as a unique offender. In particular, Chicago might be a surprising culprit for a historic preservation crisis in its current building spree.

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