Category Archives: Architecture

Colonial Revival

Time and events coincided to turn the interest of American architecture away from the excesses of the Victorian Era and toward the country’s historical roots. In 1876 our country celebrated its centennial with celebrations and commemorations all over the country. If you were alive in 1976, you probably remember “Bicentennial Fever” sweeping the nation in much the same way. The Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia helped focus national attention on American technology and decorative arts. One of its exhibits, a colonial kitchen with costumed interpreters, sparked larger interest in the colonial home. Decorative features like moldings, Palladian windows and columns of a more classical style began to migrate onto the irregular house forms we associate with the Victorians. At a glance these houses don’t appear to have anything to do with our Colonial beginnings. As the style developed, houses began to have more in common with our Federal and Georgian roots.

Montgomery was wild for the Colonial Revival. Important houses like the Teague House and the House of Mayors on Perry Street underwent significant alterations to bring them up to date. The House of Mayors lost its wrap-around porch and gained a classical entrance and some beautiful leaded glass in designs. The severe Greek Revival of the Teague house got a fancy sheet metal cornice and door surround (tap on it–it’s hollow!). The Griel mansion on South Lawrence Street, which was Italianate, lost its tower and gained afull-blown porch. Residents raced to keep houses up to date.

Montgomery’s newest residential areas, Capitol Heights, Cloverdale and the southern extensions of Court, Perry, Lawrence, Hull and Decatur that we now call the Garden District are also replete with examples of the style. In Capitol Heights, Colonial Revival shows its face in both grand and modest ways up and down Madison Avenue and South Capitol Parkway.

In the Garden District, the shape of the Queen Anne house persists on the northeast corner of Hull and Clanton, but the porch has round Doric columns and both the porch and eave moldings have dentil blocks and brackets. Just down on the next corner is a full-blown Colonial Revival with a very flat facade and beautifully proportioned entry and central Palladian window. In Cloverdale, Felder Avenue examples form a graceful sweep of substantial Colonial Revival on one of Montgomery’s most beautiful residential streets.

As time went on, brick houses began to outstrip weatherboard as a favorite exterior cladding, because of construction techniques allowing brick veneer for the first time. Smaller houses like the “Cape Cod” cottage became very popular. Graham Street in Cloverdale is full of little gems of colonial inspiration. The three houses with picket fences on the east side of the street between Felder and Park could be in any New England village. On the other end of the street near Thorn is a perfect example, with brick parapet walls enclosing the gable roof almost like Tidewater Virginia. I did say “almost.”

With only a brief side trip into some other styles, Colonial Revival has been the most popular and enduring stylistic language of residential architecture in our country. It was very popular in the catalogues of mail-order houses like Sears and Aladdin. Books about these mail-order houses are a good way to study the breadth of the style. One of  my favorites is Houses by Mail, by Katherine Stevenson and Ward Jandl. Any of the staff at Capitol Book and News can order it for you, or you can get a copy used on the on-line book sites like Alibris or ABE books.

Elizabeth Ann Brown has lived in and loved Montgomery’s Garden District for more than twenty years. She holds a Bachelor of Architecture and a masters degree in Community Planning from Auburn University. Her hobbies include pursuit of the ultimate chicken salad sandwich, bicycling, and working on her old house, a 1913 bungalow.

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The Victorians

By Elizabeth Brown

If Bob Dylan had been alive in the 1870’s, he could have sung, “The times, they are a-changing,” to much the same effect as he did in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Times had actually already been changing before the Civil War, but as the building trades began to revive after Reconstruction, people suddenly gained access to changes in style and technology that had been scattered across the South before the war. Steam powered saw mills were everywhere, and you could now buy already-milled lumber, rather than hand-dressing your own timbers. The centuries-old braced-frame construction (which used a few large timbers) fell away as new framing systems (involving many small pieces of wood) became popular because of the availability of sawn wood.

Catalogs from manufacturing centers became available, showing doors, windows, mantles, brackets, and all kinds of trim, readily available through your local hardware store and delivered by train. For the first time, materials only in the northeast were now available everywhere. While the availability of materials led to standardization of building parts, the variety of forms allowed by mechanization meant that there was an almost infinite number of parts to combine in design. You might be able to buy the same parts in Columbus, Ohio, as in Montgomery, Alabama, but they were not likely combined in quite the same way.

Queen Anne

The Queen Anne style was all the rage by the 1880’s. The name isn’t really indicative of the real Queen Anne or the Renaissance architecture that was popular during her reign, nor did it have much to do with the style called Queen Anne in Great Britain.

House form took a decided turn toward the asymmetrical, with a large hip roof combining with an intersecting gable toward the front becoming a very popular style. The gable toward the street, often the whole house, became highly decorated with wood shingles, carving, half-timbering (sometimes all of them) combined to dazzling effect. If the Greek Revival was an exercise in restraint, Queen Anne was an exercise in excess. Two-story houses were popular, but one-story houses in the Queen Anne style abound in Montgomery. Brick was popular in the northeast, but except for a few notable examples, wood predominated around here.

Everything about this house speaks of prosperity and an economy booming again after the deprivations of war and Reconstruction .

A tower is often called out as a defining feature of Queen Anne in the guidebooks. One great example here is the very high-styled Kennedy-Sims house on South Perry Street. It is brick, and has a round tower overhanging an octagonal base, rising with a frieze of lozenge-shaped wood through the main roof to a dramatically curved tower roof and finial. This tower could have graced an important street in any city in the country with ease. The details on the porch are more restrained and classical, but who needs a ginger-breaded-up porch with that tower, the stone trim, and the leaded-glass windows? At one time, Perry Street could have held its own with the “millionaire’s row” of most any prosperous American city. Sadly, many fine houses were town down in the 1960’s and replaced with buildings with little character.

Unfortunately the environment of the Kennedy-Sims house is degraded by construction of unsympathetic buildings on both sides.

Another towered and brick example in the neighborhood is the Stay House at 631 South McDonough. The brick forms a backdrop against which the jigsaw-cut porch and gable trim is shown to advantage. The center, square tower is engaged in the main body of the roof. One charming feature of both the tower and gable are the horseshoe-shaped ventilators, leading to a local name as the “horseshoe house.” Probably not meant to be horseshoes, these “ogee” arches with the compound Moorish curve are found in many pattern books, and are said to be representative of the “Oriental” influence. The house was built by Dr. John Hazard Henry, one of Montgomery’s early physicians.

Although still replete with decoration, the Stay house presents a more restrained and dignified face to the street. The rusticated (rough) stonework is particularly nice. Although we're accustomed to the contrast between the wood trim and the house, period colors were often dark, with earth tones predominating.

Although I have always thought of this house as Second Empire, now I’m not so sure. Are the curves we’re seeing on this tower actually showing the Oriental influence?

We can note more high-style examples on Perry Street , but it is in Cottage Hill that Victorian and Queen Anne flourish. A profusion of wood, cut in the most intricate of designs, lines the streets of one of Montgomery’s post-war (the Civil War, that is) housing boom areas. A drive up Martha Street shows any number of examples of vernacular Victorian Queen Anne cottages, with their asymmetrical form and lacy gingerbread decorating the porches.

There may be numerous examples of the “L-shaped Victorian Cottage” in Montgomery, but their charm is only reinforced by their numbers.

Stick Style and Shingle Style

More popular in the northeast than in the South, we still see the influences of Stick and Shingle Style in Montgomery. Stick Style refers to larger wood members which outline areas of weatherboard or shingles, and give a sense of rectangularity to the design. These horizontal and vertical elements were often picked out in a darker color. This technique is applied to the very symmetrical house on the southwest corner of Martha and Hanrick to great effect, although the owner has chosen to paint the “sticks” white and the body of the house a rich cream.

This vernacular cottage shows influence of the Stick-Style in the gable decoration, with larger white members framing areas of decorative siding, some of it installed at a 45 degree angle.

The Shingle Style was popular for retreats and shore houses of the wealthy in the northeast, and I think particularly interesting because they seem to really convey a sense of the volume of space inside, rather than a composition of decorated walls. Church of the Good Shepherd on South Jackson Street in Centennial Hill is not fully Shingle Style, but the shingled gable and then recessed front with the Gothic arched window appear to be carved out of one volume, rather than being decorative elements arranged on the facade in the same way Shingle Style buildings do.

Good Shepherd’s front façade decorates in a very volumetric fashion, with the gable in very high relief to the wall of the church. The composition seems to have been carved from a block of wood.

The Romantics

Alabamians in this period continued their love of all things European, or their ideas of what they might be. Italianate continued to be fashionable, with decorative motifs like brackets, spindlework and arches moving onto the asymmetrical box that had become the current house form. One of the Dowe houses, 320 Washington Avenue, demonstrates the Victorian Italianate well. We also turned our eye to the French and adopted the curved Mansard roof of the Second Empire style, although if you judge by the number of examples we seem to have continued our romance more with the Italians than the French.

The Dowe House would have felt at home on a San Francisco street, although her color scheme might be a bit subdued for that California city.

Victorian styles continued well into the early decades of the 20th century. Next time we’ll talk about Colonial Revival and Neo-Classical, probably the most resilient architectural styles in our vocabulary.

Elizabeth Ann Brown has lived in and loved Montgomery’s Garden District for more than twenty years. She holds a Bachelor of Architecture and a masters degree in Community Planning from Auburn University. Her hobbies include pursuit of the ultimate chicken salad sandwich, bicycling, and working on her old house, a 1913 bungalow.

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Cloverdale SmartCode Update

By Stephen and Kate

Last Thursday and Friday the City of Montgomery’s Planning Department held public meetings in the basement of the Cloverdale Playhouse. The meetings were open-ended, come-when-you-can affairs, designed to share information about the Planning Department’s proposal for implementing SmartCode in the Five Points business district. Like many folks from all over Midtown, we wandered down to the Playhouse last week to look at the City’s various ideas.

The meetings were informal, with various exhibits on tables and walls throughout a big room in the basement. Residents were invited to move between the exhibits and talk to City personnel who were available to discuss any concerns. When we were there, folks were involved in a dozen conversations about their ideas for the neighborhood – sometimes with City personnel, sometimes with each other. Everyone was invited to leave comments using a standard form. Most people seemed to be very interested in giving written feedback.

The overheard comments ranged from the uninformed, strongly-held opinion (everybody has feelings of some sort about property rights and the aesthetics of buildings) to the expert-level conversation about implementation and origins of smart code (we had no idea what a “transect” was).

Here at MML, we’re delighted to be able to host copies of the drawings and exhibits from the meeting – in fact, we are the only site on the Internets with these pictures. Tremendous thanks to City Planner Tyler Caldwell for sharing with us. He’s also given us a copy of the results from the original 2006 design plan by Historic Southview, Old Cloverdale Business Coalition, AIA and countless other concerned citizens. Again, we believe that we are the only place online that you can download the document. If you care about the livability and look of your community and Midtown Montgomery, familiarity with this conversation is a crucial part of municipal participatory citizenship.

For the convenience of our readers, we have put all the images and documents from the meeting on this page here at MML. You can browse and download everything on this page.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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American Memory

By Elizabeth Brown

A better view of the Teague House than one usually gets through the magnolia trees is available in this HABS drawing.

As I’ve blogged about antebellum architectural styles in Montgomery, I’ve been surprised by the number of times the examples that came to mind were moved, altered to the point they weren’t good examples, or worse, gone entirely. One of the old axioms of historic preservation is that poverty is its best friend (for a while, anyway), and Montgomery has always been a relatively prosperous place. We have remodeled and demolished our built environment more than places like Charleston or Savannah, so that what we have now is more of a mixture of eras. In the world of built environment, that can either mean excitement or confusion – we got both.

How can we find out how things used to be? Where can we find a record of our past? The Montgomery County Historical Society has made it part of their mission to collect photos of early Montgomery, and Landmarks Foundation of Montgomery also has good information about what used to be here. We’re lucky to be in the capitol city, because the resources of the state’s Department of Archives and History are at our fingertips as well. With the advent of the computer age, even the Library of Congress is a click or two away, and there you will find the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) in the archives called “American Memory.”

HABS started as a way to put out-of-work architects to work during the Great Depression. It was one of the Roosevelt administration’s “alphabet programs,” like the WPA and the CCC. These programs were sometimes derisively called “make work” programs, but they left us a lasting legacy about our culture. The mission of HABS was to provide information about significant buildings through drawings and large-format photography. Organized on a state-by-state basis, it was headed up in Alabama by Walter E. Burkhart from Auburn, who had studied documentary drawing while doing graduate work at Columbia. HABS provides an interesting view into buildings and the lives led within through photographs and drawings.

Take, for example, the Owens-Teague House on the corner of Perry and High. A great Greek Revival house of 1848, it was enlarged by the Teague family and embellished with additional metal cornice and doorcase work near the turn of the 20th century. The gray color it was painted a few years ago is the color the Teagues painted the house when they finished their work. The front is high-style, with unusual hand-carved wooden Ionic column capitols from the early period. Certainly it is close to everyone’s ideal Southern mansion. A quick trip around back shows that instead of a landscaped yard with entertaining space as we would have today, the whole back yard is a kitchen garden! Beans seem to be full up, with corn just rising and a hope for both peaches and figs later in the summer. Inside, the house seems rather empty, with original heavy parlor mirrors over the rather plain Greek-Revival mantels mixing with then-current fashion of slip-covered chairs and a ginger-jar lamp.

Roam through the HABS collection and take a at look the entry for the Stone-Young-Baggett House, which is out on the Old Selma Road. Compare it with the Owens-Teague House. It is easy to see that the two houses were likely the work of the same hand, with the body of the house similarly scaled and selection of exterior details from the Greek Revival vocabulary. The interior woodwork of the two houses is identical.

Dr. Burkhart must have had a special appreciation for Greek Revival as shown in the examples he chose to document. The corner of Wilkerson and Montgomery Street once had the 1850 Oliver-Houseman Residence, an example of the Bracketed Greek Revival. With the Italianate style providing the inspiration for cornice brackets, the rest of the house is pure Greek Revival. It has fluted Doric columns (note that true Doric columns have no base) and the door and window facings show a longer piece across the top often referred to as “ears.” Looking at the photographs, we see that the backyard is stuffed with outbuildings, with the kitchen and slave house on the right, and a wooden building described as a doctor’s office on the left, all backed onto a retaining wall from an adjoining house. The interior shows a beautiful mantle, probably cast iron, that must have been ordered at great expense, showing a real level of sophistication for Montgomery in the middle of the 19th century. Smoke rising from the chimney indicates the house is occupied, but the photos show a house fallen on hard times. The back porch is collapsing and the paint is in bad shape everywhere you look. It’s not hard to imagine that the Great Depression has taken a toll both on the house and the people who lived there.

We are indeed fortunate that Dr. Burkhart was on the job. As head of the architecture program at Auburn, he went on to build a great foundation for the school. He, his students and architects like Nicholas Holmes, Sr. of Mobile recorded many more buildings than were documented in most states, leaving us with a rich legacy of how we lived and what we built. The collection continues to grow, with teams from HABS as well as local architects and photographers contributing to the collection. Recent additions include the old brick ovens from Jenkins Brick (the latest technology when they were built here) and the Seibels-Ball-Lanier house on Adams Avenue, demolished about 1990.

Visiting American Memory is easy with this link:

Look on left-hand side of the opening page and you’ll see options of searching by subject or place, choose place and Alabama comes up first. Montgomery, with 30 structures recorded, is on the second of two pages. All the illustrations in this article come from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Elizabeth Ann Brown has lived in and loved Montgomery’s Garden District for more than twenty years. She holds a Bachelor of Architecture and a masters degree in Community Planning from Auburn University. Her hobbies include pursuit of the ultimate chicken salad sandwich, bicycling, and working on her old house, a 1913 bungalow.


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SmartCode for Cloverdale? Community Meetings Invite Input

By Stephen and Kate

Odds are that many MML readers were in receipt of an email circulated last month rallying folks to protest against what were described as immediate plans to build a big box pharmacy store on the corner of Boultier and East Fairview. Garish lighting? Impermeable cover? Parking lots? Hopefully by now most people know this was only a rumor. There are no such plans to ruin the character of one of Midtown’s best neighborhoods … yet.

To preempt any damage that might be done to Cloverdale’s commercial district (and thereby the neighborhood’s character), the City of Montgomery has decided to push for SmartCode zoning in the district. City Planner and Montgomery native Tyler Caldwell (also a Midtown resident) came to our Cloverdale-Idlewild Association (CIA) meeting this past week to spread the word about the proposed change to the zoning. He was there to explain the city’s proposal (and the concept of SmartCode), and to invite interested community members to learn more about the proposal.

Right now the Five Points area is basically zoned B-2. And it doesn’t have historic designation, so any new buildings constructed in those B-2 lots would be under no special obligation to “mesh” with the existing architecture and use of the area. In other words, there’s nothing now stopping a big box pharmacy (or any other awful chain store) from moving into the neighborhood.

The proposed area for SmartCode zoning is in purple on this map Caldwell shared with us.

Sure, SmartCode designation wouldn’t stop a pharmacy or an Urban Outfitters from moving in. But it would force their buildings to be in character with the neighborhood and compliant with pedestrian friendly guidelines. For example, SmartCode requires buildings to be close to the street with parking behind the building. This encourages cars to slow down. It also encourages pedestrian traffic — something that Montgomery has struggled to promote for a long time, especially in neighborhoods that are short on sidewalks. SmartCode requires sloped roofs and allows for mixed use development, so that apartments can be built above stores. It’s designed to promote urban living so that cities don’t just become places where you work and then flee for the suburbs afterward. One of the goals of SmartCode is to have buildings that can be reused over a century, rather than with a five year lifecycle.

All of which seems like a pretty substantial improvement from the status quo. As Caldwell said: “If Joe California the real estate investor buys the building (neighborhood bar) Bud’s is in, there’s nothing in place right now to stop him from building something out of the character of the neighborhood.” We sure don’t want Bud’s to leave (where would we get our Stella Artois? Our dollar Sunday pool? Our hair smelling of cigarettes for days afterward?), but if they did ever close up, we certainly wouldn’t want a Taco Bell in their place.

Fortunately, Cloverdale residents have been seeking a solution to future bad development for several years. Caldwell was quick to credit the neighborhood for coming up with the zoning ideas that have become standard in places like downtown and Hampstead. He cited the Five Points charettes that happened from 2005 to 2008 as creating a comprehensive plan for the neighborhood. The current SmartCode designation proposal is really just an attempt to implement something the community’s already gotten behind.

Those seeking more information can meet Caldwell tonight. He’ll be talking at the Old Cloverdale Association’s meeting on Monday, July 19th at 7:00 in the basement of the Cloverdale Playhouse.

The city will be holding drop-in meetings for the public from 4-7 on August 5th and 6th in the basement of the Cloverdale Playhouse. Staff from the city will be there to answer questions and solicit input. They will present exhibits designed to show differences in the neighborhood under the existing B-2 zoning and the proposed SmartCode zoning.

After these two days, the rezoning proposal will go to the planning commission within 90 days. That is the official public comment period for the proposed change. “Because this community is so involved,” said Caldwell, “we wanted to be proactive and give credit for initiating this plan in 2006.”

We’re wary of anything that takes sneaky linguistic tweaks to make itself sound better. And certainly the phrases “smart growth” and “smart code” could be used to justify any number of bad urban development and city planning ideas. But in this case, it looks like the city and the developers have the right idea. The goal is to fight the soullessness that is a near-inevitable threat in every city in the world (thanks to our globalized mono-culture). And an ounce of prevention is worth an unfathomable attempt to cure bad development post-facto, especially in a society that values property rights. Montgomery is really trying to get this right, and it seems like the changes are great, laudable, and worth supporting.

To learn more about SmartCode:;

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.


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More that Just a Pretty Face: A Historic Guide to Exterior Paint

By Carole King

I came across this wonderfully researched and written article by Megan Lord originally published in the Preservation in Print, December 2009/January 2010 edition, circulated by the Preservation Resource Center in New Orleans. It was such a concise professional analysis of an issue we all constantly deal with living in our historic homes in Midtown. She and the LA-SHPO office gave us permission to reprint. The photos that I have added are local examples of what she writes about. Enjoy it and keep a copy handy to refer to next time you notice peeling paint on your rafters!

More that Just a Pretty Face: A Historic Guide to Exterior Paint

Reprinted with permission from Preservation in Print, Dec 2009/Jan 2010

Any homeowner who has spent hours pondering the perfect paint color can attest that new exterior paint brings dramatic results. To make a truly wise investment, however, historic homeowners should research more than paint colors. An inappropriate paint type applied to historic materials can lead to major damage behind a freshly painted facade. The following guide will explain the differences between historic and modern paint types and direct historic homeowners to exterior paint choices that will perform and protect as well as look good.

A site old house lovers are familiar with - multiple layers of incompatible paint compositions.

The purpose of exterior paint is two-fold. Both practical and pretty, paint protects building materials from the elements—namely moisture and slow deterioration of architectural and structural features. At the same time, exterior paint provides an attractive color scheme that emphasizes the architectural features it protects. Historic and modern paints serve the same purpose, but their different compositions determine how effective they are when applied over historic substrate.

Lime/water-based paints, also known as lime/whitewash, initially adorned historic stucco, masonry and occasionally wood facades. Composed of lime, water and natural pigments, limewashes expand and contract with historic stucco and masonry allowing the materials to freely take in and give off moisture and water vapor. This breathing process maintains moisture balance within the wall, protecting the structure from deterioration caused by trapped water. Unfortunately, less permeable later paint often replaces a traditional limewash coating, trapping water within the wall and causing deterioration of historic material and structural framing members.

Oil paint was traditionally composed of pigment mixed into a linseed oil base and applied primarily to wood and ironwork. Historic formulations included white or red lead but were banned from use in the mid 1970s due to health hazards. Modern oil paints contain a synthetic, alkyd binder instead of linseed oil. Often called alkyd paints, modern oil paints are suitable for historic materials.

Proper preparation and paint will protect ornamental metal from the elements for years.

Casein paint is composed of lime, pigment and purified milk protein (casein) and purified mil protein (casein) and often called milk paint. Traditionally an interior paint, it is not durable enough for exterior use.

Latex paint is a modern acrylic paint that became commercially available in the 1950s. The early formula consisted of small, pigmented rubber particles suspended in a water solvent, but are replaced today by rubber pigments. Most common in new construction, latex is often touted as the go-to paint for any home improvement project, but historic homeowners beware. While appropriate for wood siding, latex paint should not be used on historic stucco, masonry or cast iron. Latex paint is gas permeable, allowing moisture vapor only to penetrate the paint. As humidity levels fluxuate, trapped water will eventually force its way out of brick or stucco in an effort to move from an area of high moisture content to low moisture content. Latex paint hinders the natural and necessary movement of water through stucco and brick, resulting in damaged masonry beneath bubbling paint.

So there you have it, a primer (no pun intended) on both historic and modern paint types. To put all this paint knowledge into practice, here’s a handy list of common historic material paired with the paint types that are appropriate for each surface:

Montgomery’s favorite Arts and Crafts house has multiple surfaces: plain stucco, pebble-dash stucco and wood. So many paint issues!

Stucco, also known as exterior plaster, traditionally achieved its coloring from sand, the aggregate included in the mix. In the later 18th and early 19th centuries, natural pigments were added to the mix to broaden the range of colors. Stucco was often coated with limewash, which provided extra protection and a wider range of color options. During the early 20th century, cement was introduced into the traditional stucco mix. Upon the addition of this ingredient, oil and latex paint became appropriate coatings for modern stucco. Because of this evolving stucco recipe, it is important to have a good idea of the age and composition of the stucco on your house prior to painting. Limewashes are the only appropriate coatings for the 18th and 19th century stucco, while limewash, oil or latex paint may be appropriate for later, more modern mixes that include Portland cement. Repairs to historic stucco have often been previously painted with inappropriate modern paint. Often this modern paint will fail, making removal necessary prior to a new paint job. However, great damage can be done to the stucco when trying to remove an intact but inappropriate paint coating. Instead, if the coating and stucco is not failing, simply prime and repaint with a compatible paint type that will adhere to the existing top layer. A good rule of thumb for repainting any substrate is to always apply the weaker paint over the stronger paint or latex (weaker) over oil (stronger).

Historic brick has a range of porosity depending upon its age and source. Early brick structures in colonial Louisiana were usually covered with stucco and limewash. In 1794, after the second great fire in New Orleans, Spanish law required all timber and brick walls to be protected with one inch of plaster (stucco) coating. Later, as exposed brick walls became the fashion, harder northern bricks were imported from places such as Baltimore and Philadelphia. Shortly after 1830, a higher quality local brick, known as Lake brick, was produced north of Lake Pontchartrain, Lake brick was often left exposed on side and rear wall construction. Limewash remains the appropriate coating for historic brick today. As discussed above, latex paint seals moisture into a historic masonry wall, causing paint to blister and the brick to decompose as the water tries to escape. Latex paint is only appropriate for harder, modern brick fired after the turn-of-the-century and pointed with cement-based mortar.

Wood, like brick, absorbs and gives off water as humidity rises and falls, but has a greater vulnerability to water damage. Wood clapboard siding and wood fences were often whitewashed (like Tom Sawyer), but this is a labor-intensive and time-consuming method that requires yearly maintenance. Most homeowners today appropriately choose exterior latex or oil paint for their wood-clad homes. These modern paint types are both vapor permeable and flexible (oil less so than latex) and allow wood clapboards and architectural elements to expand and contract in our humid climate while protecting them from damaging UV rays. Don’t forget, when painting over existing paint layers, apply the latex (weaker) over oil (stronger) rule of thumb. If you are painting over existing latex, use a latex primer and topcoats. If you are painting over oil use an oil primer followed by oil or latex finish coats.

Sometimes even the toughest paint problem can't be solved. This is an example of multiple layers of paint beginning with an undetermined bottom layer that can't be broken down and removed. Even paint removal experts are puzzled!

Cast iron, when painted, is a strong and durable material, but when left unpainted or painted improperly, can quickly become weak and brittle. Early 19th century painting practices included priming cast iron in linseed oil and red lead paint. This traditional system prohibited rusting and formed a protective watertight film. The use of lead paint is now prohibited leaving modern paint formulas to finish the job. Alkyd enamel paints and alkyd rust-inhibitive primers are modern paints suitable for cast iron restoration and repainting. Zinc-rich primers and modern epoxy coatings are suitable for smaller, cast iron elements, but difficult to properly apply to large buildings or store fronts. Latex and other water-based paints can cause immediate rusting if applied on bare metal and should never be applied to cast iron.

The physical properties of historic materials dictate what paint type is appropriate, so take a look back at the above guide when you’re ready to tackle your next painting project. What a relief to know that’s one less decision you have to make. If only choosing a paint color were so easy.

Inappropriate Paint Types for Historic Houses

Waterproof coatings, including elastomeric paint, are not appropriate for soft, historic brick and plaster. Moisture will find a way into masonry walls and waterproof coatings will keep it from escaping. Trapped water builds pressure within the wall and will eventually force its way out through spalling (when the masonry surface pops off), exposing the masonry interior and inviting further damage and deterioration. If you are experiencing dust from your masonry, this is the mortar. Repointing, not waterproofing, is the solution to this problem.

Spalling has occurred when layers of incompatible paint smothered the brick and mortar. In this photo, the trapped moisture beneath is rebelling, breaking down the paint layers.

Water-repellent coatings are unnecessary treatments for historic masonry surfaces. Traditional treatments such as limewashes and stucco act as protective coatings that keep brick buildings in moisture balance. Water-repellent coatings can be difficult if not impossible to remove and may do more harm than good by decreasing the natural evaporation rate of the masonry wall.

Ceramic paint is a relatively new paint type. Developed for use on space shuttles and most successful on metal substrate, it has only recently entered the house-paint market. Also called insulating paint, ceramic paint is often promoted on the basis that you never have to paint again. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen. Ceramic house paint simply hasn’t been on the market long enough to truly evaluate its performance on wood siding. One thing is for certain; this elastomeric waterproof paint should definitely not be used on historic masonry or plaster.

To Scrape or Not to Scrape?

Before you take the extra time and effort to remove all existing layer of paint prior to a new paint job, assess the condition of your current colors. Unless paint is peeling or alligatoring (severe cracking that looks like reptile skin), complete paint removal is unnecessary and detrimental to the historic record of paint colors. You can easily remove dirt, mildew, chalking and staining from wood siding with water and gentle cleaners. Address more advanced problems such as blistering, wrinkling and spot peeling by removing paint only in the affected area. In the case of historic brick or stone where paint removal can be especially difficult, it is wise to consult a historic materials expert to conduct this task. Whether you’re touching up existing paint or repainting your entire house, proper preparation followed by sanding will add years to a paint job’s life.

Text by Megan Lord

Historic Building Recovery Grant Program

Office of Cultural Development

Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation

Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism

Office of the Lt. Governor, State of Louisiana

Carole King (not the singer, just the hummer) enjoys midtown living from South Capitol Parkway in Capitol Heights where she has lived for 25+years. Carole has been the historic properties curator for the Landmarks Foundation that manages Old Alabama Town for 28 years and is passionate about neighborhoods, their architectural character, their people, and their preservation!

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Filed under Architecture, Carole King

The Case for Historic Designation

By Sandra Nickel

The "addition" in question

It’s not often that I am a loss for words. But some weeks ago when I received a frantic email and photo of the “addition” being constructed on Glen Grattan, words failed me. Finally, I regained my wits and inquired whether the owner had obtained a building permit. I was shattered to learn that he indeed had and that the enormous growth appended to an otherwise attractive older home was, in fact, legal.

The home is located on the far western edge of Edgewood (no pun intended) and looks across the street at Cloverdale-Idlewild. In other words, it is on the south side of the street, facing north. Sadly, had it been on the north side facing south, this post would never have been written. Because Cloverdale-Idlewild enjoys the protection of local historic designation by the City of Montgomery and the ordinances regulating same would have stopped the project before it ever got started.

The Edgewood neighborhood, on the other hand, enjoys no such protection. In fact, Edgewood has only very recently begun a real effort to establish a neighborhood organization. Such groups, unfortunately, usually emerge only after a group of concerned citizens feels that something about the life they have enjoyed is menaced by one or more unfortunate developments. If there is a silver lining to the Glen Grattan building project, it may well be the birth of a functional Edgewood neighborhood organization with a mission:  Do the hard work necessary to seek and obtain local historic designation.

Lest the folks of Edgewood feel like the “odd man out,” I must also mention a second “architectural travesty” example that I came across just last week. (And I apologize in advance to my fellow real estate practitioners who occupy the structure.)

I was driving west on Mt. Meigs Rd. and nearly ran off the road when I spied this turn-of-the-last-century residential structure that had been converted to office use. Head-on, this building somewhat resembles other businesses operating in early 20th century commercial buildings. While many still have the expected full expanse of glass shop windows across the front, others have those “eyes into the operation” covered over.

But I did not see it initially from the front. I saw it on an angle, which clearly revealed that the entire façade of the building had been “flattened” by a slipcover of vinyl siding and brick veneer. A quick stop and walk-around revealed the vestiges of what was once a Queen Anne cottage!

Like Glen Grattan, Mt. Meigs Rd. is the dividing line between two historic Montgomery neighborhoods, Capital Heights (which shares its 1907 birth date with Old Cloverdale) and Highland Park (which originated in the late 1800’s). Both areas have worked fitfully toward historic designation and both have partially succeeded. But neither has yet been able to gain those protections for their entire areas. So the Mt. Meigs “improvement” is unfortunately legal and other ill-conceived projects may follow.

The message to all who love the ambiance of your current neighborhood is clear. If most neighborhood homes are 50 years or older, and someone comes knocking at your door asking for your support for local historic designation, DON’T give them a speech about your right to do whatever you wish with your home. Recognize that it’s not YOU who are the problem. It’s THEM down the block or around the corner. DO invite the volunteer in, sign their petition. Then, just hope the process can be completed before YOUR block experiences the next architectural misstep!

Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 29 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.


Filed under Architecture, Historic preservation, Real Estate, Sandra Nickel