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Bringing back the luster

Century-old buildings have charm, ambiance and endless possibilities.

They're also prone to breaking down and losing their place in the community after decades of makeovers, updates and whitewashing.

Local building owners got a lesson in historic preservation and energy-efficiency Tuesday at Four Daughters Irish Pub, on West Main Street. Pacific Power and Energy Trust of Oregon hosted the event.

"There are dozens of historic buildings in this town and others, and a lot of them have been modified and changed over the years," said Lucien Swerdloff, an instructor at Clatsop Community College’s Historic Preservation program in Astoria. "There's a need for people to understand historic buildings, how they work, how they function, and most importantly developing skills in order to restore these buildings."

Swerdloff urged building owners to obtain historical designation prior to beginning the physical restoration process in order to improve standing with building departments and obtaining financial incentives. Documenting the components of the building are also important as work goes forward.

"A big part of historic preservation involves documentation," he said. "It's not just going there and starting to rip stuff out, you really need to understand what's going on there, what has been replaced, what's still original for that building, what did that building look like? In some sense it's kind of like archaeology, peeling away layers of changes to the building and trying to recognize what's original, what's restored and what it needs to be brought back to."

In many ways, the "green" or energy savings in the project comes from reusing materials or recycling similar materials, Swerdloff said.

"You have this building that's already there, already made," he said. "The material was manufactured, so you have all this energy built up in that material. Instead of knocking it down and taking it to the dump, reuse it. You save the energy of knocking this thing down, taking it to the dump, manufacturing new material and constructing it. That's a big part in preservation."

Another element in preservation is the employment of craftsmen who have the skills to create a finished product that can't be bought at a hardware store or lumber yard, Swerdloff said.

"When you think about restoration of historic buildings, we're talking about labor, we're talking about craftsmanship versus new materials. We're training people (in the preservation program) to do the plastering, restore the windows and rebuild the woodwork."

Reusing materials is essential to effectively cutting down on energy use, Swerdloff said.

"Most of restoration involves historic materials that's always there," he said, pointing to the heavy beams in the second-story room at Four Daughters. "Look at this wood up here, it's all old-growth. This is incredible stuff. You can't find stuff like that any more, unless somebody knocks down the building and you recycle it; which we want to avoid. That material, if it's treated properly, has been here 100 years and will be here for another 100 years. If you go to the lumber yard and buy a piece of wood now and get 30 years out of it, you're doing OK. It's the quality of material that gives it sustainability."

In the big picture, Swerdloff said, energy-efficiency is improved as the life cycle of a building is lengthened versus producing new materials and transporting them to the site.

"Maybe a brand-new building that's super energy-efficient isn't necessarily that cost effective in the life cycle," he said. "It doesn't mean we shouldn't build new buildings, we just need to look at the whole picture rather than just knock down an old building."

With the encouragement of state agencies and tax breaks, many older buildings have been restored in recent decades.

Commercial real estate and property manager Scott Henselman, no stranger to downtown Medford restoration projects, recently redid the upstairs of the Goldie Building on Main Street, gaining a 700 percent reduction on the power bill.

Before that, Henselman won a local historic award for reworking the Davis-Johnson Building, 111-115 N. Central Ave., which had acquired a full-metal facade during the 1960s.

"I put on the condition of the sale, when I was doing the due diligence, to remove two of the front metal panels," Henselman said. "I removed the front metal panels and there were all the original transom windows, very decorative transom windows, all there and only one cracked pane in the entire 50-foot frontage of these two storefronts."

Swerdloff applauds such efforts, suggesting older buildings were designed to be energy-efficient because they had to take advantage of limited resources at the time they were built.

"That energy-efficiency has disappeared over the years by us changing those buildings, by covering them up and making additions to them," he said. "They were made to be energy-efficient, maybe not specifically, maybe it was intuitive. When these buildings were built, there wasn't electricity, or there wasn't a lot of electricity, there wasn't cheap power or mechanical systems. So they had to make them energy-efficient, they had to let light in, they had to think about heating and cooling."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31,  and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.

Scott Henselman stands in the stairway of the historic Goldy Building in downtown Medford on Tuesday.Some of the lighting fixtures in the building have been restored to a 1950s style and are more energy-efficient. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch