Although the results are well worth it, owners of historic buildings may be daunted by the cost of maintaining or restoring their properties. Repointing brick, repairing cast iron stairs and upgrading energy-inefficient systems all come with significant expense.
However, the Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS) is helping to bridge the affordability gap with an exciting grant program targeting the Swampoodle section of the Capitol Hill Historic District (CHHD), recently designated in 2015. Homeowners in the four-square area – bounded by Second to Fourth streets and F to H streets NE – may apply for two grant programs that provide up to $5,000 each for improvements.
These are (1) the Home Improvement Grant for preserving the historic features of the neighborhood and, wherever possible, correcting historically inappropriate exterior alterations, and (2) the Energy Efficiency Upgrade Grant for reducing energy consumption and creating greater efficiency such as hi-tech heating systems and energy-smart lighting.
Applicants must own property in the Swampoodle section of the CHHD and may apply for only one grant in each category. Grant funding must be matched by the applicant and approved prior to the commencement of work. For more information, consult the CHRS website: www.chrs.org/swampdoodle-grants/.
Mitigating Damage with Stewardship
In 2010, when developers discreetly bought up the entire western half of Square 752 adjacent to the H Street Bridge, residents learned that most of the properties to be razed would have been protected as contributing structures, had they been in the CHHD. Residents in adjacent parts of Swampoodle could only watch as 26 structures – many from the 19th century – were demolished to make way for a 378-unit apartment building, Station House.
Proposals to extend the historic district to this area had come and gone for years, but this demolition galvanized the community to demand meaningful mitigation for the extensive loss of the area’s historic fabric. CHRS and the local advisory neighborhood commission negotiated with the developer to pay for a building-by-building survey of all the blocks north of the existing historic district up to H Street, setting the stage for the subsequent boundary extension. The developer also provided funding for the grant program now administered by CHRS.
So far, grants have been used for historic-district-approved repair, restoration and replacement of exterior features, including windows, doors, cornices, porches and stoops. They have also helped retrofit old lighting systems to accommodate LED fixtures and upgrade outdated, low-performing heating systems. The energy grant program was recently expanded in keeping with CHRS’s commitment to conservation. “Preserving an existing structure is gentler to the environment than destroying it and building something new. But many of our older homes can be made far more energy efficient without damaging their historic fabric,” explains Elizabeth Nelson, CHRS president.
Some Compelling Results
A family on G Street lives in one of the finest intact classical revival rows on Capitol Hill, designed in 1907 by Arthur Poynton. The original beveled plate-glass door is an integral part of Poyton’s architectural language, but cracked glass, inoperable hardware and sagging door jambs forced the owner to consider discarding it for a new one. A Swampoodle grant enabled them to hire Mozer Works, specialists in historic window and door restoration, to restore this critical entrance feature completely.
Another family on G Street lives in a beautiful Queen Anne-style house designed by Thomas Franklin Schneider in 1897. The enormous cast iron front entrance stairway had disintegrated beyond reasonable repair, by the time they purchased the house, and they were considering replacing the entire ensemble with brick. The Swampoodle grant enabled them to secure the expertise of Fred Mashack Ironworks to recast the missing treads and risers and dismantle the entire staircase and reassemble it with the new parts and fasteners – a remarkable restoration.
On Third Street, an impressive three-story house constructed by Frederick Atkinson in 1890 had equally impressive heating bills with an inefficient boiler largely to blame. A grant funded a replacement with a 97-percent efficient instantaneous heat exchanger compatible with the original decorative radiators and hot-water circulating system.
The facade of another Frederick Atkinson house is composed of a variety of Victorian architectural details and pressed brick features. Years of neglect prior to current ownership, a leaky tower dome and the 2011 earthquake all contributed to cracked arches and sagging masonry. A Swampoodle grant funded Edgar Masonry to re-point the facade and rebuild the failed brickwork. The grant also allowed restoration of the decorative sheet metal tower dome with a new product made by Acrymax Technologies.
These grants have made an enormous difference to homeowners in the designated area, and funds remain available to qualified applicants. If you would like an application or additional information, please go to the CHRS website at the link provided above.