Architect Couple, Institute Library Snag Awards

Allan Appel PhotoCount ‘em: 40 wooden exterior windows on an 1895 house — forget new aluminum ones and the ugly sash running across them — have been lovingly restored.

That’s an example of the architectural love, care, and persistence over nearly a decade of historic restoration that won Gina and Rob Naracci the 2015 House Preservation Award from the New Haven Preservation Trust for their 678 Orange St. beauty (pictured).

The Naraccis were among those who picked up awards from the Trust at a ceremony in City Hall Tuesday.

The event was timed for national Preservation Month. It came on top of a separate award given recently to the Trust by Docomomo, an international committee for the documentation and conservation of buildings, sites, and neighborhoods of the Modern Movement. Docomomo cited the trust for its New Haven Modern website. The restoration of Ingalls hockey rink — aka The Yale Whale — also received an award from Docomomo.

The Preservation Trust awards event Tuesday afternoon drew two dozen preservation-minded citizens to the second floor of City Hall.

Click here for the full descriptions of the project winners and citations.

The Naraccis, both architects, implemented the project themselves and said, after the ceremonies, that they never gave up hope. They first did the roof, then the chimney, then the front porch. “We picked off the problems one at a time,” said Gina Naracci.

In addition to the annual house preservation award, NHPT board chair Bruce Peabody and its buildings committee head, Duo Dickinson, presented the organization’s Merit Plaque to Center Church for the architects Gregg Wies & Gardner’s major do-over of the brick and brownstone facade, among other historic elements, of Center Church’s Parish House at 311 Temple St. (pictured).

Originally the 1852 house of area builder and eminence Ezekiel Trowbridge, the building, now the parish house for Center Church, was cited both for its “authentic restoration and adaptive re-use.”

The final awardee — and the award with what Dickinson called the “largest intentions” — was to “honor a building and site with enduring historical significance.”

The winner was the Institute Library on Chapel Street, but not for any facade or easily noticed work. The judges cited the work over the last several years in, for example, making the skylights operational again and securing the ancient windows on the Chapel Street side from falling onto the sidewalk below.

The library’s board chair, Greg Pepe, and the award itself particularly cited the work of restoration craftsman extraordinaire Michael Klem (pictured). As the citation reads, “over a period of several years, doors were re-fit, hardware cleaned, patched, and even re-cast or refabricated by hand when necessary. Transoms that had not operated in 50 years now opened gracefully, and original Sheffield glass lamp shades were restored to everyday use. The library moved the director’s office to the third floor, added spaces for the use of community groups, and added cabinets and work surfaces for conserving library material.

“Windows had seals replaced, weights were re-hung, hardware was repaired. Brass pressure gauges for the old steam radiators were repaired and reinstalled ... even the original brass thumb-pegs that held the library’s many bookshelves were cleaned, holes refinished. A swinging door to the office area was restored, including its spring-activated closer, a third floor bathroom was restored to functional use.”

The effort demonstrates that the “preservation of history has been loved to renewal,” bringing a “threatened resource ... back to life,” said Pepe.

Klem said that as a result of the restoration decisions made — for example, not to tear out and build anew but, to re-cast a dozen door escutheon plates  and mortise locks out of one remaining original — oodles of money were also saved.

“That library was created by tradesmen so they could educate themselves. Why wouldn’t a guy like me put my heart and soul into it? They were tradesmen, mechanics, artisans, like myself,” Klem added.

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posted by: Bill Saunders on May 27, 2015  1:25pm

Beautiful Preservation Work Robn and Gina.  I know this award came through no shortage of personal cost, vision, and effort.

It would be really great if the Preservation Trust would up it’s game and provide some sort of tax relief/freeze as part of this award,  as an incentive for other homeowners to follow suit.

posted by: Pedro Soto on May 28, 2015  9:12am

Being a private non-profit, not a public agency, the Trust has no ability to grant any sort of tax relief or abatements, although the Trust has advocated for them at the state and city level in the past. The trust has a small matching grant program to assist homeowners with restoration projects on their historic homes, usually in the $1000-$2000 range.

Homeowners who live in historic districts DO have access to a rather generous incentive- the Historic Homes Rehabilitation Tax Credit.

It’s not a personal tax credit per-se, but gets you 25% back on qualified expenditures for projects between $15,000 and $100,000, meaning if you spend $100,000 rehabilitating a home in a historic district you can get up to $25,000 back from the state.

The trust holds regular workshops regarding this program, and due these extensive efforts, New Haven has the most homes in the state that have benefitted from this program.

Here is a schedule of homeowner’s workshops if anyone is interested to learn more about it.

posted by: Pedro Soto on May 28, 2015  9:15am

and Bill, the Naraccis applied for and were beneficiaries of the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit.