When the majority of the historic commercial buildings in downtown Lonoke were constructed in the early twentieth century, they were built without air conditioning systems. Instead, these buildings were designed to be passively conditioned by the natural flow of air into and through the interior spaces, and the control of light entering the building. If you live in one of the many beautiful old homes here in Lonoke that was built before World War II, you are familiar with high ceilings, porches and transoms above doors which create a flow of air that removes the heat from the spaces near the floor and allows for greater comfort of the occupants. All of these functional elements combine to make a building that “lives” and “breathes” to accommodate our warm and humid climate here in the Delta. Decades later, as technology enabled, occupants of older buildings exchanged these passive systems for modern air conditioning, which often meant an alteration of the interior and exterior physical appearance of these buildings. Interior ceilings were lowered to accommodate ductwork, and these lowered ceilings dropped below the window headers, creating an odd appearance from the exterior. In our downtown buildings, this often meant that the transom lights (the glass windows above the display windows or entries) would be covered up and concealed. This common scenario has led to buildings which no longer perform as designed, and which no longer let light back into the long, deep spaces that were once illuminated.
Our region has produced legendary talent throughout the decades. We sometimes forget that an icon such as Elvis Presley was born less than four hours from Lonoke and lived less than two hours away in Graceland. The King once said, “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it’s not going to go away.”
When preserving an historic storefront, one of the most impactful changes is to remove layers of non-historic material that have covered these transom windows and let the light back in. When these windows are again exposed, sunlight streams through once more, and the spaces within are liberated from a compressed and darkened condition, allowing the building to quite literally “breathe” again.
That’s the way restoration works. When, over time, a series of decisions made for the sake of expediency generate unintended consequences years down the road, it often takes a lengthy process to reverse this path and bring original elements back to usability and visibility.
The interesting thing about covering something that was meant to move and breathe, is that other problems may begin to develop in the concealed areas which are often overlooked until they have grown larger in scope and become more difficult to resolve.
In the 1980’s, architects learned that, in our quest to tighten up and seal buildings in the name of energy efficiency, we were creating environments that trapped stale air and perpetuated the spread of sickness among occupants. Unhealthy things were getting into our buildings, but they were not finding their way out. This phenomenon is much like the presence of water in an old building. If layers of added material are concealing an active source of intrusion, there is often extensive mold and mildew to be mitigated by the time it is discovered and fully uncovered.
There is a sense it which it is easier to leave something alone rather than peel back the layers and uncover the unknown. But in reality, maintaining the status quo is only beneficial for those of us in this generation; by neglecting to address issues that lie just beneath the surface, we are really just pushing the responsibility of health and restoration on to future generations and leaving our children and grandchildren to remedy the problems of our own creation.
The more difficult, but healthier, choice is to embrace transparency, consistent with tried and true practices and allow daylight to reach deep within, once again.
The Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation form the guide by which property owners may faithfully design the restoration of a property on the National Register of Historic Places and, in turn, utilize state and federal tax credits for a portion of the qualified construction expenses.
Key to any good work is faithfulness to a standard. Our faithfulness is marked by our consistent daily application of that standard.
In a small town like Lonoke, it matters greatly that we live lives with consistency. This is true, simply because our individual influence has a greater effect on those around us in a community of our size. Stability is an important by-product of consistent living, because consistency engenders confidence. By contrast, lack of consistency erodes confidence and can set the stage for disfunction.
Those consequences may be slow to come to light, the extent may be difficult to quantify. Therefore, it is important that we lead with authenticity and with truth. To do otherwise undermines foundations and damages connections. Ultimately, the casualty is unity. When we begin to spread inconsistent messages to different audiences for the sake of expediency and self-preservation, we are shortcutting our own influence, and constraining the capabilities of those around us.
Mark Twain wrote in an 1894 notebook entry, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Variations on his word of wit have circulated throughout the decades, but the essential nugget is relevant today, as is much of Twain’s work. John C. Maxwell expounds on this notion, saying, “When we do the right thing, we don’t have to carry a weight that is unnecessary. We should desire to be people of truth.” Quite simply, a consistent word is beneficial for the speaker and the hearer.
Let’s not forget the value of consistency, both across the arc of our lifetime, but also within the different circles in which we operate daily. Consistency is a currency which multiplies to create trust. Trust accumulates to become relational capital which, once amassed, becomes a matter of stewardship.
The question we must then ask is, will I leverage my relational capital to benefit only myself, or will I use it to benefit my neighbors around me?
Your neighbors are relying on you to speak and live with consistency. This relates directly to trust, and our ability as a community to move forward together with the good work ahead of us. When Tim Lampkin spoke in Lonoke last month, he uttered a powerful truth, saying, “Change will only happen at the speed of trust.”
Often when we speak of change, we fail to consider that the act of restoration is, in and of itself, an important change. Perhaps we need not focus on replacing what we have, as much as we should consider faithfully restoring what we already possess which has been covered or lost.
Ryan Biles is an architect who has worked on historic preservation projects throughout the state of Arkansas, such as the Restoration of the Northern Ohio School at Parkin Archeological State Park, Old Main at Arkansas Baptist College, and the exterior restoration of Old Main at the University of Arkansas. Archives of this column with additional content are online at www.lookatlonoke.com .