Rich Vitton, chairman of the newly-formed Forest Park Historic Preservation Commission, is eager to set aright common myths and misunderstandings surrounding the maintenance of historic structures. Vitton said the group is not a roadblock for property owners to maneuver, and the goal is to help residents restore their homes properly and inform them of the benefits in declaring a property a historic site.
“Many people are under the assumption that they can’t put a nail in a wall,” Vitton said. “That’s not the case.”
Forest Park is home to a number of structures that date back to the 1840s. Many of the houses are Victorian style, and require a considerable amount of research before any changes are made. Vitton explained certain building materials on the market today can’t be mixed with the original compounds used to construct some older homes, because there can be a dangerous chemical interaction.
This, he said, is where the committee’s workshops come in handy.
The preservationists can help a property owner identify the exact style of a property and explain what it looked like when it was first built.
One of the commission’s most prized resources is the Sanborn Insurance Map. Dating back to 1866, this document has detailed building layouts from more than 12,000 communities across the United States. With the Sanborn Insurance Map, the group can tell a property owner which materials were used in construction, its dimensions and the property’s original use.
The committee also informs property owners of the financial commitment necessary to renovate a historic site, Vitton said.
“Retaining and maintaining the exterior of a historic structure” is of paramount significance to Vitton and the committee members. Property owners must consider its original character, the way in which it was built, and how it blends in with the rest of the community, Vitton said.
Because the commission is fairly new, it is still in its formative stages. The Historic Preservation Commission used to be an ad hoc commission, and spent a year researching other preservation ordinances, according to commission member Kim Zandstra. The commission is governed by the village council.
Vitton and his team have been seeking candidates willing to officially make their properties part of the historic community. They are currently working with Maurice O’Connor who owns a house at 501 Elgin Ave.
O’Connor’s house was built in 1884 in the Classic Victorian style. Sought out by the commission, O’ Connor said he has been working with them for a couple years.
“(The commission) tells me my house will be the first in the historic district to be declared as such,” O’Connor said. “Working with them has been fine I just wish we could move a little faster. The historic district has been pending for some time now.”
According to Vitton, a property need not date back to the mid-nineteenth century to be considered historic. It must, however, be at least 50 years old, and exemplify the village’s architectural landscape. As stated on the committee’s historic district nomination form, the character and value of a property can be determined by its “interest?as part of the historic, aesthetic, or architectural characteristics of the village, the state or the United States.”
There are incentives for property owners to declare their buildings as historic. Property owners can be assured of future preservation by means of a local ordinance. Tax benefits are available to owners of income-producing properties, and some owners might find themselves eligible for grants.
Committee meetings occur every first Thursday of the month.