To find a heritage property

You may remember my post from a few weeks ago about starting on a Heritage Designation project. Now that my final report has been submitted, it’s time to say a few more words about the process.

Part 2: Research, Research, Research!

IMG_3436In my previous post on Heritage Designation, I mentioned the detective work that goes into researching a building. In addition to looking at fire insurance plans, I consulted city directories, assessment rolls, building permits, local histories, and architectural books. My eyes were burning after staring at microfilm for hours at a time!

All of this research is necessary to establish the heritage value of a property, and each one of these primary sources can tell you a little more about a home and its occupants. Through the city directories, I learned that my assigned property was typically home to working-class and middle-class Londoners, including contractors, lumber merchants, gas station attendants, teachers, engineers, insurance agents, nurses, stenographers, welders, and more. Assessment rolls gave me additional information about the specifications of the lot. Building permits indicated the extent of renovations, and local histories gave me some context for the area. As I kept reading, the story of the house became clearer. At the time of its construction (1914 in the city directories, not 1912 as the fire insurance plans indicated!), the house would have been located at the southern fringes of residential development in London. Its unadorned, practical construction is a reflection of the influence of both Edwardian Classicist architecture and the budgets of the people who were to occupy it. Its most historically significant resident was its first tenant, Sugden Pickles. Sugden immigrated to Canada from England and became a teacher of manual training at the Normal School in Wortley Village. He was also known in London as a photographer. Western University’s Archives and Research Collections Centre still has some of his photographs.

Part 3: Recommendations and Reports

After putting together our months’ worth of research, each one of us in the M.A. program went to City Hall to present our findings to the London Advisory Committee on Heritage (LACH). Using LACH criteria, we had to make a recommendation for our property to be listed as either Priority 1 (highest designation), Priority 2, Priority 3, or Priority 0 (not worthy of designation). During the question periods, they gave us valuable feedback and pointed out items of interest that we hadn’t considered. For example, I was told that the property I was studying is an Edwardian “foursquare” home. That was not a term I had previously been familiar with.

By now you’re probably wondering what recommendation I made for the house. Both LACH and I agreed that it fits in the category of Priority 3. The house is in great condition, but it does have some renovations that detract from its original street appeal (once open, the veranda is now closed off, obscuring the original front door and windows). While its first tenant has some historical significance to London, it did not house historically significant occupants for any sustained period of time. And the architecture of the home is not so rare or exemplary that it merits higher designation based on its physical value. Priority 3 means that if Wortley Village is blanket designated as a Heritage Conservation District, this property will be included in the blanket designation; however, it is not individually worthy of designation as a heritage property.

I am not disappointed that the property I studied didn’t turn out to be of higher priority. It’s just as important to know which properties are not individually worthy of designation as it is to know which ones are. And if someone wants to do a re-evaluation of the property, the report that I have submitted to the City will provide a good starting point for their research. Finally, the skills that I have developed here will assist me in other built heritage-related projects.

Speaking of which: with any luck, I will soon be able to write a post about my recent HGIS work on the South Street Hospital. Stay tuned…


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