Top ten reasons to save an old house

  1. Tearing down old houses is ruining our history and the enduring character of our most charming and livable neighborhoods. Our shared cultural heritage is being inexorably destroyed.  Once these great old homes are lost, they are lost forever.
  2. Infill in  historic neighborhoods is worsening the affordability crisis. Demolitionists make huge profits because the new houses cost radically more than the old ones they replace. A $600,000 house becomes two for 1.6 million. This kind of infill is only affordable for millionaires.
  3. It is the right thing for the environment. The greenest house is the one that already exists.  All the plaster and windows go in the landfill, and even if some materials are reclaimed and reused and a house is replaced with an energy-efficient new house (seldom the case), it can take up to 80 years to make up for the climate change impacts created by its construction.
  4. A well-built old house made with hand tools, 400 hundred year-old trees, and a level of craftsmanship unknown in today’s market cannot be replicated.
  5. Infill is erasing the character of our city, reducing a special place to an “anywhere U.S.A.”.   People used to believe that the quality and beauty of their homes reflected their character.  Many new infill developers want to make as much profit as possible, so they stress quantity over quality, or “bigger (but cheaper to build) is better”. Beauty has a moral dimension that elevates all those who see it. A beautiful house is an inspiration to the whole community.
  6. New infill fails faster. While historic homes and neighborhoods go up in value, new stuff goes out of fashion and the building materials show signs of wear and even decay in a surprisingly short time.
  7. Allowing the loss of our great old places teaches and rewards the wrong values.  Rather than valuing history and being stewards for posterity it shows that we don’t care about global warming or the environment. Tearing down high-quality historic homes in favor of bigger, more expensive infill with less character teaches selfishness over community, size over quality, consumerism over art, and money over quality of life. I think we are a lot better than that. I think we are the kind of a society that preserves its treasures.
  8. Driving investment dollars out of beautiful old neighborhoods through historic district prevents developers from cannibalizing the best of Portland, and helps that investment happen in places that need improvement.  Instead of destroying Laurelhurst or Eastmoreland, we as a society could be building the future desirable neighborhoods.
  9. In the last century, people understood what makes us happy in neighborhoods and housing better than do most of our architects and builders today. Great quality of life is found in these houses that supported the right values, like the importance of living around nature. When builders decimate the trees, and crowd more buildings onto the land, it becomes increasingly difficult to feel any connection to nature. Big setbacks and welcoming homes that de-emphasize the garage and driveway were at their zenith when these historic neighborhoods were built. These are the things that make for happy lives.
  10. Duty. Letting the fine old neighborhoods be torn down for quick profits is bad stewardship and a dereliction of duty.  Doing the right thing may be one of the best opportunities we have to move the needle in our lifetime.  You can be a hero and save your neighborhood, or you can be one of the short-sighted who side with profit over preservation, and selfishness over community, the environment, and our shared cultural legacy. We are better than that.  

John McCulloch, Founder & Chairman of the McCulloch Foundation