Sunday, February 24, 2008

Rant on Vinyl Windows and Fences

There will be a special joint Planning Commission/Council meeting on Monday, Feb. 25 at 7:00 pm at the Ganesha Park community center. What's at stake is the future look of Pomona's historic districts. Really.

You can read John Clifford's post over at M-m-m-my Pomona for the details of what will be discussed, and other ways to get your opinions to the council people if you can't attend the meeting or don't want to speak in public.

Here's my take on the issues, and then I'll shut up. I know that not everyone who reads this blog may be on board with regard to the rules and regs of living in an historic district. I respect that. It's just that I love these old homes and I've experienced first hand how sad and blighted even the most "historic" neighborhood can look when people erect prison-like fences in front of stuccoed over, vinyl-windowized homes.

Pomona's largest natural resource, besides the salt-of-the-earth human beings I seem to meet at every turn, is the beautiful array of historic housing stock. Let's not allow the City to give the historic districts the Pomona treatment (As in, "it's only Pomona, what's the big deal?") Residents battled for years to get the historic districts in place. Pomona was truly proactive in this regard. The reason that Lincoln Park is so striking is not an accident, but because of the safeguards built into the ordinance. It's backwards to propose dismantling what has so visibly worked. The ordinance has always prohibited vinyl windows from replacing wood ones, nor does it allow wood structures to be stuccoed. The ordinance should continue to do so, with the promise of more outreach to the community to avoid future confusion and mistakes on the part of people who put in the vinyl windows and then must change them back to wood.

Fences, however, have never been addressed by the historical ordinance, and in recent years we have seen quite a few ugly fences manage to detract character from entire blocks. While before one would view down a cohesive greeness of a block, you now have ocassional metal fences that stick out like a sore thumb. While there are situations (such as certain corner lots) where fencing might be a safety issue, on the whole I have to ask how these homes have gone nearly a hundred years without a fence, yet suddenly they need one now. If a fence simply has to be built, it should at least be in keeping with the style and material of the house.

Pomona has been way ahead of the game. There are still districts in Los Angeles going through the protracted process to accomplish historic status, all the while having to suffer the blows of seeing yet another fence erected, yet another vinyl window installed, yet another bungalow turned stuccalow.

The first house we ever owned was a 99.9% intact craftsman bungalow in "The Bungalows" area of Los Angeles' Jefferson Park District. The heart of the area is Arlington Avenue, about five blocks south of the 10 freeway. Last I heard, they were still fighting the good fight to become a historic district. One of my old neighbors there writes a blog entitled Recentering El Pueblo . Adam often writes about the incursion of inappropriate fences, stuccalows and vinyl windows into the neighborhood. You can read his posts on Vinyl Window Replacement part one and part two. My favorite all time post of his is about some neighborhood dogs that are kept on a roof (click here for the post but you have to scroll way down the page). Anyone who has endured the rigors of hardcore urban living can appreciate the humor of his posts. Mostly, it makes me feel lucky we have protections here in Pomona. I say let's keep it that way!



linknpark said...

Great point. Regardless of the problems that Pomona as a city has that need to be rectified, it is important that we continue to keep watch on the neighborhood to ensure that the historical integrity remains. The fences that have gone up are (for the most part) terrible looking, and while I understand the problems people are complaining about in regard to vinyl vs. wood windows, it is also a very important point to stress. Vinyl windows are terribly out of place on these homes, and I would be more than happy to help anyone in need of replacement windows (my family owns a furniture and cabinet shop, and we have access to t.m. cobb windows, and can build custom windows to spec). The stucco bungalow problem is something else entirely, and in fact we have every intention of removing our 1940-50's siding to refinish the original tongue and groove siding underneath for the aesthetic purposes of the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

Lincoln Park,

I am so glad to hear that you will be removing the 40's/50's siding from your home and replenishing the original tongue and groove. It is great to hear and see people within Pomona take pride in the architecture of their homes.

We definitely need to protect our neighborhoods and our property values by not allowing wood windows to be replaced with vinyl, whether you can see them from the curbside or not. As the GofP stated, it is as important to retain the cohesive greeness of our blocks. If we start allowing or making exceptions of these rules we will eventually change the character of the entire neighborhood.

It is vital that we move forward in preservation and preserve the history of our communities. We must not give up the progress we have thus far succeeded in.

me said...

One postscript would be this: People of all ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic status are not only interested, but excited, about protecting historic homes, especially once they are informed about the high quality of craftsmanship and materials that went into their homes. My own family is multi-ethnic, and we are all equally proud of our home and neighborhood.

G of P

Ed said...

I actually think fences are covered under the historic ordinance, but are considered a minor alteration and therefore, not reviewed by the historic commission.

Here's a little food for thought:
Windows--Should we allow only single pane windows and not the thermal-efficient double or triple pane windows? And if like-material is the goal, why are we not requiring "antique" glass in all new window installations? If a window manufacturer made a window that was indistinguishable from a wood window, would that be ok? What if the 5 out of 10 people couldn't distinguish it, would that be ok?

Fences (material)--if the problem with plastic fences is the aesthetic, would it be ok if you couldn't tell it was plastic? Should we allow pressure-treated posts or metal posts since those weren't originally available? Who decides if it's "ugly"? If 5 out of ten decide it's ugly is that ok, or should it just be my neighbor, who doesn't like front yard fences? If we see the same evolution of fence material that we've seen in decking materials, shouldn't a resident be able to use it? Is it better to have a fence that requires yearly maintenance and still eventually rots?

Fences (front yards)--do you really know that most of these yards never had a fence? What if I could show that my neighbor once had a fence, shouldn't I be allowed to put one in? What if I take my fence out next year, should the next owner not be allowed to put one in? Is a hedge ok? What if I put a fence inside the hedge, so you couldn't see it? What if I really want to have a fence in my front yard, should I not buy your house or that Mediterranean on Jefferson?

Front yards (greenness)--does that mean I can only have grass? What about a cactus garden? What if I like red bushes?

Do we really want a tract neighborhood governed by restrictive CC&Rs that don't allow a resident to put in a little front yard fence? I love the rainbow of architectural, landscape,and painting colors that have successfully evolved in this neighborhood. Are you sure we really need to modify the current version of the historical ordinance? Are we eventually going to decide that only some house colors are appropriate and others are "ugly"?

linknpark said...


I don’t know what the exact answers to these questions are, but there should be some sort of reasonable threshold by which to judge these things.

For example, I am pretty sure we can all agree that a chain link fence in the front yard of a home in a historic district is wholly inappropriate. Likewise a rotting, rusted rod iron looking fence a-la South Central L.A. is probably inappropriate too. Now there are several rod iron fences around the neighborhood that look completely appropriate, and also some that look completely out of place.

How about a neighbor who paints their house a particularly garish color of teal and tangerine that is totally out of place in regard to the neighborhoods historical context. I’m not advocating for a fascist historic ordinance implementation, but shouldn’t we as a community be of similar mind in regard to preserving our neighborhoods historic integrity.

City code enforcement gave me a citation last year for having the front of my house torn up for too long, and I quickly rectified the situation (although I was in the process of completing it anyway) because of it.

If financial restrictions are of primary concern, there are always options, and we as a neighborhood could help to pool resources in order to make sure that everyone can reasonably afford the changes that are suggested by the historic commission on a reasonable time-table. As I have previously mentioned, we have individuals (including myself) in the neighborhood who can help by volunteering time and expertise in order to help restore houses to their former glory.

Anonymous said...

Although I know that the ordinance doesn't cover house colors....
Think if your neighbor painted their craftsman home electric blue. ( Don't laugh, I have seen it before).
I know if I was looking at moving into a historic neighborhood I would think twice moving next to a house like that. My point is that many coices that people make effect our properties (guilt by association) value.
I don't want to be the guy that order's pizza by sayng I am next to the electric blue house.

Anonymous said...

Now Ed, that's a bit extreme.

me said...

Ed- If someone found vinyl windows that looked like wood and would continue to look like wood as they aged, I believe they could make that argument, perhaps successfully, before the historic commission. I was actually suprised by how many exceptions to the rules were madet at the one commission meeting I attended. The ordinance necessarily has to have some teeth to begin with for this reason.

fences-As proposed by Heritage, it would be up to the historic commission as to if a fence was approrpriate to the style and material of the house. "Ugly" is just the pedestrian version of what it ends up looking like when the material and style are unrelated to the house (if you can even see the house past the fence).

Perhaps you haven't driven in some areas that have been heavily fenced. Maybe then you would think more fowardly on this issue.

G of P
p.s. i hope you'll still give me the pineapples.

Ed said...

The pineapples are all yours, just send me an email.

To "Electric Blue" anonymous and Linknpark...I guess you see why I included paint as an issue. Are we sure somebody in 1920 didn't paint their house an offensive color (at least according to 1920's standards)? Should we preclude a resident from doing it today? Paint approval form

I never actually stated my opinion regarding any of these topics, so it was interesting to have my comment called extreme by one person and not forward thinking by another. I hope y'all are right in your belief that mandated conformity is the best neighborhood policy. I don't really know the answer, but the community seems to be moving in the right direction with the existing historic ordinance, so I question whether modifying the ordinance is necessary for a couple of fences (that will be torn out eventually anyway).

I forgot to mention cement-based clapboards, copper pipes, pex tubing (eventually) and asphalt shingle roofs in my previous rant. Oh, and what about latex paint, should we or shouldn't we?

Thanks for sharing your opinions.

Ed said...

Sorry, had a extra backslash.

paint approval form

Anonymous said...

I actually like that form....maybe we can implement it! JK

John Clifford said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Clifford said...

OK, I'll finally weigh in here with a few comments.

Fences: There is no provision in the historic ordinance regarding fences. There is a city code regarding height and, somewhat, materials of fences, but that's citywide. The reason they're looking at it now is because the city is looking to try and get rid of as many ugly chainlink fences throughout the city and didn't want to move toward the vinyl fencing in the historic district, which they knew a lot of people living there would object to. I somewhat agree with Ed that fences are usually temporary and easily reparable, so no harm is actually done to the historic property but putting up a bad fence. It would just be nice if citizen's took the look of the neighborhood, and the style of their home into account when doing so, more for the overall good of the neighborhood than any major problem with historic conformance. However, the small retaining walls at the front of many of our properties are a different issue and should reflect the historic walls that were there.

Paint: Ooooh, that's a good one. Most cities regard paint as temporary and replaceable so don't regulate color. I've seen some pretty awful paint jobs but don't want to get into this fight at all. Since I've been here in the neighborhood (over 10 years) and in the city (over 20 years) I haven't seen that many extreme examples (with the exception of the formerly Purple House on Alvarado just east of Garey, which is finally painted in a reasonable, if not great, color scheme).

Vinyl Windows and other "alternative" materials: This is a little more of a problem. The ordinance is based on the Secretary of the Interior Standards for historic preservation. In the SoI standard they have the "best practices" for preserving historic structures, which state that like materials, textures, and workmanship should be used whenever possible. It's actually more than aesthetics, it has to do with the historic accuracy of the building. The standards recognize that there are things that just don't make sense any more for various reasons, including health and safety and rarety of some materials.

We don't suggest that knob & tube electric should be maintained just because it's historic (although it might be nice to keep some of the materials in place for the discovery of future owners -- without live electricity of course). Nor is it reasonable to ask people to jeopardize their homes with old iron pipes. We all recognize that these homes are not museums, but places where real people have to live.

However, the FIRST best practice, is to NOT remove historic elements, but to repair them. The one big advantage of wood for siding, windows, and a lot of other elements is that it is repairable and elements in wood can be easily replicated in wood.

The average vinyl window lasts about 15 years. At the end of that time it must be replaced. The average wood window, with maintenance can last hundreds of years and can be repaired, and new parts can be milled, while aluminum or vinyl styles that have been discontinued by their manufacturers are almost impossible to replace. This is especially true of the new siding materials where wood can always be milled, some of the siding styles are already impossible to match.

In addition, the insulation value of single pane wood windows is similar to double pane vinyl, especially depending on how the vinyl was installed. You CAN install double-glazed windows in wood sashes.

Final Comments (yeah, sure): I personally HATE (yes I know I'm yelling) neighborhoods where all of the houses look the same. Neighborhoods where there are associations that regulate everything from paint color to window treatments are awful in my book. But in a historic neighborhood there is an obligation to keep the home in at least a semblance of its original form so that future homeowners can have the opportunity to love them as we do.

me said...

John, will you please stop repeating yourself :)

Gosh, I actually liked the purple house on Alvarado(there's a back post about it's demise). There's still a purple house down on the 300 block (?) of San Francisco Street, you know. Having been personally acquainted with the occupant artist of the funky purple house in our old neighborhood, I would love to live next door to purple-housed neighbors!

G of P

Anonymous said...

Any comments on satellite dishes, contemporary venting systems on roofs, visible solar panels, concrete driveways, modern automobiles, visible RVs, etc.? Some of the Amish wear digital watches and nylon hose, ride 10 speed bikes, and have battery powered lamps on their horse-drawn wagons. How do we, in the historic districts decide what, how much, and when?
I agree that vinyl windows are "wrong" but what about contemporary materials that resemble wood so closely that it is impossible to tell unless you put your magnifying glass on it, never has termites, never rots, and doesn't use up trees? And is affordable?

me said...

Ok, I'll bite. It's a marketing scam that vinyl windows are better for the environment than wood ones, given their markedly shorter life span.

"visible Rv's"? Does that mean there are such a thing as invisible Rv's. If so, then yes, I'd love to see invisible Rv's written into the historic ordinance.

G of P

John Clifford said...

Sorry for repeating myself. My 'puter must have hiccoughed. I've deleted the second posting.

John Clifford said...

OK anon, I'm sure you're trying to make a far-out argument but I'll answer some of your comments.

Satellite dishes: fully removable, but they should not be so large or in areas where they detract from the nature of the house.

Venting systems: health and safety issue, I think I covered it.

Solar Panels: actually an issue that we expect will be coming up. There are different views on this and it will have an immense impact on the visual significance of historic districts.

Concrete driveways: landscaping and hardscaping of yards is OK as long as it doesn't detract from the historic. Many of our historic homes in Lincoln Park don't have full concrete driveways but "runners" with grass in the middle. Hopefully at least some of the residents will keep these as they do add to the historic nature of the home.

Modern Automobiles: You're kidding here I'm sure. Not attached to the building or property. Fully removable.

Visible RVs: Some cities have regulations that RVs cannot be seen from the street. Cannot be parked in driveways, etc. However, I don't think that is the purview of a preservation group for the same reasons as automobiles. The RV rules are actually most enforced in newer "planned" communities. (I know people who have to purchase off-site RV parking elsewhere in a neighboring city).

Your argument on vinyl windows is why the commission wants to continue to take each case on a case-by-case basis. WHEN a good vinyl window appears on the market they want to be able to approve it. As stated at the last commission meeting, at this time they haven't seen one. AND the ones that come closest are even more expensive than wood.

At that time we can discuss the damage that vinyl does to the environment, and its inherent health risks (several countries have banned their use).

Ed said...

Since I'm not "anonymous" I really can't speak for his/her intent, but I would guess the comment was more about the flexibility to use alternative materials than the environmental/aesthetic benefits of "vinyl" windows. I'll just throw out the new decking materials, as a prime example. We are starting to see similar advances in fencing materials. These products (like Trex) commonly use wood byproducts like sawdust in their manufacture.

I'm fine with the Commission wanting oversight over fencing, but limiting the choice of material to wood when new, BETTER products are increasingly becoming available doesn't make sense. Furthermore, telling a homeowner that they can't have a front yard fence because the Commission doesn't deem it appropriate is stepping over the line. Limit the size or style or increase the setback if there is a problem, but don't ban a homeowner from putting up a fence. The Claremont Village area has some interesting fences that aren't intrusive or impacting on the greenness of the area.

John, I didn't think fences were covered under the Preservation Ordinance either, but there is a mention of perimeter fencing in the section on Certificate of Appropriateness. I only did a cursory review of the ordinance, so I might be wrong. Of course, if the building department doesn't have fence guidelines put forth by the Historic Commission, then most likely, the building department would only use the standard of the city-wide ordinance.

Ed said...

Solar panels: Some of these houses originally might have proudly displayed solar water heaters on their roof (mine did). Just off the top of my head, banning them may also run counter to Federal or state regulations, so good luck with that one. I would think satellite dishes are in the same category, more than their removability being the reason.

me said...

I'd argue that solar panels or anything that makes us more sustainable should be not only allowed, but encouraged. If the planet is no longer populated by human beings to enjoy the homes, it really doesn't matter how historically appropriate they look.

Now about those invisible Rv's...

G of P

John Clifford said...

Ed, perimeter fencing, I believe, is talking mostly about back and sideyard fences. I also have no problem with alternative fence materials that look good. Again, to me--not speaking for others who I know have a strong opinion on this, I don't have a problem as long as they look good and are appropriate in style. Again, to me, a fence is a temporary/removable item and it doesn't permanently change the historic nature of the structure, nor, does it take it out of contribution to the district under the SOI standards.

Again, I don't want to get into the solar panel discussion because it has MANY implications.

We've been thinking about installing panels on our garage, which is not visible from the street or alley, but I think it would be awful to ruin our red tile roof with them and wouldn't even consider it (we also have the advantage that our roof is shaded under a canopy of two large oak trees which are protected as well.

As far as the state and federal laws on panels, historic properties are often excluded from such things. Public buildings can even get by the ADA and some public safety regulations because they have historic status. Lincoln Park, as a National Register District would probably fall under those exemptions, but I haven't seen the regs so am not sure.

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