Sometimes old things are better than new things, even though the old things might need a little work. This is why, for five days in late October, a group of 14 builders took part in a preservation training program and descended on a 106-year-old house in Little Rock to restore seven of its 18 windows.
Though it looks rather nondescript, with its white aluminum siding, gabled porch, brick foundation and chimney, this arts and crafts era house at 224 W. 21st St. is a piece of American history.
Built in 1916, the house was bought in the late ’30s by Ernest Green Sr. and his wife, Lothaire. Their son Ernest Green Jr., a member of the Little Rock Nine who, in 1958, became the first Black student to graduate from Little Rock Central High School, grew up here. The single-story house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Window Restoration/Weatherization Boot Camp was initiated by the Quapaw Quarter Association and the Dunbar Historic Neighborhood Association in consultation with Marshall Ray, a preservation trades workforce advocate from Jacksonville. The goal was two-pronged: help preserve the Green House windows and provide training for preservationists and builders.
“Our hope is that from this five-day program, while not exhaustive, they can get a little confidence and feel comfortable enough to sell their services,” says Patricia Blick, executive director of the Quapaw Quarter Association. “If you drive around downtown Little Rock you will see there are windows that need help.”
Funding for the $25,000 project came from sponsorships by Carole St. John Young, Preserve Arkansas, Little Rock, the Quapaw association and student’s fees, Blick says.
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The house, which still belongs to the Green family, is buzzing with activity on a cloudy Friday morning as students tend to each window in pairs.
Blick leads me inside, where the house has been stripped to its wooden skeleton and windows in various stages of completion sit carefully stacked on tables made of plywood and sawhorses.
A large paper tablet by the door has a list of things to do for this day including “first top coat application” (which is among the
tasks already checked off), “work on jambs,”https://news.google.com/__i/rss/rd/articles/”clean and oil pulley in place,” https://news.google.com/__i /rss/rd/articles/”drill parting stops,”https://news.google.com/__i/rss/rd/articles/”prime parting stops,” https://news.google.com/__i/rss /rd/articles/”drill tracks” and apply “second top coat.”
Bob Yapp, owner of Preservation Resources Inc. in Hannibal, Mo., was brought in to lead the window-saving boot camp. Yapp is a historical property developer and educator who spends half the year doing workshops like this one and the other half running the Belvedere School for Hands-on Preservation, in Hannibal.
He is wearing flannel and jeans and has a calming presence amid all the hammering, scraping and busyness going on around him. The Green House, he says, is “one of the most historic houses in the United States.”
When the project is finished, its three-panes-over-one style windows will be even better than they were in 1916, he says.
“We are weatherizing them, so we can make them as, or more, energy efficient than replacement windows, which blows people’s minds, but it’s not magic … We stop the air infiltration by putting in weather stripping, tracks and things like that .”
The Green House windows, made of Southern yellow pine, were already in pretty good shape, Yapp notes.
“We had one window that was the worst and it wasn’t as bad as 90% of the windows I work with. It’s a testament to good, old-growth wood that doesn’t rot … Putting this in a landfill would be criminal.”
Builders who can repair and preserve these old structures are needed, says Yapp, who has been involved in more than 160 restorations.
“The problem in preservation is that we don’t have enough people to do the work. We want to create jobs. Almost 60% of our existing housing stock is more than 50 years old, and we need to learn how to repair things instead of replace them.”
Ray is retired from the Air Force and a member of the Quapaw Quarter Association.
“I’ve been in construction all my life,” he says during a break from working on a window. “My main interest in workforce development is in the restoration trades.”
The workshop at the Green House “has exceeded my expectations,” he says. “It’s been a weeklong immersion in preservation. We have a real diverse group from throughout the state, and they will be taking their expertise back to their communities.”
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Tyrone Mallett of Gould and Stacy Matheny of Hot Springs are scraping paint off the sill of a window on the south side of the house. Mallett has recently started his own contracting business, TMT (which stands for Tool Man Tyrone); Matheny, a roofer, started Renewed Strength Roofing about a month ago. Both were keen to take part in the window project and expand their skill set.
“It’s been a great experience,” Mallett says. “It’s something totally new to me.”
“One of the main things my old boss ingrained in me was that any time you have the opportunity to learn how to do something new, go ahead and learn it,” Matheny says. “You never know what can happen down the road.”
Sisters Miranda and Melissa Smith were inspired to start their construction firm Smith Contract Services with other family members after restoring a historic house in Camden, where they moved about three years ago.
Their time at the window workshop has been beneficial, Miranda says.
“The steps we’ve learned so far and the details and the care we have to take is essential. If you’re ever going to do this as a job, you need to know this. We’re also learning about the financial benefits to making repairs and longevity versus the current quality of what’s in the market … If it’s lasted 100 years or more, if you put a little love in it and it lasts another 100 years, you’re not going to get that on the markets today.”
Katherine Nash works for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program and is scraping the sills on windows on the home’s west side.
“We’ve worked with Patricia, and I knew this workshop was coming up, and I just wanted to get a little more experience,” she says. “I’ve done a little bit of this before, but this is the first time I’ve been able to be there from start to finish. It’s been great.”
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Nash was teamed with Scott Green, an entrepreneur and the nephew of Ernest. Scott grew up nearby at 22nd and Chester streets and spent much of his childhood at this house.
“It was Grandmother’s house,” he says. “It has the designation of being a historic place, but this is Grandmother Green’s house. I was here all the time. She would insist that we come down and have hot dogs and hamburgers. I think I learned how to run by running back and forth to this house.”
Scott had been working on restoring the house over the years and plans to live here some day, but progress had slowed after some health issues. He learned about the chance to have a window preservation workshop after being contacted by the Dunbar Historic Neighborhood Association and says he was happy to have the help.
Working on the windows and having the crew of students and Yapp in the house has been a good experience, Green says.
“I pray that I retain half of what I’ve been shown. It seems like it’s speeding up as we get closer to the end. It’s been a classroom and these guys have been great, very respectful, very considerate. You can tell them want to be here and they embrace the soul of what this is and what it means to other people and especially me.”
It’s possible there could be more projects at the Green House, Blick notes.
“We’ve talked about potentially doing another boot camp where we remove the aluminum siding and repair and patch the historic siding.”
Preserving his uncle’s childhood home might cause other property owners or developers to look into the area as a place to invest, Green says.
“We have a lot of vacant lots. The bigger picture is I’m hoping it will inspire others that might see this and say, ‘Hey, maybe I want to put something over here.’ That’s what I’m really aiming for, to get people back to this area.”
Gallery: Historic windows workshop