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A Young Preservationist Determined to Learn a Trade

By Haley Roberts

Haley Roberts, on the far right in the picture, spent an academic year as a Landmarks Fellow at PHLF, and recently took a preservation demonstration course on restoring windows.

I have been an advocate for historic preservation for many years. I can talk anyone’s ear off about the historical significance of a place, and I can run an economic analysis to prove that a historic structure is a good investment for families or developers. However, in spite of those valuable skills, I still felt hypocritical in demanding the preservation of historic properties in Pittsburgh for one very good reason.

I could not actually DO historic preservation.

By that, I mean that I had no experience in the preservation trades like plaster repair, repointing masonry, or—my personal interest—wood window restoration. How could I possibly expect Pittsburgh residents to be good stewards of their historic homes if I had no idea how to maintain them myself?

I became determined to learn a trade. I chose to tackle window restoration specifically because windows, in my opinion, are the eyes into the soul of a home. Through them, people can see the spirit, passion, and craftsmanship that was poured into the construction of an older building. However, with an ever-decreasing supply of window restoration specialists, original wood windows in historic homes are at risk for being swapped out for vinyl replacements. When that occurs, these homes lose a significant part of their charm.

In trying to learn about wood windows through YouTube videos and blogs, I stumbled across the Historic Homes Workshop, an event in Tampa hosted by a local window restoration company called Wood Window Makeover that teaches people, step by step, how to repair wood windows. This nine-day intensive training consisted of two “classroom” days – one to learn the process of restoring a window, and the other to become an EPA-certified renovator – and two multi-day, hands-on projects where I put my knowledge to the test under the mentorship of window restorers from across the country.

During the workshop, I pulled window sashes out of their frames and restored the functionality of their rope and pulley mechanisms. I scraped layers of paint off of 100 year-old window jambs. I took wavy glass panes out of these windows and re-glazed them. I even learned to paint without painter’s tape and to use lots of different saws! All the while, I was networking with preservationists in Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, and many other states who shared their experiences, tactics, and struggles in protecting historic architecture in their hometowns.

I was thrilled to develop all of these skills and meet new people, but perhaps the most valuable thing I walked away with from the Historic Homes Workshop was an appreciation for the love and craftsmanship that went into wood windows when they were originally installed. I would have never known how rewarding working on windows can be without this hands-on experience. It only made my passion for historic preservation that much stronger.

As a result of the Historic Homes Workshop in Tampa, I feel confident that I can restore historic wood windows from start to finish. I cannot wait to start sharing my knowledge and advancing historic preservation efforts through preservation-specific trades here in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633