One place across time

The Vancouver National Historic Reserve uses design standards to create a seamless environment attractive to visitors

The Vancouver National Historic Reserve is aggressively planning to be a top tourism destination. With a new lease on Officer’s Row and the West Barracks worth $1.5 million in gross annual rental receipts, the Historic Reserve Trust is well positioned to grow latent projects like ARTillery in the Reserve.

But the recently approved Historic Reserve Conservation District, a city ordinance that spells out design standards for the acreage, emphasizes the cultural resources and historic character of the area. This, says Trust Executive Director Elson Strahan, is what the visitors want.

A holistic approach
“The uniqueness of the Historic Reserve was the impetus for us to move in this direction, to create the Conservation District,” he said. “We are trying through a variety of means to make the physical environment seamless.”

In addition to the District, in the last year, the Trust has solidified a number of other initiatives that speak to the same goal – making the Reserve, in the words of its tag line – “one place across time.”

The Reserve has created a properties committee comprised of representatives of the National Parks Service, the Reserve Trust and the city of Vancouver. The U.S. Army and the Federal Highway Administration are also landowners on the property. This committee, said Strahan, is “very holistic in its approach. It’s a way for us to jointly move forward with the development and management of the properties.” The Conservation District serves as a blueprint for many of the committee’s activities.

Also in the last year, the Historic Reserve partners launched a new graphic identity with logos designed by local artist Jane Vanderzanden that identify Historic Reserve destinations such as the Pearson Air Museum, the McLaughlin House and the Water Resources Education Center.

Underpinning these activities is a long range master plan, about to be finalized by the partners. The 20-year plan outlines goals and objectives for the Reserve in a variety of areas.

One place across time
Jan Bader, manager of city-owned land at the Reserve, and senior city planner Jon Wagner worked with Reserve partners to create the District. Ron Mah, senior planner with Vancouver-based JD White Co., consulted.
The ordinance creates design standards elements such as plantings, furnishings like light fixtures and benches, parking lot placements and future building remodels.

Until last month the area was under the guidelines of the Central Park Plan, developed in the 1970s to relate features in the area “back to the various cultures that settled within the fort or within the surrounding areas,” said Mah. For example, “Alaskan” landscaping would go in one area, while “Asian” plantings might be placed somewhere else.

The new ordinance proposes that zones be set up using historic time periods and Pacific Northwest plantings as much as possible.

Development and changes that have taken place over the course of time are evidence of the unique history and character of each building, structure or site and its environment, reads the ordinance.

Further changes to the existing development will be compatible with the eight historic periods established for specific areas within the Historic Reserve, including Indian Country (pre-1824), Hudson Bay Company Period (1824-1846), Fort Vancouver and Vancouver Barracks (1847-1860), U.S. Army (1861-1916), U.S. Army and World War I (1917-1918), U.S. Army and Civilian Conservation Corps (1919-1941), U.S. Army and World War II (1942-1947) and Modern Era/National Park Service Period (1948 and forward).

So while furnishings and landscaping may be different from area to area within the Reserve, they will reflect these time periods. For example, at the fort, visitors might see more wood used, while at the artillery barracks or Red Cross building, more metal fixtures may be found. Also, at the barracks, plantings and furnishings would be less ornate, said Mah, while at Officer’s Row, the landscaping would have “more refinement,” reflecting usage during the time of occupancy. These regulations also apply to signage.

The ordinance requires the use of environmentally sound and energy efficient products and materials for all new construction and remodeling throughout, except when it can be clearly demonstrated “that use of sustainable products and materials will significantly detract from the historic integrity of the individual building or the special district.”

Back to the future
A design book is in development that will be made available to future contractors on individual projects. It will provide further details, photos and descriptions of elements from the time periods outlined in the ordinance.

And while the standards are in place, this does not mean a flurry of remodeling or construction activity will begin.

“It’s not fiscally prudent to pull existing furnishings that are in good shape today and change them out,” said Strahan. “We are looking at a replacement plan.”

The ordinance is not designed to drastically change the look and feel of the area. Rather, it is in place to preserve what stakeholders have worked to maintain over the last two centuries.

“Without a set of design standards,” he said, “we would end up with something that was unintended.”

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