The guidelines of the
preservation movement and the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility
Guidelines (ADAAG) are on opposite ends of the design spectrum. Saving
historic environments that are often not accessible is the main goal
of the preservation movement. The ADAAG is concerned with making sure
all environments are accessible. This paper looks at how the preservation
movement can save historic environments and make them accessible without
compromising historic integrity.
America is full of
culturally, historically, and architecturally important buildings and
structures. Many of these buildings are worth saving because of their
ability to tell an important story about the development of this country’s
history. Beyond this, many of these buildings should be saved because
they can be viable parts of the community in which they are located.
However, in order to fulfill their potential, these buildings are expected
to meet current building and safety codes. Since the passage of the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), accessibility up to and throughout
the interiors of these buildings has become part of the code standards
that must be met. The modifications that are required for historic buildings
to become accessible often destroy much of the historic fabric and character
of the buildings. Preservationists and code officials are often at odds
when it comes to meeting the requirements of Title III of the ADA. This
is especially true when a commercial building, such as the Zarah Hotel
building in downtown Great Bend, Kansas, is rehabilitated to incorporate
contemporary uses and again become a revenue producing building. Maintaining
the historic integrity and character of the building while allowing
for persons with disabilities to access the goods and services provided
within the building is the challenge facing preservationists everywhere.
Preservationists and developers must take a closer look at the differences
between the philosophies of preservation and accessibility, solutions
to this challenge, and how those solutions affect an historic commercial
structure such as the Zarah Hotel.
Information: The Preservation Movement
The preservation of
historic structures in the United States started over a century ago
with the saving of President Washington’s home, Mount Vernon (Tyler,
2000). Since that time, the philosophy of the preservation movement
has grown to include not only the culturally important monuments of
our history but also the buildings that tell the story of small parts
of history, are architecturally important to our culture, and have useful
life yet to contribute. Preserving the historic buildings contributes
much to American society. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation,
in its 1979 study The Contribution of Historic Preservation to Urban
Revitalization, concluded that preservation of buildings within
historic districts contributed to the overall revitalization of the
districts including “economically, socially, physically, and aesthetically”
improving the district and surrounding city (Advisory Council, 1983,
p. 75). Historic buildings are being viewed for what they can offer
and not for their age and neglect. As William Shopsin challenges, “
. . . take a closer look at the ordinary old buildings we have inherited,
see beyond their grime and neglect, and discover their great potential
for enhancing the contemporary environment” (1986, p. 7). Historic buildings
are an important resource and should be treated as such. They should
be saved so they can continue to contribute to American society both
culturally and economically.
want to save the historical and architectural characteristics of historic
buildings at any cost. This can often be hard when building codes must
be met. This is especially difficult in rehabilitation projects that
allow much adaptation to meet current codes and contemporary use needs.
The National Park Service, which administers the National Register of
Historic Places, has adopted a set of standards and guidelines that
should be followed during all rehabilitation projects (Tyler, 2000).
These standards, known as “The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards
for Rehabilitation,” are very strict about retaining as much historic
building material and character as possible. Standard number two, for
example, explains what is expected in regards to character: “The historic
character of a property shall be retained and preserved. The removal
of historic materials or alterations of features and spaces that characterize
a property shall be avoided” (U.S. Department of the Interior, 1992,
p. 1). These standards are evidence that preservationists believe in
keeping historic buildings true to their historic design and characteristics.
The historic character and architectural elements must be retained to
the greatest extent possible even in adaptive use projects,. These projects
are often where the contrasting issues of preservation and accessibility
are incompatible. In most cases, in order to create an accessible historic
structure some historic character and elements must be sacrificed.
Information: Accessibility Issues
Since the passage of
the ADA in 1990, preservationists have had a very large design challenge
to face with regard to deciding how to save historic material and character
while making historic buildings accessible. Title III of the ADA requires
any new or existing building that houses public accommodations to be
designed or modified to allow for accessibility (Swanke Hayden Connell
Architects, 2000, p. 79). According to Grant Fondo, author of “Access
Reigns Supreme: Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and
A private entity is
considered a ‘public accommodation’ if it affects commerce and fits
into one of the following categories: (a) inn, hotel, or other place
of lodging . . . ; (b) a restaurant, bar or other establishments serving
food or drink; (c) a . . . place of exhibition or entertainment; (d)
a . . . place of public gathering; (e) a . . . sales or rental establishment;
(f) a . . . service establishment; (g) a . . . station used for specified
public transportation; (h) a . . . place of public display or collection;
(i) a … place of recreation; (j) a nursery, elementary, secondary, undergraduate,
or postgraduate private school, or other social service center establishment;
(k) a day care center, senior citizen center, homeless shelter, food
bank, adoption agency, or other social services center or establishment;
(l) a . . . place of exercise or recreation. (1994, pp. 104-105)
As this list shows
very few buildings are excluded from providing accessibility. Historic
buildings are used in a number of the situations listed. In order to
help designers create accessible designs within both new and existing
buildings, the Americans with Disabilities Act: Accessibility Guidelines
for Buildings and Facilities (ADAAG) was created in 1991. These
guidelines include all minimal standards that must be met in order to
ensure accessibility. Accessibility is now part of all building and
safety codes and must be met in all buildings that are considered public
With the increase in
acceptance of preservation as a viable solution to urban development
issues, many historic buildings that do not comply with current building
and safety and accessibility codes are considered for museums and many
contemporary uses. As stated above, these buildings are required to
meet the standards within the ADAAG. David Battaglia, author of Americans
with Disabilities Act: Its Impact on Historic Buildings and Structures,
explains that any modifications made after January 26, 1992 must comply
with the requirements of the ADAAG. Battaglia continues: “Much of the
work associated with rehabilitating or restoring historic buildings
falls within this definition” (1991, pp. 1172-73). Accessibility must
be taken into consideration during the project no matter what the work
on a historic building. This is very difficult for preservationists
because there is almost always a loss of historic material associated
with accommodating for accessibility.
Because most historic
buildings were constructed before persons with disabilities were given
equal opportunity, there are several aspects of their design that are
often the largest problems for accessibility. Marilyn Kaplan, in her
booklet Safety, Building Codes and Historic Buildings, identifies
the most common barriers to accessibility as “inadequate means of access
or egress, inaccessible interior spaces, and inaccessible facilities
(toilets, baths, kitchens)” (1996, p. 6). Many historic buildings were
originally designed with grand entrances that often included stairs.
Stairs are an immense barrier for persons with disabilities. Some of
the barriers in the interiors are narrow doorways, stairs, inappropriate
room for turning radii for wheelchairs, and narrow hallways. Toilet
rooms, kitchens, and other utilitarian spaces of the buildings are often
too small for persons with wheelchairs. These deficiencies must all
be corrected in order to make the historic building accessible for sharing
the building’s past and future with everyone in society.
Even though some historic
significance is almost always stripped away in the process of making
historic buildings accessible, these buildings must be made available
to everyone. The philosophy of the preservation movement aspires to
saving historic buildings to tell the story of America’s past. Preservationists
are saving buildings in order to share this historic significance with
everyone, including persons with disabilities. Norman Tyler explains,
“Having a historic building should not be an excuse for not providing
access to disabled persons, and every effort should be made to ensure
a rich and satisfying experience for all individuals” (2000, p. 166).
Sharing America’s rich historical and architectural past with everyone
should be the main objective when saving a historic building.
for Resolving Regulatory Conflicts
Because the ideal outcomes
of preservation efforts may be jeopardized in order to meet the ADA,
a compromise needed to be formed. When the ADA was under consideration
by the United States government, the concerns of preservationists were
brought to the attention of Congress. As Grant Fondo explains, “Congress
recognized these conflicts and attempted a compromise of sorts by creating
exceptions to the statutes. This compromise reduced the accessibility
requirements for qualified historic properties where modifications would
threaten or destroy the historical significance of qualified buildings
and facilities” (1994, p. 99). This compromise does not allow historic
buildings to be completely exempt from the requirements of the ADA.
In fact, if no historical significance is threatened then the building
is not considered historical under the ADA and the most stringent requirements
for new construction must be met. However, if it can be proven that
modifications for accessibility would threaten or destroy historic material
and character, the special provisions for accessibility to and within
historic buildings can be followed. These provisions still make the
building accessible, however, the accessibility is to a lesser degree
than for new construction. In The ADA and Privately Owned Historic
Facilities, Casey Frank explains what is included in the special
provisions: at least one wheelchair-accessible route to the facility’s
entrance; at least one accessible public entrance or one accessible
separate entrance; one unisex accessible toilet; access to entrance-level
public spaces; access to all levels, if practical; and signage at seated
level” (1994, p. 2750). These provisions still provide access to historic
buildings while helping to maintain as much historical significance
as possible. However, some historic buildings, such as museums, cannot
meet these standards without losing a majority of their significance.
In this case, a third option is available. However, as Norman Tyler
warns, the third option should be used only as a last resort when the
first two options are not feasible (2000, p. 166). This option allows
for providing an alternative experience, such as a virtual tour of and
displays from the house museum in an accessible building on the site.
Although meeting standards for new construction is always the best approach
to accessibility, there are other ways to provide accessibility and
save historic significance.
in Application: A Case Study
The Zarah Hotel was
constructed in 1925 with the hotel lobby, retail spaces, and offices
on the first floor adjacent to Main Street and Lakin Avenue in Great
Bend, Kansas. The original building appeared from the street side to
be a square with nine window bays of eight over one double hung construction
on both the Main Street and Lakin facades. During the late 1930s construction
started on an addition to the south portion of the building, adding
an additional four window bays on the Main Street façade and a fourth
floor for hotel employee housing (see floor plans in Appendices A-D).
Although the architecture of this building is not grand or really very
important to architectural history, the story of the building is important
to Great Bend’s history. This building was constructed in a vibrant
downtown during a time when Great Bend and central Kansas were experiencing
immense economic growth. The increase in hotel space describes how central
Kansas and the Great Plains were attracting people from across the country.
The city had been in existence for around fifty years and had claimed
its worth to the people of central Kansas. The hotel portion of the
Zarah building remained in use until the 1970s. The first floor is currently
still in use, maintaining retail and office spaces for businesses in
downtown Great Bend. However, extensive remodeling was done to the first
floor in the late 1970s to accommodate changing design approaches. The
exterior facades of the building have retained most of their historic
character, which is uncommon for a building in downtown Great Bend.
The interiors of the second, third, and fourth floors also retain original
design elements, including ceramic tiles, carpeting, and plaster walls.
Because of its large scale and proportions, the Zarah Hotel building
is an important symbol for the identity of the downtown and the city
of Great Bend.
Currently, very little
in the Zarah Hotel building is accessible. The ability for persons with
disabilities to enter the Zarah Hotel is the first obstacle that must
be solved. There are numerous entrances from both the Lakin Avenue and
Main Street elevations, however none of them are accessible. Figure
One shows one of the main entrances to the lobby of the building. The
two main entrances have four risers to the doorway. The entrances to
the retail spaces all have one riser to the doorway. Once inside the
building, access to the first floor spaces is once again an issue. The
lobby space is accessible, however the retail spaces and offices are
not accessible (Figure 2). The floor level drops two risers to most
of these spaces. Access to the second and third floors is available
with an elevator. However, once on the second and third floors, the
hotel rooms are inaccessible. The doorways are only 2’-8” rough openings.
With the frames added these doorways would not be acceptable according
to ADAAG standard 4.2.1, which requires a minimum width of 32 inches
at the doorway (1991, p. 14). The bathrooms connected to the hotel rooms
also are not accessible. Many of these bathrooms have a one-riser step
to gain access to them. As Figure 3 shows, once inside there is not
enough room for a wheelchair to turn around. Standard 4.2.3 requires
a turning radius of 60 inches to accommodate wheelchair users. Access
to the fourth floor is currently not available for persons with disabilities.
The historic hardware that is retained on the doors in the building
does not comply with the ADAAG standard 4.13.9 (Figure 4). This standard
requires “Handles, pulls, latches, locks, and other operating devices
on accessible doors shall have a shape that is easy to grasp with one
hand and does not require tight grasping, tight pinching, or twisting
of the wrist to operate” (1991, p. 37). These are some of the most important
accessibility issues that face the Zarah Hotel; still, during a rehabilitation
project using this building more accessibility issues may be brought
to light. With corrections to these and any other issues that might
arise, the Zarah Hotel can once again contribute significantly to its
neighborhood and city.
The solutions to the
issues of accessibility at the Zarah Hotel must be creative in order
to retain historic significance while making the building useful again.
In order to retain as much historic material as possible, an accessible
door will be placed beside the entrance on Lakin Avenue (Figure 5).
Moving the doorway flush with the exterior elevation will modify one
of the street entrances to the retail spaces along Lakin. Once inside
a ramp will be added to allow wheelchair users to gain access to the
first floor. An accessible hallway to the retail spaces should also
be provided along the ramp. Because the original interior materials
and character on the first floor were lost during the 1970s remodel,
adding accessibility to the space will not conflict with the issue of
saving historic significance. The solution to the accessibility issues
with regards to the hotel rooms and adjacent bathrooms must be addressed
as part of a comprehensive rehabilitation project. Because of the period
during which the hotel was built, the rooms are all unique in their
floor plan and present unique problems. With the number of occupants
allowed by the safety codes, the hotel is required to have two accessible
sleeping rooms with attached accessible bathrooms. Figure 6 shows the
floor plan of these rooms. The new design should retain the original
ceramic tiles and doorframes. This will save historic significance while
allowing for the hotel rooms to be made accessible. Adding an elevator
easily solves access to the fourth floor. The original vertical circulation
corridor from the third to fourth floors contains a stairwell and maid’s
closets on the second floor (Figure 7). This space easily lends itself
to the addition of an elevator. Although the characteristic of the stairwell
area between the third and fourth floors will change, it will still
be used for vertical circulation (Figure 8). The original door hardware
does not comply with ADAAG standards. In order to fix this, new hardware
that does comply can be added to the door in place of the existing knobs
or thumb levers. Or a lever mechanism can be custom made to retrofit
the knobs without losing any historic significance. There are many solutions
to achieve accessibility in the Zarah Hotel. Each issue must be considered
individually with regard to saving historic significance while making
the building economically viable to the community of Great Bend, Kansas.
The historic preservation
movement in the United States has been lobbying to save the historically
significant buildings throughout the country for several decades. The
preservationists want to save as much historic materials and character
a possible within these buildings. As can be seen in the analysis of
the Zarah Hotel in Great Bend, Kansas, each historic building faces
numerous unique accessibility issues. The solutions to those issues
are also unique depending upon the historic significance of each building.
Some compromise will no doubt have to be taken into consideration with
regard to losing historic significance. Saving these buildings and their
character is important in making America’s history available to everyone.
Advisory Council on
Historic Preservation. (1979). The contribution of historic preservation
to urban revitalization. Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing
Americans with disabilities
act: Accessibility guidelines for buildings and facilities (ADAAG).
(1991). Washington, D.C.: U. S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers
Battaglia, D. H. (1991).
Americans with disabilities act: Its impact on historic buildings and
structures, Preservation Law Reporter, 10 (11), 1169-79.
Fondo, G. P., (1994).
Access reigns supreme: Title III of the Americans with disabilities
act and historic preservation, The BYU Journal of Public Law, 9
Frank, C., (1994).
The ADA and privately owned historic facilities, The Colorado Lawyer,
23 (12), 2749-52.
Kaplan, M. E. (1996).
Safety, building codes and historic buildings. Washington, D.C.:
National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Shopshin, W. C. (1986).
Restoring Old Buildings for Contemporary Uses. New York: Whitney
Library of Design.
Swanke Hayden Connell
Architects. (2000). Historic preservation: Project planning &
estimating. Kingston, MA: R. S. Means.
Tyler, N. (2000). Historic
preservation: An introduction to its history, principles, and practice.
New York: W. W. Norton.
U. S. Department of
the Interior, National Park Service, Preservation Assistance Division.
(1992). Thesecretary of the interior’s standards for rehabilitation
and guidelines for rehabilitating historic buildings, Rev. ed. Washington,
D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior.
A: First Floor Plan
Appendix B: Second Floor Plan
C: Third Floor Plan
D: Fourth Floor Plan
1. Current main entrance
2. First floor spaces diagram
3. Historic bathroom
4. Historic door opener
First floor accessibility features diagram
6. Accessible hotel room after rehabilitation
7: Fourth floor original stairwell (before rehabilitation)
8. Fourth floor with elevator (after rehabilitation)