Historical Awnings / by Meredith Tompkins

According to the U. S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Heritage Preservation Service, historic photographs from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries offer ample precedent for the use of awnings on windows, above storefronts and at entrances. Decisions on particular projects must be based on the circumstances of each building, but as a general rule, in restoration projects, awnings are acceptable when the physical evidence or documented research clearly shows they were once on the building and the historic appearance is being accurately restored. In rehabilitation projects, awnings may be acceptable when they do not negatively affect the historic character of the building.

As "Interpreting the Standards Bulletin" No. 86-079 makes clear, awnings can in some cases so impair the historic character of a structure that denial of certification may result. However, historic photographs of streetscapes document a great profusion of awnings. Awnings of many sizes, shapes, patterns and colors ranged from one building to the next. Sometime more than one appeared on the same building. While careful scrutiny of awnings is justifiably part of the National Park Service review of tax act projects, care must be exercised in this area not to substitute strictly personal preferences for professional evaluations of historic character.