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Q & A with Brad Schide

Brad upright


AGE: 59




As a circuit rider for the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, Brad Schide drives around the state helping cities and towns, property owners, preservation groups and developers save historic buildings. Recently he was part of a successful campaign in South Windsor to rescue the circa-1782 Asahel Olcott House -- an architecturally significant former home of a Revolutionary War soldier which had suffered years of neglect -- from the wreckers ball. He and his family call home a 19th-century Italianate house on South Main Street in Wallingford that is itself on the National Register. He spoke recently with Antique Homes.   


Q. What does a circuit rider do?

A. "It is the age-old concept of Paul Revere going from town to town, kind of the town crier on a horse. The joke I get a lot is, "Wheres your horse?" The Connecticut Trust provides no horses -- I do have a car.

"The circuit rider essentially is field service. The whole idea is to have a field presence on issues and concerns around historic preservation, directly meeting with non-profit groups, concerned folks, developers, municipalities. We try to be helpful everywhere. Right now we have three circuit riders. Weve got a seasoned group here."

Q. Tell about some properties the trust and its circuit riders have helped preserve.

A. "The most recent one I was directly involved in was in South Windsor. It was in a National Register historic district, a historic house that had an owner in the Revolutionary War, all the bells and whistles. Anyway, this guy buys it in January of this year. It was in bad shape because the previous owner had not taken care of it. He bought it cheap. He went in and said he was going to demolish it and build a McMansion or something. This came out of nowhere. People rose up and said, "Why is this guy doing this?" There was a huge groundswell of concern.

"The Connecticut Trusts role was bringing those folks together. We also have a very unusual state regulation, which basically allows the state and various people to have standing in a court of law to block a demolition. We use that only as a threat -- we do not try to use it that much. Connecticut Trust does not usually initiate it – it is usually initiated by the state historic preservation office. 

"We posed the threat to this guy that, as long as there was this groundswell of support, we could get state involvement. We had a meeting set up that the owner would have to attend, to talk about alternatives to demolition. I should also say he would not let me in the house. He would not let anybody in to see it once he got the lay of the land.

"How did we actually get a victory out of this? We were going towards a lawsuit, but out of the clear blue, one of the neighbors bought the house. It had this incredibly happy ending. Apparently this guy buys houses, rehabs and sells them. Now he is in the process of rehabbing the property and hopefully will sell it to a buyer a little more sympathetic.

"We are not like tree-huggers, or "building-huggers." First of all, we want peoples involvement and interest. If we save a building and only two or three of us notice, it is not a victory. The real victories are like in South Windsor, where we had 10 or 12 planning people and in addition, 300 people who were very, very concerned. Plus we got the state involved. Everybody was ready to do what they had to do to save this property. 
"I should also say the town had a demolition delay. When the guy went in for the demolition permit in January the commission met and we were part of that hearing -- there was major turnout -- and they invoked the demo delay for 180 days. That bought us time. Without that it might have been more complicated." 

Q. Looking back, is there another case in which you have taken particular pleasure?

A. "Yes, there was another one -- the Salvation Army in Manchester, Conn. This was downtown and they were going to demolish the whole property to build a new Salvation Army setting. We met with the colonel of the Salvation Army and we brought an architect and an engineer, pro bono. We said, "Hey, we could give you an alternative. You can still get all the space you need, and still do a piece of new construction, but you can save the existing structure." It looked like an armory -- it was a really nice, beautiful building. He was open but you could tell he was not real happy about it. He did come back with his architects, and they chatted with ours and, by golly, did a whole new plan. He said this was actually a better plan -- he ended up complimenting everybody. 

"Preservation (involves) trying to pose positive alternatives. There was a library in Suffield, we did the same thing. A contingent of people wanted to take down the modernist library, which was fantastic. The town had a referendum coming up on whether to take the library down and build new. We went in there with our architect, and we won the referendum. They wanted to save the building -- and it is a beautiful building, you know. 

"Those are two, looking back. I like the ones where there are a lot of people involved and a lot of people feel that it is good, plus the client -- the municipality or whoever the owner is -- is also happy." 

Q. What inspires you most about the job? 

"I am not an architectural historian by trade but I have a very strong feeling about historic properties. What gives me a particular jump in my life is seeing them rehabbed and reused. There is a great deal of satisfaction. Saving the building is certainly important. But I get a bigger kick out of (when) I can drive by later and see people in there and say, "Gee, that building was going to come down -- nobody was using it and now everybody is using it." That kind of gets me going."


-- Mark Sullivan