History and Architecture in Heritage Hill

What does it take to own one of the most elegant homes in the city?

Heritage Hill oozes history wherever you look. There are about 1300 homes located in this nationally recognized Historic District and each one of them tells a story. The earliest homes were built in 1843 and are well into their second century. In the late 60’s, there were plans in place to demolish a large portion of the Historic Properties located but residents protested the demolition under the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act. Their successful suit resulted in the creation of the Heritage Hill Association whose task it is to preserve a healthy and vibrant historic community.

This is great news…. until you want to paint your house. The homes in Heritage Hill are magnificent. When people say that, “they don’t build them like they used to”, these homes are what they are talking about. The craftsmanship and attention to detail that went into these houses is truly magnificent…… and it is the job of the Heritage Hill association to make sure that these incredible pieces of history are preserved. This means that painting your Heritage Hill home (which very likely needs a fresh coat of paint) is not nearly as simple as going to the store and picking up a few gallons of exterior paint to throw on the walls! In fact, any work that is going to alter the exterior appearance of your home needs to have the approval of the Historic Preservation Commission!

They have an application form that will need to be filled out and approved before your work can begin. For people who are not expecting it, this process can seem unnecessarily onerous and burdensome, and even for those who are aware of the rules, their are (sometimes significant) unexpected  costs associated with rehabbing old homes in way that preserves their historic integrity!

Heritage Hill is not a place for a quick and dirty rehab. It isn’t a place for vinyl windows, or beige colored houses. Heritage Hill is a place for people who appreciate beauty and are willing to put the necessary time and energy and finances into preserving an incredible community.

The rules can definitely be a pain in the butt, but the neighborhood that is being preserved in the process is one of the most significant historical districts in all of the United States.

Famous Houses and Famous People

Frank Lloyd Wright made his Michigan Debut in Heritage Hill

The Meyer-May house is a prime example of what makes Heritage Hill great. This prairie style home was built by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1909. Over the years, their were additions and changes made to Wright’s additional design. However, in 1985 SteelCase purchased the home and began the painstaking work of restoring the house to it’s original design.

Two years later, the project was complete and Heritage Hill became home to the most thoroughly restored work by Frank Lloyd Wright in the world.

What to watch out for when buying an Old Home in the Hill!

Unexpected Costs and Hazards are just a part of the process!

Heritage Hill homes come with history and character. Both of those items create additional home ownership expenses! You are dealing with houses that are over a century old! There is a lot that can happen that amount of time! In addition to the standard items such as roofs and furnaces, you will likely need to do some window replacement! There is a lot of stained and lead-paned glass work in these homes. These windows are gorgeous and if it is possible to repair them, we think that you should, but finding someone who works with stained glass is not going to be cheap!  If you decide to replace the windows, you will likely need to have custom windows built for the openings in your house! Standard window sizing in Heritage Hill just doesn’t exist!

Every one of these homes has been painted with lead at some point. This shouldn’t care you, but you should also take some time to learn a bit about how to avoid turning this hazard into a real problem!

Many of these homes have asbestos in the insulation, or the shingles, or elsewhere. Again, this should not be a cause for alarm, but it is certainly a cause for care! Take some time to learn about lead and asbestos abatement before you decide to get into a major historical renovation project! Alternatively, you can hire one of Grand Rapids’ many qualified contractors who are familiar with exactly what needs to be done to manage these concerns and restore your historic Heritage Hill home to a thing of beauty.