- Associated Press - Saturday, June 6, 2015

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - Jerri Narracci was excited when her son and daughter-in-law said they had bought a large home on Orange Street.

She and her husband took a drive through the East Rock neighborhood, past beautiful homes and one that definitely needed work.

“I saw the green monster and I said, ‘Please, God, don’t let it be that one,’” Narracci recalled last week after the awards ceremony of the New Haven Preservation Trust.

Rob and Gina Narracci, both architects in the office of Cesar Pelli, had in fact purchased that “monster.”

A decade later, they were given the New Haven Preservation Trust House Preservation Award for restoring the 1895 Moritz Spier house at 678 Orange St.

“I think we are lucky because both sets of our parents have always really encouraged us and supported us even if it seemed like a crazy undertaking. I think both sets of our parents have been wonderful examples of how to take care of a house,” Gina Narracci said.

Rob Narracci had a special thanks to his mother for inspiring his love of historic homes and not being intimidated by the amount of work needed to bring them back to life.

“When I was growing up my mom used to buy really terrible looking antique furniture, bring it home and spend a whole summer scraping and turning it into a beautiful thing. She would find the piece underneath the really bad paint,” Rob Narracci said.

The award recognizes a homeowner who engages in “appropriate maintenance or sensitive rehabilitation” of a house that is a good example of architecture of its period.

Duo Dickinson of the trust said the Narraccis “have taken a building that was a little sad and (made it) a beacon of glowing promise and hope.”

The NHPT Merit Plaque went to the restoration work at the Center Church on the Green’s Parish House at 311 Temple St. The plaque recognizes historic buildings that have been “authentically restored, or sensitively rehabilitated for adaptive use.”

The structure, built in 1852, originally was the Ezekiel Trowbridge House, designed by Sidney Mason Stone, with a rear addition by architect Leoni W. Robinson in 1911. The restoration architects were Gregg Wies & Gardner Architects.

The NHPT Landmark Plaque was awarded for reviving a building and an institution for the work done on The Institute Library at 847 Chapel St. It was designed in 1878 by Rufus G. Russell and updated and restored under the direction of architect Joe Banks.

New Haven Mayor Toni Harp told the crowd at City Hall Tuesday that New Haven is the “hub of a vital region- in large part because it has been in the cross hairs of history. In the areas of commerce, culture, higher education and government, New Haven residents have been breaking new ground for centuries.”

Dickinson said the three buildings “don’t have a common purpose but their restoration has a common message: history is well served in the renewal of our threatened buildings.”

Rob Narracci said the Connecticut Historic Homes Rehabilitation Tax Credit program reduced the cost of a new roof and copper flashing for his home by 20 percent, which made the project doable. Narracci constructed all 40 wooden storm windows, putting in 300 man-hours for the custom fit units, according to the NHPT website.

The tax credit program aims to preserve and maintain these homes by helping to fund some basic things such as a roof and chimneys. The Narraccis went beyond that, stripping off the original lead paint and replacing it with a more historically correct color. They are now working on the interior plaster, much of which was intact. He said they have been able to save hand-done scroll work in the house.

He thanked state Rep. Patricia Dillon, D-New Haven, and Harp, when she was a state senator, for supporting the tax credit program as a preservation tool and economic driver.

Narracci also gave a shout-out to the local contractors they hired who have “today the craftsmen skills that are not lost.”

The Center Church Parish House has been refurbished with a new roof, reset front steps, refurbished windows, rewiring, painting, updated security system and an expanded first-floor kitchen, according to the church’s historian, Deb Townshend.

She wrote that the Center Church congregation voted to buy the Trowbridge house in 1909.

Dickinson said the recent exterior restoration, which was started two years ago, “venerates completely the restored vibrant character of its original design.”

Dickinson said The Institute Library is a unique building type- a private library. He said its former director, Will Baker, and the current director, Natalie Elicker, have worked toward the physical renovation, while also refreshing its purpose.

The restoration included unsealing skylights, getting windows to work again, while there also was a full third-floor renovation.

“(A) quiet place has been loved back into a burnished state of renewal. … (A) threatened resource has found new life, but also the restoration of a place of living history where the provenance of a different time is not lost, but embraced,” Dickinson said.

Greg Pepe, chairman of the library board, said he was a proxy for the hundreds of volunteers who make the library work. He especially thanked Banks for taking on the renovation cause.

He said the library is not only a building, it is a cultural center, which has had many famous visitors, including Frederick Douglass, who came to discuss the nation’s work on Reconstruction following the Civil War. More recently, the library is promoting poetry among high school students and has introduced a “parade of idiosyncratic personalities to New Haven.”

“In an age where we often communicate badly through electronic media, the library reminds us of the value of face-to-face engagement and the exchange of ideas,” Pepe said.

The awards took place at a time when state funding for much of the preservation’s work is being threatened in budget talks in Hartford where the plan is to take 50 percent of the funds raised under the Community Investment Act and send it to the General Fund toward a budget gap.

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Information from: New Haven Register, http://www.nhregister.com

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