Historic Oakland Foundation’s Preservation, Restoration, and Operations (PRO) Team is an integral part of realizing the Foundation’s mission to Preserve, Restore, Enhance, and Share historic Oakland Cemetery.
Learn more about the PRO Team’s process in this historic preservation F.A.Q.:
What exactly is preservation?
Historic preservation is the practice of maintaining something (an object, building, road, etc…) through varying levels of intervention. The goal is to be able to relay information from the past to future generations. The first level of physical preservation is aimed at stabilizing something in its current condition by mitigating hazards or threats (e.g., leveling a tombstone at risk of falling).
What is restoration?
Restoration is a type of preservation work that involves some intervention to restore an earlier appearance or condition. An example of restoration at Oakland Cemetery is when we recreate a missing piece of a broken monument using specialized materials.
I noticed some new bricks where you were working. Can you use new materials in preservation projects?
Absolutely, though it’s always good practice to re-use materials whenever possible. In some cases we do recommend using new materials for a restoration job. For example, if we have to restore a brick walkway that has significant damage (over 50% or so) we may make the choice to remove all of the bricks and salvage the good ones for future projects, and use new materials to re-lay the walkway. It’s important that we choose bricks that closely match the color, composition, size and character of the ones we removed. Sometimes salvaged bricks, though they may have similar aging, just can’t come close enough to pass muster. Plus, carefully selected and properly installed new materials can complement adjacent historic materials nicely.
Aren’t new materials engineered to be better than old materials?
Yes and no. While the science of building materials has greatly advanced since the early days of Oakland, it doesn’t mean that the old materials are “bad.” Compatibility is the real issue when integrating historic and modern materials. You have to understand their properties. Historic bricks typically work best with softer mortars (higher lime content), while modern bricks do just fine with harder mortars (higher portland cement content). But, if historic lime mortar is replaced with portland cement mortar, it can actually cause a lot of damage to the old bricks.
Can’t you use something like bleach to clean gravestones?
In a word, NO! There’s no good reason to use bleach to clean a headstone. Though the results that you can see might look pretty good, using strong cleaners and acids will cause irreparable harm to stones. That’s why we always use a special cleaner and process to maintain masonry. It’s easy to apply and very gentle to the stones, unlike bleach. What’s more, it produces great results and actually works to clean the stone from within long after the application.
Why do you keep old water spigots if they don’t work?
You are referring to the black cast iron hydrants that you see throughout the cemetery. Believe it or not, many of these are over a century old! Historic Oakland Foundation and the Atlanta Urban Design Commission have determined that because they are such a cool and important feature, we will keep them for the great historic character they add. The newer hydrants, made by the same company (Murdock), are painted green so we know they are functioning.
What do you do when a tree grows so big it splits a wall in half or moves a tombstone?
We have to take it on a case-by-case basis. Often, the trees are historic in their own right and the only way to fix the wall or monument would be to cut down the tree, which we’re not in the practice of doing. So in many cases, we simply leave the wall or monument as-is, unless it is in a position where it could be harmed even more. If that’s the case we make sure to stabilize it without intervening too much.
Are there official rules that guide preservation?
There are generally accepted practices, such as the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, and also local-level regulations. Historic Oakland Cemetery is listed as a property on the National Register of Historic Places, though that honor itself comes with no specific rules or restrictions. The Atlanta Urban Design Commission helps make decisions about the preservation and use of Oakland Cemetery.
If you’re a lot owner at Oakland, can you put up any kind of monument you want?
Not necessarily. Any new work at Oakland Cemetery has to receive approval from the Atlanta Urban Design Commission, which requires an application and public hearing. Historic Oakland Foundation is happy to provide comments and guidelines for types of monuments that will nicely integrate in this historic setting