Main street analysis, Nantucket, Massachusetts


Material Information

Main street analysis, Nantucket, Massachusetts
Physical Description:
Mixed Material
Roper, Roger
Krause, Eleanor
Norris, Stephanie
Preservation Institute: Nantucket
Department of Architecture, University of Florida
Place of Publication:
Nantucket, MA


General Note:
AFA HP document 944

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All rights reserved by the source institution.
System ID:

Full Text
Roger Roper Eleanor Krause
Stephanie Norris

Nantucket is well known for its rich history and for its popularity as a successful summer resort* Both the historic charm and the commercial activity of Nantucket are centered in the blocks of lower Main Street* This area stands out not only for the quaintness of its tree-lined, cobblestone street, but also for the comfortable scale and attractive styles of the buildings lining the street* It is in the best interest of everyone, historian, businessman, resident, and tourist alike, to take steps that will help maintain the quality and character of the buildings and street-scape of this area*
The purpose of this report is to provide design guidelines that will help preserve the character of the commercial area of lower Main Street*
The report is divided into three areas: (l) Facade Guidelines: This section describes the important elements of a "good11 facade, the common design and maintenance problems, and recommendations on how to remedy each problem. (2) Building Evaluations: Each building is examined and specific design and maintenance problems of each are pointed out* Detailed descriptions of these problems and their recommended solutions are found in the Facade Guidelines section* (3) Streetscape Evaluation: Elements of the streetscape such as landscaping, street furniture, and paving materials are analyzed. This section also makes general design recommendations on any new construction that takes place in the area.
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window muntins-recessed entry door
display window-
panel area-
upper cornice upper facade -window head
lower cornice window sill
masonry pier

Traditionally, the commercial building is an expression of two levels of activity: the public and the semi-public* The first level is a product of its function for display, and the upper level is a product of its office or residential use* Therefore, the architectural expression of the upper level results in the form of a flat, generally masonry, mass with windows cut into it; as opposed to the open transparency of the storefront below*
The two levels are united by piers that continue down to frame the storefront sides; tying upper level to lower level, building to ground, and creating a structural, as well as psychological, sense of support*
In general, the upper facades above Main Street conform to traditional commercial design, but problems and inconsistencies do exist. Problems in upper facade treatment are evident in areas where window openings are
larger than tradition has established. Although this creates variety, which is not to be condemned, it creates a variety which disrupts the harmony of the streetscape. This is accentuated even more when smaller paned windows are on the storefront below the large window opening on the upper facade, becoming almost a reverse statement of functions.
Another problem occurs in areas where the upper facade has no penetrations. This too disrupts the visual rhythm.
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Of course, remedying these problems implies significant economical and manual input, so such suggestions are not meant to be thrown around lightly. However, if future demands require renovation or replacement, these suggestions should be seriously considered, or perhaps even required.
The solutions to other problems may require as little as a new paint job

or removal of old paint* A common problem along the street is that of inappropriately painted areas on buildings that contain more than one store. The storefront itself is the area for individual expression, painted cornices and piers are not. Common cornices should be treated as such with consistency throughout the cornice length. Piers should be left unpainted and not divided in the middle by different colors. This destroys the sense of structural support, albeit subconscious, for the solid mass above, besides creating a tacky appearance.
Another common problem in the upper .facade region is excess Mgarbage metal". Many buildings have old metal sign, awning, or electrical hardware still attached to them. This creates a clut-
tered, unsightly appearance, and is often hazardous to the building fabric (refer to the Maintenance section). This unused metal hardware should be removed.
Lastly, two problems that may fall into the category of necessities should be mentioned: storm windows and air-conditioning units. It would be best if storm windows were not used as they obscure the detail of the windows behind them. However, if they are used they should be painted to match the windows behind to become as unobtrusive as possible. Air-conditioning units should be placed on the side or back of the building if at all possible.
Although the upper facade area is not a major visual impact to the person at the storefront level, it does have a visual impact on the streetscape. Maintaining the streetscape rhythm maintains the Main Street

character, an important and unique aspect of Nantucket.

Traditionally, the storefront consists of a generally symmetrical composition of recessed doorway and large display windows* The large display windows allow maximum natural light and full view of its contents for the potential customer? the recessed doorway invites him in. As with most of Main Street, these conventions have been maintained and the problems exist at detail level.
The most prevalent problem involves the treatment of the display windows, or more specifically, the treatment of muntins within the display windows. The most appropriate expression for a commercial storefrint is the solid lower pane below with a divided pane above. This form is derivative of its function: creating maximum visibility to the store display.
-j A study of old oho to graphs might reVeal how these windows were ori-jginally divided.
Over the years, this function has been negated to some extent by the desire for a "colonial1* image; resulting in the many small-paned windows along Main Street today. In some cases,
this change in window division was a result of adaptation to new functions, in other cases it was not. Generally it detracts from the purpose of display, and it would be preferable, upon future replacement, that these unnecessarily changed windows be replaced with the more functional larger windows which place emphasis on the store contents. Use of tempered glass in these large windows would help prevent breakage and costly replacement.
In some attempts at lfcolocalizing", the large lower panes were left intact but the upper panes were sub-divided by purely decorative muntin, creating an unpleasant *contrast between the two areas. This problem could easily be remedied by removing the "tacked on"

muntins, thereby returning the windows to an historically accurate appearance.
It would also be preferable if air conditioning units were not located in the door transoms. This is not only unsightly, but often they drip on the entering customers below. If at all possible, placement of these units on the sides or backs of the buildings would be a better alternative.
Other appearance-improving suggestions include the removal of any unused hardware or limiting fixtures. Also, excess lighting should be avoided as it disrupts the general character of Main Street at night; attracting more attention, but from a negative rather than positive aspect.
Another common problem is paint build-up. This is relatively minor perhaps, but layer upon layer of paint obscures detail, and many colors show through in places that are chipped away.
Lastly, display techniques should be mentioned. Window displays act as signs on the pedestrian level and help to draw the customers inside. Therefore, they should be a notably attractive aspect of the storefront. In some places window displays are blocked by interior elements such as
shelves, counters, and stacked mer-

chandise. If this must occur, there should at least be something appealing on the other side to attract the potential customers.
Display those items unique to the store and unique to the island of Nantucket. These products should speak for themselves. An attractive display can be the most effective advertising for a store, so care should be taken to make the most of it.

Signs should be designed to serve the dual purpose of identifying an individual business and of contributing to the overall image of Main Street. Since this area is primarily a pedestrian shopping area, signs should be directed towards shoppers on foot as opposed to shoppers in automobiles. There are several appropriate places on the facade for a sign:
- hanging on an extension from the building
- under or on the lower cornice
painted on the display window
on the awning flap
on the panels below the windows
Inappropriate signs and sign placements identified along Main Street fall into the following categories: (l) Sign too large
The sign draws too much attention to itself, distracting the viewer from the displays which can be very effective merchandizing tools in themselves. Very large signs also
stand out obtrusively on the streetscape. Some signs are wider than the cornice they are placed on, which, though a minor error, are not as flattering to the facade as one which fits completely into the cornic^

Attention to details such as this will present a more attractive image for the building in a subtle yet effective way. (2) Inappropriate placement of sign
The sign is placed in an area that was not meant to display a sign, and as a result the sign looks tacked on and detracts from the character of the building. Areas on the facade that are often
mis-used for sign display are the wall area above the lower cornice and the transom over the front door. Care should
be taken to place a proper sign in an area on the building that bears the sign gracefully and provides good exposure to pedestrians. (3) Too many signs
The presence of too many signs not only clutters the storefront but also detracts from the window displays and from the most important sign, that bearing the business1 name. Most of these superfluous signs can be more effectively replaced by good window displays. For example, a camera shop need not hang signs such as "Film", "Cameras", "Accessories", if it simply arranges those items in an attractive display in the window.
Entrances and doorways also suffer from the over-use of the small, stick on auxiliary signs of credit card companies. Since most shoppers become serious buyers only after they have entered a store and found something they like, it would suffice to place

the auxiliary signs inside the store, at the cash register perhaps, thereby clearing the entrance of those visual obstructions.

The principal cause of maintenance problems is that of weathering by water. The effects of water on buildings include rotted wood, cracked brickwork, and crumbling brownstone. Two basic
steps in helping prevent water damage are to keep rain gutters unclogged, and to insure that the drainage system for downspouts keeps the water away from the foundation.
Water damaged wood should be replaced and, of course, paint should be applied regularly to protect all wooden elements from water damage.
Serious masonry damage such as cracked and loose bricks, decayed mortar joints, and crumbling brownstone should! be repaired in accordance with professional procedures outlined in technical
restoration guidebooks.
A contributing cause of maintenance problems is neglect. Failure to prevent and repair water damage, and to perform routine maintenance results in more serious problems and more expen- j sive repairs. A common "neglect11 prob-j lem on many of the buildings on Main Street is that of cracked brick areas on the facades. The buildings have had various light fixtures, signs, and awnings attached to them over the years, and often the bolts and brackets that were used have been left attached to the building causing the surrounding bricks to crack. A simple cleaning up

of the facade by removing all such useless pieces of metal and patching the holes would help avert costly masonry damage and would improve the looks of the building as well.
Whatever repairs or restoration measures are undertaken should be peiv formed with care and professionalism and in accordance with modern restoration techniques. Ignorance of such methods often leads to improper repairs and in some instances severe damage to the building. For example, sandblasting of brick to clean off the paint, though effective in removing the paint, destroys the durable outer surface of the bricks and exsposes them to more rapid deterioration.
Preservation of the character of Main Street and its buildings depends to a large extent on the efforts of the individual building owners to conscientiously maintain and repair their buildings.
1. A good source of technical preservation information is the series of pamphlets titled Preservation Briefs published by the Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation / Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service.

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- appropriate upper facade treatment
excess paint build-up unused light fixture
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sign too large for cornice too many signs
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- some "garbage" metal in masonry water damaged window frame
Main Street

- appropriate storefront treatment
- appropriate signage
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- some "garbage" metal In masonry

- sharp contrast of window anxntina
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- appropriate signage
- generally good maintenance


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- aiivconditioning unit in door transom
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- appropriate signage
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extensive "garbage" metal in masonry water damaged window frame damaged masonry in cornice

- excess paint build-up
excess window stickers and small signs on door appropriate signage in lower panels
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rusted drainpipes
downspout draining on sidewalk


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inconsistent cornice treatment on building painted brick pier
conflicting street numbers inappropriate transom treatment
- inappropriate placement of sign
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- excessive display of menus
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- extensive "garbage" metal in masonry

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- painted brick pier
- insensitive storefront alterations
- too many signs
- inappropriate placement of sign
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- extensive "garbage" metal in masonry
Main Street

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insensitive storefront alterations
- unused hingesconsider replacement of front door
- obtrusive placement of pamphlet box
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- generally good maintenance
- some "garbage" metal in masonry

- insensitive storefront alterations
- unused hingesconsider replacement of front door
- appropriate signage
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some "garbage" metal in masonry generally good maintenance

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- appropriate upper facade treatment
appropriate storefront treatment good window display
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- appropriate signage
some "garbage" metal in masonry deteriorating brownstone

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- some "garbage" metal in masonry

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- appropriate upper facade treatment
appropriate storefront treatment
inappropriate placement of sign
- some "garbage19 metal in masonry


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- appropriate upper facade treatment

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appropriate storefront treatment
good window display
poor location for hanging plants
~ appropriate signage
- generally good maintenance

- excess light fixtures
- too many signs
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- downspout draining on sidewalk
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- appropriate upper facade treatment
- good window display
- pilasters (piers) are not continuous from second story down through storefront
- inappropriate placement of sign
- generally good maintenance

- overscaled solid wall on upper facade
continuation of the scale and rhythm of window openings on the west side of the facade throughout the entire storefront would be more appropriate than the present arrangement
sign too large
- water damage at lower cornice


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- overscaled windows on upper facade
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sharp contrast of window muntins good window display
- inappropriate hardware on sign
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- generally good maintenance

~ overscaled windows on upper facade
- sharp contrast of window muntins
- appropriate signage
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- generally good maintenance

insensitive upper cornice alterations overabundance of flags
~ excessive merchandise outside of building
sign too large
inappropriate placement of sign
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- generally good maintenance

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- appropriate upper facade treatment
- appropriate storefront treatment
- appropriate signage
- generally good maintenance




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appropriate upper facade treatment
- appropriate storefront treatment good window display
- appropriate signage
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- generally good maintenance

- appropriate upper facade treatment
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appropriate storefront treatment
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appropriate signage
- generally good maintenance
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- appropriate storefront treatment
appropriate signage
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generally good maintenance sandblasted brick
Main Street

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- appropriate upper facade treatment
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sharp contrast of window muntins
- appropriate signage
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generally good maintenance

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- appropriate upper facade treatment
- appropriate storefront treatment
- appropriate signage
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- deteriorating brovnstone

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appropriate upper facade treatment
- somewhat insensitive storefront alteration
- inappropriate placement of sign
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generally good maintenance

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- appropriate upper facade treatment
- appropriate storefront treatment
- inappropriate placement of hanging sign
generally good maintenance

The most obvious elements of Main Street's streetscape are the cobblestone paved street and the large trees lining it. Other important elements are the brick sidewalks, stone curbs and crosswalks, benches, utility poles, monuments, bicycle racks, and trash cans* All of these combine to form the streetscape, the character of lower Main Street* Each of the above elements makes its contribution, though sometimes subtle, in either a positive or negative way. Decisions on what is positive and negative, or good and bad, should be made from the viewpoint, of preserving the historic character of the area while allowing for necessary modem elements such as traffic signs and bicycle racks.
Obvious negative elements are the utility poles and lines, which, however, will be removed as the utilities are scheduled to be buried underground in the near future.
Existing paving materials, brick, stone, and cobblestone, should be retained in their respective areas since they are historically accurate.
The benches presently in use, though not relevant to any historical period on Nantucket, are inoffensive and as long as they are in good shape should be retained. When replacement is necessary, however, replicas of hist-
orically accurate benches could be used, thereby making a positive contribution to the streetscape.
As mentioned previously, bicycle racks are a useful and necessary element in the streetscape. Placement of these racks should be carefully considered so as not to physically obstruct
the sidewalk, or to visually obstruct the streetscape. Perhaps they could be placed in less obvious areas off the main sidewalks, as those by the Pacific National Bank are.
The present metal trash cans, though, functional, are not very attractive,

especially those that are damaged by holes and dents. When replacing these old cans alternative styles should be considered and the choice should be based on compatibility with the area, inconspicuousness, efficiency, and cost. One style, the wooden barrel, already used in Nantucket on the wharves, may be an acceptable style for Main Street also.
Another important aspect of the streetscape is the backdrop and scale provided by the buildings framing the street. It is important in maintaining the character of the streetscape that the individual buildings make a positive contribution to the streetscape. This is especially true when it involves new construction on Main Street. Design of the new building should take careful consideration of the following criteria in relation to the surrounding buildings. Similarity of: (l) height (2) width ^proportion: relation of height to width
(4) setback: relationship to the street
(5) roof forms (6) composition: organization of the facade parts
(7) rhythm: any rhythms which carry throughout the block should be incorporated into the new facade (8) proportion of openings: size and propor"-tions should be similar to those on -surrounding buildings.
surrounding buildings, also the ratio of window area to wall surface should be similar (9) materials: complementary of adjaeent facades (10) color: intensities and hues should tie the building to its neighbors
The new building should not be a replica of an old building, but it should reflect the historical architectural elements of the area and the surrounding buildings.

A careful look at Main Street reveals certain positive and negative aspects of the streetscape that are not apparent at first sight. The north side of the street consists of buildings of uniform height and scale which create a wall enlivened by a pleasant rhythm of storefronts. The sense of uniformity is strengthened by the presence of the large, evenly spaced trees that line the street on that side.
The south side of the street does not present the same wall of uniformity. The scale varies from the large blank face of the facade over Buttners, down to the tiny cottage-like building occupied by Offshore Trading Company.
An obvious visual low point in terms of scale is the area including The Sweet Shop, The Camera Shop, Kareka, and Offshore Trading Company. These buildings are of a much smaller scale than those along the rest of the street, and, combined with the lack of large, full grown trees in this area, create an unpleasant open space in the streetscape.
The following photographs provide a full view of each side of the street and illustrate both the positive and negative aspects of the streetscape.


The character of Nantucket's downtown area, lower Main Street, has been well preserved and continues to be an attractive and prosperous shopping area. Most of the problems that do interrupt the integrity of individual buildings and the streetscape as a whole are of fairly minor proportions, usually dealing with design or decoration details, or maintenance. But, however small the problems might be, it is important to correct them as
soon as possible, especially maintenance problems, so that the buildings and the area do not rapidly deteriorate. Such deterioration would not only jeopardize their character, but would also present major repair problems in the future. Hopefully, the guidelines outlined in this report will be useful in recognizing and solving the present problems, and in helping prevent design or maintenance problems from arising in the future.
Special thanks to Richard Frank, Preservation Urban Design Inc., and Professor P. Blair Reeves for their aid and diiv ection in the preparation of this report.