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Architect speaks on area history

BOARDMAN — It was standing-room only Saturday morning at Boardman Library as the Boardman Historical Society kicked off its fall schedule of speakers with Bob Mastriana of 4M Architects, a local firm that specializes in architectural design and historic preservation.

A graduate of Boardman High School and Kent State University’s School of Architecture, Mastriana is a prominent architect who has designed new construction and facilitated the restoration and preservation of some of the area’s gems — the Mahoning County Courthouse and the Mercer County Courthouse, to name just two.

Mastriana began by familiarizing the audience with the history of Western Reserve and its connection to New England. Pioneers to the territory that became northeast Ohio came primarily from Connecticut, western Massachusetts and New York. They brought with them a town design with which they were familiar: a central village green, surrounded by a courthouse, churches and schools.

While most frontier buildings were simple log cabins, board wood structures and occasional brickworks, some of the finest structures were erected at the core of frontier life: the village. Buildings there were honed with care and designed so that they’re now considered some of the area’s finest structures.

Mastriana explained that early settlers brought with them the skills and knowledge of the classical architectural design elements belonging to the Federal and Greek Revival styles. These would become central to Western Reserve architecture.

“Poland was the stepping stone,” said Mastriana, who featured historic landmarks found there, in Canfield and even Boardman. What remains today is dependent in part on the way those communities evolved over time. “Canfield, and predominantly Poland, were villages, and they had more architectural review and control,” said Mastriana.

While Boardman contained beautiful structures as well, a township tends to have less rigorous town planning and development restrictions, so many of those landmarks no longer exist in Boardman, Mastriana said.

What are the unique features that stand out in the Mahoning Valley? “The Greek Revival style of the homes, which is either with the temple facing front or turned sideways with the heavy frieze board and the eyebrow windows,” Mastriana said.

Builders made adjustments, too. “They still kept the same theme, but they would give their own freedom to the design. … They were all educated the same because they used the same textbooks,” Mastriana said. There was uniformity with flexibility. Designers and builders installed unique variations while keeping true to the standard Federal and Greek Revival styles. The resulting structures were quite pleasing to the eye and functional.

Mastriana emphasized that people need to keep an eye on historic preservation. According to Mastriana, part of the historic preservation process involves using an existing historic landmark to serve as anchor to new construction. The Poland Library is an excellent example, with the former Poland Seminary as the benchmark building, he said. This requires an understanding of classical design standards and adherence to authenticity.

But one of the main challenges to preserving historical structures is “having a use for them,” said Mastriana. “If a person wants it for their residence, it’s so much easier to find a use that has a reason to invest the money,” he said.

While locations that contain historic buildings can be designated opportunity zones or otherwise protected by zoning and planning restrictions, the principal challenge to preserving historic structures, and their unique architecture, is money. In order for any community to be successful, the people must have financial resources, local expertise and develop a “culture of preservation,” he said.

To that end, encouraging public awareness of historical preservation needs is part of the goal. According to Rick Shale, co-president of the Boardman Historical Society, the Mahoning Valley Historical Society issues annual historic preservation awards. These recognize local achievements in historic preservation, demonstrating that projects can be successfully undertaken and achieved.

The bottom line is awareness, said Shale, who said it is important to build local confidence. Mastriana added, “We can be our own worst enemy,” he said. “We need to reinvigorate our communities and area by featuring and preserving our landmarks and unique qualities.”

The Boardman Historical Society meets at 10 a.m. at Boardman Library the second Saturday of the month from September to May.