Spring brings a re-energized surge in home-improvement efforts, neatly honored at this week’s Harvey Awards by the Astoria Historic Landmarks Commission.

In a cultural phenomenon fueled by the classic PBS program This Old House and numerous copycats on cable TV, the epic experience of hammering new life into classic homes has become something of a rite of passage for Americans. It speaks both to our wish to pay tribute to the fine craftsmanship of past generations and the time-honored desire to “buy low and sell high” by turning fixer-uppers into showplaces.

Astoria is well endowed with architectural dreams/nightmares. Apart from winter weather that tests the longevity of all manmade objects, the city is in many other ways almost a best-case scenario for worthwhile restoration projects. Periods of economic success made it possible for residents to construct many homes with great materials, verve, personality and water views. And an economic slowdown in the last decades of the 20th century, coupled with a rising awareness of desirability of preserving classic houses, led to a great deal of Astoria’s housing stock surviving.

The Harvey Awards are inspirational. Although it may be truthfully said that no building or renovation is ever truly finished, these awards capture both these structures and their owners at a moment of success. We are able to enjoy the vicarious thrill of seeing the before-and-after photos without having the personal experience of blackened thumbnails and bruised bank accounts. These are tales of a certain kind of heroism – both of individual belief in preserving tangible assets for the future, and of community leadership that treasures the lifestyles and aesthetics that accompany high-quality middle class homes and other buildings.

From a practical economic standpoint, architectural preservation and restoration is a fantastic investment. This policy choice – with great citizen buy-in – marks not just Astoria but surrounding communities as well as places that emphasize long-term investment and high-quality lifestyle over the quick-buck construction so prevalent in the generic towns and suburbs of the much of the U.S.

It is particularly noteworthy to see another honor for the restoration of the Astoria train depot by the Columbia River Maritime Museum. Along with the River Trail, Pier 39, the Astoria Trolley, the Red Building and a score of other key waterfront assets, the depot marks a major victory in keeping our Columbia River interface alive and nicely connected to our day-to-day lives.

Many thanks to this year’s Harvey winners and everyone else who goes where angels fear to tread by restoring old buildings.