Archive for May, 2011

Hello, all!  This is Ash, Etta’s husband.  Etta’s busy with meetings and other fun stuff today, so she asked me to write a blog post for today.  I thought I’d say a little something about Memorial Day, as we’re all recovering from a long weekend filled with backyard barbeques, spending time with family and friends, and the sort of relaxation (or lack thereof…) we have to look forward to for the rest of the summer!
Memorial Day is a holiday dedicated to remembering the honored soldiers who fell in service to our great nation.  It was first proclaimed as a day of remembrance and respect, unsurprisingly, only three years after the most trying test to the unity of these United States.  I often find myself considering the trials that our forefathers lived through in every conflict since the Revolutionary War on Memorial Day, and the Civil War was foremost on my mind this year.  As we begin the sesquicentennial recollection of the war that pitted brother against brother, I can’t help but ponder how we, the fortunate beneficiaries of a unified, free nation that has withstood such trial by fire, must honor those men and women who gave their lives to protect the ideals the Founding Fathers protected with their own lives and fortunes.  Forgive me a moment on the soapbox, but… I believe that historic preservation is about much more than the physical preservation of aesthetically-pleasing architecture, or sustainability of communities, or whether wood windows are carefully rehabilitated, or replaced with vinyl or aluminum or what have you (please preserve your original wood windows if at all possible, folks!).  Sometimes, historic preservation is about remembrance.  Sometimes it’s about preserving the work of the hands of our forefathers so that the history of their lives can be known, the history of their trials and tribulations, the history of the people and places they loved, the history of what it means to be an American, regardless of whether you live in 1776, 1861 or 2011.  Memorial Day is about remembering the honored dead.  Historic preservation is about bringing the stories of the honored dead to life, so that we can live and learn from those men and women every day.
That being said, please take the opportunity to visit a historic site, National Park, National Battlefield, or any other place that makes you feel close to the history and people of our beautiful nation this summer.  Take a moment to remember, and to wonder what it means to be an American, and to be proud of who we are.  That’s historic preservation at its best.
Enjoy they shortened workweek, everyone!

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Well folks, today’s Friday Fantasy comes from the perfect place to spend Memorial Day weekend: Newport, Rhode Island.

I have spent a lot of time in Newport in my life, and while there are about fifty thousand Fantasy homes to choose from (and you will no doubt see many homes in Newport in this series), today I am choosing the one that in my opinion has the best outside space, because to me Memorial Day Weekend is about being outside!

So without further ado, I bring you The Elms

Now, the picture you are viewing is a bit deceiving because you are actually looking at the back of the house, but the back is also the best facade of the Elms (IMHO).  I think the reason for this is if your backyard looked like this you’d want that to be the best part of your house too!

The Elms was owned by Edward Berwind, a coal baron from Pennsylvania and was completed in 1901. It is now owned by the Preservation Society of Newport County, who also own and operate several of the other mansions in Newport. The Elms is also home to some spectacular trees, though not the Elms you might be envisioning. The grounds of the Elms are home to some spectacular European Weeping Beech Trees.

I once went on a behind the scenes tour of the staff-quarters and attics of The Elms. It was one of the best tours I have ever been on and if you get the chance to take that tour I highly recommend it!

Have a great holiday everyone.  See you next week!


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Howdy folks

I read an article today on Rem Koolhaas’ new art exhibit “Cronocaos” (I decided to be kind and not put art in quotes but feel free to add air quotes in your head) the article is a review by the New York Times and you can read it here.

Now, I know I have not seen the exhibit and that I’m reviewing a review and that’s kind-of a no-no but it got me SOOOO SOOO mad that I just needed to write about it (I did investigate further and found an interview with Rem and it didn’t make me feel one bit better!). First, the article starts with what I can only assume is the question that Rem asked himself and causing this whole debacle: Has preservation become a dangerous epidemic? Is it destroying our cities?

This is the most ridiculous question I’ve ever heard in my life! It makes Preservation sound like an outbreak of the black death… Please tell me how can this honest pursuit to save important aspects of America’s built heritage while creating new jobs and restoring  communities  be”destroying our cities”?  Dude,you’re just crying sour grapes because (In Ash’s words) “Preservation reduces the money and square footage left for self-absorbed egotists like you to blight the landscape with bleak steel, glass and concrete monstrosities.”

Rem, you need a little bit of education about how Preservation works before you start talking about “gentrification” and how Preservation can “socially displace” the impoverished . If you had read your Jane Jacobs you would know cities don’t need gentrification “help” from Preservation, Preservation happens in any place that people find value in. Places that were built the right size to begin with not, “right sized” due to shrinking population. Not that I’m against the principles of sizing cities sustainably and sympathetically after the fact… that is, by the way, the whole point of Rem’s exhibit.

In human scale neighborhoods there is access to needs and wants and it doesn’t matter weather you are wealthy or poor the inherent rightness of the design comes through. True, gentrification often happens in neighborhoods were middle class artists and students see the potential in “blighted” or low class neighborhoods (with low rents) and they bring in their money and start repairing things but this is not a process started by Preservation, Preservation is a side effect and perhaps it does lead to higher property values but community pride is not something to be ashamed of! And let’s not even talk of this blatant hypocrisy (okay let’s…..) of a Starchitect like Rem Koolhaas even mentioning this issue. As if he builds anything for the public good anymore…. sure he can build a Library now and then but really I doubt he’ll touch a pencil to paper (or click on his AutoCAD short-cut) for much less than a half a million these days so, while I find his social conscience admirable I also find it extremely sickening… Sure go ahead and make an art exhibit depicting the impoverished as Preservation’s down-trodden it’s not like they can afford to pay admission to see it anyway…. but while you’re at that Rem how bout I keep reviewing my CDBG projects and giving people who need it the money to sympathetically restore their homes? Sound good? Okay…..

Apparently it’s a problem that we as a species (because we have world heritage sites you know?) have decided that some of our architecture is so important it should never be torn down or sullied by other buildings that claim to enhance its already inherent brilliance (not that a ton of them aren’t endangered!). No, Rem’s not educated enough about Preservation to realize that the first lessons Preservationists learn is “you can’t save them all” and therefore we KNOW that we must pick and choose what to save so that architecture can continue and evolve (because again he doesn’t realize that Preservationists are not against new buildings!)

And THEN the reviewer goes onto say “To highlight this transformation, Mr. Koolhaas and Mr. Shigematsu have kept the supply store’s yellow awning, painting the show’s title directly over the old lettering.” “The result is startling. The uneven, patched-up floors and soiled walls of the old space look vibrant and alive; the new space looks sterile, an illustration of how even the minimalist renovations favored by art galleries today, which often are promoted as ways of preserving a building’s character, can cleanse it of historical meaning.” So apparently Preservation is only evil when it doesn’t highlight your point….. Because keeping the patched floors and yellow awing sound like things that we Preservationists would do every day… after all the SOIS number 2 tells us “The historic character of a property shall be retained and preserved. The removal of historic materials or alteration of features and spaces that characterize a property shall be avoided.”

The gross lack of understanding about how Preservation really works versus the flawed perception of a few people is bordering on negligence in this article. I don’t know if it’s all Rem or part of it is the reviewer but one thing is for sure, when big names like Rem Koolhaas takes arms against a cause that isn’t well understood to begin with the damage can be terrible. It is articles and exhibits like this one that we Preservationists need to speak out against!


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Hello HPer’s

We here at Old Stuff Inc. are super busy getting ready for the  Preservation Awards on Wednesday so my posts may be few and far between this week… Perhaps I can convince Ash to write a post.

In the mean time I wanted to leave you with a picture of a house in one of my favorite styles the Octagon Style.

The great house above is located in New York and is called the Armour-Stiner House read about it here.


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Hello HPer’s

Today’s fantasy is a house that I saw a long time ago and fell into love with. It’s located in Portland Maine and was the childhood home of Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The house is simple yet complex much like a good chocolate cupcake.  It has know love and tragedy, joy and fear and it has stood as a sentry as time has passed, taking in both the families that lived there and school children and tour groups that now visit it daily.

Hope you enjoy seeing these little day-dream worthy beauties as much as I like sending them your way…. Do you have ideas for a Friday Fantasy? Send them my way!


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Good day all.

When I was visiting family and friends for Easter  I met a new person. To explain exactly how we ended up in the same house at the same time is rather complicated, so let’s just say she was my best friend’s’ brother’s friend’s uncle’s cousin… got it? Good.  Anyway, exactly how she came into my life for this passing moment isn’t important, but what she said WAS because it made me re-evaluate my dedication to Preservation, although at the time I didn’t know it.

We started of with the usual,  “Hello, I’m __ ,and then moved on to, Where are you from?” That is when we found out we  both live in the same state. After a little small talk about places we had in common in said eastern state, we then moved on to, “What do you do”? Well, for a Preservationist this can be the 100,000 dollar question, a chance to get people on-board the train (yes I know there is a difference between a train and a trolley… It’s my blog I can make bad  link segues if I want!) to tell them why they should love old houses as much as you do! To gush on and on about historic molding and architectural details that didn’t come from a Home Cheap-o. Oh sweet Christopher Wren!

So I get ready to preach! Cue the Hallelujah Chorus, and heavenly light….I start slow with my title and a general list of my duties, testing the waters… her eyes didn’t glaze over, she may be receptive. Excellent, continue! Move on a little to how old buildings are green (it’s an “in” topic so surely she’ll want to hear more about this!) and how satisfying it can be to live in a house that has supported generations before you and, if loved, will continue to for generations after because it was built with good quality materials that were meant to last, not fall apart in 10 years! So, she listens and nods and makes comments about how interesting my field is… and how knowledgeable I sound.  Yes, excellent another convert! Then suddenly the mood in the room changes… her children seek her out for food and hugs and suddenly the magic is broken… after her children leave her side she turns back to me and shakes off the magic of our encounter and looks at me and says…..

Neat, but Old House are creepy… I’m not really into them!


At the time I just kind of brushed it off, but now “the incident” has slowly been eating away at me (ya know like how I was a bad Preservationist and didn’t push my cause) and now suddenly I’ve burst like  Mentos in Diet Coke . And so now you’ve heard the story of how I was unable to sway a suburban soccer mom. At first I was ashamed. I felt like I should have fought tooth and nail for my righteous cause but after further discussion with my husband (who has decided he needs a name on this blog so will here-after be known as Asher Benjamin, or Ash for short) I have come to the decision that it’s not ME that needs to change it’s this Levittown fueled  “American-dream” (Yes we are ignoring the fact that Levittown is probably NR eligible now) that now you too can go “Somewhere That’s Green” and that your little cookie-cutter house can look just like your neighbors (“now, when your coming make sure you remember it’s the 26th house on the right”). I’m not wrong for wanting an Inglenook and rope molding it’s this world of planned obsolescence and if I can plant a tiny seed of that love in every suburban soccer mom I talk to maybe, just maybe that seed will take root in one or two of them and my enthusiasm will grow into a mighty oak and add another accidental Preservationist or two to the world.

So do any of you out there ever feel over-whelmed by our daunting task of saving the world one window at a time? If so I’d like to hear from you!


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Fingers crossed

Hello Blogland

As I’m sure you all know today is the day that they vote on Preservation funding.

Let’s all hope that whether your representative votes Donkey, Elephant or Purple Cow (come on they all vote purple cow!) that they will support this funding and if they are feeling generous they could always add a few million.

Sorry about the short post but Old Stuff Inc. (aka the office) is really busy today!


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