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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

This isn’t a real post, it is just an observation.

I am sitting here watching the first episode of 666 Park Avenue and the lead actress claims to have her masters in Historic Preservation. At first I think this is pretty awesome, after-all she wants to convince the owner to keep the historic features, and he actually agrees! Now me, I’m going to write an HSR (historic structures report) and possibly push rehabilitation tax credits or at least recommend the use of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. What does she do? Go to the library…. Historic Preservationists are now library sciences majors… This isn’t entirely fair as a lot of preservationists (myself included) spend a lot of time in libraries, archives, SHPO offices and historical societies doing research but I’m  a bit disappointed that a show with a budget like this wouldn’t at least take the time to find-out what a preservationists really DOES before they go making claims.

File:The Ansonia 1.jpg

Still, isn’t this beautiful? Some basic googling tells me that this is the Ansonia on Broadway (not Park Ave) but there WAS a Drake Hotel on Park Avenue (until fairly recently), and I’ve included  a picture of it below, but I think I may want to do a more in-depth post on this lost treasure and the Ansonia later, so more to come!

Happy Sunday!

-Etta

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Happy Friday readers! As some of you may know, Ash and I went to grad school in Vermont. (We got our Master’s in Historic Preservation there, in addition to our undergraduate degrees in preservation from a school in Rhode Island) To celebrate Ash’s upcoming birthday (it’s a big one), we decided to go back to Vermont for a little trip and revisit some of the places that we used to love in Vermont. With that in mind, and due to the fact that I will not be around next Friday to post, today’s fantasy is  a Vermont treasure: the Justin Smith Morrill Homestead (Vermont’s first National Historic Landmark).

The Morrill Homestead in Strafford, Vermont is a Downingesque Cottage with Carpenter Gothic trim (see this post on Downing for a refresher). Justin Smith Morrill was born and raised in Strafford, where he attended school until the age of 15 (so around 1870).  After that time, he was removed from school to help his family earn a living. Morrill wanted to attend college but didn’t have the means, so he taught himself in fields that interested him, including architecture. It was this love of learning that led him to become a senator and sponsor the 1862 and 1890 Land Grant Acts that established Land Grant colleges for students who wouldn’t otherwise have the means to go.

The Morrill homestead just went through a big restoration. If you are in Vermont anytime you should check it out!

Have a great weekend!

-Etta

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Happy Friday readers. We have reached the end of summer and Labor Day is only days away.  One of the things that Labor reminds me of is the American Dream…. you know, the neat house with a spacious lawn and white picket fence, 2.5 children and a freshly waxed family sedan gleaming in the driveway (or at least that’s what we are told the American Dream is).  To me, nothing reminds me of this more than Post World War II suburbs, and of course, the grand-daddy of them all is Levittown. That is today’s Fantasy, and while it is nowhere near as grand as our usual Fantasies  it is probably the most achievable, which was, after all, the point of Levittown!

NY Times photo of Levittown in 1947

Levittown (the original Long Island one, as there are OTHER Levittowns in Pennsylvania and in other places) is a Post WWII suburb developed for returning GI’s by Real Estate Lawyer Abraham Levitt. He had the idea to turn 60,000 acres of flat grassland on Long Island (which he bought when the original developer defaulted on a loan in the 30s) into a planned community of 2,000 rental houses. He made this announcement in the paper in 1947 and 2 DAYS later half of the houses were already spoken for.  Obviously the demand was great and Levitt and his sons (who helped their Dad with this venture) realized they needed to find a way to speed-up this process and make it cost-effective, so they removed basements from the plans for their houses, taking a cue from houses built on slabs in the south. This was actually against building code at the time, but with the baby-boom just beginning, nobody argued. In fact, the State of New York changed the building code to make concrete slab foundations allowable, because the need for housing was so great!

The Levitt’s used pre-cut lumber and produced their own nails at a nail factory they owned.  Using these precursors to prefabricated materials, the company was soon able to raise around 30 houses a day! The incredible thing is that even 30 houses a day was not enough to keep up with the demand for housing. Those original 2,000 houses were joined by another 4,000 houses, a school (and later additional schools) and post-office to accommodate the burgeoning town.

Levittown Houses. New York Times.

In 1949, the Levitts went from building rental houses to building Ranches for SALE, and they continued this until the last one sold in 1951. Levittown became such a part of American life that spawned American culture including Rock-star Billy Joel, who grew-up in a Levitt House (and was friends with Ash’s Mom when they were young… so ya’know, that’s AWESOME).

There is TONS of information on the different Levittowns out there, but one of the bests I think is the one-and-only Levittown Historical Society which many of my dates came from. I also came across this neat blog about life in Early Levittown.

Levittown Plans from Tessellar Blog

Real Estate Ad from Early Levittown Blog

Hope you enjoyed this look at American Developments and the 1950s American Dream! Enjoy those end of summer BBQ’s and have a great Labor Day!

-Etta

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Hey readers! As summer starts to wind down, Ash and I finally have some time to breathe, so I thought that I would share an amazing piece of architecture from Ash’s home State of New Hampshire with you. We have spent a lot of this summer traveling around our beloved New England and if you take a trip to New England any time soon, today’s Fantasy is one you shouldn’t miss!

Today’s Fantasy is Castle in the Clouds in Moultonborough, New Hampshire. When it was built in 1913-1914, the manse was originally named Lucknow, but people have been calling it Castle in the Clouds since it opened to the public in 1959. Castle in the Clouds is a great example of the Arts and Crafts style, which is all about craftsmanship and a departure from the gaudily ornate Victorian architecture that dominated the last quarter of the 19th century (for more on this read the post on the Gamble House). Castle in the Clouds (Lucknow) was built for Thomas and Olive Plant, who were newly married. Thomas Plant made a fortune from the sale of his shoe manufacturing company to the United Shoe Manufacturing Company and retired to plan a country estate. To accomplish this, he bought over 6,000 acres spanning from the Ossipee Mountains to Lake Winnipesaukee, including the land known as the Ossipee Mountain Park .  One of the amazing things about Castle in the Clouds is that Mr. Plant not only had this house built, but he also built a pretty extensive network of roads around the estate that allowed the Plants and visitors to enjoy the natural beauty that surrounded them; including a series of waterfalls that feed into near-by Shannon Pond.

In the 1930s, the Great Depression hit the Plants, who tried to cut their losses by selling Castle in the Clouds.  Despite their financial duress, they still wanted to be good stewards of the estate they created, so when no buyer was found, they continued to live there until 1941 when Mr. Plant died. Only then was Castle in the Clouds sold.  Since then, it has undergone relatively few changes and today it is run by the Castle Preservation Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to maintaining this treasure! They have a website, with great pictures and a virtual tour in case you can’t make it to New Hampshire anytime soon (the photos below are from the Castle in the Clouds website).

I think this shot best illustrates why it is called Castle in the Clouds…. but now I’ll have Les Miserables stuck in my head ALL day…..

An up close view that really emphasizes Arts and Crafts principles.

Can you beat this view? Or the Art Glass panels, for that matter?

What a lovely living room… it almost seems cozy despite its size

One of the many natural features that Plant planned the property around.

Well, that’s it for today. Hope you enjoyed your quick trip to Ash’s home state.

Have a great weekend

-Etta

P.S.  A special thanks to my friend Peter who recently had a work project here and reminded me of how great Castle in the Clouds is. I think it made a great Fantasy.

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Hey Readers,

I know I have been woefully neglecting you, but I have a good reason I swear!  It’s  National Preservation Month  and here at work that is combined with a time heavy in reviewing Architectural Plans and preparing for our awards ceremony, then add to that the fact that a co-worker and I promised  to give a presentation to a Local Historical Commission on re-purposing disused Municipal buildings, so yeah… I might have over-extended myself just a bit.

I don’t want to leave you hanging, though, so I’m going to leave you with a couple of pictures from one of the buildings in my presentation on re-using your town’s Municipal buildings. This particular building is the Salem Jail in Salem, Massachusetts. It underwent a MASSIVE rehabilitation where it went from an unused former jail to luxury Condos and a great jail-themed restaurant called The Great Escape. Check out their website, since it gives some before photos of the jail.

Here is a before picture from the Preservation Nation Blog:

Here is a an artistic view of  the after  from the company who markets the Condos (I love the guy hanging out in the doorway!):

I will be back when things quiet down a little bit. Enjoy Preservation Month!

-Etta

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Happy Friday readers!  This week’s Fantasy will be especially poignant for all New England residents, people who love New England, people who love baseball, and people who love cheering for the underdog (mostly when the underdog wins in the end).  I’ll leave you to Ash’s tender care, because he begged me for the opportunity to write this particular post.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of Historic Fenway Park in Boston.  This afternoon, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the opening of our ballpark, doing the thing that we love to watch them do, playing out a rivalry as old as Fenway itself.  This year is even more auspicious, as it will be the first season we’ll watch a game played out in a bonafide historic ballpark that’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places!  Yes, you read that right.  Fenway was listed in the National Register just last month, thanks to the efforts of Fenway Sports Group and their associates, and the Massachusetts Historical Commission.  But what makes it so special?

Construction of Fenway Park began in September, 1911, and the 24,400-seat stadium opened seven months later.  On April 20, 1912, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Highlanders (a team you might recognize better by the name they were given a year later: the Yankees) faced off in a brand-new stadium in Boston’s Kenmore-Fenway neighborhood.  The Sox won that momentous very first home opener, and went on to win the 1912 World Series.  Fenway’s long and storied history has been played out by countless baseball legends, with seasons that brought both joy and heartache, triumph and trials.  From the Green Monster to the Red Seat, the manual scoreboard to Pesky’s Pole, Fenway has become an icon to Sox fans, the holy ground where they go to commune with the heart and soul of America’s pastime, to feel the presence of heroes past and present and maybe walk in their footsteps.  The park has seen its share of renovations over the years, but has remained largely unchanged, even the seating numbers haven’t changed much, with a capacity a little over 37,000.  It’s likely that the parks various quirks, such as its asymmetrical field (like many of the ballparks built during the ‘Golden Age’, Fenway was built on an asymmetrical lot, resulting in an asymmetrical field, measuring only 302 feet along the right field line to the foul pole) and “outdated” systems and features, prompted the former owners to announce a plan for the demolition and replacement of Fenway with a new, modern ballpark.  Due to public outcry, stalled negotiations with the City of Boston and the sale of the Red Sox to more sympathetic owners in 2001, that dreadful plan was dropped, to be replaced with ten years of preservation and renovation projects intending to keep Fenway running for at least 50 more years.

Now, the architecture!  Fenway was built in the Tapestry Brick style, which utilizes a combination of red brick and cast stone laid in decorative patterns to give the building visual interest.  Designed by Boston architect, James E. McLaughlin, the Yawkey Way facade, which you can see below, is an excellent example of the style, and shows how the brick is tilted, pushed and pulled on the facade surface, and woven into an aesthetic tapestry.

In 1933-34, the engineering firm responsible for designing the stands in 1912, Osborne Engineering of Cleveland, designed the expansion that extends toward Brookline Avenue.  Though more Gothic in its styling, the use of red brick, stone and arched windows blends it well with the older portions of the ballpark.

Before I wrap up, I’ll leave you with a view of the field.  After all, what’s a visit to a ballpark without seeing the place where the magic happens!?  There’s the Green Monster, the massive 37-foot left field wall that not only holds the scoreboard, but dashes many a home run hopeful’s hopes and dreams.

In closing, there’s Pesky’s Pole, the right field foul pole named after Red Sox legend, Johnny Pesky.  You can also pick out the Red Seat in the center field bleachers among a sea of blue.  That seat marks the longest recorded home run, a bomber that Ted Williams launched back in 1946 that went a distance of 502 feet! I hope you enjoyed your virtual tour of Fenway, but I highly recommend making a trip sometime, especially if you’re a baseball fan.  It’s awe-inspiring to step into a place where so much baseball history has taken place.  Have a great weekend!  Go Sox!

-Ash and Etta

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Happy Friday Readers, I’m back! This week’s Fantasy is a pretty great one, if I do say so myself. Today’s Fantasy is America’s oldest surviving timber frame home: the Fairbanks House in Dedham, Massachusetts.

Built between 1637 and 1641, the Fairbanks house has weathered well over 350 years and is still around for us to enjoy and study today.  Interestingly enough, we can really pinpoint the construction period for the Fairbanks house because the organization that owns the house requested a dendrochronology study to determine an exact date. For those unfamiliar with dendrochronology, it is the study of the age of a timber by counting the growth rings of the timber and comparing them to other rings formed at a known point in time.  The process is most often used to date the timbers that make up a house frame. (Photos from Wikipedia)

The house is a great example of continuous New England architecture.  Like many other venerable manses across our stony countryside, especially the ubiquitous connected farmsteads of the 19th century, it was slowly added onto over the years to become the house we see today.  The saltbox lean-to on the north side of the house was likely added later in the 17th century.  The east and west gambrel-roofed wings were added about a century later, when an extended unit of the Fairbanks family all lived there together. Both the small addition extending to the west off of the lean-to (originally built as a dairy, and later converted into the privy) and the mud room attached to the east wing were built during the 19th century. (For more information on continuous architecture, get yourself a copy of the book Little House Big House Back House Barn. Great book, you won’t regret it!)

The history of the Fairbanks house is, as you might guess, inextricably tied to the lives of the Fairbanks family.  The Fairbanks family called this place home for nearly 300 years, ending in 1904 when the last remaining descendant moved away at the age of 76.  Shortly after the house ceased its existence as a residence, the Fairbanks Family Association (a genealogical membership group made up of descendants of Jonathan and Grace Fairbanks, the family’s first immigrants to America and first owners of the house) purchased it and opened it to the public.

This intriguing link to 17th century New England is certainly an architectural treasure, but it continues to provide glimpses into the lives of its residents, as well, through the family furniture that’s found its way back home (or never left), and archaeological deposits around the grounds that continue to be studied.  It’s worth a visit to take a moment to step back in time and experience a home that’s been a part of over three centuries of history, and was the place that eight generations of a single family called home.

Hope you enjoyed this glimpse of the Countries oldest timber frame home.

-Etta

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