We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Monday, June 18. 2007
With all the posts Bird Dog and I have written about the tragic fate of so much of the nation's architectural legacy during the 1960s and 70s (here and here, for examples), I decided to put a more positive spin on things by focusing instead on those fortunate towns that survived "urban renewal" more or less intact. Whether through shrewd foresight, adept planning or just plain luck, these towns weathered the storm and survived into a age where the noble civic architecture of the pre-war years is valued and treasured.
Our first featured town? Staunton, Virginia, known for being the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson and a major trade hub of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Unlike many other southern cities, however, Staunton received hardly any damage during the war, so a large number of the elegant antebellum residences have survived to the present day.
In the four decades following the war, the city was embellished with stately Victorian and Romanesque architecture courtesy of architect T.J. Collins. Staunton was small enough, moreover, that no urban planner chose to route an interstate through the downtown area during the postwar years. When the city fell into decline in the 60s, many buildings fell into disrepair, but few were actually torn down. By the late 1970s, civic-minded citizens were already hard at work preserving the precious architectural heritage of Staunton.
The one major new addition to the downtown in recent years - a much-needed parking garage - was built in an elegant classical style that melded with the rest of the city and captured an award for outstanding and original design in 2002.
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"Well-preserved" sounds like a good pickling and botoxing :)
After an initial building during good wagon, river or rail route times, poverty or at least the lack of prosperity by virtue of being bypassed by the Interstate has "saved" many an historical and quaint small American town. Hallelujah!
Hooray for at least us today. Sorry 'bout those who never made it living in those economically languishing and time imprisoned communities back when. But the communities that had money to modernize their storefronts in the sixties and build featureless brick banks on Main Street in the seventies and to tear down rehabbable old homes to build more liveable and marketable places have lost all charm.
What's more humane- ugly economics or comforting aesthetics? These days the two dovetail nicely and we don't have to make the harsh choices, so much.
Thing is, the "ugly economics" of urban renewal turned out to be an economic disaster in the (not-so) long run, anyways - all the old buildings here in Nashville which survived are today highly-coveted for loft and office space (even old warehouses!), while the stuff that is only 30-40 years old has devalued down to almost nothing and sits mostly vacant. Ditto the old 20s bungalows near the city center - the ones that didn't get run over by I-40 are now hugely popular, while the postwar ranch homes farther out are about as marketable as yesterday's leftover oatmeal.
There was never a need for massive tear-downs - it was a short-sighted, knee-jerk reaction. Creative use of the old buildings just wasn't considered for some reason.
- Creative use of the old buildings just wasn't considered for some reason. -
Well, of course not. They weren't Brutalist concrete masses. In the end, some were restored, if they could be transformed as ironic Post-modern "statements."
Ever noticed how the architecture building is invariably the ugliest structure on campus?
I's in agreement, totally! But was just trying to put myself in the shoes of those townspeople people back then who didn't have the advantage of hindsight. They had to "eat," the pragmatic Americans believed, or so they said, when major development and infrastructure decisions were upon them. State politicians and feds who were urban renewal proponents were usually self-interested, paid-off or partisan-doctrinaire idiots.
Me, personally? Never met an old building I didn't like or wouldn't rehab. I buy 'em and lovingly bring them back to a future that now values "vintage" and updated mech/ electronic systems. Have done some strict preservation work, as well, which I also love.
Have been on Historic Preservation Boards and worked with local societies of little old ladies and some gentlemen, all of whom have been heroes these past decades and centuries in their fight to keep some of our architectural heritage.
Part of the problem, too, I think, is an American attitude of disregard (or at least indifference) toward older buildings, in contrast to our cousins across the pond. Siena, in Italy, which I spent a term in during college, still has tons of medieval buildings which have been used continuously for hundreds of years. The "newest" building in the main plaza dated from about 1700 and is still in great shape.
How did Siena get by without leveling its 800-year old apartments for surface parking? 1) Almost everyone lives close to the city center - i.e. no suburban sprawl despite abundant open farmland; 2) adequate mass transit and 3) those who do commute ride...Vespas. Hundreds are lined up along the main plazas every morning. All in all, not a bad system.
It sur 'nuff be a pretty little town.
And God bless The Dylanologist & Anon. I was start'n ta move into typezilla country, but you two saved me. Same with BD and BL a few back...whew, she was a close one today!
LOL, Habu. At least your near-typezilla is earnest and informative, so carry on, please. Depending on the topic, the rest of us get all verbose and righteouzilla, too, but I liked Dylanologist’s post and so typed lots. Seems the medium can be the overwrought message :)
OK, gone. Not supposed to be here.
Yay! You picked my territory this time. Many towns near the Blue Ridge are old-timey and lovely. Luray is another town much like Staunton, as is my town though we are fast becoming caught up in the commute-to-DC towns. I doubt we fully get there as building has slowed way down, but our downtown Renaissance has gone on with keeping the 'olde' intact and it is just gorgeous. Kudos to the town and to the architects who watched over the renovations.
You can take any side road and drive towards the mountains and within miles feel as if you've stepped back in time. It takes your breath away.
You live in the beauty of the country. Not that other areas aren't as beautiful but if you're from the Sotheast the Blue Ridge is special.
Well H. just keep up with the meds, you'll do fine :-) You're pushing a message that I find just on the edge. Re: NAU etc. OTOneH I have, considering todays world, no problem in thinking what you are saying is what's really happening. OTOtherH it at times seems a bit far fetched. I admit I have not read all your links, but the theories you put forth do have a ring of truth in this divided and multiculturist world. (Sidetrack here, but I am seeing or, at the least, just now reading/noticing, that word 'multiculturist' several or more times a day in my local fishwrap.)
Aside from my possible naivety giving me hesitation, I have heard some notable characters, Hewitt, Medved, for example, holding no truck with your ideas, that is when they have callers who express their thoughts on the subject.
And therein is the conundrum I guess, at least for me, trying too figure out just how gd batshit crazy this world is becoming.
And don't get me wrong here H. I enjoy, admire and look forward to your writing/thoughts. You are doing a helluva job of educating me on many subjects.
And yes, typezilla... LOL.
Beautiful main drag there. There are towns in eastern Washington and Idaho with similar charm though naturally different architecture. All I need is a good hardware store, one decent saloon, a competent auto mechanic, and a nice restaurant to take the missus. And some nice old buildings. That's all I ask.
But Staunton VA sure looks purty.
And a handsome ranch house out in the country nearby. Self sufficient and well-protected, in a nice, charming, unassuming way.
You know, AutoCAD sure was a great invention, even if not designed for architectural drafting.
"Tinsley Linsley Allen, born April 1831, is listed on the 1860 census as a farmer in the Buffalo Springs Post Office District in Amherst County, Virginia. The first of the six Allen brothers to go to war, he enlisted at Millner’s Store in the western part of the county on August 15, 1861, when the Amherst Johnson Guards, also known as the Long Mountain Boys, were organized. This unit entered Confederate service for one year on September 24, 1861, and was assigned to the 58th Virginia Infantry when it was organized in Staunton on October 13, 1861.
Staunton offered some new experiences for the volunteers, who were primarily from rural areas, including a visit to the Western State Mental Hospital, which still operates on a hilltop outside the city."
(Read the letters here)
(Google is a miracle gift)
Savannah is another. When out on the boat and looking back on Charleston, something struck me as odd, and I couldn't identify it for a moment. Then I realized that the skyline of the city was highlighted by church steeples and not skyscrapers.
"Savannah" --what a charming, lilting, slow-rolling southern name for a town. Wish 'twere here in Texas. But we have "Nachidoches".
Charleston and Savannah are breathtaking. Charleston is better, though. The Battery is a labyrinth of beauty indescribable.
remember, it's pronounced "stanton" not "stonton"...don't want to give away to the locals that you're a yankee spy.