I live in an area of disposable architecture. I must be the only one in the suburbs of Chicago who prefers an aging bungalow to a mass produced McMansion. Because all the houses with character are being torn down and being replaced with something with much less character and charm.
I don’t live in a house with charm. It’s one of about three models in our subdivision. It’s a nice house. It gets the job done, but there are no quirky built-ins or decorative wood work. There was no history here when we moved it; any that exists was created by us.
Growing up I knew a house with character. I was fortunate enough to live next door to my neighborhood’s “haunted house.” It was an eerie, hulking structure. No one lived in it when I was a child, but we played there nearly every day.
The giant pine tree was so big that the interior was a perfect play house. I can still remember the smell of pine sap and remember being covered in it as we tried climbing.
The redbud tree had a perfect branch for sitting in while reading. And if that wasn’t comfortable enough, the large, deep front porch provided a great place for lolling in the shade on a hot summer day. Adding to the mystery of the house was an old bathtub, still enclosed in packing materials. Why was it there? Why was it never installed?
The yard was full of mysterious things. Beautiful peonies dotted the yard in the summer. Bridal wreath bushes provided more rooms for secret meetings as well as head dressings for when we played bride.
The back porch was rickety and dangerous, nothing like the front porch. But we braved it occasionally to peek through the glass to see what was within. We knew from the open windows in front that there was still furniture and pictures hanging. From the back porch we could see the dining table. A side window revealed an ancient erector set, built into some contraption.
When I was in high school, someone moved in and I was able to make friends with him. Now I had access to the inner sanctum! The house had an old, dusty smell. It wasn’t unpleasant. It spoke of abandon and despair, but also of people who loved it enough to have someone in to clean even while it was lreft behind.
The kitchen held mysterious appliances (now I knew it was an early dishwasher!) and gorgeous built-ins that still held dishes and glassware. Old bathrooms contained grooming products from the ladies who formerly lived there. I know there were women because their clothes still hung in bedroom closets. Ancient toys sat unused and unappreciated in other bedrooms.
Up in the attic, paintings from an artist associated with the house were stacked ten deep. Abstract canvases abandoned with everything else.
I loved the house.
The last time I was in it, it was in such disrepair, I knew it wasn’t long before it was gone. I could see no hope in the plaster and lath walls that let in sunlight. I imagined the snow and rain gaining access to the interior, slowly rotting it away. Maybe like the dreams of the people who once lived there and who abandoned it and all their belongings?!
But I was wrong. I learned that the house had been sold. My first reaction was that it would be torn down. No! It is being lovingly restored by an instructor at Fort Hays State University. He and his students have plans for the structure and they’ve already made progress! It is being chronicled here at http://west17th.tumblr.com.
I am delighted. No, it will never be my house. But it isn’t going to be destroyed. I hope you have as much fun as I am watching the secrets of the house being revealed (this blog is how I found out the sink contraption was a dishwasher!) and the changes being made. In this day of disposable buildings, it is pleasing to find someone willing to re-capture the beauty of a once grand home.
Check out west17 and let me know what you think. What I could have done with the place…