PreservationNation Feature

A Preservation in Pink guest post at PreservationNation.

I am psyched to announce (if you missed the Twitter and Facebook chatter) that Monday’s Preservation in Pink post, You Do Not Have to be a Historic Preservationist, was featured as a guest post on PreservationNation, the blog of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. If you do not read the blog, check it out for Preservation News Roundups, special features and more.

Thank you NTHP and David Garber, the PreservationNation blog editor. Preservation in Pink is flattered!

Anatomy of Preservation Guilt: HGTV

I have two confessions.

(1) I get sucked into HGTV. It’s terrible. Usually it’s “House Hunters” or “Property Virgins” or some remodeling show such as “Love It or List It” or “Property Brothers.” This particular selection of shows is probably more related to when I watch HGTV than choosing specific shows.

(2) Normally, every show that I watch on HGTV drives me crazy. Yet, I still watch. My mom and I enjoy yelling at the TV, just as my father enjoys yelling at the NY Jets on Sundays.

Now, what annoys me about these shows? A short rant, if you will. Consider yourself spared from the long rant.

(1) Buyers are always looking for “charm” and “character.” So they start by saying that they want a “historic house” but then buyers shudder at any sign of needed maintenance. More often than not, buyers shy away from old windows and only look to beautiful wood floors. What they want is a Pottery Barn house that evokes the cleanest sense of history, with none of the quirks and small bathrooms and closets of older homes.

(2) The shows’ hosts & contractors knock down plaster walls and add double doors in place of windows, completely changing the facade. Windows are so often replaced.

(3) Buyers are constantly buying houses that are way too big for them (a single person does not need even close to 2000 sq ft).

(4) The shows seldom say where they located! (At least the renovation shows do not).

So, why do I watch?

(1) I can’t help it.

(2) I like to see the transformations of houses, even if I do not agree with changes. But not all renovations are bad.

(3) Once in a while, I’ll pick up a useful home improvement tip.

(4) I like houses and neighborhoods and hearing another point of view.

A solution? Can someone please make a TV show about rehabilitation projects according to the Secretary of Interior’s Standards? What about people who want a historic home and appreciate a home that is listed on the National Register? If viewers want drama and controversy, we can find some.

What do you think?

Do Not Believe Everything You Hear on TV

Do not believe everything you hear on TV: that probably goes without saying, right? And there are a lot of intelligent shows out there, so it’s annoying when those shows get their facts incorrect. As much as it pains me to criticize my absolute favorite show in existence – Gilmore Girls – I have to. (If you are not a fan of Gilmore Girls, sorry! Please pardon my obsession.)

Quick background: the show centers on the relationship of mother and daughter, Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, with a colorful cast of characters in the fictional, idealistic small town of Stars Hollow, CT. Lorelai is a single mother who had Rory when she was 16, and has since worked her way up to managing a historic inn in the town. Come Season 4, Lorelai and her business partner, Sookie, are working towards opening their own inn, which will be a renovation of another historic inn, The Dragonfly. The characters are portrayed as intelligent and witty (as well as entertaining). A fun bit of trivia: much of Gilmore Girls is filmed on the Hollywood back lot called “Midwest Street”, built in the mid 1940s for movies such as Saratoga Trunk. (That fact explains the look of the streetscape and even the interiors of the houses.)

My criticism for Gilmore Girls occurs in Season 4, Episode 4, “Chicken or Beef?”.  In this episode, Lorelai is planning to start construction on The Dragonfly the following Monday, until she receives a letter from Taylor Doose (who is pretty much every official in town, but in particular, he is involved with the Stars Hollow Historical Preservation Society). A “cease and desist” letter orders Lorelai and Sookie to stop work on The Dragonfly, a historic building in town, until the proper permits have been followed. It read as:

“Dear Lorelai Gilmore, it has come to the attention of the Stars Hollow Historical Preservation Society that you and Miss Sookie St. James intend to commence construction on the Dragonfly Inn. Any proposed renovations must be submitted, discussed, and approved by the Stars Hollow Historical Preservation Society. We must therefore ask that all work halt until such time that this procedure has been followed. Thank you, and have a historical day.” [Lorelai:] Is he kidding?

That part makes sense, of course. However, the exchange between Lorelai and Taylor makes a mockery out of proper procedures.

LORELAI: Listen, Taylor, while I have you here, um, I received this letter in the mail, and I’m having kind of a blond day, and I wonder if you could explain this to me.
TAYLOR: Well, it says you have to get approval before you can start construction on the inn.
LORELAI: That’s what I thought it said. Well, I have to tell you, Taylor, I’m a little concerned because we have a construction crew coming Monday, so. . .yikes.
TAYLOR: Well, the Dragonfly is a historical building, Lorelai.
LORELAI: Yeah, but the whole town is a historical building, Taylor. I mean, George Washington ate, slept, or blew his nose all over the damn place.
TAYLOR: He only blew his nose in the park. You’ve read the sign.
LORELAI: Taylor, that inn needs love. It’s falling down. Sookie and I have no intention of ruining its historical aspect. We’d just like some running water.
TAYLOR: Running water was not always historical.
LORELAI: You’re not seriously telling me I can’t put in running water?
TAYLOR: I’m just telling you, there are rules and they have to be followed.
LORELAI: Fine. What do I have to do to get the Historical Preservation Society’s stamp of approval?
TAYLOR: Well, a formal presentation is necessary.
LORELAI: Uh-huh. When?
TAYLOR: Uh, any town function or gathering is open to a presentation, Lorelai.
LORELAI: Okay, so, like, the town meeting tonight?
TAYLOR: If you like.
LORELAI: The town meeting it is.

I find it hard to believe that a well regarded businesswoman who is highly involved in town affairs and has already operated a historic inn would not know the proper procedures to follow. As if getting permits for a historic building is something extra and annoying. I’m sure I’ve seen this episode more times than you care to know, but it didn’t really bother me until just the other day. And then this part, when the Preservation Society was taking their walk-through of the property really made preservation look ridiculous:

TAYLOR: Lorelai, consultation, please.
LORELAI: Okay.
TAYLOR: This porch is falling apart.
LORELAI: I know.
TAYLOR: It’s got live termites.
LORELAI: Big, fat ones.
TAYLOR: It’s a safety hazard.
LORELAI: It’s the first thing to go.
TAYLOR: To go? This porch can’t go.
LORELAI: I’m sorry, Taylor. You just said it’s falling apart.
TAYLOR: I didn’t tell you to tear it down. It’s historical. It has to stay.
LORELAI: No, no, the porch is not historical, Taylor. It was added in 1980.
TAYLOR: So?
LORELAI: So it’s a 23-year-old porch. Unless you think Kate Hudson is historical, it’s not historical.
TAYLOR: Not now, but how do you think we get historical 200-year-old structures if we tear ’em down when they’re just 23?
LORELAI: Uh, it’s rotting away.
TAYLOR: Which just means that your guests can’t walk on it.
LORELAI: So they should hover over it?
TAYLOR: No, you could build a bridge over it, using appropriate materials, of course.
LORELAI: A bridge?
TAYLOR: Or you could build a transparent Lucite porch over this porch, so people could walk on the Lucite porch and see the old porch underneath the new porch.
LORELAI: Build a clear plastic porch over the rotting wood porch?
TAYLOR: With the proper permits, of course, and those are hard to come by.

Seriously? Let’s just spread the false idea that nothing can ever be demolished and that we save absolutely everything, historic or not, safe or not.

Historic preservation gets a bad enough reputation as it is; we don’t need false information being spewed to the millions of people watching television because the show writers were too lazy to get their facts straight. Granted, TV is always exaggerated and this conversation could have happened between some people, but, still. I found it disheartening that my favorite show bashed historic preservation.

What do you think?

Trivia: The Dragonfly Inn, the building, was used in the 1970s as the Waltons’ home. Note: You can find the transcript and these pulled quotes here. See images of the set of The Dragonfly.

Do any of your favorite shows bash historic preservation? I imagine medical professionals must be infuriated by all of the misinformation given to the audiences, especially to those of us whose only basis for medical knowledge is excessive watching of Scrubs. But, see my point? It would be nice if media meant for the masses could be accurate.

I have this mug. See? I told you I was obsessed. It can't be helped.

Genius.

Billy Joel is a genius. [Don’t believe me?  Study some of his lyrics and get back to me.]  Moving on, it wasn’t until recently that I started to understand the political analysis and social commentary of his music [aside from We Didn’t Start the Fire, but that’s plain obvious.]  No Man’s Land, a song from River of Dreams album, didn’t top the single charts and it’s not played at parties or on the radio, but it definitely one of Joel’s great commentaries.  [Vinny can elaborate on such topics at a much greater length.]

 

Preservationists, do yourselves a favor and listen to No Man’s Land or at least read the lyrics.  To hear the song, click “launch player” in top right of the page.  From here, choose River of Dreams from the Albums tab.  No Man’s Land is the first song. You can listen to the entire song. [Beware that music plays right away.] Without posting the entire song, here are portions: 

 

I’ve seen those big machines come
rolling through the quiet pines
Blue suits and bankers with their
Volvos and their valentines
Give us this day our daily discount outlet merchandise
Raise up a multiplex and we will make a sacrifice
Now we’re gonna get the big business
Now we’re gonna get the real thing
Everybody’s all excited about it
Who remembers when it all began
Out here in no man’s land
We’ve just begun to understand
Out here in no man’s land
Low supply and high demand
Here in no man’s land
I see these children with their
boredom and their vacant stares
God help us all if we’re to blame for
their unanswered prayers
They roll the sidewalks up at night,
this place goes underground
Thanks to the condo kings there’s cable now in Zombietown
Now we’re gonna get the closed circuit
Now we’re gonna get the Top 40
Now we’re gonna get the sports franchise
Now we’re gonna get the major attractions…

 

Now isn’t that a cry against suburbia, if there ever were such a thing? Maybe it’s not as entertaining as some of his other songs.  Maybe this song rings true for too many people that it just never became a favorite. Of course, there are many people in this country who like strip malls, subdivisions, shopping malls, fast food chains… or do they do?  Do they just not know otherwise?  Is society brainwashed?  Well, another issue for another time.  After all, some might say preservationists are brainwashed. 

 

Speaking of brainwashing, here a few reasons as to why I love listening to No Man’s Land:

 

1. Hearing a famous musician who happens to be from Long Island speaking out against the new Long Island and what suburbia has become, offers a refreshing glimpse of hope.  Billy Joel likely has everything thing he could ever need or want, but, at least in this song, he is still concerned with the trends of society.  [Please, this is not time to bash Billy Joel. Substitute any appropriate celebrity name here.] 

  

2. It undeniably sings to preservationists.  Any form of inspiration is appreciated, and if it’s a great song, then it’s even better.  It reminds of the effect that Big Yellow Taxi has on us preservationists, even if slightly different.  The lyrics don’t offer instantaneous understanding, but upon closer examination it is so obvious what they are actually saying.

 

3. The descriptions of suburbia, while to one extreme, are just accurate enough to further my own personal case against suburbia.

 

4. And simply, I have always loved Billy Joel, as previously implied. 

 

Thank you, Billy Joel, for helping our quality of life and sense of place case.

 

July 2008 Issue

Click below for the latest issue of Preservation in Pink! (Volume II, Issue 1).  I know it’s been a while, but the good news is that this issue is bigger and has more travel photographs!  Topics include Penn Station, Going Green, Living as a Preservationist, Travel, Media, and Third Place. Enjoy and send any feedback my way.  Thanks!

 

 Preservation in Pink July 2008