Why Local Matters

Shop Local. Eat Local. Buy Local. Think Local First. Live Local.

If you browse community related or preservation related news, you have probably noticed that the concept and implementation of a local economy based on local businesses is a popular topic. Local, in this sense, tends to mean small business as opposed to local franchise or a chain store that happens to be in your locale.

On Sunday May 13, 2012, the New York Times ran an article titled, “Vermont Towns Have an Image, and They Say Dollar Stores Aren’t Part of it.” The trigger for this article is the current struggle in Chester, Vermont, where a dollar store is proposed. The article is excellent and worthy of discussion, as this is an issue that needs to be in the mind of everyone. Many residents are opposed to the construction and introduction of a chain dollar store to Chester, one of the quintessential Vermont villages that relies on tourism. Chester includes two National Register historic districts, the Stone Village Historic District and the Chester Village Historic District.

From the New York Times article (see block quotes),

Almost two decades after the National Trust for Historic Preservation put the entire state of Vermont on its list of endangered sites, citing big-box developments as a threat to its signature greenness, towns like this one are now sizing up a new interloper: the chain dollar store.

“While Wal-Mart has managed to open only four stores in Vermont and Target still has none, more than two dozen Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar stores have cropped up around the state. All three companies are thriving in the bad economy — between them, they have more than 20,000 outlets nationwide, selling everything from dog treats to stain remover and jeans to pool toys. Their spread through Vermont, with its famously strict land-use laws, has caught chain-store opponents off guard.”

Dollar stores are typically much smaller than the large big box stores that have been the typical threat. Land use regulations and zoning weren’t expecting a struggle, as the article states. Presumably, a relatively “small” store such as a dollar store would not be a problem. However, the square footage of these stores can overtake the total square footage of retail of adjacent or nearby businesses. Dollar stores have the potential to sell very similar items to what is currently offered by those neighboring businesses.

“Most of the people in Chester now are people who have come from someplace else,” Mr. Cunningham said. “It’s like a lot of Vermont. Why come to a place like this only to have it turn into the kind of place you were trying to leave?”

An excellent question. People move to Vermont because it is such a unique place. Let’s try to keep it unique and special for generations to come. This doesn’t mean a moratorium on development; but, rather, smart development that agrees with the community’s wants, needs, and concerns.

Paul Bruhn, executive director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont, said opposition to dollar stores has sprung up in at least four other towns in the state. Mr. Bruhn’s group, which seeks to protect what it calls “the essential character of Vermont,” has been tracking the spread of dollar stores since 2010; it provides grant money to citizens’ groups that oppose them, including Mr. Cunningham’s.

“The dollar stores have proliferated in a way that seems a little extreme,” Mr. Bruhn said. “One of the things I think is crucial for Vermont, in terms of maintaining this very special brand that we have, is we don’t want to look like Anywhere, U.S.A. And homegrown businesses are a crucial piece of that.”

The spread of dollar stores has come during a period of decline of the general store, a Vermont institution that in many towns served as a meeting place and all-purpose emporium. This week, the Barnard General Store, not far from Chester, closed after 180 years. Its owners cited the twin blows of Tropical Storm Irene, which badly flooded parts of the state last summer, and a nearly snowless winter that kept skiers away.

In this article, Mr. Bruhn’s quote about not looking like Anywhere, USA and homegrown businesses effectively sum up the ongoing battles with corporate development throughout Vermont. Simply put, a place becomes Anywhere, USA when its buildings no longer reflect regional traditions and architecture, and when you can walk into a business and there is not an identity. A chain store may alter the layout and carry some regional varieties, but for the most part, if you enter a chain drug store, for example, anywhere in this country, it’s the same thing, whether you are in Florida or Wyoming. Although the article discusses Vermont as a whole (because it is an issue looked at statewide), there are threats to prosperous or recovering downtowns all across the country, from chain stores to poor development to sprawl. What do you notice in your community?

Why do some communities and some people fight so hard against chain retailers? Because a functioning, healthy downtown filled with locally owned businesses is not the norm in most places, and is at risk is most places where it does exist. Vermont is not a place that can be taken for granted. Living locally – meaning shopping, eating and spending locally – is not easy in every part of our country. I say this from experience, having lived in five different states. But, it is easier in Vermont than anywhere else that I’ve lived. Why? Because it’s a mindset of many. It’s common. Of course, not every item you need can be purchased locally, but with just a bit of additional thought, you can do pretty well in supporting your local economy. For those of us lucky enough to live in places like this Vermont, we be good stewards. Living locally will improve your quality of life because it keeps money in your community, which improves the entire community.

How good are your local shopping habits? Can you do better? What is difficult about where you live? What do you think is the biggest issue facing your community? Does shopping local make you happy?

Street Observations: 10 Questions

Sunshine, flowers, spring foliage, light rain, no more snow, more daylight hours – what more could you want? While some people love cold weather (skiers, for example), eventually, we all are craving sunshine and warmth. The streets are filled with bicyclists, walkers, runners, kids, adults, and everyone is happy in the sun.  Here in Vermont, March and April are not always the prettiest of months (some call it stick season, some call it mud season…there is a lot of brown), so we eagerly await the springtime foliage and warmer days. If you live further south, you’ve been out and about for months in warmth, I know.

Regardless of when this resurgence of green and spring is for you, it is an excellent time to take a look around your streets and your town and to really think about them.  Think about street that you like. Have you thought about why you like it? Could you describe it to someone? I’d bet that there are specific aspects of the street that help to shape why you like it over another.

For a fun mental exercise, below are 10 questions to ponder the next time you are out and about. Perhaps you think about these already or maybe it’s a new topic for you.

(1) What do your streets look like? Are they wide enough for two lanes of traffic and parking lanes? Are they narrow city alleys? Where do cars park: on grass, on gravel, formally, informally?

(2) Do your streets have sidewalks? Are the sidewalks level with the travel lane? Are they concrete or asphalt or brick?

(3) Do the sidewalks have distinct curbs? Or is it just a slab of concrete or poured asphalt with a nondescript edge?

(4) Do the streets have green strips? In other words, is there grass between the traveled lane and the sidewalk?

(5) Are the streets filled with trees or void of trees? What types of trees?

(6) Where are the power lines?  Overhead or buried?

(7) Where are the mailboxes? At the curb or on the house?

(8) What types of buildings are on the street? Is it commercial or residential or both? Can you name the architectural style? Are they one-story, two-story or more? Are they single family homes, duplexes, apartment buildings, row houses or something else?

(9) Is there street furniture such as benches and trash or recycle bins? 

(10) What do you think of this street? Is it pleasant? Loud? Quiet? Aesthetically pleasing? Ugly?

So, what else would you add? Did you discover anything new about your streets? Beware, you may never stop thinking about this now that you’ve noticed these nuances. But, that is a good thing! Understanding your environment aids in understanding your sense of place and in defining why you prefer one place over another.

Memories & Songs

Are significant songs classics? Are only classic songs significant? What makes a piece of music important and worthy of archiving?  After all, the world is full of beautiful cultures, all with unique traditions, rituals, folklore, stories and songs. Music and songs can be defining characteristics of a cultural group, perhaps even of your heritage, your ancestors.

Well, here I am to admit that I have absolutely zero ounces of musical ability or talent in my blood. I played the flute in fifth grade, and that was it for instruments. Instead, I took chorus throughout middle school and early high school. I knew I wasn’t a good singer; but, my goodness, I worked hard in chorus class. In high school I received the “Most Improved” recognition award at the end of the year. You probably didn’t need or care to know that about me, but my point is that I am not an expert on music and will not pretend to be.

However, I love a good song and I think it is important to talk about music and preservation. Have you ever considered the songs that would play in the background of a movie about your life? Ten or 20 or 50 years from now, will you remember your favorite songs and what you listened to in the car or while hanging around the house or hosting dinner parties?  Sure, you’ll remember your prom song (maybe) or your wedding song and those few favorites, but what about the others?

The soundtrack of our lives would all be different, but just like old photographs, doesn’t a familiar favorite make you smile and recall a time in your life?  I may not know songs dear to my ancestors from Ireland or Scotland, sadly, but the songs I know keep me grounded to my own story, one that I’d like to remember.

Songs trigger sweet memories, whether specific to a particular moment or day or era. They can make us say, I haven’t heard this song in ages or I used to love this song or I’d listen to this song when…” 

Music can serve as a time capsule and a time warp, nostalgia included. Maybe that song that you loved in high school or the one from the day you moved into your first apartment means nothing to anyone but you. It is still significant and it should be a part of your self-made life soundtrack. They can be popular, unknown, brilliant, terrible, happy, sad; there are no rules for why songs are meaningful to us.

The most important songs that would appear in my list take me back to dancing in the living with my sisters, Dad blasting music from the garage as the entire family worked in the yard, celebrating holidays and the first mixed CD from Vinny. A few remind me of high school homecoming, others recall college track meets and late summer night writing marathons. The summer I lived in Omaha, Nebraska and had my first car (Derby) has many songs to its memory. My list goes on and on, as yours does, I’m sure.

And if music can be such a powerful trigger for memories, wouldn’t it be a good idea to keep a record of them? Calendars, photographs and journal entries probably skip over the music playing in the background as you write and work. Just as we talk about the sounds and smells of historic sites, the background sounds to your life are also worth noting and remembering.

So, write down the names of these songs and start your own playlist. Share it with your children and your grandchildren. I would love to know what my grandparents listened to as they studied, got ready for a date, traveled across the country, took care of their children, cleaned the house or as they simply relaxed. Of course, I could guess based on the decades, but that’s too impersonal and potentially inaccurate. I’d rather know specific songs and their memories.

What do you think? How important is music in your life?

What am I listening to as I write Preservation in Pink? Tonight it’s country music. (I love it.)

You Do Not Have to be a Historic Preservationist

Lately, I have been thinking about historic preservation and how it is viewed by non-preservationists. Non-preservationists can be those who may be interested in but do not define themselves as preservationists, those who are generally uninterested in the field or those who are unaware of what preservation is. To the latter two categories, the term “historic preservation” may sound unfriendly, scarred by stereotypes and preconceived notions or affiliated too much with gentrification.

Those of us familiar with the field of historic preservation know that it is anything but elitist. The days of focusing solely on house museums and famous figures only have long passed. Now historic preservation includes all ethnicities, all races, all classes, all architectural styles, all communities and reaches beyond history to intertwine itself with economic revitalization, sustainability and quality of life. It is quite the challenge to be effectively succinct about preservation.

You do not have to be a historic preservationist in order to appreciate historic preservation.

Has anyone ever told you that? Does that sound strange? Or obvious? In other words, as I write and talk about historic preservation, I am not hoping to transform you into preservationists. My motivation is not to make every other field sound less important. Rather, the goal is to gain your respect for preservation while providing education about the field.

Reliving my childhood in summer 2005 at The Big Duck, except as a kid I bought a kite inside the store.

For reference, I consider my family members who are not trained in preservation nor would they define themselves as preservationists. Yet, there are traces of preservation throughout our childhoods. We all grew up loving The Big Duck on Long Island (and we had ducks for pets; Mom still does).  We were and remain incredibly attached to the town of and our memories in Point Lookout. My mom could explain the history of most places we’d pass on our drives to eastern Long Island. My sister Sarah loved road-tripping with my mom and me where we saw more roadside architecture, an abandoned schoolhouse, state and national parks and memorials and small towns in the middle of nowhere.

Sarah and me at the giant Prairie Dog outside Badlands National Park in August 2006.

Inside an abandoned Nebraska schoolhouse, August 2006.

My youngest sister Erin (a frequent commenter on PiP) understands how quality of life and sense of place are improved through supporting small businesses and getting behind the development of bicycle trails. Both girls loved the first time I brought them to a drive-in movie theater.  My sister Annie holds our family traditions dear, yearns to take a cross-country road trip together, and explains to me that I’d love Austria because of the narrow, winding streets and little stores and the architecture. My dad tells me the history of Forest Hills and his parents, his visits to the 1964 World’s Fair and his love for train travel.

I have taken many road trips (Route 66, South Carolina, South Dakota, Great Lakes) on which I have stayed in little motels, seen roadside America galore, driven through small towns and big cities and of course, seen flamingos along the way and/or had a flamingo in tow. And I always drink a lot of coffee.

On the road with Pip in July 2009, and lots of coffee.

You see, it is easy to identify many elements of and connections to preservation running through my family members and our conversations, even if they don’t completely (or didn’t always) realize it. Aside from my mom, I would be surprised if any of my family members included “historic preservationist” in their “about me” descriptions.

Yet, they understand why it is important and appreciate the benefits of historic preservation. And that is what matters most. While they may not want to do what I do for a living, they are glad that I want to do it. (Don’t be fooled; families are not perfect. We avoid discussions about big box stores.)

The same can be said for every field, probably. Sarah works in the wildlife conservation & environmentalism fields, which is another incredibly vital role in the health of our world. Wildlife conservation is not something I can see myself doing as a career/lifestyle, but I understand its importance. The same can be said environmentalism. Not everyone is going to keep up with the latest scientific findings and reports, but many will do his/her part to improve efficient use of resources in order to help save the planet, habitats and environment.

This is a non-succinct story to explain that just because you understand (or sort of understand) all of the historic preservation chatter and theories, does not mean that you have to define yourself as a preservationist. (This is not to discourage you from defining yourself as one if you’d like.) In fact, you don’t have to understand it all. The needed part, by all, is to respect historic preservation and those of us who believe strongly in the power (for good) of the wide-reaching field. You do not have to do the preservation work, but if you can come to terms with even one aspect of preservation (e.g. local shopping, rehabilitation of historic buildings, land use planning, heritage tourism), then you are enabling us preservationists to keep at what we love – and more importantly, to work at ways in improving quality of life and sense of place for person and every community.

So, what do you think? Does knowing that, as a preservationist, I am not attempting to “convert” you or others to a new field make you less apprehensive to historic preservation?  And if you are a preservationist, how do you feel about this?

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p.s. Did you miss Friday’s Pop Quiz? Take it today and the answer will be up tomorrow.

Let’s Talk Twitter

 Do you “tweet” or have a twitter account? Do you know what a Twitter account is? If you are my parents, you might not, so in brief: Twitter is another social media platform in which you can post messages of 140 characters on your twitter homepage. Anyone (unless you choose privacy) can read your page of “tweets.” You can follow what other users are “tweeting” about and reply to them, form groups or list and share anything: news articles, thoughts, clever one-liners, photographs, questions and more. So, it’s kind of like Facebook except shorter, or an online text message. (Actually, all of these can be linked nowadays.) People use Twitter for a variety of reasons, from personal to another way to entertain blog readers to networking to actual conversations.

 Why do I want to talk about Twitter? In all honesty, I’m undecided on how useful I find it – for me. I’m curious to hear why people love it so much and how it has benefited them, personally or professionally. Yes, Preservation in Pink has a Twitter account (@presinpink). I jumped on the bandwagon, which is one of the few times in life I caved to peer pressure. When a new post is published, WordPress automatically informs Twitter and a tweet with the name of the post and the link is shared on the @presinpink home page. In that manner it serves as another means of publication for blog posts. Once in a while I’ll share a news article or “retweet” an interesting link for someone else, but then I feel too addicted to the internet in a media platform that I don’t love. When that happens I tend to ignore Twitter and let WordPress do the work for me (thank you WordPress!)

Originally, when I first learned of Twitter years ago, it seemed like another “look at me!” platform, which it probably was at the time. Now it has evolved to be almost as popular as Facebook. It is a way for people and businesses to get their news out and form connections. There are entire conversations on Twitter, too.

Ever since hearing about Twitter chats, I’ve been decidedly more undecided about Twitter. The National Trust has been hosting monthly Twitter chats for a few months now and they sound like a great time. Kayla at Adventures in Heritage is one of the moderators and she explains how to Twitter and summarizes the chats along with a few others.

Remember when instant messenger (IM & AOL) was huge? (That’d be in the late 1990s/early 2000s.) In middle school and early high school days, it was so exciting to “talk” with friends in a chat room rather than having individual conversations. Snooping sisters couldn’t hear the conversations about boys and school. We could have multiple conversations at once. I loved it.

Are these Twitter chats similar? They seem to be, though I can’t get into Twitter conversations. Part of me finds it incredibly confusing. Part of me is against shortening words into code enough to fit within 140 characters. Annoying so, there are very few words which I’ll abbreviate or translate into text slang when text messaging. Thus, Twitter fuels my pet peeve of poor use of the English language.

However, perhaps the benefit of Twitter is keeping us verbose internet savvy preservationists brief. Get to the point, craft your 140 characters and move on. Share a link. Spread good news.

Is Twitter another must have for professional networking? Or is it a feel-good social platform? Is it actually useful for encouraging preservation? Or is it a case of a bunch of keyboard preservationists tweeting? I’d say both are the extreme. I mean, hey, any form of preservation chatter is good, right? Indeed.

I’m not trying to bash Twitter or those who use it. Whatever you find useful in this digital age is obviously a good thing. The power of education and conversation! But, I would like to hear from others on the advantages and disadvantages, or when you use Twitter or when you don’t. Do you have Twitter boundaries? Is there such a thing as keeping up with too many internet social platforms? Please, share!

My work schedule doesn’t allow me to be available at 4pm EST for these chats so I have missed out on them so far (but there’s always hope, right?). And now that I’ve openly questioned Twitter in public, it’s probably a good time to try it out to the full extent. To those who have asked, I will give a Twitter chat a try, I promise.

Keyboard Preservationists

What did you think of when you read the title, “Keyboard Preservationists”? Does it sound descriptive or enigmatic? Maybe both?

In last week’s post, “Hey Buffalo, Wish I Were There,” I mentioned that the National Trust seems to be friendlier to young preservationists than when I was in college. However, since I’m no longer in college, my opinion could be skewed. Following that post, reader Mark left a comment that included this:

Today I see a proliferation of young people getting involved in preservation and I see an explosion stuff on the internet relating to built heritage and preservation. The young´ens seem to be taking to the net to show their enthusiasm and involvement, which is great because they´re getting the message out. All of this poses another question though: do we have too many keyboard preservationists, and not enough people with hammers in their hands?

The term – a new one to me – “keyboard preservationists” immediately grabbed my attention. In other words, do we have too many people talking preservation related topics and not enough doing on the ground work? Or do we have too many doing the softer side of preservation and not the actual craftsman related trades to preservation. I’m not sure which question Mark meant; our conversation continues in the comments. For the sake of discussion, let’s assume the first.

Initially, “keyboard preservationist” implies the younger crowd – those with blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, Linked-In, etc.; however, we all know that more than just the younger generation of preservationists is enamored by (or addicted to) the digital age.  While the majority are likely the younger crowd, let’s not assume that is the case.

Now, let’s consider “keyboard preservationists” in the sense that there is too much talk. Are you talking the talk, but not walking the walk? Do you live as a preservationist? Everyone has different priorities and theories about preservation, but for what you believe in and attempt to teach others, do you follow your own advice and knowledge? As an example, if you encourage local shopping and community involvement, do you shop at locally owned businesses and partake in town events? Do you attend zoning meetings or design review board meetings? Or do you bypass the smaller stores and head to the big box stores and elsewhere, and hear about development plans after the fact.

Do you read the preservation news and sign the petitions to protect preservation funding and show support for buildings at risk? Or do you glance over it and only pass it on, or not? Do you live in a new house rather than an old or historic house?

No one is perfect, preservationist or not. I’m not saying my preservation life is a perfect example, either. But, if we all have compromises that we make and rationalizations that we tell ourselves, perhaps it is time to reevaluate. Can we put in that extra effort to change our shopping patterns? Can we be more involved in the development and events of town planning, etc?  Can we contact lawmakers to make a difference? Can we talk to our fellow citizens and explain preservation?

Our talk needs to happen beyond the internet. Face to face explanation about historic preservation is the best form of advocacy. Our examples and our lives should be reflections of what we speak and believe about preservation. This seems like an appropriate time to recall my favorite inspirational quote by Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

So, what do you think? Do you ever find yourself a “keyboard preservationist”? Let’s share some faults and advice – leave a comment or send me an email and I’ll post them if I have enough. Think it over and send it along. (I’ll leave you anonymous if you’re too shy!) I’ll share some of my own as well.

Walt Disney World

Preservationists, what do you think of Walt Disney World (or Land, if that’s your part of country)? I know preservationists who absolutely love Disney and I know some who cannot stand it. So it’s probably irrelevant to the profession, however, too often the “Mickey Mouse-ing” of history is used as a negative connotation; i.e.: meaning something is too perfect or too fake or too clean or just not an accurate depiction of history.

But, I wonder what it is about Disney World/Land that people do not like? I was just there with my in-laws and yes, it’s hot in July (of course it’s currently hot everywhere, including Vermont) and Disney World is it own place – its own world, if you will. However, if you consider the history of Walt Disney, the man, and Walt Disney, the theme parks, it has the purest of intentions to be a joyful place for parents and children and all ages alike. The biography of Walt Disney is inspiring and a true American story. As an adult, it is interesting to understand the context of the Disney’s history and how the man and the theme parks correlate. Upholding Disney’s legacy seems to be an important mission of the Walt Disney company. In Disney’s Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM Studios) you can visit a gallery/museum of Walt’s life and watch a short film about him. I’d bet that a visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco would be fascinating. Certainly, the life of Walt Disney affected the entire world.

Why mention Disney on Preservation in Pink (other than for the tens of photos I took of Mr. Stilts, the little flamingo, throughout the parks)?  Mostly, I don’t think it’s fair to call something that we find too perfect to be “Mickey Mouse history.” Do people go to Disney expecting to learn about history? Disney World does not represent everything about American culture or American history. It is perfect in Disney because it is an escape from reality. It is living in a world of imagination for a day or a week or however long you visit. It’s like walking into a land of nostalgia. And as we all know, nostalgia is always pretty and always perfect and just the type of place we’d like to stay for a while. The depth of detail throughout the entire park and on all of the rides and attractions is astounding. To me, that is what is so great about Disney. The “imagineers” think of everything and everywhere you look, everything is done for a reason. (Of course marketing plays a large role and Disney is good at it.)

Mr. Stilts overlooking the boardwalk at Disney World with EPCOT in the background. Many more pictures to follow!

My point? Let’s take “Mickey Mouse” out of the conversation when talking about historical accuracy. After all, the buildings in the Magic Kingdom of Disney World are constructed on forced perspective, where the upper stories are all smaller than the story below it. The buildings are creating a nostalgic illusion. Mickey Mouse and Disney World are completely different from a history museum or a reconstruction. The former aims for a land of pretend and imagination whereas the latter aims for telling an accurate story. Do you see what I mean? What do you think?

More pictures of Mr. Stilts in Disney will be on the blog next week. Stay tuned!

 

Running in the Evening Light

In the wintertime I wrote about running in the cold, dark evenings: quiet, solitary spans of time that allowed me to catch glimpses of the interiors of the beloved historic houses. The yellow glow of lights provided that cozy feeling; each house seemed loved. It is a good reason for loving dark winter nights.

But the cold eventually grows tiresome and I have been more than happy to welcome the fair spring weather. Evenings are still a good time for neighborhood explorations as the sun is not in my eyes and the sidewalk traffic is less. Yesterday while running I realized just how much of the built environment details I have been missing in the winter months. For those months my eyes watched the ground ahead carefully for roots, ice and frost heaves. My eyes were drawn to the parts of buildings that I could see; hence, the interiors and fenestration. But now with all of this daylight and the dry roads and sidewalks my eyes can finally wander again. I can mix up my routes, whereas I had been running on trusted routes – where I knew what was beneath my feet.

I noticed patterned slate roofs, including one I had never before seen. I noticed a beautiful Queen Anne house painted in all brown, desperate for some color. Fences have been painted, trees have been trimmed. Wood storm windows are still in place on many houses, probably until Memorial Day. Tulips are blooming. People are outside enjoying their yards, tending gardens and tackling the ever existing tasks of home ownership.

Thank goodness for the season changes. Every time a new one turns, a different facet of the built environment is highlighted and provides new adventures, stories and thoughts.

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.

The Rear of a Building

Have you ever thought that the rear elevations of buildings are often neglected, sacrificed, or overlooked? This unfolds in a myriad of ways:

First, alterations are mostly made to the streetscape, since people want the public to see their style, updates, etc. The back of the house or the building always seems to be next on the list, and if it is the current project, it will receive less attention than the front of the house. This leaves the back of a building with a story to tell. Perhaps the windows or siding is original. Or in city blocks, alleys give hints as to the former arrangement and alterations of doorways, shed roofs, and coats of paint. This is where you can learn the most about a building (according to Prof. Gary Stanton of UMW during vernacular architecture field trip in downtown Fredericksburg).

Second, consider that the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation (#9 and #10) often relegate additions to the back of a building in order to preserve the streetscape, massing, feeling, and historic architecture. Suddenly, the rear doesn’t seem to matter too much. An addition will block the original wall and sometimes, especially on city lots, goes on and on until it is larger than the original historic structure; a view from the side elevation loses all perspective in size. The rear of the house has been sacrificed.

Third, the majority of architectural surveys occurs from the street or public right-of-way, so the back of a building is just left out. Those stories from the back are ignored.

I don’t mean to say that additions should be in the front of the building or that additions should be outlawed or that we should all start traipsing across private property just to get a good luck at the building. After all, architectural history centers on buildings facades; the facades are how we read the styles, generally speaking.  Rather, I’m just suggesting that we shouldn’t forget about the rear elevations of our historic buildings, in terms of research and in terms of rehabilitation, maintenance, or repair. And we should give them more thought. Why should the front get all of the attention? Many of us spend a lot of time in the backyard.

What do you think? Do additions need to be even more sensitive? Or is this something we just have to deal with as the needs of houses and buildings changes? Do you think that more than the streetscape matters?