Tag Archives: Local Events

Architectural Anxieties

For some time now I’ve been anxious about all of the new buildings going up in Salem: the sheer number, their size and scale, and their design. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while I’m sure that this will be no surprise to you, and I have not been subtle with my opinions or presentations (see “When Monster Buildings Attack”, or the more idealistic “Ideal Cities”). I am a traditionalist so “modern” architecture is always a bit jarring for me, but many of these new buildings don’t seem to even have a distinct design, modern or otherwise: they just seem blatantly and mundanely ugly. Beyond aesthetics, it also seems rather obvious that there has been no attempt to integrate these structures into the existing material fabric of Salem: they could be built anywhere. Salem’s architectural heritage is so apparent: I’m clueless as to why developers and city boards do not make integration a higher priority. As I said, my concerns have been intensifying for some time: I used to just write off my dislike of a particular building to the organic nature of the ever-evolving city (there are so many great buildings here; we can absorb a few not-so-great ones) but now it seems to me that there is a danger of the bad outweighing the beautiful, and then Salem will be forever lost. Here are just two cases in point, of proposed buildings going up in very conspicuous locations, accentuating their impact: the new “Community Life Center” (essentially a Senior Center, long overdue), which will be built adjacent to a “Gateway Center” (housing/retail on the first floor) on a lot at the intersection of Bridge and Boston Streets, two major entrance corridors of the city, and the new, additional Waterfront Hotel on Pickering Wharf. The rendering for the former looks like it was drawn by a five-year old, and while the latter is somewhat less objectionable the completed building looks like it will block out the view of the harbor completely in its immediate vicinity. So we are welcoming people to Salem with one particularly unprepossessing building and then blocking their view of the harbor with another once they manage to navigate their way downtown.

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Proposed Community Life Center building, High Rock Development, and Salem Waterfront Hotel & Marina, Symmes Maini & McKee Associates.


The Eagle has Landed

Last October, the wooden eagle carved by Samuel McIntire over two centuries ago for the north facade of Hamilton Hall was removed for restoration and preservation purposes and two days ago a resin replica was (re-)installed in its place, and once again I had a bird’s-eye view from my third floor window. The cherry picker, contractors, replica and a little crowd arrived first thing in the morning and by 10:00 the new eagle was firmly in place, looking (from relatively far away) like it had always been there. The original eagle had been painted in the later nineteenth century and gilded in the 1920s, but apparently it was white in the first half-century of its existence, and so white it will remain, blending in nicely with the adjacent–and original–McIntire swags. Kudos to the Board of Trustees of Hamilton Hall for making this happen–as this was the last in situ McIntire eagle in Salem it has been a topic of conversation for decades. Now the old wooden eagle–its rot removed (or at least stabilized)–will endure in interior perpetuity (one hopes!) while its better-equipped copy braves the elements outside.

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Eagle at Hamilton Hall


Event-fully Salem

There is so much going on in Salem this summer that I’m a bit overwhelmed, and have taken to hiding in my garden! This was my strategy this past weekend, which was hot and sunny and jam-packed with things to do: sadly I inadvertently missed PEM Curator Dean Lahikainen’s lecture on the recent renovation of the Ropes House and the Salem Garden Club’s seaside garden tour, along with the “Paddle for Plummer” fundraiser for the Plummer Home, though I deliberately missed the Salem Willows Seafood Festival, which is not a community “festival” at all but a corporate event held in a (roped-off) public park. There’s still plenty of time to see the Thomas Hart Benton exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum and the exhibit on the alchemical activities of John Winthrop at the Witch House is just opening today. In a metaphor for this “close to home” summer, I also missed this weekend’s pop-up installation of giant inflatable rabbits down in Boston (Intrude by Australian artist Amanda Parer), but spent Saturday weeding with (three? four? rabbits) hopping (and napping) right in my backyard! On Sunday however, I could not avoid another event which happened right in my (de facto) front yard: Salem’s 4th annual Diner En Blanc pop-up picnic, which was held in the Chestnut Street park. You may be familiar with this……movement? (this sounds like too strong a word) in which people dressed in white “spontaneously” set up a picnic (with more white stuff, including food) in some secretive (right up to the afternoon of the event) location and dine together in pristine magnificence–it started in Paris nearly 30 years ago and now has spread to over 40 cities around the world, probably more, including Salem. As elsewhere, the dinner gets bigger every year as friends invite friends who invite friends….I wasn’t going to post on this happening (better word) as I thought it might seem a bit exclusive, almost as if we’re in Marblehead or Manchester-by-the Sea, but then I thought: what’s exclusive about this? Anyone can come, and they don’t have to pay for the privilege, like the Salem Willows Seafood “Festival”. Plus there was a great hat in attendance, which you simply have to see, and I am proud of my own blanc arrangement, made up exclusively from flowers from my garden.

Mid-July Weekend in Salem (and Boston–“Intrude” Rabbits courtesy of Mark Favermann):

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Intrude Mark Favermann July 12

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All that’s left is my ghost-like chair this morning.


Red, White, Blue & Calico

We are sticking very close to home this July Fourth weekend as we have welcomed a new cat only two weeks after losing Moneypenny and there are lots of adjustments to be made on the part of said new cat (Trinity), our older resident cat (Darcy), and ourselves. I wasn’t quite ready for a new cat, but I am a sucker for a calico and this one almost magically appeared at our local shelter after a rough start in life. So I find myself cleaning out closets and other mundane house chores in between hissing standoffs and prepping my upholstered furniture for the coming attack by a new young cat. Yesterday was actually a much more beautiful day than today, which is cloudy with incoming rain. I hope it holds off until after the fireworks tonight, because Salems are always spectacular: bigger and better every year. So I did leave the separated cats for a long walk, a long bike ride on my (also new) bike, the adorable Spokes and Stripes parade sponsored by Parents United and dinner at the Willows–under a bright red full moon which I couldn’t capture on camera. It looked briefly like Mars before disappearing behind a cloud bank. Most of the pictures below are from this sunny July 3rd: home, Chestnut Street, some sights and scenes around Salem including the Willows–all prepped for the big Horribles Parade this morning (which I missed, but I am sure there will be some great photographs at the Creative Salem site soon). My closet cleaning has uncovered lots of discoveries, including my favorite vintage dress which I purchased DECADES ago in Saratoga Springs, NY (and it was vintage then): I’m going to put in on in a few hours and go out to a fireworks barbecue on the water, mindless of clashing cats and impending rain. A happy, safe, carefree Fourth (and Fifth) to all.

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Salem on July 3 and 4: Trinity (who did not come in a bag or a box but seldom leaves the latter), the house and garden (with daneberry–the only red on display), and a shadow silhouette against Hamilton Hall, the Hall and Chestnut Street, a patriotically-painted house on Essex, the Spokes and Stripes parade on Salem Common, the Willows, my newly-rediscovered old dress.


Flowers and Flags

That’s what late June and early July are all about in essence:  flowers (mostly roses) and flags. This particular year, even more so regarding the latter. I worked on my garden quite a bit during this mostly sunny week, and I was so happy to wake up to hard-driving rain this morning because it meant I could have a Sunday day of rest–or laundry. Much of the garden is in full flower, but as I’ve been going for interesting leaves rather than short-lived flowers over the past few years green dominates. I think I went a bit too far in this direction so I introduced some interspersed old-fashioned mallows in the central garden this year, and I think they provide a nice pop of color. But mostly it’s about roses, which I have yet to master and probably never will–but even a fool can grow roses in June (July and August are quite another matter). Now for the flags: we usually have a full range of flags flying on Chestnut–from standard and more unique versions of the stars and stripes to the Hawaiian flag at the Phillips House to the rainbow flag, flying for last week’s North Shore Pride Parade but obviously bearing even more resonance now. I like to display my great-great-grandfather’s 45-star memorial flag on the side of the house, but it’s “flying” in the front parlor until the weather clears up. If anyone knows a good source for (cotton) reproductions of historic flags, please let me know: I’d like to buy a 24-star flag, the official version when our house was built in 1827. There was a more jarring display of flags last week, fortunately only digital, when The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore used a photograph of Hamilton Hall (just next door!) to create a “Confederate Flag Museum”: I’m including it here because it’s always good to remember that not everything is beautiful.

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Late June garden with roses, roses, roses (only the yellow ones are mine: the rest are from the Ropes Garden and Flint and Becket Streets). Flags–real and fortunately NOT–on Chestnut Street.

Appendix: and even worse, someone hung a real Confederate flag on the Robert Gould Shaw/ Massachusetts 54th Memorial in Boston yesterday, and it remained there for several hours before a Lowell woman pulled it off: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/06/28/confederate-flag-hung-from-regiment-memorial/bLFrtGsKCLAEpFFDBsX0DK/story.html.


Cobblestone Contest

A very literal streets of Salem post today. A repaving project on Lynn and River Streets in the largest of our historic districts uncovered a subsurface of cobblestones at the streets’ intersection, which several residents want to keep uncovered: for historic, aesthetic, and traffic-related reasons. The City wants them paved over (again), so we have a standoff, and quite a public one at that: there have been stories in all the local newspapers and a piece on one of the Boston television stations. I’m not impartial on this one: I think we should take up all of the pavement and have cobblestones everywhere, or at the very least cobblestone crosswalks in the city’s historic districts. Chestnut Street, the widest in the city, has not one crosswalk (cobblestone or otherwise) to slow down the SUV-driving, phone-adhered-to-their (Marble)head commuters barreling through our neighborhood on their way home. The River Street residents are employing the traffic-calming argument, which I think is a good one, especially as the particular intersection in question transitions traffic from a major artery into a neighborhood–and smooth pavement will make this transition all too speedy–not a transition at all. City officials have cited safety concerns (for bicycles–and this in a city which has a bike lane between two car lanes–but baby carriages and wheelchairs were mentioned as well) and I’m sure cost is a factor. I think a compromise is in the works: the city engineer as offered two 30″ strips of cobblestones at the end of each street to give people an “indication that they are entering into a historic neighborhood”. Sounds like a precedent to me–although I’m a bit wary: a similar cobblestone contest played out in a Brooklyn neighborhood a few years ago, and its compromise solution was the replacement of the old cobblestones with new, machine-cut ones, which I’m not sure are cobblestones at all.

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River Street Flag

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Cobblestones at the intersection of River and Lynn Streets in Salem and a River Street flag; the old cobblestones of Brooklyn, © New York Times; you can see the television piece here.

Update: The Mayor has written to the neighbors informing them of the resumption of work at the intersection, which will involve not only the installation of the aforementioned strips, but also an additional triangular buffer–all comprised of the old cobblestones (which she appropriately calls “Belgian blocks”–see comments below). Sounds like a good compromise to me.


Ropes Mansion Refresh

I’ve been anticipating the reopening of the Ropes Mansion for some time so it was with great excitement that I crossed the threshold yesterday for the first time in a decade or so: the house was shuttered for restoration after an accidental fire in 2009 and I remember it being a bit tired even before that. Not now: refreshed was the word that came into my mind almost as soon as I set foot in the front hall. It’s not just the new paint and paper (and absolutely beautiful carpets): it feels like the house’s spirit has been renewed. Most appropriately, the interpretation focuses on the Ropes family, who donated the house–as a Memorial— to the Peabody Essex Museum (then Essex Institute) in 1907, almost as much as the interior architectural features. Their possessions are all around you as you walk through the rooms: their china, their pictures, their books, their trunks, their own memorials. There are touches of modern whimsy in several of the rooms which added to the overall feeling of renewal, and details, details, details, galore. I think I’ll have to go back again and again: it’s open every weekend this summer from noon until 4pm.

The house was built in 1727 but extensively remodeled in the 1890s, so it feels (to my untrained eye) almost like a perfect blend of the Colonial and the Colonial Revival. This was most apparent on the first floor: as you walk front to back you move forward in time–from 1727 (or more precisely 1830, the date of the Asher Benjamin-influenced entrance) to the perfectly-preserved 1894 kitchen, with all its “new” equipment. Two dining rooms on the right–or I suppose a breakfast room and dining room decorated in a later 19th-century style–and on the left a double parlor with an amazing front-to-back fireplace. I’ve always loved this room, and when I walked into it yesterday it instantly reminded me of one of my favorite architectural drawings: Arthur Little’s sketch of the parlor of the long-lost Benjamin Pickman house further up Essex Street, from his (now-reissued by Historic New England) 1878 book Early New England Interiors. And for cupboard connoisseurs, the first floor of the Ropes Mansion is heaven, with fully-stocked butler’s and kitchen pantries and dining-room china cabinet.

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The Benjamin Pickman House Parlor by Arthur Little, Old New England Interiors, 1878. Courtesy of Historic New England.

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The second floor of the Ropes Mansion is even more intimately interpreted than the first, with one side of the house devoted to lavishly-recreated bedrooms and the other side to displays of possessions, some quite touching: I was struck particularly by a leather fire bucket (after all, this was a family, and this is a house, that experienced three major fires: besides the 2009 fire, there was a fire during the 1894 restoration and most tragically Abigail Pickman Ropes died in 1839 after her dress caught fire on this very floor–the posthumous portrait of Abigail by Charles Osgood is also on view) as well as a lovely watercolor memorial wreath dedicated to the memory of Abigail’s niece, Elizabeth Ropes Orne, who died of consumption at age 24 in 1842 (see her own sketches here). The bedrooms with their canopy beds are lovely: one rather ghostly and/or innocent, the other displaying a much more vibrant reproduction textile, and there is a fully-outfitted bathroom in the 1894 back of the house, just as “modern” as the kitchen below. Altogether a beautiful house bearing testimony to lives lived: the best kind of memorial.

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A true Ropes Memorial: watercolor memorial wreath for Elizabeth Ropes Orne by her former teacher, Eliza B. Davis, who presented it to Elizabeth’s mother Sally in 1851. Elizabeth’s signature, presumably from a letter, is in the center. 


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