Tag Archives: urban planning

Ghost Signs

Salem doesn’t have many “ghost signs” of commerce past–I think sandblasting was part of its urban renewal experience–but it does have one of the most famous and most-photographed, marking the former Newmark’s Department Store on Essex Street. As you can see from my photographs from yesterday and the postcard from a century ago, this is actually the second sign (at least) on the side of this building. With the adjacent two-story building below, it’s an urban billboard.

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Ghost Signs 1907

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The F.W. Webb plumbing supplies building on Bridge Street, probably Salem’s most prominent “industrial” building, is a billboard on all four sides. When you’re coming into Salem on 114 over the North Street bypass bridge, you can’t help but notice it on the right, mostly because of its retro lettering and its sharp contrast with the nearby Peirce-Nichols house. You can “read” the history of this building through its surviving signage: I particularly like its rear wall where only shadows remain.

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My last ghost sign is on Peabody Street in Salem, a street of  brick multi-story residential buildings built just after the great fire of 1914. There’s very little room between them, so this is not a great streetscape for signage, but one has managed to survive:  for Beeman’s Pepsin Gum, a nationally-sold product marketed primarily as an aid to digestion. Few people probably notice this sign today, but for decades it was right on one of the major pedestrian paths to Salem’s largest employer, Pequot Mills.

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Salem Film Fest 2014

Spring break week for me, but unfortunately I have no warm destination in sight, just a series of day trips and various “staycation” cultural activities (and of course it is snowing again this morning). Oh well, Salem’s annual documentary film festival is on now, and nearly all of the films look interesting, first among them Maidentrip, which documents the amazing solo circumnavigation of Dutch teenager Laura Dekker in 2011-2012, and The Galapagos Affair: When Satan Came to Eden, which examines the still-unsolved disappearance of several members of a not-so-Utopian community of European expatriates on the Galapagos Islands in the 1930s. I love stories–real or otherwise–about displaced Europeans in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, always feuding and over-estimating their abilities!

Salem Film Fest Maidentrip

Galapagos Affair

Somehow I got completely confused over the screening times of the other two films I really wanted to see: they were both up yesterday so I’ll have to see them at other venues. The historian in me mandates that I see Here was Cuba, the latest examination of the Cuban Missile Crisis using recently declassified sources from U.S., Russian, and Cuban archives, and my inner architecture buff really wants to see The Human Scale, a plea for better urban planning–hopefully from the Renaissance perspective that its title implies. Just in time for Salem.

Salem Film Fest Here was Cuba

Human Scale


Lynde Street Variety

Walking to and from my polling place on a bright November election day, I was struck, not for the first time, by the architectural diversity that is Lynde (rhymes with blind) Street, a downtown cross street between Salem’s major commercial thoroughfare, Washington Street, and one of it major entrance corridors, North Street. Lynde Street is one of those old-city streets that had no preservation protections until relatively late in its development, so it features structures that date from the 1750s to the 1950s, and everything in between. The 1750s house is the Georgian Colonial James Barr House, with expansive additions in back, and across the street is the 1950s house, which is one of the more unprepossessing structures in Salem, in my opinion, though now that I’m looking at pictures of it and the Barr house side by side, I’m wondering if its builders were going for a 1950s version of a gambrel roof?

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Lynde Street 109

Lynde Street 110

Lynde Street 108

In the middle of Lynde Street are three structures that further testify to its architectural diversity: adjacent to each other on one side of the street are the former East Church Chapel and Christian Scientist Church (1897), now the Witch Dungeon Museum, and the Rufus Choate House (1787), while on the other side is Temple Court, a brick apartment complex built in 1910. The red line that runs along Lynde Street’s brick sidewalk was no doubt bought and paid for by the owners of the Witch Dungeon Museum, who also purchased the sign that was affixed to a structure situated on the site of the original jail building over on Federal Street in the early 1980s—not until a decade or so later were they called to task for this and compelled to put up a second plaque informing tourists that their Victorian structure was not in fact Salem’s seventeenth-century “gaol”.

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Lynde Steet Church

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The red line, bringing tourists to “heritage” sites, the Witch Dungeon Museum and Rufus Choate House, the former in the early 1980s, Massachusetts Historical Commission, the two plaques.

The Rufus Choate house is named after the famous congressman, senator, and lawyer who resided on Lynde Street from 1828-1834. Choate (1799-1859) spend considerable time in Washington after his elections, but he is more famous for his Salem and Boston displays of courtroom tactics, including the origination of a successful “sleepwalking defense” for one of his clients. The Lynde Street house in which he lived experienced considerable deterioration in the twentieth century, and at one point was apparently condemned by the city of Salem before it was purchased and restored in the 1980s.

Choate House 1891

Lynde Street Choate House MACRIS

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The Choate House in photographs from 1891 (Frank Cousins), 1981 (Massachusetts Historical Commission), and yesterday.

And finally we come to the comparatively massive Temple Court, an apartment complex built in 1910 almost opposite the Choate House. I wonder what was here before! This seems like an unusual structure for Salem:  you see these turn-of-the century courtyard complexes on Commonwealth Avenue as it extends westward out of Boston into Brookline, but they are more rare in the outer suburbs. Perhaps its existence indicates that Salem did not think of itself as a “suburb” in 1910.

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Ideal Cities

Salem is a boom town/construction zone right now with big projects ongoing, or about to begin, all over town: a large housing project on the site of the demolished St. Joseph’s Church on Lafayette Street and two more on the outskirts of town, a new “Gateway” center on one of the major entrance corridors, a new parking garage for the train station, more expansion for the Peabody Essex Museum and my own university, a huge (and great) power plant demolition/reconstruction project, and, of course, infrastructure work, a constant activity in a city as old as Salem. There is so much going on that the city has put up a separate website just to handle information about these projects.

Boom Town

I am glad that Salem is doing so well in terms of development, and I believe that most of these projects will benefit the city tremendously. But not all. Certainly the Mayor’s office and city government facilitated these proposals, and are doing a good job overseeing the process of their implementation. However, I can’t help thinking that much of this development is compartmentalized and not part of a plan, that our city is reacting to proposals rather than seeking them out, vision in hand and mind.  Too often a proposal skates by the various boards, simply because it’s better than what is there now. As is my general inclination, I can’t help but compare past and present, and as I’m teaching a summer-long graduate class on the Renaissance, a time when urban planning became an art (like everything else) that is my past. Ideals were very important to Renaissance society, for both human development and urban development. The rediscovery of Vitruvius’s Ten Books of Architecture in 1414, the desire to build structures on a human scale. and the influence of mathematics combined to create an ideal vision for Renaissance cities, exemplified by three panels produced in the 1480s, all called The Ideal City.

Boom Town Ideal City Walters

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Ideal Cities in Baltimore, Urbino & Berlin museums: Fra Carnevale, Walters Art Museum; Piero della Francesca or Leon Battista Alberti ?, Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino; Gemaldegalerie, Berlin.

It’s really not fair to hold up these panels as standards because they were, in fact, idealized rather built cities:  “windows into a better world”. Yet the ideal, the plan, the desire to live in a better world, still has merit. I know we lost the sense of human scale and aesthetic detail in the twentieth century, but we can still seek better and more beautiful buildings, that assimilate easily into their material landscape. Perhaps it’s not the lack of planning but the actual architecture that is troubling me. This is certainly the case with one project: a proposed $45 million complex that would include a possible hotel, residences and retail stores to be built on a downtown block that definitely needs some help–this would be an easy case of it’s better than what’s there now so the expectations, and the standards, will be low. The renderings for the project reveal a (cheap) brick and glass multistory building which is a mirror image of the “Tavern on the Square” structure affixed to the old Salem News building across the way:  both are more suited for the suburban corporate office parks found along Route 128, Boston’s inner beltway, than a historic port city like Salem.  Both buildings, like several structures built in Salem in the past few years, are not only grace-less but also place-less: they have no relation to our city’s built environment and are also, quite frankly, boring. Can’t we do better?

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Boom Town Waltham Corporate Center

“Mill Hill” proposal conceptual rendering for Salem & the Waltham Corporate Center along Route 128.


Burning Times

My title is not a reference to the early modern witch trials, but quite literally to some of the larger urban fires in history: London, Boston, Chicago, Portland, Maine. I am trying to put the Salem Fire of 1914 in a larger context, and I also wanted a place/post to showcase a painting I found recently while auction archive-stalking (a major pastime of mine, along with realestalking). By an anonymous artist of the “American School”, The Burning of Treadwell’s Mill, Salem, Massachusetts shows what must have been the constant threat of fire in the densely-settled urban environment of a nineteenth-century Salem. I’m not sure exactly where Treadwell’s Mill was or what it produced (shoes? cotton? jute?) but the artist (C.C.R.?) certainly captures a striking scene.

Burning Times Treadwell Mill Christies

I’m also unsure as to when this fire occurred, but it appears contemporaneous with the Great urban fires in Chicago (1871) and Boston (1872). I imagine that these two huge conflagrations, happening in such quick succession and causing acres and acres of devastation, much have really raised the specter of fire in the public consciousness in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and incited intensive discussions about fire prevention, water systems, insurance, and city planning. Much of the historical analysis of these fires and their impact focuses on the modern cities that emerged after the flames died down, almost as if fire was a (re-)generative force rather than a destructive one. These dramatic fires clearly inspired contemporary artists as well, who seem to focus on either the unbridled force of nature or more human perspectives. Painted several decades after the fire, Julia Lemos’s Memories of the Chicago Fire (1912) is all about the fire’s refugees, while the popular Currier & Ives lithograph of the Boston Fire shows the totality of destruction.

Burning Times Chicago

Burning Times Boston

Portland has always been one of my favorite little cities, but every time I go there I think something’s missing. Compared to other old New England ports like Providence, Boston, Salem, Newburyport, and Portsmouth, it seems  relatively new and very Victorian. Its urban landscape was shaped dramatically by the large fire of July 4, 1866, in which the joyous fireworks celebrating the first post-Civil War Independence Day triggered an inflammation that consumed much of downtown and presumably many colonial and Federal-era structures. Yet a new city emerged that took advantage of  the considerable charms of its geographic location. I like the transformation charted by the digital exhibition of the University of Southern Maine’s Osher Map Library:  from a “Blackened City, Laid in Ruins” to a “Green City, Reborn in Parks”. The environmental impact of the fire is emphasized by two contemporary images by Portland artist J.B. Hudson of Elms, Locust Street before and after the Fire of July 4, 1866. No mention of the charred remains of the built structures in the titles of these lithographs, just the trees!

Burning Times Portland 1

Burning Times Portland 2

It’s a big jump, back almost exactly two centuries, to the Great London Fire of 1666, but I’m going there. This was a fire that was truly “great”, both in terms of its devastation (some 13,000 buildings) and its impact, which included a rapid rebuilding response through what was one of the first examples of centralized urban planning–a model for disaster-devastated cities in the future. Very shortly after the Fire, King Charles II established a Commission for rebuilding the city, which proceeded with plans for wider streets, squares, and larger brick buildings. Not everything worked out as planned, but a new London emerged from the ashes fairly quickly, with 6000 structures built by 1670. Five years later, Commissioner Christopher Wren (ably assisted in the rebuilding process by the more-than-able Robert Hooke, the “English Leonardo” and the “man who measured London”) began work on his St. Paul’s Cathedral, which more than any other structure emerged at the triumphant symbol of the new and eternal London.

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Burning Times St Paul's

Old St. Paul’s and “New” St. Paul’s, in the midst of fire: unknown artist of the “British School”,  The Great Fire of London, with Ludgate and Old St. Paul’s, 17th Century, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection; Herbert Mason’s iconic photograph of Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s during the Blitz, 1940.


Preservation and Post Offices

The fundamental challenges facing the U.S. Postal Service as an agency are beginning to trickle down to our local post office buildingscreating ripple-effect challenges for preservationists across the country. The New York Times ran an article last week highlighting the issue (with great comments), and the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed “Historic Post Office Buildings” on its Most Endangered List last year. Apparently the agency has identified nearly 3,700 buildings as likely candidates for closure, about 200 are soon to go on sale, and eleven are on the market right now. There are several concerns from the preservation perspective:  not only do these buildings serve as community centers, but that they are often the most architecturally significant structure in many towns. And like so many federal buildings, many post offices are also surviving legacies of the New Deal policies designed to put Americans back to work during the Depression. The adaptive reuse of these buildings is the logical answer, but that is always a tricky business, and even if the exteriors of those buildings with landmark status are preserved historic interiors remain threatened:  murals, marble, and metals could be ripped out and sold to the highest bidder.

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Berkeley PO Jim Wilson NY Times

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Three photographs of the 1915 Renaissance Revival Berkeley, California Post Office, on the short list for closure:  interior murals of by Suzanne Scheuer, exterior, and protester Josh Kornbluth in character as Benjamin Franklin, the first Postmaster General. Jim Wilson/New York Times.

I checked out several of the post offices that are on the market now (on this great blog) and was immediately drawn to two in particular:  another Renaissance Revival building in Gulfport, Mississippi and the beautiful Greek Revival post office in the Georgetown section of Washington, DC.  The DC building has been sold to a developer who is apparently going to adapt it for office space while retaining the post office on the first floor; this deal seems to have been years in the making and illustrates just how difficult the redevelopment process can be.

Gulfport PO

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Georgetown post office by Young

The Gulfport, Mississippi Post Office today and shortly after its construction in 1910,  postcard courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History; the Georgetown Post Office, built in 1858, and a 1856 rendering by architect Ammi B. Young, Library of Congress.

I must admit that I have never really appreciated Salem’s Post Office, which I walk by nearly every day with little more than a passing glance. It is a classic WPA project, designed by local architect Philip Horton Smith and constructed in 1932-33 in the Colonial Revival style.  It definitely has presence, but I always thought it was a bit boring, until I recently started noticing the details, inside and out:  there certainly is a lot of marble and bronze in there, and the tables and radiator grates–even the mailboxes–are really lovely, as I now can see. To emphasize its centrality–as well as its connection to the outside world–this building was sited right across from Salem’s grand and gothic railroad station, whose destruction in 1954 is lamented to this day.

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Post Office PC 1940s

Post Office Interior

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The Salem Post Office today and in the 1940s, downstairs interior and mailboxes, the former Post Office in Salem, adapted for reuse as shops in the 1930s and still serving in that capacity.


Double Houses

Our house is part of a double house, in which a central party wall divides two autonomous units, a not-uncommon configuration in historic urban areas, large and small.  Though, as you will see in my pictures below, double houses are not exclusively urban constructions. I love living in our half of the double house, primarily because we have great neighbors, but also because there are no restrictions on privacy and lots of economic benefits which derive from the common wall:  I am certain that the heating bills for my very large house would be a lot higher without it!  Our particular property has very private spaces out back as well, as the previous owners of my house (several previous owners ago) extended an addition to my neighbors’ barn, creating separate courtyard gardens on each side. While our houses started out as mirror images of each other, many changes have been made over the nearly 2 centuries of the building’s existence, mostly to my side. Even though they are semi-detached (to use the British term), we could even paint our houses different colors if we wanted to (but we don’t).

It seems that every double house has its own story:  many were built by and for family members, but not all.  Here in Salem, there are several instances of fathers constructing double houses for their marrying daughters (in one case, daughters who are marrying brothers!). There are also business partnerships behind the construction of double houses.  Here on Chestnut Street and in the surrounding McIntire Historic District, I think builders were running out of land on which to build, and double-house construction offered an economic way to build two houses in a fashionable neighborhood.  I know that’s the story with our house, which was built by the distiller-developer Deacon John Stone who lived across the street:  he bought the lot as an investment, and constructed our house as an investment property, to be let out on both sides.  Quite soon after its erection, both sides of the house were sold to different families, and then its separate-but-connected history began. Some double houses were converted from single houses; some single houses were extended to become double houses.

My favorite double house (besides my own, of course) is not in an urban setting or even in Salem:  it is in Byfield, Massachusetts, on a rural country road.  I don’t know anything about its construction, but the fact it is built in the midst of isolated farm/marshland leads me to believe there was a family connection; I can’t imagine strangers living side by side but maybe its dwellers were looking for close comfort.  On the day before the big snowstorm a couple of weeks ago, I was up in that part of Essex County, so I took some pictures of the Byfield house and some other double houses in nearby Newburyport, Newbury and Essex.

Double House Newbury

Double House Newburyport

Double House Newburyport entrance

Double House Historic New England

Double House Blue Anchor Tavern Newbury MA HABS 1940 bw

Double House Ipswich

Double House on the Marsh, Byfield, Massachusetts, the former Newburyport Academy on High Street in Newburyport, converted into a double house in 1842; the Swett-Ilsley House (Historic New England), which began its life as a single house in 1670 and then was extended (HABS photograph from 1940, Library of Congress); a double house in Ipswich.

Double houses in Salem are for the most part more straightforward constructions, but as is the case with our house, changes to the exterior on one side or another over time distort the mirror image, but usually in a relatively graceful way. There are lots of added bay windows and rear and side additions. I’ve don’t have any interior images today, but the comparative interiors of a double house often provide an interesting lesson in architectural history; generally one side is a bit more pristine and the other a bit more “modern”. There are lots of double houses in Salem, in every area of the downtown, so I chose a chronological sampling of those in my immediate neighborhood, and I’m picturing them in chronological order, starting with the Pickering-Mack-Stone double house on Chestnut Street, which was built in 1814-15 for two Pickering brothers. The western (right-hand) half of this house is currently for sale: it has absolutely beautiful “bones”, a Federal carriage house out back, and, according to Bryant Tolles’ Architecture in Salem, Andrew Jackson was entertained there in 1833 on a presidential visit to Salem.

Double Houses Salem 1807

Double House Cousins 1890s NYPL

Frank Cousins photograph of Chestnut Street in the 1890s, New York Public Library.

Next are two great Greek Revival double houses, the Thompson-West double house, built in 1845-46 on Chestnut Street (note the entrance bay window added to the left-hand side later in the nineteenth century), and the Nancy Courtis double house, built in the following year on Federal Street. Miss Courtis was a “singlewoman” who built the house and lived on one side her entire life while leasing out the other, no doubt a convenient arrangement for her. It’s a striking house, made all the more so because of its paint scheme.

Double Houses Salem 1840s

Double House Salem 1846-47

And last but certainly not least, two Victorian double houses in the same general area.  I’m really not sure about the date of this first house, which is further along Federal Street from the Courtis house:  it looks like it was built in the 1850s or 1860s to me, but I could be wrong. I wanted to include it because of its doorways, which are not located adjacent to each other but at opposite ends of the building.  This seems a bit unusual to me, especially for a town house.  Both sides of the house have their addition wings off the side,and matching dormer windows as well. The paint color (a very dark purple with salmon-orange doors) makes this house really stand out on the street. The last house, on Hamilton Street, was built in 1890 for the Reverend James Potter Franks, long-time rector at Grace Episcopal Church around the corner, and his daughters. The gabled entrance really stands out on this house; it is clearly the result of deliberate design rather than organic evolution.

Double House Victorian Salem

Double House Salem 1890


End of an Era

The razing of St. Joseph’s Church in Salem began this week, with the steeple coming down on Thursday and some serious demolition ongoing yesterday. This was the parish church of the Point neighborhood of Salem, closed by the Archdiocese of Boston in 2004. Since that time, plans for its removal and/or redevelopment have divided the community. Preservationists, represented by Historic Salem, Inc., sought to save the mid-century “International Style” structure (it was built in 1949-50, finally replacing the more majestic church that was destroyed in the great fire of 1914) while others favored the affordable housing plan put forward by the Archdiocese’s development arm, the Planning Office for Urban Affairs. The two sides/goals could not be brought together, and of course affordable housing always trumps historic preservation, so the church is coming down.

St. Joseph's Church and Parish House, Salem, Mass, MA

St. Joseph's Church Salem

St. Joseph’s before the fire of 1914, and the shiny new building of the 1950s.

While I did not care for the style of St. Joseph’s, I fear that something far worse will be erected in its place. This is a very vulnerable, and prominent, location in Salem, where the once-grand boulevard of Lafayette Street meets downtown, and it has been neglected for some time. And while the exterior left me cold, the cruciform-planned interior was apparently something to behold.  I regret that I never saw it while in use:  all I have to go on now are pictures, like the one held by one of the witnesses to yesterday’s demolition.

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Vanished Vantage Points

There’s no better way to see how a landscape, or a streetscape, changes over time than to compare images of the past and the present. I am always on the hunt for nineteenth-century photographs and drawings of Salem, before urban renewal, before the great fire of 1914, before the CAR, so I can see how these forces altered the city, for better or for worse (mostly for worse).

I’m going to ease into what is often a shocking contrast of past and present with two photographs of a section of Federal Street, taken about a century apart.  This is the street looking east from the vantage point of the Peirce-Nichols House, one of Samuel McIntire’s most important commissions, looking toward North Street and the courthouses on the other side. The new (hugely out-of-scale) courthouse (or “judicial center”), which opened up for business just last year, is mostly out of the frame of the modern picture, or the contrast would indeed be shocking. What you do see, or what I see, is the brick former Baptist church, now law library, which was moved to its present location and situated on an angle so to accommodate the curve in the road and effect a transition from residential to institutional buildings on the street. This was an absolutely brilliant idea, whoever thought of it (I know that Historic Salem, Inc. advocated for it) as the courthouse project mandated the demolition of the smaller wooden buildings you see in that location in the earlier picture:  without the in-scale angled brick building, the judicial center would have even less connection to the street.

Vantage Point Fed Street 1910

Vanished Federal Street present

Now for a comparative vantage point that is a little more jarring:  Church Street in the 1890s and today. This was an old residential street in Salem, which was also the site of the original Salem Lyceum building, which you see here (the image is from Winfield S. Nevins’ Witchcraft in Salem Village, 1892 & 1916) as well as St. Peter’s Church, the source of its name.  In between the church, the Lyceum, and the great old firehouse (fortunately still there) were rows of primarily eighteenth-century houses, now all gone. The old wooden Lyceum was built about 1831 and burned down at the turn of the century, but it was replaced by a very elegant brick structure that was long the site of the Lyceum Restaurant, now 43 Church. Despite the unfortunate designs of both the District court on the right and the office building past the Lyceum on the left, the upper (foreground) part of Church Street is aesthetically pleasing and commercially successful (the site of an organic grocery store, a wine shop, and a coffee shop in addition to 43 Church), primarily because its buildings line up with the sidewalk, just like those in the older photograph. But in the background of the modern photographs, you see the ravages of urban renewal:  a large parking lot on the right, and a faux-Federal condominium building and brutally ugly parking garage/mall on the right.

Vanished Church Street Nevins Witchcraft

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From the vantage point of St. Peter’s Church, looking west towards the Lyceum: all those house removed to accommodate cars.

Vantage Church Street

My last group of images shows a completely obliterated street:  Norman Street, a short street that has been transformed beyond all recognition in the twentieth century. Not a shred of its built historical fabric remains, including this wonderful house, the Benjamin Cox house at 21 Norman Street (with the man standing in front of it). It is gone, along with its garden, and all of its neighbors, replaced by office buildings and a wide, wide road so that commuters might easily speed through Salem on their way to the university, or Marblehead. The historic photographs below, which date from about 1875-85, are from the Brown Family Collection of the Schlesinger Library at Harvard, and the modern photograph was taken this morning.  It’s difficult to reconcile these two settings:  I think that the Cox House was located somewhere in the vicinity of the white car (the one driving, as opposed to the one parked) in the 2013 photograph.

Vanished Cox House 21 Norman

Vanished Cox House garden

Vanished Cox House Interior

Vanished Norman Street


Salem Savior

She was not the only hero(ine) in the story, but rather in good company:  still Ada Louise Huxtable played a big role in the prevention of the complete annihilation of historic Salem by the forces of urban renewal in the 1960s. The Pulitzer-Prize-winning architectural critic for The New York Times and The Wall Street Post, often referred to as the “dean” of American architectural criticism, died yesterday at the age of 91. The dominant themes of the obituaries that I am reading this morning are Mrs. Huxtable’s influence over both architectural criticism and the architecture of New York, but she shaped the architecture of Salem as well. So here is my little parochial appreciation.

Ada Louise Huxtable in her New York apartment, 1988.  Arnold Newman/Getty Images.

Ada Louise Huxtable in her New York apartment, 1988. Arnold Newman/Getty Images

Mrs. Huxtable. who summered in nearby Marblehead, heard of the urban renewal plans for Salem and was moved to write a rather passionate piece that the Times put on its front page on October 13, 1965: “Foes Fear Plans Will Mar Old New England Heritage; Urban Renewal Plan Threatens Historic Sites in Salem, Mass.” She reported on what was going on, but definitely put her own viewpoint in the article:  By setting up “design controls” for the new construction, the city guarantees itself, at best, “instant Georgian” (apparently she detested Colonial Williamsburg!) to replace the genuine example. The spurious product is a much better economic deal than the real thing…As things stand now, it will take some potent modern witchcraft to save Salem’s historic past.  A series of follow-up articles were published in the Times from 1967 to 1974, culminating, happily, with the latter year’s “How Salem Saved itself from Urban Renewal (September 29). During this period, local preservationists were galvanized to fight the demolition of 103 buildings in the city center in the name of “urban renewal”, and the plan shifted to the redevelopment and revitalization of Essex Street, Derby Square, and Front Street. Many buildings were lost, but not as many as would have been without the advocacy and inspiration of Mrs. Huxtable, I believe.

Many years later (1993), Mrs. Huxtable was interviewed by Robert Campbell, the architectural critic of the Boston Globe, and he asked her where in New England she thought she had had the most impact.  She replied:  I think I had more impact on Salem, because Salem had a hideous urban renewal plan. I remember going over it with the then-mayor and planner, and they were going to eliminate the beautiful Japanese garden next to the museum and they were planning roads that would take away whole blocks. So I went back to New York and sold it to the Times as a Page 1 piece … and that brought whoever was on the National Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in Washington to Salem. “What are you doing here?” That resulted in the change of planners and the total change in the plan.

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Essex Street today:  a road does NOT run through the Japanese garden of the Peabody Essex Museum, but unfortunately the Brutalist parking garage with its first-floor shops did replace earlier commercial buildings.

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Front Street, revitalized not destroyed, a far more successful shopping district than the nearby Essex Street pedestrian mall, and the Ash Street house (built in 1811) of another preservation heroine, Bessie Munroe.  She fought urban renewal in the 1960s while she was in her 80s! Unfortunately the house now looks over a parking lot, and a very ugly modern building built on the site of jail where the accused witches were held in 1692.


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