Tag Archives: urban planning

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.


Evolving Essex Street

The sight of the poster announcing the arrival of the new Korean fried chicken chain restaurant Bonchon on Essex Street reminded me of how main streets are always in transition: you can trace the history of a town just by examining the evolving nature of its buildings and hardscapes. Essex Street is fronted by structures from the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries—residential, commercial and institutional. It has been covered with dirt, cobblestones, tracks, and pavement, widened several times and in several places, and (unfortunately) transformed into a pedestrian “mall” (on which cars–or I should say trucks and trolleys–still drive)–in its central section in the 1970s. I have posted about Essex Street many, many times, so I thought I would feature some seldom-seen images today, and examine the physical evolution of this storied street.

Essex Street Perley Map

Essex Street has run right down the center of Salem since the seventeenth century; Below, Essex Street from the eighteenth through early twentieth centuries, as imagined and in reality.

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Essex Street envisioned in 1776 in Carry On, Mr. Bowditch; and in the 1820s on an old Essex Institute postcard; photographs of the street in 1870, 1874 & 1880s (Historic New England & New York Public Library Digital Gallery). Below: a shopping street–until the 1970s–although the famous stores Almy, Bigelow, & Washburn and L.H. Rogers survived into the 1980s. Only the Almy’s Clock remains, and the Rogers store is now administrative offices for the Peabody Essex Museum. (1976 photograph from Jerome Curley’s great Patch column, “Then and Now” and L.H. Rogers photograph from the website “Hawthorne in Salem”).

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Below: a not-so-faithful street. It’s surprising to me how few houses of worship are located on Essex Street: at present, only one. Reverend Bentley’s Second Congregational “East Church” was on lower Essex, and before it was transformed into Daniel Low and Co., the imposing structure at the corner of Washington and Essex—the site of Salem’s first meeting house–served as the First Church of Salem–now further along (up) Essex Street. Salem’s only Jewish congregation, Temple Shalom of the Congregation Sons of David, established its first synagogue on Essex Street (its second on Lafayette Street is currently being adapted into academic offices and classrooms for Salem State University). The more mystical Swedenborgian Church was briefly located on upper Essex Street, on the present site of the Salem Athenaeum (American Jewish Historical Society, New England Archives; Weston Collection).

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Essex Street Swedenborgian Church

So many lost Essex Street houses! Too many to mention here–I’ve focused on them individually and will continue to do so. I don’t think I’ve ever featured the Sanders House at 292 Essex however, a site now occupied by the Salem YMCA. Alexander Graham Bell lived in the house in the 1870s and conducted experiments in its attic that led to the invention of the telephone: why it couldn’t have been preserved just on this basis I do not know. It reminds me of the beautiful Pickman house down the street, also gone. This particular block of Essex was definitely trending commercial in the late nineteenth centuries, however, and Georgian structures were not long for this world. The new YMCA came in, and just across the street a bit later-the Colonial Revival structure (with its new facade) that will soon house Salem’s Bonchon.

Sanders House 292 Essex

Essex Street YMCA 1920s

Essex Street Bon Chon


Southern Exposure

We are just back from a brief vacation down south, to Raleigh, Savannah and Charleston: three very different cities! Raleigh is clearly booming, but it’s hard to find its center in the midst of all the ring roads and housing developments, while Savannah and Charleston have long embraced their urban cores, first out of necessity, later for tourism. They are perfect walking and biking cities while you clearly need bigger wheels in Raleigh. I’ve been to Savannah and Charleston several times, and always together, inviting comparisons. This time I preferred the former, though it might have been due merely to our better accommodations (The Gastonian) and the fact that we were there on weekdays when it was a bit quieter. By the time we got to Charleston I was tired of walking around with a sheen of perspiration on my forehead, and my camera was so tired it just quit! Savannah is–of course–a city of squares and townhouses, and we saw them all, large and small. We bypassed the more touristy waterfront in favor of downtown, and sought out the full architectural spectrum, which is uniform in form but incredibly diverse in style: townhouses from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, English, French, Spanish, and even Dutch in inspiration, or so they seemed to me. We ate and drank very well (Pinkie Master’s Lounge, Crystal Beer Parlor, Alligator Soul)–probably another reason we were a bit worn out by the time we got to Charleston!

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The courtyard garden at our inn and all sorts of Savannah townhouses, above; below: some notable detached houses in Savannah, including the Richardson-Owens-Thomas House (and slave quarters) and the Isaiah Davenport House. Obligatory shots of the impressive cathedral and moss.

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A few more observations, some comparative, some not. I love all the outdoor gas lighting in Savannah–and the garden statuary:  people really embellish their homes and gardens. Both Savannah and Charleston are cleaner (yes, even Savannah, the “beautiful woman with a dirty face”) than Salem: we should do better. Savannah is very serious about dog poop: there are special receptacles in all of the squares and cemeteries. Both cities are also quieter and more traffic-calmed–the squares of Savannah are particularly effective at that. The educational institutions in both cities, Savannah College of Art and Design and the College of Charleston, are much more integrated than our Salem State University, rehabilitating older structures downtown rather than just building new and big outside. More on Charleston in my next post, and shopping.

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The First Preservationist

It’s time to return to the life and work of the Salem photographer Frank W. Cousins (1851-1925), whose camera created a reverence for colonial architecture in his native city and elsewhere at a crucial time. He has popped up here in many a post, including one devoted exclusively to his work and business, but I’m still assessing the reach of his influence: in the years between then and now I have seen his photographs in countless books on Colonial and Colonial Revival architecture, architectural libraries and archives, contemporary periodicals about architecture and photography, and newspaper articles. He was clearly identified as Salem’s “First Preservationist” a century ago and he should be acknowledged as such now:  before Rantoul and Northend and Historic Salem, Inc. and Ada Louise Huxtable, there was Frank Cousins. As May is Preservation Month, this seems like a good time to bring him back into the spotlight–though I’m still in the early stages of assessing his impact. Clearly there needs to be a proper inventory taken of his printed photographs, both in collections and in publications, and a serious assessment of his life’s work; last summer I was contacted by a young woman in Germany working on a dissertation focused on Cousins so I have hope. And I did find a (little) photograph of the man himself!

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Features on Frank Cousins from Country Life in America (1913) and some of my favorite Cousins photographs of Salem: his own birthplace on English Street, previously part of the Old Sun Tavern, the Charter Street cemetery, a Derby Street house with a “double door”, one of several plates he exhibited at the Columbian Exposition in 1893.

The little biographical blurb in Country Life in America is charming and revealing: “That old scrub, Cousins of Salem,” is the genial way her announces  his arrival to his many friends in the architectural fraternity. They  welcome his coming, for few men know and appreciate Colonial architecture as he does, and none can talk more interestingly and enthusiastically about it. A native of Salem, Mass., Mr. Cousins has studied her notable early architecture all his life, and during the past thirty years he has made thousands of architectural photographs in Salem and the neighboring towns, and in Portsmouth, Boston, Philadelphia, Germantown, and Baltimore.  Mr. Cousins in the author of “Fifty Salem Doorways”, the first of a notable series of books on “Colonial Architecture” and is much sought after by art societies and other bodies for the lecture on “Old Architectural Salem” which he has delivered many times. Of late Mr. Cousins has been extending his efforts to the furniture and garden features of Colonial houses, and we expect occasionally to publish the cream of his labors.”  Old Scrub! This narrative does seem to confirm what I had gleaned elsewhere: that it was the appreciation of Salem’s architecture that came first, and that inspired him to pick up the camera, around 1888. His membership in the “architectural fraternity” of the era is a testament to the detailed examination (and preservation) of architectural details captured by his camera, rendering him not only a preservation pioneer but also one in the fledgling field of architectural photography.

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Cousins Peirce Nichols Mantle

Doorway of Well-Meeks House in Salem, 1918 and Mantle of Peirce-Nichols House, “the best Adams mantle in the U.S.A, 1913.

Cousins disseminated his thousands of prints in a variety of ways, transcending artistic and editorial photography into the commercial realm. He sold them in his own Salem shop on Essex Street, the Bee-Hive, and through his own publishing company, the Frank Cousins Art Co., he published them in his aforementioned “Colonial Architecture” series and later in several books (Wood Carver of Salem: Samuel McIntire, His Life and Work, 1916 and The Colonial Architecture of Salem, 1919, both co-authored with Phil Riley), he formed partnerships with regional and national photographic publishers, and he donated them to scores of cultural institutions and publications. Given the size of his market share and his focus on Salem, you can imagine just how influential the “Cousins Colonial Salem House” would become in shaping the national image of colonial architecture in the early part of the twentieth century. Yet even though he identified himself as “Cousins of Salem”, he also transcended his native city and was recognized for his preservation and photographic expertise up and down the Eastern seaboard. In 1913 he was commissioned by the Art Commission of New York City to document buildings that were in danger of imminent demolition in the rapidly-expanding city, and effort that was recognized by a prominently-placed article in the New York Times in May 2014:  “The Camera to Preserve New York’s Old Buildings”. Cousins’ New York photographs are stunning:  equally as reverential as his Salem shots but somehow more poignant because of their context, the city that never sleeps, and ascends ever upwards. But surprise: the 61st Street building below, known in the nineteenth-century as “Smith’s Folly”, survives to this day as the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden, owned and operated by the Colonial Dames of America (and I’m sure it’s all due to Frank Cousins)!

Cousins NYT Article May 1914

House on 86th Street Between Park and Madison Avenues. Red brick house on north side of street.

photographic print (7.5 x 9.5 in.), mount (9.5 x 11.5 in.)

Mount Vernon Hotel Museum

Houses at 86th Street and 421 East 61st Street (“Smith’s Folly”) in New York City, photographed by Frank Cousins in 1913, and the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden today.

Repositories of Frank Cousins’ photographs: the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum; Duke University Library; the New York Public Library Digital Collections; Archives of the Art Commission of the City of New York.


Searching for the Hunt House

I get fixated on houses which once occupied a prominent place in Salem but no longer exist: there are so many, unfortunately. It seems like much of last year was devoted to commemorating the Great Salem Fire of 1914 which swept away so many houses in one night, but individual demolitions have been a continuous factor in this ever-changing, ever-developing little “historic” city. I took advantage of my snow days to look into the history of a first-period house that occupied a very prominent place, on one of Salem’s main streets, for over 150 years, only to be demolished during the Civil War. It lasted long enough to be photographed, however, and perhaps to provide additional inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne in the form of yet another mossy, many-gabled house. The Lewis Hunt house was built between 1698 and 1700 by a first-generation Salem sea-captain, and descended in his family almost up to the time it was taken down in 1863.

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Frank Cousins’ photograph of the Lewis Hunt house shortly before its demolition; illustration from Sidney Perley’s History of Salem, Volume III (1928).

I first “saw” this house when I found a charming painting of an adjacent mansion, the Pickman-Derby-Brookhouse-Rogers house, by one of its inhabitants, Mary Jane Derby. The image was painted in 1825, so the Hunt House probably looked far more dilapidated than portrayed by Miss Derby in her rather romantic picture, but it still provided a sharp contrast to her strident Federal mansion. Both buildings were threatened by their situation on busy Washington Street (Mary Jane’s house was taken down in 1915), but this same location would ensure that they were “captured” again and again by a succession of Salem views. The view of Salem in the 1760s by Joseph Orne–when Washington Street was School Street–somewhat obscures the Hunt House, but once the new McIntire Court House was built everything around it comes more sharply into view. I’m assuming the bright red color of the house in the last image below, a fireboard painted by George Washington Felt about 1820, is an example of artistic license, but maybe not.

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Hunt House holyokediaries Orne 1765

Hunt House Washington Street Salem 1760s HNE

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Hunt House Court and Town House Square Salem MA 1820

Mary Jane Derby, The Pickman Derby House, 1825, Detroit Institute of Arts; Two views of School Street/ Washington Street based on a painting by Dr. Joseph Orne, 1765: Holyoke Diaries and Historic New England Collections; George Washington Felt, Fireboard View of Court House Square, 1820, Peabody Essex Museum.

As its days were numbered, depictions of the Hunt House increase, and continue even after it is gone: my favorite is a sketch from the later nineteenth century in the vast collections of Historic New England: it seems wistful in its simplicity. The artist (or perhaps someone later–it looks like a different hand) has added additional location information–on Lynde Street–in the right-hand corner just so we know where the house once was. In this time, the commercial “Odell Block” filled out the corner of Lynde and Washington Streets in Salem, as it does today.

Hunt House on Washington and Lynde Streets Salem HNE

Odell Block Salem

The Lewis Hunt House in an 1890s (?) sketch, collections of Historic New England; the Odell Block on the same site today (or a few days ago, before our big snowstorm).


When Monster (Buildings) Attack

Salem is still in the midst (throes) of a relentless building boom that began several years ago with the construction of an over-sized courthouse and will eventually encompass a train station/parking garage (just opened), a new hotel complex, and an expanded campus for Salem State University. This is a lot of construction for a relatively small city, and the buildings are big. Actually I’m not sure whether the scale of these structures bothers me more than the design, though now that I’ve thought about it for a second, it’s definitely the former with the courthouse and the latter with the proposed hotel complex, which looks like it is shaping up to be a truly ugly building. Anyone who has glanced at this blog briefly knows that I’m a traditionalist when it comes to architecture so no surprises there. But I don’t want to write about the design attributes of these buildings in this post: I’m more focused on what the average citizen can do when these big projects attack–and they can, at any time and anywhere. After years of watching these developments play out, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that there is very little that one person–or even a group of very dedicated and well-connected people–can do to stop them, most especially if the state is the developer. The process usually goes something like this: the project is proposed in all its glory, people get mad, and organized, but are repeatedly told that it’s a done deal, a fait accompli, except for (relatively) little details that are subject to mitigation, these details get discussed in the review process, the project gets built, period. And that’s how Salem got its GIANT courthouse and its generic parking garage. Even though Salem State University is Salem State University, the process of development has been a bit more collaborative, at least from my perspective (which could be very biased, as I work there), but now the university wants to build a large parking garage in very close proximity to a residential neighborhood that really doesn’t want it there. And I’m wondering if they have the power to stop it.

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Massive/massing: the J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center in Salem; the new Salem Station Parking Garage; the proposed RCG Hotel Complex with “Cube” wing, courtesy Salem News.

I’m very torn on the Salem State parking garage, and not just because I work there. It seems quite apparent to me that design is a much greater priority for those who are planning the Salem State campus than those who are transforming Salem’s downtown. Salem State has 10,000 students and no parking garage–obviously it needs one (but it also needs a train stop)! There are actually three separate campuses: must there be one HUGE parking garage rather than three smaller, less obtrusive ones? I suppose this option is cost-prohibitive, but this is what every student that I’ve talked to wants. And there are plans for more buildings: won’t forcing this garage down the neighbors’ throats hurt future development plans? The neighborhood has organized itself into a group called Save our Salem (S.O.S: they started out as Save South Salem so this was a wise change), and they look committed. I’m really hoping that this particular superstructure doesn’t harm the environment in which I live and work.

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Facades and aerial outline of the proposed 54-foot, 725-car parking garage on the North Campus of Salem State University; Save our Salem signs along Raymond Road.


Details, Details

Wow–there’s so much going on in the world today: while the current conflicts continue, the British union is preserved and Skinner Auctions sells a Qing era vase for nearly 25 million dollars. And the golden weather continues here in Salem, where I took an aimless walk the other day and started noticing lots of (relatively) little things that I had never noticed before. None of these observations are related to each other, except for the fact that they all occurred on one walk: and some of the things that I just noticed have been hiding in plain site forever, “hiding” in plain sight, while others are relatively new developments. Just a little walk on a busy, beautiful day.

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Cockspur Hawthorn Tree, Ropes Garden. I’ve been looking for a Hawthorn tree for my garden, and this one is beautiful in the spring, but too messy in the fall! I’m crossing it off my list.

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Howard Street Cemetery. Needs some work, but there are lots of stories here! I feel sorry for Mr. Thomas Manning, but on the other hand, instant death is better than long-suffering death.

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Facades matter: these three buildings are on Williams and Mall Streets, which run between the Common and Bridge Street. I never noticed the brick back of the brown shingled house before–that’s quite a fortification! They’ve been working on the green house for the last few years–it used to be a nondescript multi-family. And this “Victorian” garage masks a much more simple structure.

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Bridge Street: is a very busy entrance/exit corridor which for the most part is rather charmless but there are some great houses and an almost-endless series of improvements were completed a year or so ago. I like how they built out the brick sidewalk to soften the effect of traffic and allow for some greenery, but I’m worried about what this little shop will become–it used to be a cute bicycle shop.

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Back at home, it’s turtle(head) time–or nearly past.

 


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