I don’t think the word “picturesque” could be applied to the city of Salem in 2020: certainly some residential neighborhoods, but the major arteries of the city, which both access and divide said neighborhoods, are increasingly lined with residential, commercial, and even public buildings of which no one could possibly ever state, much less believe, that aesthetics was the highest criteria of construction (or even a consideration). I have no idea what the priorities of Salem’s planning department might be besides more density, but I am sure that “it’s better than what was there before” is the sole aesthetic standard. The Spring semester starts this week, which means on my “commute” I have to find creative ways of avoiding the MONSTROUS new Hampton Inn rising and sprawling on lower Washington Street, which is now the street of banal buildings (and the Bewitched statue, of course). It’s too big, too impossible not to see, so I’ll just have to close my eyes (when walking, not driving). As usual, when the present is objectionable, I always retreat to the past, so obviously a title like Salem Picturesque is appealing! It’s a slim volume of just 23 photographs, published in the 1880s by the Lithotype Publishing Company in Gardner, Massachusetts. It features select “Public Buildings, Churches, and Street and Birds’ Eye Views” of Salem, Massachusetts”: to be fair to the present, Salem was a densely-settled industrial city in the later nineteenth century, so not every quarter was picturesque, and this book features only those that were. Also, and again: someone has been cleaning up after all those horses! Still, there was an apparent striving to make the public part of the city aesthetically pleasing at that time which is not present now, in terms of preservation, maintenance, and most especially new construction. I’m nostalgic.
Salem Common/Washington Square
Landing at the Willows
Courthouses on Federal Street
The City Almshouse
Phillips Wharf: the Philadelphia & Reading Coal and Iron Company.
Corner of Norman, Summer & Chestnut Streets
Corner of Flint and Warren Streets
I’m also nostalgic to see pictures of houses lost to the Great Salem Fire in 1914 on Warren and Broad Streets—and the Bulfinch Almshouse. Salem Picturesque is just one of the interesting Flickr albums of the State Library of Massachusetts.
January 20th, 2020 at 6:10 pm
Although one has to wonder what will qualify as picturesque in the future. New York’s World Trade Center was roundly condemned by architects when it was opened, yet 9/11 has “posthumously” (for lack of a better term) sanctified the building and made it the focus of fond memories.
I’m prejudiced the other way, having not a little acrophobia. My most recent ascent, up Seattle’s Space Needle, became challenging when I found out the top has a rotating floor of CLEAR glass, so you can look down the several hundred feet you might plummet!
January 20th, 2020 at 8:20 pm
Scary! Yes, picturesque is definitely a relative term.