Tag Archives: Historic Salem

In Praise of Townhouses (and Small City Living)

This weekend will bring the (38th) annual Christmas in Salem house tour, centered on the “City Sidewalks” of downtown Salem, with decorated homes on Central, Crombie and Chestnut Streets open, along with a house on Hamilton Street. I love this tour: for me it highlights Salem at its best, showcasing the creative continuity of the city rather than exploiting one dark time, in stark contrast to that other big Salem event (yes, I’m referencing Haunted Happening, which I still can’t get out of my system). I’m not exactly sure what the “City Sidewalks” theme means, but for me it conjures up a streetscape of diverse buildings—large and small, residential, commercial and institutional–closely aligned together so to form a community characterized by the integration of all the activities of daily life: a city, and to be more precise, a small historic city like Salem. Maintaining the balance between all of these diverse structures is challenging: the materials, scale, and infrastructure of modern construction can be a constant threat. Consequently preservation and planning advocacy is absolutely paramount, and the proceeds from the annual Christmas in Salem tour go towards these efforts on the part of Historic Salem, Incorporated.

Townhouses Central

Townhouses Crombie

Townhouses Chestnut2Central, Crombie & Chestnut Streets, Salem

I am certain that the tour committee also wanted to emphasize the diversity of residential structures in downtown Salem, as everything from an above-the-shop flat (in a Bulfinch building no less) to a sea captain’s mansion (designed by McIntire of course) will be on view. They are all townhouses in the general sense of the word, but the more specific designation—a multi-level, semi-detached structure–will be represented on the tour as well. The two 1906 covers of The House Beautiful below illustrate my vision of winter/Christmas in an urban village of townhouses–and the one on the right features the Chestnut Street mansion of Pickering Dodge, who commenced the construction of one of the tour’s featured townhouses–just next door– for his daughter and son-in-law in 1828. Since I acquired my own townhouse, which was built just the year before on the same street, I’ve bookmarked images of townhouses—semi-detached and freestanding, exteriors and interiors—that have enhanced my appreciation of their functionality and design: first and foremost the two “party” paintings of Boston artist Henry Sargent in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts. The Dinner Party (1821) and The Tea Party (1824). It might not be Christmastime, but it feels like it in these festive parlors. Another great townhouse interior painting is Robert Scott Tait’s A Chelsea Interior (1857-58) featuring the author Thomas Carlyle, along with his wife and dog in the parlor of their London townhouse:  again, likely not Christmastime, but the “shotgun” perspective is classic townhouse. The taller townhouses of the 1850s are featured in the wintry Street in Winter: Evening by an anonymous artist, who casts light on the city sidewalks from a shop window: in the next century all of those windows will be lit up, especially at Christmas time.

Townhouse collage2

Townhouse Dinner Party Sargent

Townhouse Tea Party Sargent

Townhouse Chelsea

Townhouses New England Street

Townhouse paperHenry Sargent, The Dinner Party & The Tea Party, 1820s, collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Robert Scott Tait, A Chelsea Interior, collections of the National Trust; A Street in Winter: Evening, collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; I am very enamored of this townhouse wallpaper from the new Hearth & Hand/Magnolia collection at Target.

Christmas in Salem “City Sidewalks” Tour, December 1,2 & 3, 2017—more information and additional events here: http://salem.org/event/37th-annual-christmas-salem-house-tour-2/2017-12-02/.


Preservation Awards 2017

Every May (which is Preservation Month in case you didn’t know it), Salem’s venerable preservation organization, Historic Salem, Inc., holds its annual meeting at which a slate of officers are elected and a slate of preservation awards announced–with the latter taking up considerably more time than the former. The awards are culled from nominations by HSI’s membership and the community, and generally include a variety of projects: private residences meticulously restored, adaptive re-use projects, large public projects that privilege preservation. I look forward to these awards every year, but for some reason I haven’t “covered” them in my blog:  I think it’s because annual meeting nights have fallen on teaching nights in years past and so I haven’t been able to attend, but that’s a poor excuse as I certainly could and should have featured the list in years past. These awards go to individuals (owners, developers, architects) but represent material and aesthetic contributions to the entire community as preservation is a public good. In any case, this year the HSI annual meeting fell on a Friday, but I would have attended regardless as (shameless full disclosure here) my husband’s firm received not one but two awards: for the Howard and Derby Street condominium projects through which a 1960s convent and the former Settlement House of the House of the Seven Gables were transformed into residential buildings. These projects were in good company: the newly-restored (and expanded) Essex Probate and Family Court (now the Thaddeus Buczko Building) the Notch Brewery & Tap Room, the Pickering House, the Baker’s Island Light Station, Old Town Hall, the former Klondike Building–turned-offices for the North Shore Community Development Corporation, and a beautifully-refurbished Victorian house in North Salem were also recognized on this past Friday night. Together, they represent the sheer variety of preservation work going on in Salem by individuals and institutions, efforts that are more important than ever in this era of bland new building.

Preservatio Overview

Preservation Old Town Hall

Preservations Awards Nursery

Preservation Awards Lafayette Street

Preservation Awards Howard Street

Preservation Derby

Preservation Awards Federal Street

The 2017 HSI Preservation Award winners: Old Town Hall was recognized for the rehabilitation of its historic windows, and the Pickering House for its fence and balustrade. The Nursery Street Victorian sets the standard for meticulous restoration, inside and out. The second-floor North Shore CDC offices on Lafayette Street, also stunning. Seven Howard Street is a mid-century modern convent turned condominiums, and the former Settlement House of the House of the Seven Gables led many lives before its recent transformation into residences.

Looking forward to 2018: The Salem Maritime National Historic Site is in the process of restoring the windows of the Derby House, the old “Grimshawe House” on Charter Street (where Nathaniel Hawthorne courted his wife Sophia) is in the midst of a thorough rehabilitation, and I’m really hoping that my employer, Salem State University, not only saves but restores this historic bungalow on Loring Avenue.

Preservation Derby 2

Preservation Charter

Loring Bungalow


Christmas on the Common

I am very excited about the 37th annual Christmas in Salem tour, which returns to the Salem Common neighborhood this year. The major fundraiser for Salem’s venerable preservation organization, Historic Salem, Incorporated, the walking tour of decorated homes and buildings rotates from the McIntire Historic District to the Common quite regularly and has also been centered on both North and South Salem, Derby Street, and the Willows. Each and every tour is great, but I’ve always liked the Common tours particularly for a variety of reasons: the mix of very stately and smaller, cozier homes, the focal point of the Common (no s!), and the ability to pop easily into the Hawthorne Hotel’s Tavern for a drink (you can also get your tickets at the Hotel on Saturday and Sunday). In any case, the Common deserves to be showcased this particular year: much restoration work has been done on its cast iron fence, its reproduction McIntire Washington Arch is looking good, and there have been several notable restorations in the neighborhood. Having gone through this myself several times, I am so very grateful to all the homeowners who are opening their doors: it is a generous gesture worthy of all of our support and praise.With the spotlight on the Common, I thought I’d take this opportunity to showcase some of my recent stereoview discoveries as well, so we can have a past-and-present perspective on a great public space: scene of militia drills and musters, hot-air balloon demonstrations, circuses, athletic competitions, concerts, rallies, demonstrations, bike races, Sunday strolls and Christmas walking tours.

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Common CHristmas.jpg

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Salem Common yesterday, in a 1920s (doctored) Maynard Workshop postcard, and in two later-nineteenth-century stereocards showcasing the cast iron fence, built in 1850, from two directions. The bottom card, showing the Andrew Safford House at right, is by G.M. Whipple & A.A. Smith, and courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society. Fence details today below, and the newly-restored Washington Arch.

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Overlooking the Common, one of my very favorite doorways in all of Salem, belonging to the White-Lord House at the corner of Washington Square and Oliver Streets. Frank Cousins loved to photograph it, and I do too (not to raise myself to his photographic level, but just so we can appreciate its constant ability to captivate!)

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Look at this new-to-me stereoview! (No, I do not think that is President Lincoln on the Common). It was published by Charles G. Fogg and I do not have a date.

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Returning to the present, just some of the decorations from yesterday; no doubt more will be on display this weekend, both outdoors and behind doors.

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Christmas in Salem: Carol on the Common, a Christmas walking tour to benefit Historic Salem, Inc., Dec. 2-4: more information here


Christmas in Salem 2015

The venerable Christmas in Salem house tour, the major fundraiser of Historic Salem, Inc., returned to the McIntire District this year and featured homes and public buildings decorated around the theme of the “Twelve Days of Christmas”. There were some absolutely amazing houses open this year, and a huge turnout, due both to the perennial appeal of Chestnut and Federal Streets as well as the unseasonably warm weather–people didn’t seem to mind waiting in line. Unlike past years, I don’t have a lot of interior shots for you this year, as I was scolded very nearly every time I took my camera out: photographs are not allowed in the houses!  Having had several houses on this tour over the years, I can certainly understand the homeowners’ desire for privacy and security, but as official photographers and magazines and Salem Access Television were allowed to shoot, it does seem like a somewhat contradictory policy. In any case, I think you’ll get some sense of the spirit of the event from the exterior views, and I’ll tell you what you missed, in no particular order: 1) a dining room dressed up like a Tiffany box, complete with a Tiffany-ornamented tree; 2) TWO amazing conservatories, one which featured camellias, the particular favorite of Yankee bluebloods in the nineteenth century; 3) THREE period dollhouses: small, medium and large; 4) FOUR public buildings (the Phillips House, Hamilton Hall, the “Witch House”, and the Ropes Mansion–I was scolded here too, but there are plenty of pictures of these exteriors both here and elsewhere on the web; 5) I can’t make the numbers work anymore so I will simply say–a Rumford Roaster which I had never seen before! 6) the most beautiful study I have ever seen, with wooden swags adorning the windows; 7) a particularly clever, and aesthetically pleasing, device for hiding the television; 8) all different kinds of pantries; 9) lots of beautiful china patterns, including a nice collection of pink lustre which seemed to be the inspiration for an entire room; 10) many beautiful decorations tied to the theme of the tour–I especially liked the pears.

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Christmas in Salem 2015 109

Nichols House Collage

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Christmas in Salem 2 Chestnut

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Our greeter at the Ropes Mansion and lots of decorated doors on Chestnut and Federal streets—sorry I can’t show you inside!  The doorway of #37 Chestnut, the Nichols-Shattuck House, was included in Frank Cousins’ Colonial Architecture, Volume I: Fifty Salem Doorways in 1912 and is often referred to as a “Coffin door”, because it has an extra panel that (supposedly) can be opened to accommodate coffins. All the architectural historians whom I consulted, however, say this is mythology. The rear of #37 shows the evolution of the house and the conservatory addition on the right. Exceptional “China coin” cast iron railing added to #2 Chestnut in the 1880s; lines and crowds on a 6o-degree day yesterday.

This has nothing to do with the tour, but I was out and about so much this past weekend that I also really noticed something that everyone in Salem has been talking about for the past month or so: the inescapable sight of our new HUGE trash and recycling barrels. A new trash pick-up regimen went into effect just after Halloween, and we were all given these large toters which are hefty and awkward–we’re all struggling with a place to put them–I know I am! So a lot of people are just leaving them on the street–or near it. Unfortunately, many of the streets of Salem are black and blue (plastic).

Christmas in Salem Trashcan Collage

I’ll link to interior shots as soon as they are up! 12/11/12 postcript: here’s the link to the official photographer’s interior images, which you can buy, of course: http://photo.vistaphotography.com/p384049441.


What would Ada think?

In honor of tomorrow’s symposium, Mightier than a Wrecking Ball: How Ada Louise Huxtable Saved Salem, jointly sponsored by Historic Salem, Inc., the Peabody Essex Museum, and Historic New England, I thought I would ask and consider what Ms. Huxtable (1921-2013) might have thought about the emerging streetscape of Salem in 2015, fifty years after her influential New York Times article “saved” Salem from the destruction of 100+ historic buildings and a four-lane highway running down its center in the guise of “urban renewal” in the fall of 1965. I think she would have abhorred the big glass-and-faux-brick boxes looming on our horizon both literally (now) and digitally (proposals for the future), but I don’t really know. She was certainly not an exclusive preservationist: such a stance would have been impossible in her capacity as the architectural critic for the Times. She seems to have detested “Williamsburging” nearly as much as the emergence of “slab cities” and heralded preservation as a bulwark against thoughtless development with little historical or architectural integrity. In an effort to answer my own question, I browsed through many of her articles in the archives of the Times: this took some time, primarily because she is such an amazing writer. I wanted to restrict myself to skimming, but her sharp observations and critiques (Albert Speer would love the Kennedy Center) kept me reading. Certain words and phrases kept popping up as architectural attributes: art, identity, variety, and the integration of new construction and preservation, and others as outcomes to be avoided at all costs. In this category, I would place the phrase sterilized non-place, which appears in her 1974 follow-up article “How Salem Saved Itself from Urban Renewal”.

Ada 1974 NYT

That phrase just says it all for me: sterilized non-place. And it makes me think that Ada Louise Huxtable, who summered right next door in Marblehead and would have taken a personal interest in all these new buildings going up in Salem, would not have viewed or reviewed them favorably. Lined up all together, as they are below, you can see an apparent generic uniformity on the one hand and a thoughtless, careless nod to Salem’s historic structures on another—just slap on some brick! So since we can never really know Ms. Huxtable’s opinion on these buildings, perhaps it is better to ask is Salem becoming a sterilized non-place?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Washington at Derby RCG

Big Box Hotel

Big Box District Courthouse

Two existing developments (the J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center-and RCG Corporation’s Washington at Derby building) and two proposals (the winning design to replace the existing District Courthouse and RCG’s proposed Mill Hill development further down Washington Street).


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