Tag Archives: Real Estate

Two Sides of Salem

I haven’t been posting on Salem very much: my blog is going to lose its name! Long-time readers will know that I always hide or leave during October as I do not care for Haunted Happenings, but I’ve been out of step with Salem for about a year now: it doesn’t really feel like home anymore. Lovely people, lovely houses, and the perfect small-city vibe remain, but I can’t get past the history thing. I grew up in a town (York, Maine) with a strong sense of historical identity, and moved to Salem because I felt that same strong sense here. I took it for granted, and went about my business, which is European history, and only became more locally-focused when I started this blog. Now I feel the effects of the removal of the Phillips Library, the repository of so much of Salem’s history, every single day. All the towns around Salem have these great historical museums—-the Marblehead Museum, the Beverly Historical Society, the Ipswich Museum, I could go on and on—and we have the Witch Museum. I’m jealous, and fearful of the future, because I know how much effort and energy past generations invested in the preservation and presentation of Salem’s multi-faceted history and I don’t see that same conviction here and now.

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Two Sides 6Apparently over 1.5 million people visit Salem each year, with nearly 54% of that number in the month of October: for many of those 800,000 or so (I am severely math-challenged), this ⇑⇑ is historical interpretation.

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Two Sides 3Carnival Confusion: a City ordinance against mechanical rides on the Common prohibited the annual carnival there, so it was relocated to the middle of Federal Street, but somehow there are electrical rides on the Common as well. This is all very confusing to me, but a colleague of mine commented that the Federal Street location was ok, as those columns on the Greek Revival courthouse are Egyptian Revival, so the Pharaoh fits right in.

BUT, I must stress that there are still considerable efforts and energies in evidence in Salem. We do not have a single institution charged with collecting and interpreting the city’s history, but we do have myriad heritage and cultural organizations, all pursuing their own missions and planning their own programming. There’s the ever-expanding Peabody Essex Museum, the evolving Punto Urban Art Museum of murals in the Point, and a really active arts association. There’s a big university, a big hospital, and a big courthouse (which doesn’t have a carnival in front of it). Salem is accessible by both train and seasonal ferry, and for better or worse, is in the midst of a major building boom. It’s a lively place, to be sure, and right in the midst of all this it happens that four of my very favorite Salem houses are for sale at the same time, so if you can put the history thing aside, take a look: actually I think this first one is already under agreement.

Two Sides 10 22 Andrew Street: a beautiful Federal (built 1808) located on a lovely street right off the Common (which will not be the site of a carnival for much longer): looks like its sale is indeed pending.

Two Sides 9 One Forrester Street is right on the Common—it looks Federal but was actually built in 1770. When I first moved to Salem this was the home of a lovely woman whose family had owned it since the 19th Century. It’s been cherished throughout its history, and is still for sale.

Two Sides 1The Stephen Daniels House is a first-period house which just came on the market. It was expanded and transformed into its present shape in the eighteenth century. It’s on a side street that runs from Essex down to Derby, on a really nice lot that could be a great garden. 

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Machado House

Machado House 2Five Carpenter Street, in the McIntire District, is a gorgeous Federal which was once the home of the architect Ernest Machado. This was one of Mary Harrod Northend’s favorite doorways in Salem: she must have taken 30 pictures of it for her 1926 book Historic Doorways of Old Salem (1926). These stills are from Winterthur Digital Collections.

So you can sense that I’m torn. I seem to be dissing and selling Salem at the same time! Maybe I’ll snap out of it in November–I generally do, but this year feels different. In the meantime, I’m hoping that more of the thousands of tourists who descend upon Salem this month for its “history” make it into the neighborhoods to see Salem’s beautiful houses, not far from the maddening crowd, as I would rather they take away an impression of preservation than opportunism. I do see more tour guides and their increasingly-large groups out my window—and that’s good news.

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A Converted Convent

Disclosure of shameless showcasing of husband’s work! On a beautiful Indian Summer day, with the sun streaming in through the large windows throughout, I toured the former Convent of the Sisters of Notre Dame on Federal Street yesterday with my husband, the architect responsible for its conversion into eight residential units. The convent was built in 1878 for the Sisters, who joined St. James Parish in 1864 and served as instructors in the large parochial school next door. Ten years later, a regional Catholic directory records 14 sisters living in the building, with their Mother Superior, Sister Mary Felicitas, and the school office on the first floor (the Sisters were real educational heroines, who opened parochial schools all over the state, but particularly in its industrial cities: they arrived in Salem in 1854 to join the Parish of Immaculate Conception right in the midst of the Know-Nothing frenzy and then later came over to St. James—you can read much more about the Massachusetts Sisters here). I honestly don’t know how long the building has been vacant, but it is part of a large complex on Federal Street built because of the initiatives of Father John J. Gray, including his Italianate rectory across the street (also converted to residences), and the school and “new” (1891) church next door. The St. James Parish, Salem’s second Catholic parish, has now been merged with its first, Immaculate Conception, as Mary, Queen of the Apostles. The sale and conversion of archdiocesan buildings is a huge trend here in Eastern Massachusetts: this is my husband’s second convent conversion in Salem. With sensitive architectural adaptations we can all continue to enjoy these well-built buildings for quite some time. As you can see from the photos I ran around snapping, this particular building is BIG, with wide, long corridors and very high ceilings on both the first and second floors, but there are nooks and crannies as well (particularly on the third floor) and a finished basement. In back, there is a HUGE parking lot (very precious in Salem) right next to the brand-new new Community Life Center on Bridge Street. As the building was restored with Massachusetts Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits, the units will be rented for a period of five years and then converted to condominiums.

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Convent 8Looking out these windows to the east and west, you see Old Salem in the form of the parochial school, which will also be converted into residences, and New Salem in the form of the Community Life Center and River Rock housing development beyond.


A Huddle of Houses

Last weekend we were up in New Hampshire again as I continued my search for the perfect white antique 3-bedroom (maybe four, no more!) summer house. I was pretty fixated on Tamworth last summer; this summer I’ve decided to explore other regions of the Granite State. Even though my husband may be accompanying me, he’s not really engaging in the search: as he said to me after we found the perfect cottage in Jaffrey (see below): we have an old house that we have to take care of in Salem, why would we buy an old vacation house that we have to take care of when we are on vacation? Well, he has a point, but still, I press on. This Jaffrey house was on a road of perfect white houses leading to a pond with Mount Monadnock in the distance. I got so excited (by the houses, not the pond or the mountain) that my husband quite literally left me on the side of the road (“you should be alone”) and drove off for a bit, returning to find me in front of the cottage with several other people who had stopped to admire it. And here it is:

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Huddle 3Palpitations.

Yes, I trespassed. But only after a couple in a convertible stopped and did so first! The house is empty, and the next-door neighbor came over and told us all about it, including the “amazing” terraced gardens which once descended down the hill. I saw the remnants—or maybe I should say the outlines— of those gardens, which of course put me in even more of a state of frenzy as there is nothing more engaging than the ghost of a garden. It’s a beautiful property; I’m sure someone has snapped it up already–let me just check. Ummm….not yet (as of 8/2/18). And here are more lovely white houses, in pristine condition, on the same road as what I now know to be the Benjamin Robinson Cottage, and also a few from the neighboring town of Hancock, which is very charming. I had originally titled the post a row of white houses, but then when I decided to include the Hancock houses that did not quite work, so I searched for another collective noun for houses and came up with huddle, which seems perfect.

The road to the cottage (and Thorndike Pond), Jaffrey:

Huddle Thorndike

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In Hancock:

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Huddle 4Can you believe this amazing DOUBLE HOUSE!!!!!!


A Jewel Box on Mall Street

Just off Salem Common was a rather nondescript house, long consigned to institutional use, which was rescued by a couple who transformed it into what can only be described as a show house, with every single surface polished and embellished to perfection. Everyone in Salem watched the exterior metamorphosis with great interest, and then the doors of One Mall Street were opened up for the 2016 Christmas in Salem house tour and we were able to see inside, where everything was color and light, with more texture and detail than one could capture at first impression. That’s why I was so fortunate to be invited back into One Mall Street a month ago, and shown around by its owner-restorers, whose plan was to strip the c. 1800 house down to its studs and then rebuild it, with the best materials and more classical detail than its original builder could afford. A sun-splashed courtyard on the eastern side of the house (once an asphalt driveway) provided the orientation, and the house’s own “bones” the inspiration. The end result is a house that is nondescript no more.

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Jewel Box Macris

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As you might guess from the renderings just above, one half of this restoring couple is an architect: this is not a shoemaker’s-family-has-no-shoes scenario! Clearly this project was a labor of love. And now that it is complete, the family is moving on to a new one—in Vermont— and One Mall Street is now for sale. I can’t imagine a house in more move-in condition: essentially it’s been rebuilt from (below) the ground up: from the basement bar and workshop to the attic apartment. This house’s past is a bit murky (it was moved to its lot in 1906; no is really sure from where) but its future is clearly very bright.

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Above: One Mall Street in Salem today and in 1997 (MACRIS); various plans, the beautiful entrance hall and stairway, living room, kitchen, dining room, study, and back stairway. Below: more staircases, the amazing more-than-finished basement, complete with bar, pool table, and workshop—and that ceiling! This house has the most beautiful ceilings I have ever seen: I came right home and called the plasterer.

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jewelbox30Listing for One Mall Street, Salem:  https://www.raveis.com/raveis/72311320/1mallstreet_salem_ma?ROWNUM=1&page=1&sortdir=DESC&sort=price&TOTAL=27


Is Purity Possible?

Architectural purity, I mean: there’s no philosophical, spiritual or political rumination going on here. My house is such an assemblage of Federal, Greek Revival and eclectic Victorian styles that I often find myself craving architectural purity: it was “transitional” when it was built in 1827 and it became even more so as it was expanded and remodeled over the next century. A whole rear elbow ell of outbuildings was attached and then shorn off. Inside straightforward Federal mouldings were replaced with rounded Italianate ones; a simple staircase was replaced with one much more detailed and made of mahogany, and 1920s etched glass was inserted into the original doors. Even its “classic” exterior with flushboard facade was altered: with the customary bay window that pops out nearly everywhere in the later nineteenth century and an elaborate doorway below, and some curvy trim attached to the first-floor windows, now long disappeared. I like my house, but occasionally I think I might want to live in the perfect First Period house, the perfect Georgian house, or the perfect Greek Revival house. However, I’m just not sure any of these houses exist, and if they do, whether they are the products of recreation or preservation. More likely than either is the organic and utilitarian evolution that most houses experience which robs them of their untouched purity but enhances both their livability and their accessibility (and occasionally their charm).Arch Purity 1

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My house features a “progression” of nineteenth-century interior mouldings, but even the all-First Period William Murray House on Essex Street in Salem experienced some evolution. 

Two cases in point are some houses I am currently “realestalking”: another 1827 house which just came on the market in Salem, and a First Period house in Ipswich which I’ve had my eye on for a while. I’ve always admired the Samuel Roberts House on Winter Street, but it’s hardly “pure” with its modified entry, addition (s), and twentieth-century garage. Yet somehow it all works (I would probably sacrifice the garage for more garden, but I think those mid-century garages are protected). The Ipswich house was built in 1696 and expanded considerably in 1803; I imagine the window came a bit later.

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I am always thinking about the evolution of houses, but this particular thread started when I was researching yet another lost seventeenth-century Salem structure: the Benjamin Marston House, which was built in the later seventeenth century and demolished around 1870. Unfortunately it was not photographed before its demolition (to my knowledge, and I looked everywhere) but the ever-dependable Sidney Perley made a drawing for one of his Essex Antiquarian articles. Through his deed research, he was also able to trace the ownership of the house as well as its increasing size, and what emerges is an image of a true hybrid house, with a First-period back and a Federal front! I wish I could see this house, even in photographic form, and I imagine the streets of Salem were full of these composite structures in the nineteenth century. The Marston house was replaced with a more imposing structure that remains pretty “pure” today: the imposing Second Empire Balch-Putnam House, sometimes known as “Greymoor”.

Benjamin Marston House, Salem, Massachusetts

Salem Map 1851

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Sidney Perley’s c. 1900 illustration of the Benjamin Marston House; the location of the house (*) on Henry McIntire’s 1851 map of Salem, and the house on that site today.


Wired for “Effortless Living”

There is a well-maintained Colonial Revival house on Loring Avenue in South Salem for sale right now: it looks unassuming, but when it was built in 1924 it was famous, surpassing, very briefly, Salem’s other notable structures. This house was one of hundreds, maybe even thousands, of model “electrical homes” built across the country in the 1920s and 1930s, and people lined up outside to see just how bright their domestic futures were going to be.

Wired House

The Salem Electrical Home was actually one of the first “Modern Homes” in the Boston region, joined in the next decade by equally popular electrical homes in Needham, Reading, Jamaica Plain, Lynnfield and Marblehead. Lines were long everywhere, with the Boston Globe reporting that 150,000 people visited the Marblehead home in 1935: Women are largely attracted to the displays of electrical homes, although there is a good proportion of men among them. Kitchen appliances and the kitchen arrangement is as attractive to women as a mile of shop windows. The electrical kitchen preserves the food, cooks the meals, disp0ses of the garbage and attends to numerous of the household tasks. It really does seem to be all about the kitchen, which assumes the character of an autonomous entity, “saving” time, energy, and ultimately money (spent on all those servants no longer needed): there’s no mention of the increase in disposable income necessary to purchase all these miraculous gadgets, of course.

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Wired Kitchen NY Worlds Fair NYPLDG

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Newspaper headlines about electrical homes around the country, 1920s; photographs of the Electrical Kitchen at the New York World’s Fair in 1939; Philip Atkinson’s Electricity for Everybody, 1911, New York Public Library Digital Collections.


Yellow Houses of Nahant

When I met my husband he was living in Nahant, a “land-tied island” (two actually) to the south, between Salem and Boston. It’s one of the smallest towns (if not the smallest) in Massachusetts, a single square mile in size with less than 4000 inhabitants. I spent quite a bit of time there while we were dating, and when we decided to get married there was a bit of a tussle which Salem (and I) won. I think this was the right decision for us as a couple, and certainly for his architectural practice, but I do wonder occasionally what our lives would be like if we decided to live in Nahant rather than Salem. And of course, I picked out all of my (our) potential residences during the time I spent there–something I do in pretty much every town in which I spend more than a few hours. The other day while I was driving by the causeway that leads out to “the island” I decided to revisit these houses. Nahant has some amazing coastal properties, but only one is on my list–all the others are on or just off the main road that runs through the center of the town. It was only when I returned home and looked at all the pictures that I realized all of my favorite Nahant houses are yellow.

Nahant PO

I always loved the Nahant Post Office…..below, “my” houses: the first one overlooks Egg Rock (which never seems to stay in the same place!) and is very difficult to photograph so you’re not really seeing its entirety or its details. The rest are easier to capture…even the long double Whitney house, once an inn and tavern, which is the oldest structure in Nahant. The last house–a Gothic Revival cottage near the library–is my very favorite: if my future husband had owned it we probably have wound up in Nahant!

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