It is said that we can tell where we are going from where we have been. If that is true of people, might that also be true of buildings and places?
Although I live in a historic neighborhood, few of these antique wooden frame houses (built from the 1860’s to the 1880’s) look as they did when built. Close to the center of town, this area has gone through a roller-coaster of phases. From the original single-family homes, they were converted to two-flats in the depression. With the university close by, tenants were not hard to find.
Without photographs from the 1880’s, there is enough evidence in the house to phase it backwards in time. With a little help from research for actual dates, the conversion happened in 1925. From one home to three separate apartments, the facade was not much initially affected.
Then in 1950, something happened. A craze to enclose porches began. With the post-war building boom, these houses responded by filling out architectural footprints with expanded interior spaces. Off came the beautiful wrap-around porch. Gone was the big front parlor window. But in its place, a sunny front room doubled the livable space of the small first apartment.
Attempting to capture the house’s original image, the 60’s can’t be ignored either, with the enclosing of the back porches. That left no former-porch uncaptured. Rather than the emphasis of going outward—relaxing on porches during a fall evening, sleeping on a second floor deck during a hot summer night, bringing a carriage up to the side of the house on a rainy afternoon, visiting a friend in the parlor by the fire on a winter morning, watching the activity on the street. Life focused outward then.
Today, the parlor has no view of the street. The small front apartment has been absorbed back into the main living space, with the gain of another bathroom. And a large wooden deck in back allows private barbecues overlooking a perennial garden, instead of an outhouse and chicken coop.
A house like this is a mirror of society’s changes. Within its august walls, children grew up, parents grew old, and a progression of students gazed out the front windows. In the 70’s through the 90’s, most of the houses on this street had rooms added on the backs. The alley views are just as revealing. Garages replace carriage houses, but there are quite a few original ones still in use.
Today, the neighborhood is migrating back to single family homes. Only a few retain their porches, which are rarely used. Walk down the street on a beautiful summer night, people are out—but in their back yards.
As I drew this house backwards in time, its character changed under my fingers. Its former grace became revealed with each element added, each detail studied. And then, suddenly, I knew I had it. The house became real to me. And it looks quite similar to a few less-manipulated houses just east. I threw on my coat and grabbed my camera—now observing porches much differently. Although there are no identical houses in this town, I did find a few contemporaries that still have the wrap around porch in front and the open sleeping porches in back. There is evidence everywhere of how the original must have appeared, but to put it all together accurately reveals more than architecture. It reveals character and personality. Progression and relevance. That former beauty is gone, but in its place stands a home that will outlive me and morph continually to reflect a direction bigger than itself.—always inspired, Liane
Also, I hope you enjoy my portfolio with a recent map illustration.