One of the joys of summer weekends is that I get to catch up with the stacks of newspapers that accumulate around my house and a recent pair of articles in the June 14 issue of The Boston Sunday Globe got me thinking.
The top article, "The Making of Lextopia," highlights a new exhibition sponsored by the Lexington Historical Society about the Mid-Century Modern developments that sprang up in Lexington after WWII, including Five Fields, Peacock Farms, and Six Moon Hill. These homes feature flat roofs, expansive windows, and open floor plans, often built in groups with common land, shared swimming pools and tennis courts, and scheduled community gatherings.
The article details the architectural and social significance of these communities and highlights efforts being taken by Historic New England and other organizations to preserve the homes and communities, and you can learn more at the exhibition which runs through September 20 at the Lexington Depot, 13 Depot Square in the town center. View a photo gallery of homes and items from that era here. For a complete schedule of events and other information, call 781-862-1703 or go to lexingtonhistory.org.
What I found so striking, though, is that the next article in the same section was "Changing times put historic homes at risk," which detailed local homes that are running out of time before they face demolition or have already been pulled down, including a 1760 farmhouse in Natick, an 1886 home in Northborough and a 1910 Arts and Crafts style house in Brookline.
Having these articles side by side really brought me up short. Given my history with historic homes, my automatic response is to preserve these properties, but I want to take a moment to talk about why in a thoughtful manner. When I talk to people about what they're looking for in a home and a community, they often mention the overall atmosphere of the neighborhood, greatly preferring a walkable, historic town center or an area with unique architecture and businesses that evoke character and charm over areas with identical homes, clear-cut of trees with bleak strips of pavement for businesses. They have a sense of place versus "anywhere USA" where every street corner looks the same. And since these communities are more attractive to buyers, they hold their value well.
That said, there are times when a case can be made for a tear down, even though I hate to see it happen. When an older property has become irretrievably rundown or updated in a careless way (i.e. layering vinyl siding over asbestos, ignoring water damage, additions of closets or bathrooms interrupting traffic flow between rooms, etc.), it severely damages the property's value and often leaves the door open for new owners to pull it down and begin from scratch as a more cost-effective alternative to repairing years and sometimes decades of neglect and abuse.
Which is why owning a historic property can truly be likened to being a caretaker of local history for our community's future residents. Older properties that have been carefully maintained and thoughtfully updated are in demand, often at a premium. And town historic districts serve as another line of defense in protecting both our shared heritage and property values. I have worked closely with Bedford's historic preservation society and have always found them to be reasonable and ready to work with me when I presented my information and plans clearly.
What do you think? What do historic properties add, if anything, to a community? Should towns and communities take steps to protect them? If so, what?
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