Sunday, March 18, 2007

'Springfield Present and Prospective (1905), The Visible Charm, As It Was, Is, and May Be,' Excerpt V

This excerpt of the book, 'Springfield Present and Prospective' (Pond & Campbell, 1905), begins section three - 'Architectural Garments' - of chapter one, 'The Visible Charm, As It Was, Is, and May Be.' Here's part one, 'The Personal Equation in Houses,' by Eugene C. Gardner.

Continued from: 'II. Plan of the Ground Floor, 2. Broader Outlooks.'

III. Architectural Garments

1. The Personal Equation in Houses
Given a well-born child, properly nourished, wisely trained, still more wisely untrained, and the odds are a great many to one that the resulting boy - or girl, as the case may be - will be strong, cheerful and intelligent, of good temper, wholesome tastes, fair to look upon, and eager to increase in size and influence. It is the same way with a city. In its earlier years it asks only for healthy nourishment and plenty of standing room. Quantity is desired rather than quality; strength ranks above skill, might above right, and license seems more admirable than law. To both child and city there comes a time when the childish order is reversed. Conventions, rules and regulations, implements of work and warfare, personal appearances, comforts and other assets enter into the problem of existence. What clothes are to a well-made man or woman, architecture, as manifested in building, is to a city; something essential to its comfort, largely indicative of its wealth and intelligence.

In a rough classification of the architecture with which we are all familiar, there may be counted domestic, commercial, municipal or public and semi-public, ecclesiastical, monumental and, perhaps, industrial, as among the conspicuous and easily distinguished varieties. They are more or less interlocking, but such a general grouping simplifies their discussion.

Real orthodox architecture in house building is rare. Most of the houses intended as homes for those who built them are far more likely each one to express the varying tastes and needs of the owner and his wife - especially of his wife, although he may not be aware of that fact or willing to acknowledge it - than to illustrate any recognized, or unrecognized, principles of the noblest of all arts. This is by no means a deplorable circumstance. What if the peculiar shapes that are chosen for the outside clothing of our homes are as varied and inconsequent as the amazing shape of feminine headgear, provided each one shelters a well-ordered domestic unit? What if they sometimes lack that sober dignity and fail to give that assurance of self-poise which ought to characterize a family whose days are expected to be long in the land? They distinctly declare that there are multitudes of good and prosperous who have the courage of their convictions and are willing to assert themselves by conspicuous and often expensive declarations of independence.

One especially fortunate condition that has saved us from much architectural barrenness in this class is the diversity and generally high character of our industrial and business activities; because owing to these we are free from great aggregations of factory boardinghouses and the monotonously bare "homes of operatives," so called, that are inevitable in towns and cities where large numbers of comparatively unskilled and often migratory laborers are employed in the manufacture of the great staples. Neither do huge blocks of expressionless tenements of the same pattern, and the Babel of towering, undomestic apartment houses overmuch abound in the "City of Homes," - thanks to the salubrious and easily-accessible suburbs. These are some of the more obvious causes that have led to the heterogeneous character of our domestic architecture.

I was about to say that the real lessons of the homes of Springfield can only be discovered by reading between the lines. Unfortunately there is little room for reading lessons or anything else between the houses - an almost universal misfortune in suburban districts everywhere. It is one of the incomprehensible and, apparently, incurable human follies that, notwithstanding enormous advantages in the way of obtaining greater space for their domiciles, men are still willing to submit to the privations and inconvenience of small lots and of uncomfortable proximity to neighbors (even good neighbors may be too near our dining-room windows) merely for the sake of saving a few minutes' time in the journey between home and business. This strange perversity can not be the result of deliberate choice, but evidently belongs to the conservatism that ignores the achievements of modern science, the inexpressibly wonderful inventions of the last half-century, and clings to the hereditary customs as monkeys cling to their tails and sheep follow their bellwether over a precipice. Forty acres and a mule may not be a practicable allowance in this part of the Connecticut valley, but viewed from a standpoint of common sense, and in the light of this electric age, it is a perilous lapse toward barbarism and, contrariwise, a lamentable encouragement of race suicide, for a man to undertake to found a family and bring up his wife and children in the way they should go, on a bit of land scarcely large enough for a cemetery lot.

But we can hardly help outgrowing these minor faults. In every direction we have attractive open country within a twenty-minute's circuit, and are not forced to imitate the less favored cities where those whose business is in one half of the city must cross the other half in order to reach their outside homes. There is improvement, too, in what we are pleased to call our domestic architecture; less of the far fetched and fanciful on one hand, less affectation of humility and rusticicity on the other, and more of self-respecting dignity. When we find that fire-proof buildings cost no more than droll freaks and ostentatious shams in wood, we shall take another step in the direction of worthy domestic architecture.
Next week: 'III. Architectural Garments, 2. Commercial and Municipal.'

Here's a link to a related article, 'Colonial Architecture,' from the September, 1898, issue of New England Magazine, posted on the website: Western Mass. History and Genealogy, The article, coincidentally, was also written by Eugene C. Gardner, the author of the above text.

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