You can see it on Bromfield, you can see it in Joppa, in fact all over the South End. Yes, you can see it right at the corner of Johnston Street & High.
Contractors, developers and homeowners who have totally disregarded the Parable of the Used Car, but rather have chosen to gut historical houses, stripping away the interior charm of these homes in favor of the unquenchable thirst of ‘modern living’.
The irony is that many, after stuffing dumpsters, spurning sustainability and filling landfills – will go out and spend money for expensive moldings and classic features to fill their ‘new’ houses. Most of what they will purchase at great cost, because of built-in obsolescence, will look like crap in as little as 15 to 20 years and the house will have to be gutted again.
If new arrivals in our city would just learn to embrace the historical interiors of their homes, hire qualified architects and craftsmen familiar with antique homes, they would end up saving huge amounts of cash and increase their potential equity. Much of the ancient materials was built to last, not to wear out after a few short years! By restoring and renovating only when necessary; an historic home will retain that most intrinsic of all values, the historic charm.
Just look in this set of pictures at a home on Water Street in which the interior has been preserved!
But the greatest tragedy is the irreplaceable history of these homes. Many interiors witnessed the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Great Fire of 1811 and the pressures of a dozen boom and bust cycles in the country’s economy; only to be destroyed and cast off by a weak thing: an ignorant, shallow mindset.
What is worse is that government can’t stop it. Local historic district ordinances only cover the exterior of buildings, and most people are vain enough to think they will live forever and all the love and sweat they put into the home will remain – and so they do not put preservation restrictions upon their property. No law or ordinance on the books can stop a ‘mindset’ bent on short-term gain and popular cultural sentiment.
The only thing is aggressive education – creating a cultural & economic environment that encourages preserving these homes.
It is expensive to be able to counteract the national desire for “newness”. It requires constant editorials, events, seminars and a flurry of printed matter in the form of blogs, brochures , flyers and promotional material. The business community knows the heavy expense of advertisement but without it they would not survive. Political candidates without contributors wither on the vine and face ignominious defeat.
It is the same way with heritage tourism and historic real estate.
There is a financial need to persuade, to promote and too equip building owners within the Newburyport Historic District and to show the benefits to the rest of the city.
Without that support, Newburyport will cease to have the affluence that it has recently been enjoying.
That is why it is important to support the Newburyport Preservation Trust, in particular, and other organizations with the same goals.
PS. In a few months, I’ll be unveiling a very sad online feature – The Gut List – which houses are no longer preserved in their interiors – Real Estate brokers will hate it but it will help the community identify the few true historical homes still left intact. The hope is that, once identified, individuals, organizations and the city can focus on where limited funding can be targeted to preserve what is left of our historic assets.