Beneath all of the changes happening in the District and discussion of gentrification, there is also a concern to preserve the history of a neighborhood before renovations begin. There are so many zoning regulations and codes pertaining to historical preservation that it is almost impossible not to break one of these laws if you decide to renovate. There are design guidelines for every part of your house including the porch, windows, doors, landscaping, and even energy conservation.
Once you start renovation, it’s hard to stop. The need for pretty windows, floors, and more becomes necessary, maybe even excessive. If there is enough money to historically preserve, it is suggested, in order to prevent historical disaster. How far will you go in preserving the history of your home?
My brother and his girlfriend recently moved into a late eighteenth century house. Rent prices were increasing in their apartment complex in Centreville, so they decided to look for a cheaper, happier place closer to my parents. It took some searching, but they found something more affordable, that also needed a lot of work. It’s cozy and adorable, but it’s also a hassle. The style of the house perfectly fits them, but it lacks a dishwasher, air conditioning, and a modern washer/dryer. Their roof is falling apart and looks like it’s been through four fires. What happens when you lose amenities that you’re so used to living with? Is style more important than efficiency or updated technology?
In the second act of Clybourne Park, an argument unfolds over preserving the neighborhood and the house that is being renovated. Personal connections to the house are introduced and arguments rise over what is good for the neighborhood. I wonder what kind of conversations would arise if my brother and his girlfriend decided to put a koi pond in their back yard or install a tin roof?
My brother, a Civil War buff, has a painting of soldiers that hangs in their living room. I noticed it one day and wondered about the stories that live in their wooden floors and the closet beneath the stairs. What was once stashed beneath the floorboards? What general walked up the steps? It’s extraordinary when you think about all of the history that one home holds. It is understood why some want to preserve that, because if you build over it, what becomes of those cracks in the windows and the creaks in the floor? That history disappears.
If you have a development that is recognized for its historical architecture and up goes a modern six-story building, the identity of the neighborhood changes. The more modern buildings stick out like a sore thumb and the historic buildings don’t look so romantic anymore. There’s a cost to preserving history, but I think we learn from Clybourne Park that it’s worth it.
~ Noel Edwards, Marketing and Communications Assistant