2.7 miles. That is the approximate distance of the walk I take every day, with Leon, my fluffy companion. I have a particular route I prefer, because…
It is a pleasure to see the craftsmanship on display alongside the mature trees and well tended yards. It’s also a popular loop for other people in the neighborhood, and I’ve gotten familiar with my fellow walkers, joggers, and leisurely strollers.
My own block is a mixture of single family homes, duplexes and apartment buildings near a small commercial district, but every morning Leon and I make our way over to a neighborhood called Virginia Manor. The Manor is a little bit fancier. Built in the 1930’s, with rigid architectural restrictions, it must have been the most desirable address in the South Hills at that time. It remains so today.
Houses in The Manor are predominantly stone and Tudor style is probably the most prevalent. Houses sit on large lots, and I must think, average over 3500 square feet. As a planner, I know all the issues with this type of building pattern, but as a fan of old homes and architecture and walking, I love living near this neighborhood and it makes my life better.
The neighborhood is gorgeous because of the architectural restrictions that were put in place when it was built. While all the houses are different, which keeps it from being repetitive, they all share similar massing, and materials, which still allows them to be compatible. This is the sweet spot for all the built environments we love. Compatibility without redundancy. This is context.
On our walk last week, I was stunned on approaching one of my favorite homes to find all of the windows removed and heavy equipment pulling out the landscaping. This house is an architectural treasure and it appeared someone was about to toss it in a landfill.
I recall the house being listed a couple of months back. When I got back home to check, sure enough, Zillow showed the house sold for $1.1 million back in August. Want to see the listing?
I warn you, this is not for the faint of heart.
It’s gonna hurt.
You asked for it.
The Facebook debate was already taking place in a local group. Some were appalled that this could happen in such a nice neighborhood, others defended the actions as property rights, suggesting everyone needed to settle down.
Here are some of the comments from the thread that I would like to address. These are also always the same comments that come up in these debates. I am paraphrasing the original statements.
I am sad that there are people born onto this earth that can could do this to a beautiful home, that can see the beauty that went into the original home and say still say, “Fuck it, I need a 4 stall garage.” But then I remember, there will always be people that think new is better- and people that wear Crocs and jeans with designs on the pockets. While I think the new owners are making a tremendous mistake, the fault lies with the municipality for not doing more to protect one of its greatest assets.
There are only a handful of neighborhoods like this across the country and to allow this home to be carted off to a landfill is such a tragedy. At what point, do enough original homes get replaced by McMansions to where The Manor no longer matters? At what point does it stop being a nice place to walk, because it is no longer beautiful? How does it affect the other property owners that have cared for and tended to those stone beauties of a bygone age? Their street is about to get a black eye.
It’s okay to care about taste and how things look, it is more than okay- we should care. It’s how we are built as a species and it’s how we navigate this world and how we survive. Replacing something above average in terms of appearance, with something average is an investment in getting worse. Why should any place or anyone, ever want to get worse? It is a step in the wrong direction and well, that is obviously a bad idea.
Standards are the floor we create for ourselves to keep from declining. Every community must adopt standards to ensure better outcomes. The key is accountability. When you see those standards begin to decline, someone must say something and more so, do something. Standards are meaningless without accountability. People deserve to live in beautiful places and places that make them proud. Places that facilitate a sense of community and give them ample opportunity to feel good. The only way to ensure this is in having standards and then being accountable to them.
And finally, and here is the thing I will never understand about tear downs. If you want a modern suburban subdivision, then move to a modern suburban subdivision. But if you love the character of a historic neighborhood, then why destroy it?
Virginia Manor was developed by future Pennsylvania Gov. James Duff starting in 1926. Property deeds sold by the development company required that houses be designed by private architects and meet the approval of a single architect named Thomas Benner Garman, who apparently reviewed plans through 1954.