The Olde Country

23 thoughts on “The Olde Country”

  1. Wedgewood stove in that kitchen. Geometric patterned curtains. Groovy linoleum. Googie-ish Formica table. A lot of your grandmother’s tableau could be repurposed today on the show “Best Room Wins”.

  2. “Poor people don’t build elegant four story brick row houses with intricately carved doors and stone architectural details. And no landlord ever builds such places for low rent inhabitants.”

    Here’s the thing about 100 to 150 years ago. I’ll bet the tenement hellhole your ancestors lived in had a masonry facade, masonry lintels, stone architectural details, and an impressive door. Even for poor people! But with as little money as possible spent on the inside.

    Whereas 1980s-1990s houses had as little money as possible spent on the facade, but all kinds of bucks spent on the interior and sheer square footage.

  3. It’s amazing how much the square footage per family has increased in the last couple generations years. I was recently looking at some census data about here in Milwaukee. The population peaked in 1960 at 741K & has fallen almost 150K people since. What’s interesting is that in 1960 there were 230K households. And today, there are 230K households.

    Also around 1960, we stopped putting using lead service lines & we know today that 46% of properties in the city have them. Some were replaced along the way, but I think it’s reasonable proxy to say the city roughly doubled it’s built environment in the last 60 years.

    So same number of households but markedly smaller, all using twice as much square footage, all in ~60 years. AND most would call the city’s sea of 1920s bungalows & walk-up apartment buildings as inadequately small by today’s standards. I’m sure someone has analyzed it, but I would guess that the typical American is using 3-4 times as much square footage as pre-war.

  4. I couldn’t help but notice the small note about North Dallas. I live in that area and have been tracking “texas teardowns” the past few years, which have greatly accelerated in pace in this area of Dallas. Makes for great pictures of new/old and before/after. If you’re ever in the area let me know and I’ll give you a tour.

  5. This is off-topic for today, but you might be interested: Look into “Pineland Prairie”, a 3400-acre mixed-use real-estate development starting to take shape near Palm City, Florida. It was featured in a long piece in the Washington Post a week or two ago. The piece was long and “glowing”, but there was no hint of possible difficulties due to rising sea level. Wikipedia says that the elevation of Palm City is 7 feet. That’s not much of a storm surge now, and it’s not going to get better any time soon.

  6. That’s some solid peasant stock you come from there. I’ve got Sicilian ancestors as well, via Buffalo. What’s interesting is the way the melting pot worked back then. I’m not sure whether it was voluntary assimilation, but my last name became anglicized over time, a fact which I discovered one day in Italian 101 when my Professoressa politely informed my that I’d been pronouncing and spelling my surname “wrong” all these years.

    I started pronouncing it correctly, but it never quite stuck. Through intermarriage, I also have German speaking Catholics, Anglo Canadians and White Southerners in my family tree. The Southern branch is by far the oldest, with one English Quaker ancestor landing in Philly in the 1600s. Offspring of that family drifted South into North Carolina & Georgia as the frontier opened up, with one of them joining the land rush into Oklahoma in the late 1800s. Then one of his grandkids (my grandfather) took the leap to California after WWII…

    Oops, sorry for the novel. I find this stuff interesting. Point is, genealogy is fun but being an American can get pretty complicated if you try to stick to your hyphenated identity for more than a generation. The same might true of neighborhoods?

    1. Being Sicilian is already complicated enough even before arriving in the New World. Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Scandinavians, Turks… Everyone passed through over the centuries. I had my DNA tested and half the planet lit up.

      1. I’ve had DNA test(s) too. The reason half the planet lit up could be because Sicily is complicated or (more likely) because these tests are bogus, at least from a consumer point of view. My tests came back with wildly different results. I mean, they all showed me that I was European but one had me at 50% Scandinavian and another had me at 20% Turkish and so on. People will generally take one test and begin drawing conclusions. Please don’t do that. They’re very blunt instruments.

        They may improve over time, but for now the only thing they’re good for is for Elizabeth Warren type test, where you’re trying to see if you have any ancestry from a very different population. Otherwise, if you’re reading this and considering one of those tests, please save your money and what you have left of your privacy.

  7. I moved outside of NYC (to Woodcliff Lake, NJ) in 1979 and we used to go into “the city” which was exhilirating but also quite frightening.

    If you drove too far over the George Washington Bridge you would end up in the burned out South Bronx, and if your car broke down on the West Side Highway at 145th St., good luck for you. Brooklyn was only “gentrified” in Brooklyn Heights, and the trains were an abomination everywhere. In Times Square, you would see pidgeons, porn, XXX theaters and the best place was The Port Authority.

    A friend of my parents worked as an executive at a trucking firm in the W. 30s. He told my father and mother they should buy (with their friend) a small one bedroom apartment for $30,000 in Chelsea. My parents never went into it.

    I don’t think any of us forty years ago would have imagined that every square of inch of NYC, from Harlem to Flatbush to Staten Island to Riverdale would be considered “prime” real estate and that one could have retired comfortably by merely owning a one bedroom apartment in West Chelsea.

    But, like you, I draw the same conclusion that what looks perfect and insurmountably prosperous now could be swept into decline or even poverty by forces beyond our control. Who’s to say what massive flood, nuclear war, stock market meltdown, or even a measles epidemic could do to prosperous, restored, tidy Brooklyn?

    1. The possible decline of a currently prosperous place is one side of the coin. Turn that coin over and you might see a forgotten under appreciated place that will rise in value and importance in the future. The tricky bit is figuring out which is which…

  8. The brick and stone houses of Boerum Hill were built to last 200+ years and have already lasted over 150 years and still look great if the photos are any indication.

    I have my doubts that anything we have built in the last several decades will still be functioning in any recognizable form in 150 years. The places will still be there. the structures? At least the smaller scale stuff? I think not so much.

    The thing I have learned the most from reading the Strong Towns blog is how towns and neighborhoods used to evolve organically whereas today they are built to completion from the start and then have nothing left to do but slowly slide into decay. I think about that a lot when I drive around my own suburb and wonder what if anything we are building today will ever last.

  9. “The Irish, Greeks, Jews, Slavs, and Italians didn’t change. Instead, the nature of our national institutions shifted in such a way as to more completely fold them in to the fabric of society.”

    The flurry of new immigration restrictions of the 1920s reduced the supply of workers such that the demand for those Irish, Greek, Jew, Slav, and Italian workers increased to the point that employers had no choice but to pay them prevailing wages. I don’t think it’s well known just how much immigration was reduced back then, and how much those restrictions forced assimilation and acceptance of those groups. They were no longer Irish, Greeks, Jews, Slavs, and Italians; they were Americans:

      1. But the last time, it was that high for 50 years, 1860-1910. We’ve only just arrived back at that level for the past couple of years.

    1. Sounds like a decent argument for restricting immigration now, although of course we’d want the assimilation to be more humane than it was back then. Too bad we can’t have any nuance in the debate nowadays. The way the debate is presented, one’s preferred immigration policy either offers sanctuary to murderers or kills kids in the desert. There’s no third way.

      1. Our current bipartisan dilemma involves an internal conflict between and within each end of the political spectrum.

        Republicans love an endless supply of cheap, malleable, disposable labor to keep business costs down. Illegal immigrants by definition have no right to complain about anything because they broke the law entering the country. Latin and Asian immigrants are effectively the new Negroes. And because they’re tawny a serious chunk of the population has no sympathy for their plight. So management can squeeze them as much as they want without consequences.

        But Republicans have aligned themselves with a social base that wants the America population to remain White and Christian. That base is beginning to push back and now has a champion in the White House.

        Democrats similarly are conflicted. The base demands social justice, dignity, and human rights, but the more immigrants of any kind that arrive the less labor is worth. Democrats have historically defended labor issues but that brand is essentially worthless now and in the shadow of the culture wars.

        We’ve reached a tipping point and things will be resolved in a messy and irrational manner with lots of bad turns all around. Fun!

  10. Life was very hard and it wasn’t so long ago. My Dad was born in 1921 and lived through the Depression. He was the second oldest of eleven kids and his Dad (a WWI vet) died when we was 13. There wasn’t a safety net at all except that his mother did get a small VA widow benefit. They lived in the country and with advice from neighbors were able to keep farming with their mule and plow. My Dad could sometimes get work helping on someone else’s farm doing things like chopping cotton stalks in the fall. They also hunted squirrels and rabbits, and scavenged the woods for food like muscadines, locust (the plant), etc.

    They lived in the South, and had no air conditioning or window screens. In the summer, the windows were open all night to cool the house. My Dad would lay sweating in the bed and hear the dog jump in the window from the porch and back out again. He once told me “I’m rich enough now that I don’t have to live with a dog in the house.”

    And then I look at the current entitlement environment and I just have to shake my head.

  11. Yes, I’ve seen similar but less dramatic changes in my home city of Adelaide. When many people live in a small space, they learn to negotiate. Modern families insist on separate bedrooms for each child and even individual bathrooms. No wonder the child grows up self centred.
    My own parents went through the great depression of the 30’s and the post war housing shortage, so I grew up with their stories. After a boom time, affordable housing is again an issue.

  12. As the title of another post has it, “The Real Estate Pendulum of History”.

    Yes, New York is New York, but the old central city of most US cities have similar stories. They went through a long slide and similar decline in desirability post WW2. It continued up through the “urban pioneer” period that started in the late 70s. Now inner urban and streetcar suburban neighborhoods are cool again.

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