Opposition mounts against GOP historic preservation bill

By Mary Spicuzza of the Journal Sentinel


Federal Building, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

A bill proposed by Republican state lawmakers aimed at expanding property owners’ rights would have far-ranging effects on historic preservation in Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin, opponents say.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Robert Brooks (R-Saukville) and Sen. Frank Lasee (R-De Pere), would prohibit municipalities from designating properties as historic landmarks without the consent of their owners.

It would also ban municipalities from requiring or prohibiting actions by owners related to the “preservation of special character, historic or aesthetic interest, or any other significant value of the property” without the owners’ consent.

Milwaukee’s Common Council voted Tuesday to formally oppose the proposal. The council’s vote comes amid broad opposition from historic preservationists in Milwaukee and around the state.

“I am concerned that the language in this bill eliminates any protection whatsoever for the physical manifestation of Wisconsin’s history,” Dawn McCarthy, president of the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, told state lawmakers at a hearing on the bill last week. “Any privately owned historic landmark, and there are many, could be irreversibly altered or demolished without a public process and without public input.”

Lasee said the point of the bill provision is to ensure that owners of private property don’t have their rights trumped by the government. Property owners and public officials need to both see a benefit to a historic designation, he said.

“How would you feel if you woke up one day and found your house subject to 40 pages of rules and regulations? Burdensome regulations that require you to get permission from a government committee to improve your house, get approval for paint color, or the style and brand of windows you buy,” Lasee said in a statement.

The measure, Assembly Bill 568, is part of a package of GOP bills aimed at expanding property rights, which would also make it easier to develop dry lake beds, lessen the regulation of certain ditches and other man-made waterways, and make it easier for businesses or homeowners to get notifications from local governments about official actions that could affect their properties.

McCarthy warned the legislation would have an adverse effect on property values and remove an important economic development tool. She and others argued that municipalities should be allowed to have local control when it comes to creating and regulating their own historic districts.

“Regulating historic landmarks and districts does more than provide economic and cultural value. It protects a property owner’s investment,” she said. “It prevents your neighbor from demolishing or inappropriately altering his historic home and thus the fabric of the historic district that gives your property value.”

Brooks and Lasee called the legislation a “technical bill” aimed at quality housing in a cosponsorship memo they circulated Dec. 4. In that memo, the bill sponsors said the overall legislation was “designed to make it easier for landlords to provide Wisconsin residents with quality housing.”

“Even though this legislation delineates better business practices for landlords, it simultaneously works to ensure that tenants have access to clean, safe and affordable housing,” they wrote.

John Decker, the president of the Wisconsin Association of Historic Preservation Commissions, warned that the measure was a “radical proposal,” calling it “hastily drafted and poorly considered.”

“Allowing such ordinances to apply only with a property owner’s consent turns upside down the entire concept of land use control,” Decker wrote in a letter to lawmakers. “Placing the whim of individual property owners over the public interest is an alarming prospect, and is antithetical to ordered government and local control.”

Gary Gorman, whose Oregon, Wisconsin-based firm has done 25 development projects involving the renovation of historic buildings into apartments, hotels and other new uses, said he could see both sides of the issue.

On one hand, under the current system property owners lose some of their rights to change or demolish buildings if they are designated as historic against their wishes, Gorman said. On the other hand, the new legislation would make it more difficult to preserve historic buildings, he said.

In Milwaukee, property owners can appeal Historic Preservation Commission rulings to the Common Council.

Milwaukee Hotel

Milwaukee Hotel

That happened in connection with the downtown Marriott hotel, which opened in 2013 at 323 E. Wisconsin Ave.

The commission in 2011 allowed demolition of some historic buildings to make way for the hotel, but only if the facades were preserved and blended into the new building. That ruling also required a setback for the hotel’s upper floors.

Commission members said the setback would provide a hotel design that was more sensitive to neighboring historic structures.

The hotel’s developers said it would force a costly redesign and appealed. The council then approved the hotel plan without the setback.

Jason Stein and Tom Daykin of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

Minneapolis’s Historic Park Ave. Neighborhood

Published in Old-House Journal December/January 2012

By Ryan Knoke | Photos by Montana Scheff | Online Exclusive

Discover the charms of this turn-of-the-century neighborhood, courtesy of two local homeowners who lead a highly popular walking tour. By Ryan Knoke | Photos by Montana Scheff | Online Exclusive


The Charles M. Harrington Mansion, one of Park Ave’s eight remaining mansions.

When Montana and I set out in search of antiques at an estate sale on a cold Thanksgiving weekend in 2003, nothing had prepared us for the “find” upon which we were about to stumble. As we pulled up to the well-preserved 1905 Colonial Revival on Minneapolis’s historic Park Avenue we instantly knew “this was going to be a good one.” But once inside, we forgot all about antiques, finding ourselves more enamored with the house than its contents. We wasted no time tracking down the nearest estate sale worker to inquire about the home’s status. As we discovered, the elderly owner had recently moved to a senior care facility and the house was up for sale. We jumped.

After closing, we visited Wendell Erickson, the 101-year-old seller, in his nursing home. His charming stories of his 72 years in the house not only sparked our interest in the home’s history, but in the history of Park Avenue in general. That led to years of extensive research on both our home and the neighborhood; from that research we eventually created what has become one of the best-attended historic walking tours in the city.

Park Avenue Highlights

Cowles Mansion

John Cowles Mansion (1923)

John Cowles Mansion (1923) 2318 Park Avenue Architect: William Channing Whitney

At the turn of the last century, Park Avenue was one of Minneapolis’s most prestigious residential streets. Thirty-five of the city’s most opulent mansions, built for the business and social elite, once lined the 10-block “Golden Mile” from the edge of downtown at 18th Street south to 28th Street. Today, only eight of these mansions remain. The next 10 blocks, between 28th and 38th streets, were home to upper-middle-class professionals. This stretch of elegant wood frame houses—each far exceeding the city’s then-average $3,000 construction price tag—remains largely intact. All 20 blocks showcase a wonderfully eclectic array of turn-of-the-century architectural styles rendered by the city’s most prolific architects.

The last grand mansion to be built on Park Avenue, this Georgian Revival was originally designed by society architect Whitney for Grain Commissioner David D. Tenney. After her husband’s death, Mrs. Tenney continued to live in the home until 1939 when she sold it to John Cowles, then publisher of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. After 44 years in the mansion, the Cowles family sold the estate in late 1983 to a nonprofit organization, marking the official end of single-family occupancy of Park Avenue’s mansions.

The Anson Brooks Mansion

Anson Brooks Mansion (1907)

Anson Brooks Mansion (1907)
2445 Park Avenue
Architect: Long and Long

This unusual Venetian Gothic palace was built for lumber baron Anson Brooks. Father-son team Long and Long (the elder designed some of the city’s most high-profile early skyscrapers, including the Richardsonian Romanesque Minneapolis City Hall) went all-out for this striking commission, adding elaborate interlaced arches, decorative parapets, and a myriad of other stunning details set against a generally Foursquare limestone hulk.

Charles M. Harrington Mansion

Charles M. Harrington Mansion (1902)

Charles M. Harrington Mansion (1902)
2540 Park Avenue
Architect: Kees and Colburn

Prominent architects Kees and Colburn designed this stylish Italian Renaissance mansion for Charles M. Harrington, president of the Van Dusen-Harrington Company, one of Minneapolis’s largest grain firms at the time. The exquisite urban estate features a wonderfully intact—and historically designated—John Bradstreet-designed interior, replete with a sumptuous array of mahogany paneling, heavy carvings, decorative plasterwork, and frescoes.

The Swan Turnblad Mansion

Swan Turnblad Mansion (1908)

Swan Turnblad Mansion (1908)
2600 Park Avenue
Architect: Boehme and Cordella

Dubbed the “Swedish Castle,” this 33-room French Chateau estate was built for Swan J. Turnblad, a Swedish immigrant who made his fortune by acquiring and transforming a struggling newspaper into the nation’s most widely circulated Swedish-language paper. To showcase his success, Turnblad built a new home, which at the time cost $1.5 million and took seven years to complete. In 1929, he donated it to the American Swedish Institute and moved across the street to the fifth floor of an elegant new Art Deco apartment-hotel, where he spent his last few years overlooking his beloved castle.

George F. Hitchcock House

George F. Hitchcock House (1890)

George F. Hitchcock House (1890)
2932 Park Avenue
Architect: Theron Potter Healy

Hailed as the “King of the Queen Anne,” Theron Potter “T.P.” Healy is Minneapolis’s most prolific master builder of Queen Anne architecture, and this impressive home—which embodies the playful, romantic style—is testament to his skill as both designer and builder. In his 20-year career, between 1886 and his death in 1906, Healy erected more than 130 structures throughout the city. Just a few blocks west of this home lies the locally and nationally designated Healy Block Historic District, a one-block cluster of 14 Healy residences representing one of the largest—and finest—surviving collections of Queen Anne architecture in Minneapolis.

George J. Reed House

George J. Reed House (1894)

George J. Reed House (1894)
3416 Park Avenue
Builder: L. E. Morris

This house’s elaborate façade—with its false double-front gables, three-story tower topped by decorative copper finial, cutaway bays, Oculus windows, belt course shingles, half-timbering, curved clapboard, fish scales, and more—typifies the fanciful Queen Anne style. Owner George Reed was a foreman for James Baxter & Son Co., the firm that contracted the stonework for the famous Washburn-Fair Oaks Mansion, one of Minneapolis’s most missed architectural treasures.

The Reinhold Zeglin House

Reinhold Zeglin House (1905)

Reinhold Zeglin House (1905)
3621 Park Avenue
Architect: Barclay Cooper

This stately Colonial Revival was originally designed and built for Anson Morey by Master Builder Barclay Cooper. In addition to being a highly skilled and respected contractor, Cooper was an early Minneapolis resident who founded—among other notable civic and religious institutions—the exclusive, fraternal Builders Exchange of Minneapolis. In 1908, the Reinhold Zeglin family purchased the home. Zeglin owned and operated the Coney Island Hotel and Resort on nearby Lake Waconia’s “Coney Island of the West,” a once popular summer destination for Twin Cities society.

Samuel Glading house

Samuel Glading House (1898)

Samuel Glading House (1898)
3624 Park Avenue
Architect: James H. Record

A beautifully preserved example of a transitional Queen Anne-to-Classical Revival style, this home was originally built for real estate developer Samuel Glading. While Glading was responsible for the development of five other homes on this block—three in collaboration with architect James Record—he chose this as his own. Unfortunately, following Mrs. Glading’s untimely death in late 1899, Mr. Glading was reportedly too heartbroken to stay in the home, and sold it to the Harry Gramps family, who remained until the 1950s. Decades later, Glading remarried and made his way back to the street he once had a hand in developing when in 1930 he purchased a home five blocks north.

Boca Raton: Bid Adieu to La Vieille Maison

Seabass with lobster sauce from Chef Christian Potvin, formerly of La Vieille Maison

Seabass with lobster sauce from Chef Christian Potvin, formerly of La Vieille Maison

Is it any consolation that there are idiots everywhere? Not really.

Well, another one bites the dust. This time in Boca Raton, Florida. Apparently this 1927 beauty was too “vieille” for Boca Raton.

Amidst a throng of people who desperately wanted to save the place, the Grand Dame fell to the wrecking ball in November of last year.

“It’s a crime,” said Marvin Kaplan, a patron for three decades.  “Nobody should have destroyed it.”

Instead of designating it as a historic structure, the city building inspectors determined it would be “impossible to restore”.

“Impossible to restore”? Maybe parts of Detroit are “impossible to restore”, but nonetheless, people are restoring them! (That will be in another post). Want to see what “impossible to restore” looks like? See below:

La Vieille Maison, Boca Raton, Florida

La Vieille Maison, Boca Raton, Florida: Impossible to restore?

“Everybody wanted to save it,” Boca Raton Historical Society executive director Mary Csar said. “Many people had ties to the restaurant because they had dined there.

“But it was just in such bad shape,” Csar said.

I mean, really. A little lathe and plaster, paint, and we would be back in business, n’est-ce pas?

From “The Coastal Star”:

“La Vieille Maison was known as the grand dame in fine dining. Nothing matched its ambiance. Waiters in tuxedos gave menus with prices only to gentlemen. Ladies never saw them. The gentlemen were required to wear jackets. Classical music played in the background, blending with the glow of candlelight.

The menu featured such delicacies as caviar with buckwheat blini and fois gras with lingonberry preserves.

The filet mignon was dressed with béarnaise or bordelaise. The escargot, lobster bisque, steak tartare and sweetbreads matched the culinary delights offered by the finest French restaurants in Paris.

Owner Leonce Picot hired only career waiters and captains, who remembered the wine choices of patrons and how they preferred to have their food cooked. They were polished professionals who knew how to prepare and serve crepes Suzette tableside.

“Each waiter would each speak three or four languages,” patron Kathy Assaf recalled. “We would phone ahead and say what language we wanted spoken at the table.”

That was convenient for her husband, Ron Assaf, the Sensormatic founder who did business in 100 countries. La Vieille Maison was the perfect restaurant to entertain foreign executives when they came to Boca Raton.

“We could have our food cooked in special ways,” Kathy Assaf said.  “They would accommodate us in any way.”

The two-story restaurant shaded by massive live oaks had several private dining rooms in addition to the main dining room on the first floor.

Some rooms were the perfect size for business groups and large family occasions. Other more intimate rooms in the old house were a favorite spot for marriage proposals.

The Kaplans always requested the Goldfish Room, where the table overlooked a koi pond.

“It was probably the best French restaurant within 50 miles,”  Kaplan said. “When it closed, I didn’t want to go to another French restaurant. It was that good. I wanted to savor the memories.”

The 2006 closing came after Picot received several offers to buy his property at 770 E. Palmetto Park Road. A historic designation for the house would have prevented its demolition.”

La Vieille Maison, recently

La Vieille Maison, recently

and here’s the kicker:

“I used to think it would be nice to have that designation. But boy, I’m glad I didn’t do it — I’d never be able to sell it,” Picot was quoted as saying five years ago. He received $2.6 million for the property.

The 1927 house was built by Thomas Giles, an engineer for architect Addison Mizner, in the same Mediterranean Revival style that Mizner had chosen for the distinctive homes that he built in Old Floresta two years before.

The Giles family lived in the house for 25 years until it became the Por La Mar Apartments in 1953 and later a real estate office before Picot’s purchase.

The current property owner, TJCV Land Trust, hasn’t requested city permission as yet to construct a new building at the site, Woika said.”

If anyone has any photos of happier times at La Vielle Maison, please send me an email at preservation@usa.com.

Giles House, Boca Raton, Florida, in happier times

Giles House, Boca Raton, Florida, in happier times

Update: Johnie’s Broiler Lives!

Bob's Big Boy Broiler, Downey, CA

Bob's Big Boy Broiler, Downey, CA ~ Resurrected!

From Harvey’s to Johnie’s to Bob’s Big Boy

DOWNEY, CA. Harvey’s Broiler was founded in 1958 by Harvey Ortner. He and his wife Minnie purchased the former poultry farm property located on Firestone Boulevard and Old River School Road in 1950 and hired architect Paul B. Clayton to design the restaurant. It was a superb example of Googie style architecture, also known as populuxe or Doo-Wop. This was a form of modern and/or futurist architecture, influenced by car culture and the Atomic Age. Googie originated in Southern California during the late 1940s and continued into the mid-1960s. The style lent itself well to motels, coffee houses and bowling alleys.

Harvey’s epitomized the movement with a drive-in canopy in the shape of a boomerang and recessed lighting that beamed down like a UFO. The drive-in was somewhat of a fashion show as it could easily accommodate as many as 100 of the sexiest cars of its time. The flamboyant and famous signage was a landmark for the City of Downey, as it was strikingly visible to drivers and onlookers on the main drag of Firestone Boulevard.

Harvey’s was renamed to Johnie’s Broiler in 1968. Johnie’s had one “n” instead of two because it was named after an interim owner with the last name Johnson. Johnson’s ownership was short lived. He did not meet the terms of the purchase agreement, and the restaurant reverted back to Harvey’s, but it was too late. The sign had already been changed from Harvey’s to Johnie’s. Christos Smyrniotis leased it from Harvey Ortner in 1970 according to city construction permits, eventually purchased it, and owned it through 2006.

Johnie’s is considered one of the birthplaces of car culture in Southern California. It has been featured in magazines, commercials and movies. A scene from the biopic “What’s Love Got to Do with it” (1993) where Ike (Laurence Fishburne) and Tina (Angela Bassett) have a massive fight was filmed at Johnie’s.

Bob's Big Boy Broiler, Downey, CA

Bob's Big Boy Broiler, Downey, CA - Before (inset) and After

On New Year’s Eve 2001, Johnie’s closed its doors. In early 2002, the property was leased to a used car dealership, but the sign, structure, and drive-in canopy remained. Where cars were once displayed for pride, they were now displayed for cash. Fortunately, the dealer’s lease ended in August 2006. Unfortunately, a 99 year lease was signed with a new tenant, Ardas Yanik.

Sunday, Jan. 7, 2007 was a tragic day. Horrified onlookers watched as bulldozers illegally chopped into and demolished the cherished landmark. Yanik reportedly did not get permits for the demolition, so there was no advance warning to save Johnie’s. The locals dialed 9-1-1, and the cops showed up in force. The demolition was stopped, but the damage was done. The main structure was heavily damaged, but the drive-in canopy remained, as well as the large neon sign, which became a symbol of hope and inspiration for a rebirth.

Ardas Yanik reportedly “pleaded no contest to three misdemeanor charges stemming from the demolition and had his lease forfeited.”

Shocked supporters re-grouped and the Mod-Com (Adriene Biondo=Chair), Friends of Johnie’s (Analisa Ridenour=President) and Coalition to Save & Rebuild Harvey’s Broiler (Kevin Preciado=Lead) sprang into action. They attended hearings, city council meetings and got the word out that Johnie’s needed Downey’s help. Because of their devotion to preserve Downey’s history, complete demolition was held off until Bob’s Big Boy came to the rescue. Downey came together as a family to rebuild Johnie’s in all its former glory.

Today, it is a work of art. Take a look at the before and after photos. You will see that the renovation was true to its historic roots. Please visit their website at http://www.bobsbigboybroiler.com/.

Bob's Big Boy Broiler, Interior. Downey, CA

Bob's Big Boy Broiler, Interior. Downey, CA

The best thing you can do to support its continued operation is to stop in for a burger or a shake really soon!

For more on the history, see Johnie’s Broiler on Wikipedia.

To see our prior blog post on The Broiler, click here.

More on Johnie’s as a filming location:

In Robert Altman’s 1994 film, “SHORT CUTS,” Lily Tomlin played a waitress who worked at the same Johnie’s Broiler. This Downey café was also the scene of the 1995 Diane Keaton film, “UNSTRUNG HEROES,” starring Michael (“Kramer”) RichardsAndie MacDowell, as well as for 1994’s “REALITY BITES” (starring Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke). In 1999, the diner posed as a bus station for an episode of TV’s “The X-Files.”

Johnie’s Broiler rises from the ashes

sign only

Johnie’s at night

About the Broiler

[From LA Conservancy and Roadside Peek]

Designed by Paul B. Clayton, Johnie’s Broiler opened in 1958 as Harvey’s Broiler. It was a superb example of Googie style architecture, with a lighted boomerang-shaped drive-in canopy that could accommodate 100 cars, and flamboyant signage visible to drivers traveling along Firestone Boulevard.

In 2001, the coffee shop/car hop closed down and proceeded to become a used car lot a year later. When the changeover occurred, much of the interior of Johnie’s was destroyed. But the building, carhop area, and signage remained.

After tremendous support from the Friends of Johnie’s and the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Modern Committee, the California Historic Resources Commission voted unanimously to include Johnie’s Broiler in the Register of Historic Places. Placement is contingent on the property owner’s support and agreement, which was not received from Smyrniotis.

Johnie's waitress on rollerskates

Johnie’s waitress on rollerskates

According to the January 8, 2007 issue of the Long Beach Press-Telegram, Smyrniotis’ lessee filed a request in October 2006 to tear down the building with plans for a small retail strip center. The request was denied due to deficiencies, including the lack of an environmental impact report.

2007 began on a sour note. On January 7, 2007, a couple of bulldozers suddenly appeared on site and started razing the carhop area and structure. By the time concerned citizens contacted the authorities, it was too late. The carhop and a good portion of the restaurant area had already been demolished.

The police stopped the demolition due to lack of permit.

For those who stood by the remains of Johnie’s the evening of January 7, 2007, the smell of the demo was undeniable and unforgettable. The sign still stood, strong as ever as it faced Firestone Boulevard defiantly. But the aura of sadness permeated the air, as residents, fans of Johnie’s, and onlookers stared at the what was left, trying to understand and determine whether this was now farewell.


Interior shot

Interior shot

Many current and former residents remember both Harvey’s and Johnie’s Broiler fondly. One patron remembers cruising Harvey’s in 1960-1963 after graduating from Lynwood High in ’63 and tasting the hot chocolate on a cold night and even the gravy fries. She remembers doing “the cruise” which was a roundabout from Long Beach Blvd and Compton Blvd, taking them from Jerry’s BBQ north to South Gate “where we would end up at the donut shop on Tweedy Blvd.”  They would then make their way to A&W at Tweedy and Atlantic. Then everybody headed for Harvey’s.


04.10.2008 – The news is official that Johnie’s Broiler in Downey will now be replaced by Bob’s Big Boy.  A long term lease has been agreed upon between Bob’s Big Boy and Johnie’s owner Smyrniotis, 15 months after Johnie’s was partially demolished illegally by a lessee. A historic preservation consultant has been hired to determine what pieces of Johnie’s are still salvageable, including the fat boy sign.

Coalition members (l-r) Kevin Preciado, George Redfox and son Jake, Analisa Ridenour and son Holden, John Biondo, Adriene Biondo, and Marcello Vavala. Photo by John Eng.

Coalition members (l-r) Kevin Preciado, George Redfox and son Jake, Analisa Ridenour and son Holden, John Biondo, Adriene Biondo, and Marcello Vavala. Photo by John Eng.

Good news and many thanks from all Harvey’s and Johnie’s Broiler fans to those who helped make this happen and keep the spirit of Johnie’s alive, including the Friends of Johnie’s, the Coalition to Rebuild Harvey’s, and the Modern Committee of the Los Angeles Conservancy.

Many thanks to Adriene Biondo for the alert to this update as well as her tireless efforts working with the local preservation groups, city officials, and the public towards this successful outcome.

Work progresses on the new Bob’s Big Boy Broiler in Downey

06.25.09: Downey, CA: Bob has arrived! The 12 foot vintage Bob is hoisted up on the roof of the Broiler as the 3rd generation takes shape.

05.05.08: Torrance, CA – Congratulations to Adriene Biondo, Analisa, and Kevin Preciado for winning the California Preservation Foundation President’s Award at the foundation’s conference in Napa in late April for their tireless work on Johnie’s Broiler. Well deserved!

Ghost Signs

Description: Ghost signs are faded, painted signs, at least 50 years old, on an exterior building wall heralding a product, trademark or a clue to the building’s history.

Capital Cafe sign, Platteville, WI

Capital Cafe sign, Platteville, WI

Also called fading ads, or ghost ads, these works of art have often been preserved by being hidden by a neighboring building. When the neighboring building is torn down, ghost signs are often found on the side of the remaining building.

Restored Maxwell House ad - Pennington Grocery Co., Pauls Valley, OK

Maxwell House ad - Pennington Grocery Co., Pauls Valley, OK

Some towns have tried to preserve their ghost signs, while others have merely not destroyed them. They provide a window into the past, not only for advertisers, but historic preservationists.

Kennedy Biscuit Lofts, Cambridge, MA

Kennedy Biscuit Lofts, Cambridge, MA

I actually had the pleasure of living in a building with 2 ghost signs. The Kennedy Biscuit Lofts in Cambridge, MA was once home to the famous Fig Newton cookie. In fact, upon moving in, we were presented with a tin of Fig Newtons as a housewarming gift. Most exciting of all, however, was the “Kennedy Biscuit Works” and “Kennedy Steam Bakery” ghost signs on the building.

Kennedy Steam Bakery Ghost Sign, Cambridge, MA

Kennedy Steam Bakery Ghost Sign, Cambridge, MA

Fig Newtons were first produced in 1891 by the National Biscuit Company, now known as Nabisco. They have a long and interesting history. Nabisco states that these cookies were named after the town of Newton, MA. Neither the taste, shape, or size of Fig Newtons has changed in over 100 years.

Vintage Product Tins

Vintage Product Tins

The town of Newton celebrated the 100th anniversary of Fig Newtons April 10th, 1991: “The 100th anniversary of a cookie may not be considered a milestone for the history books, but residents of Newton believe the Fig Newton’s first century is something to celebrate. Newton is an all-American city, and the Fig Newton is an all-American cookie,” said Linda Plaut, the city’s director of cultural affairs. “We’re all proud of that.” …The Newton, as it was originally called, was created in 1891 at the Kennedy Biscuit Works in Cambridgeport, now known as Cambridge, said Mark Gutsche, a Nabisco spokesman.”

The Wellesley Inn ~ The Original

The Wellesley Inn, in all its former glory (Wellesley, MA)

The Wellesley Inn, in all its former glory (photo credit: Jennifer Emmer)

WELLESLEY, MASSACHUSETTS:  Little did I know when I snapped this picture in 2005, it would be the last one I ever took of the Wellesley Inn.

This is a little like reminiscing about the horses, after the barn door has been opened…..but I feel I must, for my own peace of mind, blog about this. Maybe it’s because I’m 3,000 miles away, so I didn’t get to hear any grass-roots rumblings, but it seems like The Wellesley Inn was torn down with nary a whimper from any of her gentle townsfolk. In researching this debacle, however, I now discover that the Wellesley Country Clubhouse/Original Town Hall/Poor Farm building has gone the way of the buffalo too?

Good Lord, people! Wake up!

Wellesley Inn History: Built by Boston lawyer Henry Fowle Durant, the stately white Colonial inn has overlooked downtown Wellesley since 1860. Durant used it as a summer home for his wife and 5 year old son.  After his son died of diptheria a few years later, a devastated Durant left his law practice to become an evangelist. He ultimately founded Wellesley Female Seminary in 1870, which later become Wellesley College.

Durant also founded the literary society of Phi Sigma, designed to promote social and academic development. Tea parties were a favorite social event of the society, and students rented part of the inn for their gatherings.

The Wellesley Inn, in an old postcard (Wellesley, MA)

The Wellesley Inn, in an old postcard

Activities in the Tea Toom eventually become an “informal club” of sorts. Tea Room manager, Mary Esther Chase said the “college girls flocked for ‘afternoon tea’, ‘ice cream and spreads’ of various kinds. When out-of-town friends came to visit, they were taken to ‘The Tea Room’ for their meals.”

Chase and her business partner, Clara Hathorne Shaw, put together a design plan for “The Wellesley Tea Room Corporation” and by selling shares of stock for $5,  they had enough money to purchase the house itself in 1901. That same year they began taking in lodgers.

The public side included a “cozy reception room, hall, toilet room, and dining room” where they served “luscious griddle cakes and fudge ice cream”.

By the way, many stories claim that fudge was invented at either Vassar, Smith or Wellesley. Here is an original 1886 Fudge Recipe from Emelyn B. Hartridge of Vassar College.

The student half of the inn, on the right, included a reception hall, living room and dining room with Flemish oak paneling, arts and crafts tables, and ”big palms”. In 1914, the inn was sold to Jeremiah Bransfield, whose family managed it for 50 years. They also added the distinctive pillars along the front porch, according to the Wellesley Historical Society.

My friend Danielle, inside the Wellesley Inn, 2005

My friend Danielle, inside the Wellesley Inn, 2005

In 1960, the Bransfields sold the inn to William W. White, who refurbished the building, added a motel wing, and opened a tavern near the back. On a personal note, I spent many a happy evening with my high school chums in that old tavern. It was dark as a tomb, and the wooden paneling and low ceilings made it feel like you had just stepped into a pub in England.

The Treadway Corp. managed the property for years, before White sold it in 2005. Unbeknownst to me (until it was too late), 146 years of history went up in the puff of smoke in 2006.

I could rant on about this, but the damage is done. It seems some other folks are just as bent out of shape as I am about this:

Buffum: How and why we need to preserve for the generations to come

Letter: Where’s the outcry? Where’s the protection?

Oh, and next on the chopping block? My old alma mater, Wellesley High School. Art Deco. Built in 1938. “Perfectly good” as my dad would say.

Have at it:

Save Wellesley High School

If you know of any historic buildings in imminent danger, please let me know by email at preservation@usa.com or on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/preservation.

“The Old Way of Seeing ~ How Architecture lost its magic – and how to get it back”

A Book Recommendation

The Old Way of Seeing by Jonathan Hale

This manifesto by Jonathan Hale is a must-read for Architecture students, and building lovers. It describes an aesthetic sense that cannot easily be defined.

Almost intangible, it is “the old way of seeing” – which has been lost for quite awhile now, resulting in nameless, shapeless, gutless buildings, that we have the unfortunate pleasure of having to view. Hale shows how contemporary architecture slaps on “symbols” of what it’s trying to emulate, without really understanding the mathematics of it.

For example, a Victorian commerical building can look beautiful with minimal adornment, if the proportions are correct. Meanwhile, a modern builder trying to make something look “Victorian” will slap a bunch of faux gingerbread on his building, figuring “that ought to do it”.

But the builder misses the point. There is a sophisticated system of geometry to beautiful buildings. Hale points out that Audrey Hepburn’s face is beautiful, largely because it is perfectly symmetrical. He uses her face to illustrate “The Golden Section” proportion to the accuracy of 1/1000 of a decimal. This book will definitely fascinate the reader, and it covers a lot of ground. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Perhaps we can convince the publisher to produce another run!

Save the past!

Now THAT'S a house!

Tamboerskloof, Cape Town, South Africa

I was asking myself this evening, as I rode past several gorgeous Victorians, sprinkled in among heinous 1960’s apartment boxes, how does one whip passion into a hapless and misguided society? As I cruised past an 1890’s commercial building that was boarded up, I thought “what a loss”. Wouldn’t everyone prefer to see a row of gorgeous Victorians, intact, in lieu of a patchwork quilt of McArchitecture?

I’m sure I should have been born around 1876, but besides all that, there is an “old way of seeing” that precious few still practice. To understand how “main street”, historic preservation, and beautiful old buildings help to create community, I highly suggest “The Old Way of Seeing” by Jonathan Hale.

Brought to you by Jennifer A. Emmer, Feng Shui Consultant, Interior Designer, and Fierce Preservationist.