Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

...or is it extreme demolition: national tv style? Doesn't "makeover" imply working with what is existing, enhancing it and polishing it? Wasn't the original concept of the show to expand and remodel? When was the decision made that wholesale demolition of the existing home, and replacement with a mega-house, was the best way to serve the family? Aren't we as a nation making a push towards greener lifestyles, less waste, reduced carbon foot prints, etc.?

These are just a few of the questions that go through my mind when I see a cover story about a 150 year old farm house falling victim to this television show.

This is the home. Now, maybe there is a mold problem that I'm not aware of. Maybe the roof is shot and the foundation is on its last legs. Maybe the house has become a death trap and it is literally unsafe for the family to remain. It sure doesn't look that way to me. The only mention that I could find in over 50 articles on this process is that the "150-year-old house [is] showing its age." Per this same article (click here) it is the homeowner's dream to have the house demolished to make way for a "small boxing gym to help more kids in need." Is the house really standing in the way of this dream? Can't a building be constructed on the grounds? As someone who literally dreams of one day owning a 150 year old home I simply can't identify. The preservationist in me cringes and wants to approach the producers with a master plan for the home that can see it sensitively rehabbed. The environmentalist in me wants to point out that they are demolishing a perfectly good building, sending how much waste into the landfill needlessly. At the very least salvage the windows, fixtures, anything that can be reused. How about letting Habitat for Humanity have the kitchen cabinets? And I won't even get into the social and economical implications of the often far our-of-scale-with-the-rest-of-the-neighborhood houses that are constructed in 7 days. Isn't one of the recipients of an Extreme Makeover house going through a foreclosure?

(Deep breath)

It appears that in the case the house that is being constructed does have some relation to the architectural history and era of significance of the town. Sort of.

So, lets just say that this is not my favorite television show.

posted by Rebecca Rowe, Preservation Program Coordinator for The Landmark Society.



Julia said...

Thank you for posting this. When I initially heard about EM:HE coming into Geneva to do a show, I thought it was great but then I saw the house that I knew would get torn down.

Our small communities have been through enough between urban removal of the 1970s to dealing with building deterioration when it comes to preserving the look and feel of a town. I assume the house wasn't in a historical district or I would have assumed that SHPO would have been all over this.

Anonymous said...

This bothered me as well. The Democrat & Chronicle repeatedly used the word "renovate," which is not what was done here - this was a "tear-down." It makes me think of Jerry Ludwig's recent column in the Real Estate section: if you want a new house, build a new house, but why tear down an old one to do so?

Vicki said...

Ditto for me. I was appalled to see that they were tearing down 150 years of history! Here I am, trying to put back some of the changes that have been made to my 86-year-old house; I cry when I think of my swinging butler's door that ended up in a landfill, and the wedding cake light fixture that vanished, and all the subway tile. But to lose the whole house? That's unforgiveable.

The Landmark Society of Western New York said...

Thank you all for your comments. I think that preservationists mourn the loss of every historic property and to see a demolition, like this one, met with such glee, pomp and circumstance and press coverage is disheartening.

I would like to address the comment about whether or not SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office) should have been involved with this property. SHPO only involves itself in demolitions if there are state or federal dollars attached to the project. When there are state and/or federal dollars attached they do a review for impact on historic, or potentially historic, structures. Because federal funds are being used for the proposed demolition of Midtown Plaza there is such a review and possible action by SHPO. Because private funds were used in the demolition of the house in Geneva there is no review, no recourse and no legal protection - at the state and federal levels. The better question is how was Geneva's preservation ordinance administered in this case? Geneva is listed as having a locally designated district with an ordinance which would, presumably, have a section regarding demolition review. I have heard nothing regarding whether or not an application was submitted regarding this property. Food for thought.

Pat said...

If you watched the show, that house was a dump. I'm all for the preservation of historic structures, but not at the expense of the safety of others. That house was literally collapsing on itself and looked to be a fairly hazardous place to live. There were temporary metal beams in the basement holding the ceiling up! Doesn't sound like an easy "renovation" to me.

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