Friday, February 1, 2013
The Future of 100-Year Old housing in Phoenix, OR
As expected, the RLS survey of Phoenix is turning up some hidden gems from the 19th and early 20th century. Some have been lovingly maintained or restored, while others have been, um, converted or improved to meet differing demand.
But that isn't what this blog is focused on today. It's about the doubtful future of several 100-year old Phoenix buildings that need a hero. One, known as the Rose House, shown above, is a fine turn-of-the-century volume that is vacant, boarded up, for sale, and assumed to have a questionable, if not immediately threatened, future. And then there is the Steadman House, as I am told it’s called. At this point I don’t much know all that much about it, other than it surely looks to be a late-19th century vernacular farmhouse that has been ignored for a bit longer than it should have been. My understanding is that there is a pending demolition request…whether that is from the owner, or the building official, I do not know.
Most people look at little old buildings like this and see nothing but work and dollar signs. Demolition is the proverbial “clean slate” that allows people who are daunted by the challenges rehabilitation and restoration might bring a chance to convert a problem. Or so they tend to believe. And let's face it, it's often pretty easy to demolish a house and "start over." Permits are cheap, and demolition removes all the potential unknowns. Anybody can build on a vacant lot. But not everyone does and in Phoenix it is hard not to recall an owner's decision to demolish what was left of the NR-Listed Samuel & Huldah Colver House after it burned. That lot, a big huge gap right on Main Street, has been vacant for what is now pushing a decade.
The other, better, way to look at a house like this is as an opportunity. Whatever you think about 19th century vernacular farmhouses, we can all agree that they are not building any more of them. Not all of them can be saved, of course, but most can. Tearing the "Steadman" house down will destroy forever one more bit of Phoenix and Oregon’s history. Restored it could be a gem, and the good thing about these little vernacular structures is that in general they are so simple and straightforward that they are pretty easy, and inexpensive, to restore to glory. That is if anyone wanted too. And the good news is that there are lots of qualified contractors and others willing and able to help, if they are asked.
The Phoenix City Council is apparently reviewing the demolition request in the near future. I don't really know enough about this to have an opinion, but I hope somebody in Phoenix gives the little house a shot to survive. It already has for quite some time and could become a gem, just like several other fine old homes brought back from death's door by creative individuals. I'll write about Phoenix's successes in the near future too, just to be even-handed.