Hold on, dear house,
— from Robert Creeley’s “This House”
What happens when the day comes when you can no longer hold on, nor can your dear house? How does a showplace slide into such disrepair that suddenly it's in danger of collapse and total ruin? Those are the kind of questions that the recent HBO broadcast of "Grey Gardens" has raised again.
If you missed the docudrama, the Broadway musical and the famed documentary by the Maysles brothers, it's the tale of a once-wealthy mother and daughter who become so isolated and live in such dilapidated squalor in their large East Hampton estate — Grey Gardens — that the health department is about evict them and raze the house. Wealthy relatives (Jackie O and her sister) come to the rescue, but the situation reverts in short order.
Joni at Cote de Texas has done an amazing post offering dozens of images of the house and grounds which have been transformed by Ben Bradlee and his wife, Sally Quinn, who bought the property in the late 1970's. Rescuing a house like Grey Gardens, when you have time and money, was not impossible, just expensive.
The "Grey Gardens" films look at two women whose situation and story is strange, titillating and creepy all at the same time. Their ruined house — like the ones above — is the magnet that draws us in. This house, a model of craftsmanship that is rare in today's building industry but was the standard in the late 19th and early 20th century, has the same appeal for us.
But what happens when huge swaths of a city are filled with veritable Grey Gardens? When neighborhoods resemble those historic photographs of Richmond after the Civil War; all brooding and burned-out. When you hardly have to turn around to snap the photos needed to create a blog featuring "100 Abandoned Houses." That's where all these images — taken in Detroit over the last ten years by Kevin Bauman — originated. (He notes that Detroit actually has about 12,000 abandoned houses).
As I looked at house after house captured by Bauman, I kept returning to all the concern over the renovation of Grey Gardens, as reported by Joni. The outrage when the front porch columns were replaced without a curve at the top where they met the bracing as in the original. "Whoa Nelly," as the late Molly Ivins would say. The porch posts above have a nice curve and the house is for sale, too.
This house made me think about all the blog chat because Sally Quinn painted the trim on Grey Gardens blue. This house is already blue; no need to worry about what colors to choose. If I am reading this little building correctly, it is a classic American residential style: business below and residence above. Bauman's abandoned houses are a veritable lesson in vernacular architecture.
Not all of the abandoned houses are off by themselves. This one is hemmed in by two buildings in good shape and clearly occupied. Though I am a bit surprised that those homebodies have not cleaned up the property and used the space for gardening!
I looked at every house on Bauman's site; mesmerized by a kind of horror at the private tragedies all those empty buildings imply. Dreams, lives and a whole city abandoned along with the houses.
Thanks to Kevin Bauman for permission to use his photographs and to Nibsblog for alerting me to his site.