Windows to the Past: Arlington, Then and Now
On exhibit at the Westover Branch Library, November 6, 2018 - January 14, 2019.
The exhibit is a compilation and comparative arrangement of historical, documentary photographs of residential and commercial buildings in Arlington that all have been demolished – and the structures that replaced them in the exact location. The desired effect is to give the viewer some focused sense of just how much Arlington has changed, and is changing, for better or worse. The photographs document a time span from the late 1800s and early 1900s (when most of the original buildings were constructed), to the present.
This exhibit is the result of the combination of my life passions: photography and history/historic preservation.
My interest in photography started when my Grandmother gave me her Kodak Folding Brownie camera which she acquired around 1915. My Dad was also an avid photographer, shooting Kodak color slide film exclusively. Sunday nights in my home routinely included watching “The Ed Sullivan Show” on a small black and white TV, followed by a big-screen, real-life, full-color slide show of my Dad’s most recent photographs.
My first photographic subjects were not people, but outdoor scenes around my house and neighborhood, thus the basis for my lasting interest in documentary and scenic photography. I have owned a camera and have taken photographs continuously for over 60 years.
As an avid reader in my youth, I developed a passion for history. I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in U.S. History from Beloit College. I have been a member of the Arlington Historical Society since 1981, and served as Vice-President from 2006-2010, and President from 2010-12, and am currently a member of the Board of Directors. I also served on the Board of the Arlington Heritage Alliance from 2003-2011, and am a founding Director of Preservation Arlington.
When I moved to Arlington in 1978, I was shocked by the routine and pervasive demolition of older homes and commercial buildings. In 27 years of living in my hometown, I had never seen a home demolished; maybe an old shed or barn, but a home torn down? Never! The house I grew up in, and most of those in my neighborhood, were built in the late 1800s, and while upgraded, were perfectly liveable. In Arlington, perfectly liveable homes were being routinely demolished, by the hundreds, every year. For some, this is the price of progress. For me, it is a sign of a lack of respect for and appreciation of our common, historic built past, and a failure to preserve smaller, less expensive homes.
This exhibit is the result of the combination of my interests in historic preservation and photography. Approximately 35 years ago, I began photographing these rapidly and steadily disappearing buildings around Arlington prior to their demolition. Over the last 30-40 years, on average, one structure per day, about 400 per year, have been demolished in Arlington! This has resulted in a radical alteration of the visible built fabric of this community. This exhibit presents, one-by-one, a side-by-side historic, photographic comparison “Windows to the Past: Arlington, Then and Now.”
This exhibit is not meant to be a commentary on rampant development in Arlington, but it does depict how the unusual “Arlington Economic Dynamic” has forced radical physical changes throughout each and every neighborhood: extremely limited physical space + high demand = high cost/value, which drives such development. There is no dispute that demolition in Arlington is pervasive, rampant, relentless, and ubiquitous, on the scale of 350-400 structures, mostly smaller, less costly homes, per year. This of course exacerbates the problem of preserving “affordable housing” in Arlington, a perennial topic of concern for local politicians, but producing only tepid and largely ineffectual response.
As shown, even structures of true historical significance do not generate enough concern or interest to be preserved. For example, Lustron homes, Sears Kit Homes, the Febrey-Kinchloe mansion, and even the FHA Loan #1 home (Certigrade), have all been destroyed.
All of the old window frames used in this exhibit were recovered and saved from the actual homes depicted. By using these original window frames, I also pay tribute to the exceptional, remarkable skill and craftsmanship that went into the construction of these older homes. Framing, walls, flooring, plumbing and heating systems, roof structures, all were mostly hand built and/or installed. These windows were hand crafted, and those workers deserve recognition.
This exhibit constitutes about 10% of the structures in Arlington which I have photographed. Custom frames of other structures are available.
This project is funded by an Arlington Arts Grant award.