By David Marshall
"Who would bulldoze their grandmother just because she's old?" That's one of my favorite quotes in support of historic preservation. Wayne Donaldson, A.K.A. the Human Quote Machine, is responsible for that tenacious remark, among many others. As you may know, Wayne has been a well-respected San Diego architect specializing in the rehabilitation of old buildings since 1978. I've been lucky enough to work with him for the past twelve years.
Comparing people to buildings is not that big of a stretch. Even the greediest, most uncaring, Victorian-cottage-crunching developer is able to understand the value of his own grandmother. Probably. Our society's senior citizens are wise and have countless stories to share. Character, stature and importance are best acquired through age. The same can be said of old buildings.
The grandmother analogy also works when talking about appropriate improvements to historic buildings. Wayne has compared a shoddy building restoration to a botched plastic surgery job. Everyone can plainly see when something doesn't look quite right. No one wants their grandmother suddenly appearing with tightly stretched cheeks and bulging eyes. An 80-year-old person, and an 80-year old building, shouldn't try to lie about their ages. They should celebrate their perseverance in a harsh environment.
Alas we live in a disposable world where too many people equate "new" with "better." New might be better for laptop computers and milk, but it's seldom true for architecture. When was the last time you admired a new building going up in your neighborhood?
The classic science fiction film "Logan's Run" dealt with a future where the citizenry is exterminated once they reach the ripe old age of 30. Sometimes I think that preservation-haters wish they lived in an architectural version of "Logan's Run." Developers treat old age like a disease that must be cured. Maybe they should get permission from their grandmothers before they're allowed to tear down another old building.
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