Saturday, August 12, 2006
The House That Isn't There
When I was growing up, the Cortes lived in the big house in the center of town. I think it was built in the 1920's for the Berglin family, designed by a Mobile architect in the Tudor Revival style. All I know is that most small towns have one big house where the rich family lives; this house was Fairhope's, and it was right smack in the middle of town.
The concept is very un-Fairhope. Early settlers were not house-proud, and the cottages they built reflected the egalitarian philosophy of Henry George and his followers. Land was cheap; houses were affordable, and all men were created equal. That is, all the people who chose to support the Utopian Single Tax Colony. The older homes in Fairhope were sturdy, simple in design, and not created to impress the neighbors.
However, try as they did, the founders of Fairhope were not capable of changing human nature, and human nature includes a little show of wealth and taste, so somewhere along the line a few bigger, showier homes squeezed their way among the middle-of-the-road bungalows and camp cottages. Some of these houses, and the captain's house I live in was one of them, came to be called "Fairhope's Castles."
The captain's house is about 2,400 square feet. The Corte house in the center of town -- on Church Street where de la Mare Avenue intersects -- was probably close to 4,000 square feet. I was never inside the house so I do not know the floor plan.
The Corte family sold the property a couple of years ago, for a pretty penny, I hear. Condominiums will go up. In the groundbreaking a couple of trees had to come down.
Above, you can see, looking from the St. James Street side toward the spot where the Corte house once stood proudly, the red earth of Lower Alabama awaiting a 21st Century occupant's design of a New Orleans style apartment building, in keeping with the needs of Fairhope today -- 14 one-million homes right in the center of town. As the real estate ads so often say, "within walking distance of town and bay." A few mighty oaks had to be razed, but the developer decided to save one by lopping off the limbs that would get in the way of the building. There was an angry letter to the editors of the local papers from the Tree Preservation Committee of the Wisteria Garden Club. You can see the remains of the tree in the picture. It might as well have been cut down and its stump ground to sawdust for all the aesthetic and ecological worth it adds to the neighborhood now.