Thursday, September 28, 2006

Flashback: A Place in Time

September 28

About five years ago there was an organization we called the Fairhope Preservation Committee. We called it that because the first time the name Historical Preservation Committee was suggested, a local opponent wittily stated that "Fairhope doesn't need a Hysterical Preservation Society," and we knew that with that name we would always be a joke.

It didn't matter. The town was so opposed to preservation of its heritage, no committee under any name had a chance of survival. During the life of the committee, we sponsored a number of projects to raise awareness of Fairhope's history and the charm of its antique buildings and homes. We tried to get a preservation ordinance passed -- an ordinance that would allow neighborhoods, block by block, to opt for what criteria they wanted preserved. For instance, a block designated historical might choose to have no new construction without a front porch, or a picket fence. It would allow for self regulation and the element preserved might be unique to that particular block but would be designated as authentic to the history of Fairhope.

An ordinance was out of the question.

We had numerous conferences about historic preservation, led by noted consultants in the field, but anything that hinted at the basic control of construction was not to be. Fairhope was in a growth mode, and realtors and developers had the politicians' collective ears. As for the people, so many were ignorant of Fairhope's history that they couldn't care less about its preservation. They had moved here because they had found a charming little town near the water, and they saw unlimited growth only as a positive element.

The Preservation Committee held a yearly tour of historic cottages. They would showcase six restored or renovated cottages. This was a very popular event, but as the cottages were demolished one by one, they took to showing many houses that were simply old that had been remodeled for today's use -- kitchens enlarged, wings added to provide that extra-large "master suite" so in demand. It has been announced that the House Tour of 2007 will be the last.

As an adjunct to the house tour, I wrote a brochure called "A Place in Time." We printed thousands of them, but I suppose there are only a few left -- maybe those in my closet.

Here is an excerpt from the brochure, with featured descriptions of "The Colony Cottages," "The Bungalows," "The Lovable Eccentrics," "The Many Faces of Ranch Style" and "Large Structures and Public Spaces."

Fairhope is attractive to homeowners because of its location, its ease, its atmosphere, and its appearance. Fairhope looks like what it is -- a place where we want to live, to raise our families, to retire, and to enjoy our lives...Whether building or buying in today's Fairhope, consider first the assets that make Fairhope appealing. The history and vernacular architecture are unique, and contribute greatly to the sense of comfort that lies at the essence of Fairhope. We hope you will find inspiration from the basic house styles we present that comprise our Fairhope heritage.

Fat chance.

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