The Mead Park Brick Barn - The Value of a Building / Rose Rothbart
Published 12:54 pm, Wednesday, December 22, 2010
As a member of the Friends of the Mead Park Brick Barn, a resident of New Canaan, and a Preservation Architect, a number of things have been puzzling and disturbing me. They all boil down to this: why can't those who wish to tear down the Barn/Garage see it as something of value, something historic? The two major arguments presented for demolition are it was not included in the 1987 Historic Survey, and it is an eyesore which blocks the view of the Park and therefore lowers property value.
On the first argument I would respond, as one who has been involved in the preparation of successful National Register nominations, I think it was an omission that the barn was not part of a historic district listing for Richmond Hill, if such a listing was being contemplated at that time. It is of a similar period and character to the surrounding structures and should have been included in any survey that took place. Basing current historic designation of a building in New Canaan on a 1987 survey is dated thinking. Perhaps the building was not old enough at the time of the survey but since our new town criteria for historic review is 50 years, it would certainly be included in any new Historic Survey. How would any of our Moderns fare if held to a 1987-based designation?
On the second argument the building is not being judged for its historic value at all; it is merely being judged for the less than picturesque state in which the Town has allowed it to reside. Those who chant "return the land to the park" are not being historically accurate, since the building predates the park, being constructed when the land behind it was a swamp and town dump. For ten years they say they have been trying to get this building torn down. Again, perhaps thinking that needs to be updated.
For the sixteen years that I have lived in New Canaan and the five years that I visited on the weekends before moving here, I saw antique building after antique building being demolished to make way for a new cookie-cutter replacement - all in the name of the almighty dollar. In every case what replaced the original was not an improvement in my point of view. What was gone was gone forever. What remained was a Disney-fied version of a New England town.
So what is the value of a building? Is it based on its historic value? Is it based on the service it has given to the town in its role as an industrial building (as acknowledged by the National Park service in a letter posted on the Friends of Mead Park blog spot: http://www.meadparkbrickbarn.blogspot.com/), as a meeting place for town organizations, and a facilities building for the town? Is it based solely on its monetary value like so many things today? Can we use our creativity to arrive at a solution beyond the "tear it down" mentality? Can we see it for the asset that it is, and like other communities not use outdated surveys and thinking and take something that is already of historic value and create something of monetary value? Perhaps then everyone will be happy.
Could it be?