These walls have ears, eyes and memories


As I walk around my neighborhood these summer-sweet days, I see a growing phenomenon: houses that have stood for decades, some for 50 years or more, are being torn down by new owners. Then, in the footprint of some graceful old Colonial or Tudor, up goes an ungainly monstrosity, an aesthetic blight on these beautiful, tree-lined streets.

Buyers aren’t tearing down wrecks. They are sometimes leveling perfectly good houses that might stand for another 50 or 100 years. My sense is that buyers want what they want. Living with someone else’s kitchen, even if it’s good quality and solid, has become unacceptable. Smaller, separate rooms in the style of the ’50s and ’60s don’t satisfy the customer looking for big, open living areas. In a recent New York Times Real Estate section, for example, a house was featured that had been remodeled into one gigantic family space, at a cost of $500,000.

In my community, anyway, the newcomers have lots of money to indulge their desire to build to their dreams. One of the goals seems to be as much square footage as possible — big, then bigger, then huge, then grotesque. Some of the houses going up could easily provide shelter for dozens of people, and come the revolution, probably will. Maybe it’s because I’m reading the old Russian novels these days, but how can such conspicuous, environmentally disastrous consumption not breed discontent?

Part of my discomfort is with folks who build houses that are monuments to themselves, their bank accounts and their sense of entitlement. They trash the grand old houses and put up something that neither enhances, nor blends with, the landscape. The houses eat up the land, and sometimes stand too close to the property lines. It’s all house space rather than any buffering green space.

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