Wednesday, June 27, 2007

 
With the brutally hot weather here in Boston going into a third day, I'm doing a lot of work down in the basement just to get away from the heat. My house was built in 1860 plus or minus (a fire in Boston's Hall of Records in the late 19th century destroyed any trace of the original building permit and other documents. What I do know about my house is that it is he oldest in the general neighborhood, a farmhouse in what was then orchard and farm country south of Boston.

When I first moved in, I found a couple of interesting things on rafters over the two finished rooms in the attic level. One was a painting, a landscape of what may or may not be what the area looked like back in the 1860s, and the remains of a ledger book with records of berries and apples being sold off the property. The owner had a coal and ice business on Atlantic Avenue near the Boston waterfront and was also selling his produce there.

Over the years, the property was subdivided into progressively smaller and smaller lots. Twelve years before I bought it, the final subdivision was made, taking the remaining lot down from a half acre to an eighth of an acre. On the three resulting eighth acre lots, standard Cape Cod-style three bedroom houses were built. But opposite me is a very significant house built in the 1890s, a house that was actually mentioned prominently in the advertisements for the sale of my house—the Fox Estate.

The Fox family made movies in Boston. There's a building in the South End known from the name set in brickwork on the façade as the Magna Building; it was the center of early movie making in Boston. Opposite it is another movie-related building that had a small movie theater built into it which eventually became the first home of Boston's gay theater group, Theater Offensive, under the name Triangle Theater. The Fox Family (yes, THOSE Foxes who eventually became 20th Century Fox) eventually joined the migration to California with its promise of heavily increased sunlight for exterior shooting and vast areas of undeveloped land for the construction of studio complexes.

The Fox Estate opposite me originally consisted of several acres of land with an enormous Queen Anne-style house surrounded by a vast veranda with an extension that allowed its residents to walk under cover to a sizable carriage barn. Some time after the Foxes left, one entire wing of the house was cut off and moves to a subdivided lot behind it to become a separate four bedroom home. The carriage house was also turned into a good size house and the veranda extension was taken down.

If you look at the main house now, the big entrance stair and projecting gable section of the old veranda that covers it are at one side of the house rather than centered as it was meant to be. That same side of the house looks like something was chopped off with a meat cleaver (which is essentially what happened) and finished with a flat wall with some windows in it that don’t match the windows in the rest of the house.

In the last couple of years, any house that has a side yard is selling it off to developers who are constructing whatever will fit on it and the neighborhood is becoming progressively more and more crowded. However these properties and the older homes that come on the market are not selling well. The real estate slump here in Boston is actually worsening and given the figures for the last two months that have been published this month, I'm extremely lucky that my house sold when it did. The percentage of houses on the market that sold in May and early June is way down from April when I got the offer that I decided to accept.

My days are filled now with final preparations for the movers on July 10. I'm taking as much up to Fritz's as I can in the Jeep and will actually have made the majority of the move by myself when it's all over and done with. There's no question that I'll miss this place--I see my daughters everywhere I look, the big years of my design career happened here, and the dining room is filled with memories of dinners lit only by candle light with friends and colleagues celebrating holidays, the opening of productions, birthdays and anniversaries, all of life.

Plans are under way for the new house to become exactly the same kind of place, one that's open to all the people Fritz and I love and work with, family gatherings and a place to meet new friends. And, finally, we won’t be visitors in each others home, but making one together.

Comments:
That house is my favorite structure in Roslindale! The story I'd heard was that it was actually Fox's summer house; that he'd take the train up from New York (back when you could actually get off the train from New York in Roslindale), and that he lost it in the Depression.
 
This has been such an inspiring and uplifting saga, even vicariously. Thank you so much for sharing it.
 
I'm curious about the painting you found, Will. Was it any good? What did you do with it?
 
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