Sunday, June 29, 2008

Louisville Shotgun Redux

Yer humble host made a trip down to "the home" this weekend, and lo and behold the locals were yet again celebrating their city.

In this case LEO, Louisville's version of City Paper, had a lengthy article on shotgun houses, with profuse photography....worth a surf to see the kind of media Dayton vernacular architecture doesn't get...

Southern Standard- A Loving Defesne of the Shotgun House

..which included this sidebar on the Anatomy of a Shotgun House

While we see superficial articles on Rehabarama and what-not not once have I saw a journalistic attempt to explain the local vernacular architecture in Dayton, similar to this. In fact smaller houses akin to Louisville shotguns are written off as throwaways, just more fodder for vacancy and abandonment and demolition.

As for popularity, the article makes a point that these houses are seeing renewed interest:

This is ostensibly a defense of the shotgun house, although I’m not sure that concept is in need of protection: Once popular for their pure economy, shotguns seem to be experiencing a resurgence here. This is in part a fad driven by lust for the doggedly nostalgic. But there is also something more legitimate, something having to do with the idea that shotguns are perhaps the cheapest, easiest way to buy into the extraordinary history of the River City and its buildings.

Imagine that, people wanting to buy-in to the history of their city, and a houseform associated with that history. Probably unfair to compare Dayton, since the place really has no history as far as the locals are concerned, beyond the history of certain local corporations, industrialists, and aviation.

Amazingly enough this houseform is seeing a revival in new construction, the caption to the following pix reads:

"The Sienna II, a newly constructed camelback in the Norton Commons development. According to Marilyn Osborn, an event planner there, as many as 50 of the 240 houses currently standing in the mixed-use development are variations on the shotgun design."

Again, can anyone imagine Dayton builders basing new suburban houses on trad 19th century housing found in Dayton city? To consider Dayton's trad city houses worthy of emulation?

I didn't think so.

In any case, its always great to get back to Louisville, a city that actually values and celebrates its everyday vernacular architecture, the fabric of a city that gives a place it's character, to the point of even having a sort of block party or festival about it:

Germantown Shotgun Festival


The Urbanophile said...

Nice post. Louisville does have a great architectural heritage in its central city. And it is certainly proud of itself. Justly so.

Louisville's problem is that it has taken pride so far that the city is blinded to its shortcomings and is unwilling to engage in the self-examination necessary to helping the city achieve its potential.

Some of your posts seem to take a questioning view of why didn't Dayton follow Louisville, or, why did Louisville not follow Dayton into, more or less, oblivion. I think there's a worthy case study there, though comparing Louisville and Dayton is one of the quickest routes to incurring the wrath of a Louisvillian.

Louisville had a number of advantages over Dayton. It was a major riverport so got big early. And it has the urban legacy of that area that Dayton any many similar Midwestern cities do not. It is also the largest city in Kentucky, not the 7th or 8th largest (or whatever) in Ohio. That makes a huge difference. Plus things like the Derby, which Louisville really embraced. And the creative class that lives there. It would be interesting to trace the story arc of Louisville (and Cincinnati) versus that of a more typical Midwestern city.

The Urbanophile said...

One other thing, embracing a vernacular style has good and bad elements. I've always been struck by how Cincinnati has managed to keep so much of its unique local culture versus most American places. It's almost like a European town in that regard. That's something very much to celebrate.

However, there seems to be a downside to it. Cincinnati seems to have preserved its local culture through an extreme insularity, conservatism, and indifference to the outside world. Cincy, and to a lesser extent Louisville, has an almost solipsistic attitude towards itself. Can the economic underperformance and relative declines of those places be somewhat pinned on that? Perhaps. Embracing a purely local culture, is, like most things, somewhat of a two-edged sword.

I do believe that standing up and being proud of your heritage is something that more Midwestern cities need to do. When you look at the history of Dayton, it's amazing what happened there. Somewhere is an inspiration for the future I've got to believe.

Jefferey said...

The point of this post was the degree to which Louivillians value & celebrate their architectural patrimony vs Daytonians' relative indifference to theirs.

One can speculate on why that is.

I think it has something to do to local indentity narratives, where "idenity/history" in Louisville is perhaps more physical & place-based, vs a more abstract, technological narrative in Dayton.

As for larger economic issues, there is more economic capacity in Louisville to make things happen (which includes the central place issues you speak of), so, yes, perhaps not a fair comparison with Dayton.

Yet some of the Dayton-Louisville parallels are just too obvious not to comment on, like Humanas' move to create a downtown corporate "campus" in mulitiple facitlies, vs a similar missed opportunity in Dayton with Reynolds & Reynolds.

BTW, I don't blog that much on Dayton anymore, but I do post on Dayton things at Urban Ohio, if yr interested in Dayton stuff.

The Urbanophile said...

Jeff, are you still living in Dayton? I know you are either a Louisvillian and/or lived there for many years. IIRC work brought you to Dayton, but someone of your obvious talents would certainly be welcome in many places I'm sure - even the 'Ville, perhaps?

It would be a great benefit to them to have your fact based approach to civic analysis.