Friday, November 20, 2009

Restoration Ideation

My friend, Avery, sent me this New York Times article yesterday on a country estate in the Hudson Valley.  I love a little piece of American history, so I googled the Montgomery Place to get some more information.  The Hudson River Valley website briefly describes the home as being nestled on 434 acres and consistently lived in by the same family for 180 years, before being donated, in 1986, to the Historic Hudson Valley association which was started by J. D. Rockefeller. 

The home, built in 1804 by a widow, Janet Livingston Montgomery, of a general in the American Revolution.  This house epitomizes the Romantic design concept.  A fully intact estate, the home is still is furnished with the original furnishing, decorated with the authentic carpets and wallpapers and even accessorized with the family's silver and china.  Not to mention, the grounds still host orchards that produce fruits. Basically, I think this place sounds like a time vault.  The house and grounds were redesigned in 1840 by Alexander Jackson Davis, who is said to be the most successful and influential architects of his generation.  With government and university buildings in his repertoire, he really made American more familiar with Classical Revival and building a harmonious relationship between nature and the indoors.  In fact, the first outdoor room in American is at Montgomery Place.  With his creation of living porches and scenic trails to observe landscape, he really directed people to partake in nature and take advantage of the inspiring surroundings.

I think it also needs to  be noted that the Hudson Valley region has a wealth of history.  From being a major battle ground during the American Revolution to the land that America's industrialists called home (Rockefeller, Vanderbilt and Roosevelt to name a few), to now a battleground of American preservation, this area has truly seen the transformation of American life and culture.

It was sad for me to read the NYT article discussing how the Historic Hudson Valley board was rumored to be discussing sales of irreplaceable assets to cover the financial hits on their endowment (70 million down to 49 mil).  Offers are coming in from generous benefactors to pay to keep the home open.  Offers which have been rejected.  Not to mention, there is a $15 million digital archive on the horizon.  While it stated that the cash generated from the sales of these homes would not be put twoards the new construction, it kinda makes one wonder. This snazzy new center will give virtual tours of the historic Hudson Valley homes.  REALLY?  Seriously. Is this what our world is coming to?  Are we going to breed generations of children and people who would rather go check out a digital tour than to walk into homes and see the architecture, fabrics and history first hand.  Not to vent, but at this rate I think we are going to become lazy, digital zombies.  This center may be a nice way to supplement a walking tour, but I am a tad skeptical when one statement in this article states that the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society is thinking of "selling its historic home and handing over its archives to the New York Public Library, keeping only a digitized version of them..." he then concluded his statements with, "Historic house museums are in the same place as classical music orchestras".  Great a world of McMansions and Kayne. Even more disheartening are the March meeting minutes that the NYT obtained that states, “Mr. Herbert E. Nass asked whether we could sell Montgomery Place in parts, and whether doing so could yield a better price over time".  Show him the money!

There has to be a better solution.  Why don't we walk our children through parts of history, have them experience the tangible and physical aspects, have them step back and take a long panoramic view so they can have some insight into the bigger picture? I don't think plopping kids down in front of a computer screen is going to have the same effect as having them walk through the intimidating halls of some of the finest architecture in America.  I don't think a computer can create the grass they will feel under their feet as they walk the scenic paths through towering trees, the birds chirping or the breeze rustling the leaves.  A computer cannot recreate atmopshere nor can it stimulate the same sort of stirring excitment as seeing the world tangibly and in the present.  We have to give them the opportunity to be inspired.  Everyone deserves that.

Sorry for venting, but sometimes I get a little discouraged with the direction our society is heading.  Hopefully we can keep and treasure unique spaces such as Montgomery Place.  In doing so we can only build an appreciation of the American Legacy. 

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