Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

As you undoubtedly know by now, downtown Fredericksburg is historic home heaven. Despite the fact that Fredericksburg is a highly sought after location for homebuyers, not everyone wants to deal with the quirky features and high maintenance that comes with an old home. So here and there, interspersed among the historic homes, is new construction. Sometimes, homeowners choose homes that, while new, complement the historic ambience of an older neighborhood. And sometimes not.

On our walks, we’ve come across new homes that blend seamlessly with the neighborhood. Yes, they are sometimes oversized and dwarf their neighbors, because Americans do love their huge houses. But even so, care has been taken to use architectural elements that evoke an earlier time. Here are a few houses that play well with others:

Above: This house, on lower Caroline Street, is bigger than most of the houses on the block, but it's at the end of the street, across from an unattractive adult care center, so it is a nice addition to the block. Because it backs up to the river, the lower level is open to allow floodwaters to flow through.

Above: This one is on Lafayette Blvd. across from the train station, and is a big improvement over its neighbor.

Above: Once this home loses its newness, you won't be able to tell it apart from the renovated historic homes on the block.

But every now and then, a homeowner has a personal vision that is at odds with the neighborhood. And while Fredericksburg does have an active Architectural Review Board, designed to prevent residential monstrosities from being built, their rules, when followed to the letter (rather than the spirit) allow for homeowners to build the proverbial sore thumb. Here are a couple of those thumbs:

Above: Some people literally believe that their home is their castle. I think this homeowner spent a few too many hours playing with his Lego castle set.

And last, below is the house I refer to as "The Big Ugly." While I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and art is subjective, I have yet to find anyone who thinks this house is anything but an eyesore. It might have been okay on the homeowner's private multi-acred estate, but right in the heart of the historic district, surrounded by charming 19th century homes, it looks like a warehouse. According to the Architectural Review Board, a home has to be in scale with the other homes on the block (this is across from the library, so apparently it could have been even bigger), and in keeping with the architecture of buildings elsewhere in the city. So as long as there are ugly warehouses in Fredericksburg, a house like this can be built. As my husband says, the ARB prevents you from building the ugliest house in Fredericksburg, but second ugliest is fine.


Anonymous said...

I don't think the "big" ugly could have been bigger. I believe it's height was limited in allowable height. It was open on the candlelight tour a couple of years ago, you should have taken a tour. It is a nice home and while the style of architecture is not to my taste, I can appreciate that it adds to the diversity of the city. Fredericksburg is a growing city not locked in Colonial times. We aren't replicating a bygone era as Williamsburg does. We are living and working and property owners have a right to use their property to it's highest and best use. I believe it artfully contrast the colonials and stands out as an asset to the town.

Merry N said...

I have to admit that since I posted this, I’ve heard from several people who like the house. And yes, I understand that everyone has the right to put up whatever house suits their taste, and I’m sure Frank Lloyd Wright’s neighbors thought his designs were strange at first. Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel badly for the neighbors in the historic homes across the street, whose view of the river was replaced by this very contemporary concrete edifice. It's not unlike the homeowners who put up enormous homes on city lots which dwarf the much smaller homes around it. Like this, I find them to be visually jarring.

One of these things is not like the others.