'Historic' Preservation

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By Flickr/pink_fish13


Apparently, Alexandria's historic preservation board has gotten bored just demanding that owners of 19th century homes live with their drafty windows.  Now they've gotten into the business of preserving . . . chain link fence:

Anita Hall grew up in the Buchanan Street rowhouse her parents bought in 1963. It's in the city's Parker-Gray neighborhood, hard by the Metro tracks. After her parents' deaths she bought the house from her siblings and set about sprucing it up. Her nephew, Dallas Hall, runs a contracting business. Three months ago, he pulled out the old chain-link fence and put in a black aluminum fence, its narrow posts topped with arrowhead-shaped details.

"It looks better than a chain-link fence, and the chain-link fence was falling down," Anita said.

Dallas hadn't gotten planning permission -- "I didn't even know this section was deemed historic," he told me -- but he did approach the city's zoning folks with a question about replacing a stockade fence at the back of the property. When they came out to take a look at that, they noticed the chain-link fence was gone.

"They asked me, 'Where is that fence? Can you recover any of that fence?' " Dallas said. They wanted him to reinstall it, which would have been hard. He'd given it to some friends to sell for scrap.

As the historic preservation staff wrote in its recommendation: "While many feel that [chain-link] fences have negative connotations, this material has played an important role in the development of mid-century vernacular housing and their cultural landscape. . . . By eradicating this 'simple fencing solution,' the applicant would be removing an important contextual clue to the original occupants of this neighborhood."
At least when preservationists forcing everyone to keep things twee, you can argue that it improves property values.  But the preservationists now seem to be saying that people have to keep their "historic" homes looking dreary and utilitarian so that the rest of us can get a kick out of looking at the houses and ruminating on how charmingly plebeian the original occupants were.  I didn't think that the elements of privilege and classism already inherent in these historic preservation districts could be made more obnoxious, but boy, was I wrong.
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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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