The Larchcrest Code


WEARE HOLBROOK has written many light articles for news syndicates and magazines. A former Iowan,he now lives in Hartsdale, New York.

EVERYONE who visits Larchcrest for the first time is impressed by the fascinating diversity of its architecture. Driving out there from the city, you pass through mile after mile of suburban developments with assembly-line bungalows and pink brick garden-apartments that are as monotonous as the back streets of Baltimore. Then, like a burst of melody after five-finger exercises, Lareherest wheels into view. Its tree-lined streets are winding, and every turn presents a new vista of well-spaced houses — Georgian, Dutch Colonial, French Provincial, California Spanish — each with a style and individuality of its own.

This structural variety, so rare in an age of mass-production “projects,” was not achieved without effort.

Some thirty years ago, when the post-war real-estate boom began stamping its waffle pattern on the countryside, the Town Planning Committee established a building code which immediately set Larchcrest apart from the less imaginative communities around it.

The code specified that “because uniformity in the exterior design and appearance of buildings erected in the same residential neighborhood for occupancy as dwellings adversely affects the desirability of neighboring areas for residential purposes and impairs the benefits of occupancy in such areas

.. .no building permits shall be issued

for the erection of any building for occupancy as a dwelling if it is like or substantially like any neighboringbuilding then in existence or for which a building permit has already been issued.”

But a casual visitor observing the charming variation of outlines and façades does not realize the extent to which this regimented nonregimentation has been carried. Its effect is apparent not only on the houses but on the people who live in them.

About ten years ago, despite the success of the Planning Committee in combating uniformity, it became evident that a definite “Larchcrest type” had developed. Though one man might live in a Swiss chalet and his next-door neighbor in an adobe hacienda, they tended to think and act alike. They drove the same kind of cars, patronized the same tailors, sent their children to the same schools, read the same papers on the same trains, and voiced the same opinions on politics, sports, education, and culture in general.

Eventually they even grew to look alike. The typical Larchcrester could be identified at a glance by his rimless spectacles, golf-club complexion, upturned hat brim, conservative bow tie, and straight-stemmed pipe.

To discourage this stultifying stereotype the Town Planning Committee announced that “because uniformity in the appearance and behavior of occupants of dwellings in the same residential neighborhood adversely affects the aesthetic and cultural development of neighboring areas,destroys individuality,and impairs the effectiveness of the architectural diversification already achieved. . .no resident shall be permitted to occupy a dwelling in this area if he or she is like or substantially like any other occupant of a dwelling in said area.”

As a result of this ruling, the Larchcrest type soon disintegrated. Bowlers and berets broke the monotony of the upturned felts; meerschaums and drooping calabashes competed with the straight-stemmed briers on the 5.22. IN many instances, facial resemblances were hidden behind beards. Life in Larchcrest had the visual excitement of a perpetual Beaux Arts ball.

But it had its heartaches, too. There was poor Ted Kneever, for example. Ted and his wife came to Larchcrest in 1942 and bought a Texas ranch house which was flanked by the Pillsburys’ Southern Colonial mansion on the right and the Dixons’ New England salt-box on the left. Ted was a shy, blond young man who worked as a research chemist and had never been west of Cincinnati, but in deference to the Planning Committee he distinguished himself from his neighbors on either side by affecting the broad-brimmed Stetson, string tie, and checked tweeds of a wealthy cattleman.

The Kneevers had no children, but they were prominent in practically every community activity except the P.T.A., and within a few years they had established themselves as one of the most popular couples in the Larchcrest younger set. When, in the autumn of 1945, it was announced that Mrs. Kneever was “expecting,” showers descended upon her in a cloudburst and the congratulatory backslapping left Ted blushing and breathless. On December 10 the congratulations wore redoubled, for Mrs. Kneever gave birth to twin boys.

Their happiness was short-lived, however. Two weeks later, the day after Mrs. Kneever and the twins returned from the hospital, a Mrs. Ormsbie called. “I am a representative of the Town Planning Committee,”she explained. “Would it be possible for me to see the babies?”

With no misgivings, Ted wheeled in the double bassinet. “There they are,” he said proudly. “Richard and Robert.”

“What darlings!" exclaimed Mrs. Ormsbie. “And which is Richard?”

“This one,” replied Ted, after only a moment’s hesitation.

“Oh no, dear,”his wife interposed. “That’s Robert.”

“.lust as I thought!” Mrs. Ormsbie sighed. “Even their own father can’t tell them apart. I am afraid, Mr. Kneever, that I shall have to turn in an unfavorable report. Naturally the Planning Committec is villing to concede normal family resemblances, but this is a case of exact duplication.”

“But they’re not identical twins,” Ted protested. “The doctor said so.”

“Nevertheless, they are ‘like orsubstantially like’ each other — which, according to the code, means that they cannot be permitted to occupy any dwelling or dwellings in the same area. Of course,” Mrs. Ormsbie added kindly, “you won’t have to move immediately, Mr. Kneever. The Committee will allow you the customary sixty days of grace.”

Six weeks later the Kneevers moved away, and nobody in Larcherest ever saw them again. They now live in a new housing development on Long Island, in a Cape Cod cottage with Venetian blinds — the seventeenth in the fifth row from the highway.

The twins are doing fine. Rut, ironically, Richard is slender and dark, while Robert is plump and fair. They don’t look a bit alike.