The Peripatetic Reviewer
BY EDWARD WEEKS
IN November, 1933, when money was tight, Charles E. Peterson outlined a project for identifying the historic buildings in the United States worthy of preservation. The idea appealed to the Institute of Architects, and eventually he recruited the first stalf and himself directed the Historical American Buildings Survey for the Eastern United States. But the work went slowly, and it is sad to say that of the 12,000 buildings which were originally listed, half have already been demolished in the onrush of highways, suburbia, and urban development.
Under the prompting of the Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, with the backing of the United States Conference of Mayors, the plan was revived and its scope enlarged; two bills, the one to provide for the national, and the other for state and local needs, have passed the Senate and the House and been signed by the President. So it looks as if we shall be in business protecting and restoring our badly damaged national heritage. The time is now or never, for the bulldozer has no conscience. One can think so swiftly of the landmarks and gifts of nature which must be kept: the Great Swamp of New Jersey; Dartmouth Row in Hanover, New Hampshire, and those beautiful white houses rising above the green turf of Orford, New Hampshire; the McIntyre houses of Chestnut Street, Salem, erected by the China Trade; the antebellum beauty of Charleston, South Carolina, and of the Vieux Carré of New Orleans; the seventeenth-century dwellings verging on the Ipswich and Essex marshes; the little houses in York, Pennsylvania, which once sheltered the Continental Congress; the great houses along the James River in Virginia, homes of the men who made Williamsburg a national voice; the gray-green fieldstone of Delaware and Maryland, the red brick of Beacon Hill, Georgetown, and Winston-Salem — these are a few of the more obvious landmarks dear to this Northerner.
The new legislation is intended to be nationwide; it will help survey properties and then protect; it will preserve a district as well as a house: a famous old railroad station or a lock on the Erie Canal or the Boston Light House; the opera house in a deserted mining camp, or the covered bridges in New England, which we once took for granted. We must have speed as well as judgment, for every one of us old enough to vote can recall landmarks which held the spirit of American history and which were ruthlessly destroyed. The Cartaret Arms was the loveliest Colonial building in my hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey; for a century and a half it had stood there, a symbol of how the well-to-do lived when the Elizabeth River ran unpolluted and the banks were green, and then, presto, it was replaced by a clamorous brick fire station, and who cared?
The whole nation must get into this act. Several states, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin, are in the van. Working through a commission of historic preservation, each state is expected to survey its own ground and make a tally of sites and buildings worthy to be preserved, including those which have already been protected by local historical societies, church groups, and individuals, and those which have not. In Massachusetts and Connecticut these surveys have been in progress since 1963, and the commissions have been conducting their search with imagination and decision. What is wanted? How good is it? Which buildings are safe; which are in danger? It is not a job just for the weekends; there are 351 towns and cities in Massachusetts alone, and each one of them holds places it would like to cherish. The money will be granted over a four-year period and on a matching basis, $2 million to be made available in 1967, and $10 million for the next three years. The plans for saving each landmark must be approved by the Secretary of the Interior, after the state survey has been completed. Once a property has been accepted and entered in the National Register, it will be defended by a seventeen-member National Advisory Council against demolition or encroachment.
WHAT CAN BE SAVED
The guidelines for an undertaking as longneeded and as heartening as this are to be found in a handsome and distinguished book, WITH HERITAGE so RICH (Random House, $10.00), which was published with a grant from the Ford Foundation. The text, with a foreword by Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson, is a symposium of seven pieces, each one by an authority with experience in his field of conservation. “Empire for Liberty” by Sidney Hyman is a lively account of the pioneering audacity and the shrewd bargaining which kept extending our country to its present boundaries. Walter M. Whitchill of Boston writes knowledgeably of “ The Right of Cities to be Beautiful.” George Zabriskie speaks lovingly of those historic parts of our old cities at this moment threatened with destruction. Richard H. Howland and Robert R. Garvey, Jr., show what Europe has done to protect its monuments and to avoid the dreadful monotony now sprouting on Park Avenue. And Carl Feiss in what is to me the most touching of all the pieces itemizes “Our Lost inheritance.” “Cleveland,” he writes, “the ‘famous forest city,’ can barely contain a tree let alone a forest. . . .” River towns like St. Louis and Cincinnati have hardly a vestige left of the houses with their graceful jalousies which once gave onto the water. The Orphans’ Chapel, listed as one of the twenty-six objects of national importance in Charleston, South Carolina, was torn down to add parking space for five cars.
We have all been guilty, and the superb illustrations in color and halftone are for the most part a reminder of what can be saved if we act now. I have only one complaint: the captions to these pictures are poetic when they should be explicit.
It was a happy coincidence that THE ARTS IN AMERICA, THE COLONIAL PERIOD (Scribner’s, $15.00) should be published this autumn, for it is a reminder of the extraordinary versatility of American architecture, painting, and the decorative arts which flourished here in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the period which we are now so eager to recapture and restore. This is a handsome and beautifully printed book; three of the essays in it are by staff members of the University of Pennsylvania who write so well that one turns the pages with mounting curiosity, and the captions to the 267 illustrations are fully satisfying. Louis B. Wright, director of the Folger Library, opens the book with his “From Wilderness to Republic,” a paper which skillfu ly points up the diversity of our settlers and the differences in taste and creativeness which developed simultaneously along the Atlantic seaboard.
THE TUG AND THE U-BOATS
JAN DE HARTOG was born in Haarlem, Holland, in 1914, and like Joseph Conrad before him, ran off to sea at an early age. His first novel, Holland’s Glory, published just after the Germans had occupied Holland in 1940, was a tough, gay story of the Dutch oceangoing tugs on which the author had served. Overnight, the book became a symbol of Dutch defiance, and sold three hundred thousand copies before the Nazis banned it. Here in his adopted country De Hartog has written successful plays, the best of them, The Fourposter. In his book The Hospital he has framed a true and shocking indictment of the conditions in an American charity hospital; but when he comes back to the sea, one feels that he is in his element, and with the death of C. S. Forester, there is no one to match him as a seafaring novelist.
THE CAPTAIN (Atheneum, $5.95) is one of those rarities in contemporary fiction, a real spellbinder, a he-man story, full of action, in which the hero is brave and likable. Captain Harinxma is a young brawny Dutchman, a loner who escapes to England with the fleet of oceangoing tugs which cross the Channel just before the Nazis invade Holland. As the Master of the Isabel Kwel, the largest tug afloat, he soon finds himself assigned to a convoy making up for the Murmansk run; his ship is armed with Bofors and depth charges, and he comes under the orders of an infuriating British commander who has already escorted four convoys through this Arctic hell. Harinxma is saddled with a green inexperienced Canadian who freezes under fire, a stubborn Dutch crew whose respect he has to win, and a cook who is a comic; he has to learn to control his brute of a tug in its new role as a rescue ship. The exposure and terror of that long and punishing convoy have never been so powerfully depicted. The art of this book lies in its unforced masculinity, for these men are real. I cannot say as much for the love story.
SOMERSET MAUGHAM CONFIDES
There were two Somerset Maughams, the social, cynical professional, putting in his four hours of handwriting every day wherever he might be, mercenary as the devil but often helpful to young artists, and, with his dry wit, a companion of great charm when he chose to be. The other Maugham was a smoldering, vindictive, wealth