Sunday, October 3, 2010

Color and Eclecticism

Just back, and feeling refreshed and more optimistic, after a weeklong trip to Connecticut to visit family and friends, preceded by a couple of days walking around NYC and marveling at the stark, unmitigated vertical density of Harlem:

The bucolic, sophisticated urbanity of Brooklyn Heights:

The eclectic grittiness of eastern Brooklyn:

Then driving around central Connecticut with my dad and being frustrated by often repetitive, stultifying blandness and lack of imagination of upper-middle class contemporary CT subdivisions [...and so close to the cultural capitals of NYC, Boston, and New Haven!]:

And the consistancy of the colonial and ranch styles in even the older, more interesting and charming CT suburbs:

So I was thinking again about one of the neighborhoods I jog through- Glenview, about a mile south of our apartment here in Memphis, which is clustered around South Parkway. The Memphis Parkway system was the original, ambitious outer beltway [basically a rectangle: 4 Parkways, 3 miles long on each side. The area inside the Parkways is now known as Midtown] of tree lined boulevards and parks developed around the city at the turn of the 20th century-part of the City Beautiful movement and a response to the devastating local yellow fever epidemics of the previous generation; they ended up being a model for similar development around the country. (Of course, the city has now extended far beyond this original boundary, with a freeway loop a few miles further out, and an outer-ring loop planned- this city, low in density from the beginning, has never lost it's penchant for large lots- and the attendant feeling of sprawl....)

But the original Parkways are still important arteries, and give the city a lot of it's character. Each parkway seems to have it's unique characteristics and ambience. What strikes me about S. Parkway is the eclecticism of the houses along it. The north side of the street is defined by enormous [for an 'urban' area] front yards, and gracious houses in a variety of styles. I guess the eclecticism is not surprising because my "Field Guide to American Houses" calls this era (1900s-1940) the 'eclectic period'. Here's a few examples:

Colonial Revival
Blob with Italian Rennaissance Portico
Craftsman with weirdo 'Memphis' roof? (Historic Neighborhood sign proudly displayed in front yard)
Crazy steep roof Tudor [In TN gigantic, steeply sloped roofs are still popular, and referred to as 
'ego pitch']
The older houses are punctuated by various midcentury-ish houses like this genteel ranch. (Were the original houses torn down? Probably- houses don't last long here if they're not properly built: moisture and bugs get 'em right quick, or perhaps it was just due to changing tastes....)

And... on the south side of the street, the lots and houses are smaller, but the eclecticism is unabated:
Colonial Revival with Gambrel Roof
Tudor Revival Hybrid with Colonial shutters, and big southern porch with New Orleans style decorative metal posts and rails.
Gracious modern ranch
Tumbledown spanish eclectic
and my personal favorite- Craftsman Log Cabin.

The side streets do not disappoint either, with various smaller, funky, folky eclectic offerings like these:

Glenview is now primarily a black neighborhood, the result of white flight of the '60s and '70s. A few weeks ago I was at a party talking to a young academic couple, apparently liberal, and also Midtown residents, about jogging in the neighborhood. She was surprised I ran south from my house. She said she was told not to go south of Southern Ave., the words 'ghetto', 'sketchy', and 'blight' were used. There is large-scale blight in this city, but not in the part of Glenview near S. Parkway, which I imagine is due in part to higher incomes (i.e. large houses), but also to the beauty of South Parkway and the houses along it. There is certainly a sense of pride in the neighborhood, although a few of the houses look ill-maintained. One thing I noticed here-  a lot more bright color than in other good neighborhoods in town (such as my own, sedate, neutral 'Central Gardens' which is exclusively white). I'm seeing the prouder black neighborhoods in town are accentuated by the use of color in trim, shutters, and eaves- greens, blues and yellows are especially popular. I also noted rustic stone cladding, statuary[lions at entrances], and fountains in the front yards. These are folk patterns I find charming [particularly the use of colorful trim] and wouldn't mind seeing more of around town.
One thing I'm not sure of is why some neighborhoods of about the same era in Memphis are not nearly as interesting as Glenview. [A google search revealed nothing, even though this is one of 8 Memphis neighborhoods with status 'Historic Residential Suburb' on the national register] I'm guessing that the since South Parkway area was undeveloped at the time, it was therefore more liberal and eccentric as frontiers tend to be. 
Last point: this neighborhood reminds me a bit of a few of the same era neighborhoods in Berkeley and San Francisco- funky, colorful, folksy eclecticism- again- individuals making their mark at the frontiers [...and as I'm learning, Memphis was most definitely a frontier...] during an era when one's home could express one's style and personality by unashamedly choosing from the pallet of history and whimsy.


  1. Hey Dmitry!

    The 1st and 3rd houses in the Connecticut Drive section of this post reminded me of a movie w/ Bill Murray called "Broken Flowers." Have you seen it? It's unwittingly a documentary on Americana, and some of the places people live and how their personalities are depicted by where they live.

    I like your thoughtful posts... keep it up!

  2. Thanks, Gretchen! Yes, right, I did see it, should see it again.
    With this free time I find myself drawn to considering architecture and urbanism, new places and contrasts spark the imagination. I even started sketching some design ideas. Think I'll take a pad and go do some sketches of buildings.

  3. Dude your survey is so hardcore. You know way more about architectural styles than I do! Cool.

  4. Hey Amy- Thanks! I'm kind of a history and classification nerd.

  5. i enjoyed this very much....I love the history of Memphis homes....

  6. Great pictures, what camera do you use?