Last October I watched and shot video as a builder demolished a 1,100-square foot house built in 1944 or 1945. It took less than eight hours for the small crew using a track loader to turn the one-story frame house into about seven bins of rubble that were carted away to a nearby landfill.
Over the subsequent four months I documented the transformation of the teardown site into a new 2,772 square-foot two-story single-family home that just went on the market for $589,000.
The Realtor’s website reports that the new home is a “classic two story bungalow [and] is designed to give a nod to historical design.”
Shortly after I published the first post documenting the teardown, I met the owner of the neighboring property to the south. His home was contemporaneous with the October teardown. He moved to the neighborhood after buying the 1,024-square-foot home in 1982. A few years earlier, the home to his south was torn down to make way for a new two-story single-family residence and he admitted that it may be time for him to do the same, i.e., tear down his home for a new, larger one.
As work was being completed on the October teardown site, signs appeared at the neighbor’s property announcing impending new construction. The electricity was disconnected and the house was cleared out. The day that the October teardown property was completed, signs with architectural renderings appeared at the neighboring property announcing the construction of a new home. County real estate records show that the owner sold it in December 2011 to the same builder who developed the adjacent property.
According to the Realtor’s website, the new home will be an “instant classic – based on designs and plans from historic Decatur bungalows, the finishes and design elements will be period inspired.”
Teardowns in Decatur’s Oakhurst neighborhood are contagious. Properties adjacent to teardowns are themselves subsequently torn down or have large additions constructed to screen their smaller homes from adjacent McMansions that loom above them.
I recently walked through the Oakhurst neighborhood doing an informal survey of teardown sites. I counted 155 teardowns with new single-family homes, many of which easily may be described as McMansions. There are about 1,200 single-family properties in the neighborhood. My informal survey suggests that more than 10% of the historic housing stock has been demolished. Beyond the loss of historic residential properties, a historic school was demolished to make way for a new school building that recapitulates many of the out-of-scale architectural elements that characterize the new McMansions sprouting up in the neighborhood.
Additional houses have undergone mansionization through the construction of pop-top second stories and large additions. Add to these numbers new infill housing and the likelihood of the neighborhood ever being designated historic diminishes dramatically. As I recently wrote, this is what many of my neighbors want, i.e., no historic district.
If the city doesn’t act to revisit the historic preservation issues, including a thorough analysis of an incomplete 2009 citywide historic resources survey, a point of no return will be reached and no amount of nostalgia or second guessing of past planning decisions will restore the community’s patrimony. It’s not just a historic preservation issue; it’s a larger economic and environmental issue that revolves around what happens when the community changes are not comprehensively considered.
In the video below, you can watch the transformation of 916 East Lake Drive from a 1940s vernacular house into a pile of rubble and finally into a “classic two-story bungalow.” The demolition footage has been accelerated; the original video is still on YouTube.
© 2012 D.S Rotenstein