Whitcomb Street Historic District

It all began because Alison and Maynard “Kim” Knapp decided they really really wanted to live on the 100 block of S. Whitcomb street, presumably because it is a picturesque Old Town neighborhood.  And  of course it doesn’t hurt  that property value in Old Town neighborhoods have only gone up, not down, through all the vicissitudes of The Economy.  So, they bought the house at 122 S. Whitcomb (see picture below, circa 1995), a Queen Anne style house built around 1900: it was a bargain at around $230K, but it was also not-so-slowly going to seed through “demolition by neglect.”  It had a “twin” right next door, which at one time was also in a pretty decrepit state, but the owners chose to restore that house — and did it quite well too.


But the Knapps wanted BIGGER and BETTER, because the original house was 1) too small for their needs, 2) would cost too much to renovate and anyway was probably beyond salvaging (asbestos, among things, though asbestos removal can be considered almost a routine part of renovation projects in Old Town),  and 3) hey, it’s their property and they can damn well do whatever they want.  They hired David Hueter to design and HighCraft Builders to build them a BIGGER and BETTER  house, and set about overcoming all neighborhood objections (although in their defense, one must admit that they did in fact do everything they were legally required to do).

The houses on the street were simple, vernacular homes built mostly between the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, with some in-fills from the 1920s to 1930s.  They were not showy houses, because the homeowners were mainly middle-class people of modest means; the fancier residences were around the corner on Mountain avenue.

S. Whitcomb street





This is the Knapp House:


I love that chair on the porch;  maybe it is there so that the new owners can have a nice view of the street with its array of cute old houses?

Quote from Dwight Sailer of HighCraft Builders on behalf of the Knapps when they applied for a building variance (because such a high style house cannot possibly be expected to follow the usual building codes):

It is our intent to introduce a classic architectural element, a turret, in a fresh and modern expression.  This turret is recessed back into the facade and becomes one with the building and not a dominant but a complementary element [emphasis mine], even though it is larger than the allowable 6 feet.  Our goal is to preserve but also enhance the Old Town feel of this neighborhood and we feel we have accomplished this [emphasis mine].

Oh, I love the chutzpah of this statement, particularly the last sentence.

The Knapp house is next door to the “twin” (the yellow building) of the demolished house, as close as you can get to the property line while still maintaining the required number of feet.   IMG_2412

HighCraft Builders actually claimed that the Knapp house would have minimal visual impact on the historic character and integrity of the existing neighborhood.  I am just so glad that the historian hired to do the architectural inventory survey was not responsible for that particular statement.  IMG_2405

Nothing like enhancing the neighborhood.

I suppose the Knapps really believed that their house would be a welcome addition — after all, Alison Knapp told the Landmark Preservation Commission that there were neighbors in favor of the design . . . .  And this is why people need to learn how to do math: at the most, just 3 of the other 13 property owners may possibly have been in favor of the design; clearly not a mandate, unless you are one of those people who just know that what they are doing is right.

All this is why there is now a Whitcomb Street Historic District: because of their arrogance, Alison and Kim Knapp pissed off 10 of their neighbors, and these homeowners willingly jumped through all the many legal hoops to get their block designated a landmark district.  So, kudos all around: to the Knapps for being just short-sighted enough to misjudge their neighbors, and to those tenacious neighbors for believing that their homes were worth preserving.

Red Chair Reads: The Case of the Lamp That Went Out

Augusta Groner (or Auguste Gröner, 1850-1929), the “mother” of Austrian women crime fiction writers, wrote a series of detective stories featuring the innocuous-looking Joseph Müller, Secret Service detective with the Imperial Austrian police.  These stories and novelettes were set in the last years of the Habsburg Empire, a twilight world of bureaucracy and hierarchy populated by people who clung to a moribund social and political order because to not do so would be to question everything they knew to be true.

A young maid discovers a dead man in the ditch on a quiet street in a respectable city neighborhood.  Though young and well-dressed, he had a face of dissipation . . . .  Perhaps he deserved to die after all.     The Case of the Lamp That Went Out was not much of a mystery, but then again, I did not read it for the story.  It is valuable for what it says about the ordinary men and women of late-imperial Austria, who went about their own business and believed that their lives were ones of law and order, presided over by a benignly powerful monarch who had been on the throne so long that he was indeed “the empire.”  In this world, even a debased gentleman understood that honour meant one sometimes had to pay with one’s life, and that the monarch, as distant as he was, was the ultimate source and expression of Austrian justice and clemency.  It is a portrait of an empire that should not have limped into the 20th century, let alone into the second half of the 19th century.

Feeling Virtuous

Sometime during this past summer I lost my quilting mojo  —  which was unfortunate because I left the quilt back I was working on taped to the floor.  5 months later, I had to admit that the quilt was not going to be finished anytime soon . . . .  during those 5 months, the masking tape had left a nice layer of residue on my beautiful hickory floor (note to self: use low residue painter’s tape next time).  DH, noticing that I looked like I was about to start crying, spent the next hour helping me lift off the tape and clean up the residue.  Ah, the wonders of Goo Gone!

Two days ago, I finally took out my trusty Singer and did some crafty sewing:

heating pad
My beloved heating pad, after years of faithful service, was leaking flax seeds from fabric weakness. I figured the seeds were still usable, so I decided to make a new heating pad.  I rehoused the seeds in the Rejuvenation bag, which came originally with a bunch of switch plates.  For the outer cover, I foundation pieced fabric scraps to a piece of muslin (recycled from kitchen curtains), and used some leftover flannel from the chemo quilt I made for a friend for the “warm and fuzzy” side of the cover.  Reuse, reuse, reuse:  I feel so very virtuous 🙂

New Year’s Day, 2013

New Year’s Day hike at Devil’s Backbone Open Space, 4.25 miles:

IMG_2385In the years since we were last there, many more signs:


IMG_2389Clearly, signs exist to be ignored 😦

IMG_2377Many more houses, unfortunately of the McMansion sort — but I suppose if I were silly enough to want to live in one of those, I would consider the view well worth it.  If.

IMG_2396I must be lucky: DH, The Teenager, and I . . . .  even if I am now the shortest one in the family.