Die-Hard Preservationists?

This week I’ve been trying to allay concerns in the community that have circulated during the past year. In my previous post I talked about how nonofficial venues are not threats but complements to the formal work of the civic association and its committees. Here I want to address the misconception that advocates for stricter enforcement of the Guidelines are die-hard preservationists who want to freeze the neighborhood as it was fifty years ago. Here’s my take on this.

After we’d lived here a short while, I figured I understood Hollin Hills — as a certain kind of modernism, a particular slice of time, that moment shortly after the steel and concrete of the Bauhaus melted into the organic forms of Neutra, Schindler, and, yes, Goodman. Then on the Fourth of July two summers ago, Mary Normile invited Kelly Valceanu and me to come visit her house around the corner from the picnic. We hiked over and walked up to the second floor of her split level and I was astonished. Here was this Carribean paradise, complete with a side room full of exotic birds chirping, open cabinets revealing rustic dishes, windows that looked out on to lushness. Mary’s house had the soul of Jamaica and it was firmly planted in Hollin Hills. That’s when I realized these houses could do so many different and unexpected things. …. The Damitz’s perfect square house that now evokes Frank Lloyd Wright… The Cox’s house with a potter’s spirit, with every space a tableau of special objects. … The Cohen’s house with its icons of high modern design… The Carr’s house full of colorful contemporary art… The Polo’s house with a wall of glass in the back looking out on to an incredible vista.

But what ties these houses together are the elements, a certain proportion in the windows, a particular kind of siding, rescued brick, a rhythm of elements and proportions that repeat from one house to the other. And of course there’s the landscaping that makes Hollin Hills so utterly different from most any neighborhood anywhere else. I’ve meditated on these elements on many long morning walks.

What makes Hollin Hills Hollin Hills? Not fixed notions of 1950s modernism, but the elements of the design itself, elements that are extremely well put in the Design Review Guidelines and the little landscaping book published by the Civic Association in 1989, A House in the Woods: A Landscape Aesthetic for Hollin Hills written by Dennis Carmichael. While only the former are enforceable, both can be recommended as aesthetic, community ideals. My hope is that those are the design ideals that guide this neighborhood into the future.


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