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Richard Bogartz: Out With The Old, In With The New

It being out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new time again (is it ever not that time, moment to moment?), it might be delicious to consider the demolished barn. Last week’s Bulletin reports that a century-old barn with connections to Robert Frost will be the subject of an encore demolition delay bylaw hearing next month, even though it was demolished in November. Let us enjoy.

For appetizer, Robert Frost. Someone “declared that the barn was built by Warren Brown and possibly frequented by his friend, Frost.” What does “possibly frequented” mean? Is this the barn “less frequented by,” and so a natural choice for Frost? And where is the other barn, just as fair, that he kept for another day? Does a barn acquire historical significance because a historically significant person may have spent time in the barn?

President Obama is a historically significant person. Does this mean that every gym where he might possibly have played basketball is now a historically significant structure?

Another point supporting the barn’s historical significance is that “it was designed by a female architect, a rarity in that era.”

How does the low frequency of female architects at the time accord historical significance to the barn?

In light of the fact that only about 6 percent of nurses are male, should any hospital employing a male nurse be deemed historically significant? If 6 percent is too many, what percent gets you there?

Some want “remedies for the loss of a significant (structure) that was irrevocably compromised in the demolition.”

Compromised? The Lewis Black in me wants to angrily bellow “It was DESTROYED!” That seems to go a bit beyond compromised.

I have confessed before that I am attitudinally limited when it comes to preserving old stuff. When it comes to preserving old stuff because it is associated in some way with other dubious old stuff such as possible visits by dead poets, my limitations soar. Let us preserve the poetry. If the old stuff is inherently beautiful and not just old, such as a Frank Lloyd Wright house, then I am with the preservationists. (Full disclosure: the online photo I saw of the barn showed what to me was a beautiful structure. I can appreciate the loss felt by the neighbors.) But I also understand that creation, maintenance and destruction is the natural way.

Spillables spill. Breakables break. Changeables change. It is not the spill, the breakage, the change, or the destruction that causes the pain. It is the attachment.

Beauty comes into our life. Beauty goes out. We should let it leave as easily as we let it arrive.

Here comes the dessert with whipped cream! Now that the barn has been demolished, the case is being returned to the Historical Commission for rehearing! Although the Historical Commission used all 11 criteria in Zoning Bylaw Article 13 and found that the barn did not meet a single criterion for it to be judged historically significant, the question is to be reconsidered. The building commissioner issued a demolition permit to the property owner and the property owner lawfully demolished the barn. According to the Bulletin, an associate town planner said that the owner “took a risk when he went ahead with the demolition despite the appeal” of the decision. (Sorry, but you take a chance and you incur a risk.)

What can come of this? If the commission reverses, will the property owner have to reverse time and make the barn reappear? Or perhaps reconstruct the barn and then wait a year following which he will be able to demolish it again? This is sounding rather like the military.

Finally, one is left wondering how much these protests have to do with love for the barn and how much is concern that the owner may be planning to add another rental unit to the property in a part of town that is feeling less than welcoming to more student tenants.

Richard S. Bogartz is a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

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