Is It Just Me?

During a morning walk to Black Crow Coffee in the early days of the pandemic, John and I took a nostalgic detour down 7th Ave NE, past our first home in St. Pete. It was gone, as was the garage. There was just a big hole between the tiny stucco one-story and the mid-size two-story that been occupied by our former neighbors. 

Startled, we wondered if Joe, the man who bought our house in 2006, decided on a tear-down instead of a renovation. Despite the nice porch and spacious back deck, the house did have a lot of issues. We wouldn’t have blamed him if he had plans to enlarge the kitchen, move the laundry room, or create decent bedroom closets.  

But the next time we were in the neighborhood, we were stunned to see that a dreaded McMansion was being stuffed into the space formerly occupied by our charming little house. Between gasping and swearing, we said, “Surely Joe wouldn’t be doing that! He was so normal! He must have sold it to crazy people with no sense of perspective!” 

We watched with horror as the structure grew, looming over what we still refer to as Ed and Karen’s little house, and nudging right up against what is still, to us, the house that belonged to Alice and her daughter, Bonnie. One of the final touches was a fence – not a friendly picket or wooden one, but the foreboding, overdesigned kind in which black metal is interspersed with stucco pillars that match the house. Talk about off-putting! We were glad none of our old neighbors still lived there to witness the debacle. 

It’s true that John and I enjoy the clean lines, high ceilings, and airiness of contemporary-style homes, having owned two. But location is key. Our first was on a huge lot in Boston’s wooded suburbs, where there were no other houses in sight. And the second was in a Phoenix community of homes that looked just like ours. In both of those places, the houses fit the environment. 

But whenever we see a teardown happening in our current vicinity, we fear the worst, and it’s happening more and more. A contemporary colossus pops up and destroys the visual harmony of any given street, dwarfing the adjoining houses and yards that have existed side by side for decades. It’s hard for me to believe the behemoth builders don’t realize they’re completely ruining the look and feel of a neighborhood. I think they know it and don’t care, because for them, personal preference wins out over architectural history and harmonious design. 

And that means the appearance of each new house instills in me an immediate dislike of its owners – which is very atypical Old NE behavior. We’re the kind of people who bake cookies and buy bottles of wine to welcome new neighbors.  But God forbid one of these thoughtless McMansion lovers ever decides to encroach on our block.  So far, we are safe, but it could happen.  

And if it does, I’ll have just one message for the pretentious newcomers behind their gate:  don’t expect cookies or wine from me.  If you don’t care about fitting in, I don’t care about making you feel welcome. That’s my line in the sand.    

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