Two weeks ago, I attended the monthly meeting of my city’s Landmarks’ Commission, which I am the Secretary for. Our goal is preservation. Not only do we strive to assist our community in preserving their historic structures, but the stories those old buildings tell just by looking at them. I’ve asked Scott to assist us in a project to create a historic downtown walking tour. We immediately began searching through online databases, rummaging through personal collections and flipping through the public library’s archives in search of “Before photos,” which date back to the late 1800s. We need these photos so Scott can take “Now photos” of these buildings, over 100 years later. This was to be an inspiring project, but instead my heart sank to find pictures of the beautiful and prominent downtown buildings that once stood confidently and played major roles in the city’s economy, to now no longer exist. It was saddening to witness a photograph of a wrecking ball swinging freely, as bricks that had once been laid one by one with leathery hands, sweat and toil, now crumbling defeated below.
In American Horror Story, Constance warns the maid who haunts the famous L.A. “Murder House” of a developer who plans to purchase the historic mansion, knock it down and build apartment complexes. Constance points out, “You’ll be scrubbing toilets in low income housing units for all eternity.” This is all relevant in my eyes. I’ve communicated with past lives that still linger in the historic buildings we’ve investigated- their once prized home, hotel, business… Yet, what about the buildings we were unable to investigate because they no longer exist, other than in faded black and white photographs? Did the souls of those buildings vanish like the crumbling mortar? Or are they still there, lost… confused… saddened by what their existence has become? This is the eternity that we have created for them.
Doty Island was once and Indian burial ground. Many of the unmarked graves were unknowingly encased by concrete roads, cinder block basements, garages, gazebos, and swimming pools. These people were born, raised, lived, fought, died and were buried on this land and now they have been built over- something my island neighbors try to forget. Sometimes Scott and I hear knocking on our patio door or scratching on our upstairs window, footsteps and walking on the wooden floorboards. Periodically, the Shar Peis perk their ears and we watch their eyes follow the air. I can’t help wonder if it is those who have gone before us still wandering the island still today? Maybe these are signs of them trying to warrant us away or them still making attempts to protect their land? Maybe they do not approve of the trees being cut down and new ticky tacky houses popping up all over… maybe they too, just want to preserve the community as it was back in their day… not too different from the landmarks commission’s goal today.
As generations fall and new are born, this earth becomes more crowded with the “before” and “nows.” Buildings disappear and so do people- but are they all really gone for good? Or just from our vision? As we make attempts to preserve, we must also embrace change and make way for the future; whatever is preserved or destroyed may someday be our eternity as well.
Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year! – Vicky