I had the distinct pleasure of beginning a photography initiative at the Duke Estate alongside wonderful people this week. In an effort to spread awareness of the management of historic properties in America and what it takes to save them- one timeless place at a time.
As a very brief background, the USA is one of a very small number of countries in the modernized world that still treats its historic buildings and homes like outdated garbage. In other established countries like France, England, Belize, and Japan, the demolition of historic or contributing historic/antiquated properties is far less frequent in comparison. Why is this?
America prides itself partly on being bigger, more modernized, and improved- which means cleaning up ‘blemishes’ or ‘unsightly’ reminders that we participated in less-sophisticated times. It’s a silly thing, really. We do the same thing with scars by putting all kinds of expensive creams on them to make them go away- to erase any physical reminders that we experienced something in the past. Why does it all have relevance to Duke’s Estate? It appears as though they have attempted to put vanishing cream of their own on several of the artifacts from this week’s voyages.
Let’s take for instance (1) the heron statues at the site of the mansion, (2) the original south gate gatehouse being completely revised and (3) the rusty original iron gates that now sit behind the coach barn. It seems like new and not-comperable changes are considered ‘necessary modifications’. While they are well-intended, these particularly strike the RRBlog staff as short-changing the historic integrity of this magnificent property. Author’s note: the featured banner image in this post also includes
The twin herons are actually part of a much larger structure- a double circle fountain- that once flanked a beautiful glass-paned room of Duke Mansion. For the greater part of the recorded local history, these herons were colored green with a naturally-occuring patina of sorts. In propaganda photos for the demolition (2015-2016), these herons are noted for their wingless nature- but even then- they were aqua green like the Statue of Liberty. Today, they stand restored, wings clearly attached, but repainted to resemble real herons but somehow standing out against the rest of the property’s natural aging. While it’s not the worst thing by far, it’s clearly not blended with the property’s flow.
The south gate gatehouse is actually news to me, despite it making perfect sense. Likely in attempt to accommodate larger numbers of guests for 2012’s restructuring, the original gate house at this location was taken out in exchange for a pedestrian gate to supplement its wider automatic counterpart. Once again, I have to ask what was so wrong with what was there before. …Probably nothing, but restoration is a scarce commodity.
Finally I was particularly disturbed when I sought refuge in the women’s restroom behind the coach barn. When I went up the stairs, something made me turn to the right, where my eyes locked on a bright orange rust color. It wasn’t just the color, but the shape that made me stop paying attention to my needs. Within a small fenced-in area, a set of beautifully-crafted gates leaned sideways in a lonesome, tired fashion. There was something familiar about them, although no one in my walking party could place them. From the thorough rust, it was only evident that they were definitely original to the estate. Once again, this begs the question of why, when a nonprofit is as financially loaded as Duke’s, doesn’t it spend the money on restoring these and reusing them to maintain originality and design? If we slowly replace or redesign the elements that make a property unique, we will be left with no original fabric of it’s intricately-woven tapestry of landscape features and components.
What is the real point of using these vanishing cream method if it is such a compromise of individuality? Arguably, this is one of the methods of historic ‘preservation’ that simply isn’t preservation, it’s modernist replacement.