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Old Posted May 14, 2015, 4:55 PM
OldDartmouthMark OldDartmouthMark is offline
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Originally Posted by JET View Post
Mark, I looked at those photos before I read your comments, and it seems that we saw different things: you saw slums and poor living conditions; I saw buildings that look similar to 1930 pictures of my house, people lived more utilitarian lives then, they hung laundry, my area of downtown dartmouth was know as slabtown, due to the slabs of wood that were used for fences, people had barns and sheds and horses and chickens, and vegetables growing instead of flowers gardens. The back of the building looks like the fire escape from my attic apartment I rented on Brenton St my first year at Dal 1976; it's still there and worth a lot more than my house. Black and white photos don't show the degree of colour that life had then. As Coolmillion said a lot of those old buildings had strong bones, and if they survived were upgraded and are much sought after; those that survived the neglect and disinterest.
In retrospect, I'm not sure if these were the best photographic examples to use in my post. The picture quality is poor and perhaps these aren't worst case examples, but if one wants to spend time they can pick out signs of deterioration from the exterior, which typically could be the proverbial tip of the iceburg, a clue to much worse problems potentially lurking within.

To be clear, I'm trying to get a feel for the situation that led to redevelopment and Cogswell - trying to understand what happened, why it happened, and its ramifications to today's Halifax, through reading whatever literature I can find, and of course through whatever photographic evidence is available. I'm not trying to sell an idea one way or the other, just trying to gain perspective.

Therefore, in this case I think we need to consider context. In the mid twentieth century, most of these buildings would probably have been about 60 -80 years old. They would likely have had rodent infestations, mould problems, generally a high level of wear and tear on the trim, flooring, fixtures, plumbing, etc., poor to inadequate heating and electrical systems, crumbling and leaking foundations, etc. etc.

Many of them were owned by landlords who would spend as little as possible to keep them up in order to maximize their profits. There were not a lot of regulations governing landlords as there are today. Reading the Stephenson report, it appears that in actuality the people in the worst buildings were paying more per square footage than people renting larger, nicer places for example. He paints a sad picture where people were limited by their income, health and social status at the time and did not have options to move out of these buildings except perhaps to take a chance on buying cheap suburban land and building a small shack to break the cycle. According to his writings, some succeeded, some couldn't keep it going and ended up where they started. (Cynically, I could say that he was writing prose to promote a point of view, but I'm trying to look at it in a more balanced fashion, and thus am taking his word as fact - perhaps a mistake?).

As you mentioned, back then people lived more utilitarian lives, and thus had less luxury for sentimentality. I don't believe that the average homeowner would be able to go to the effort of a complete rebuild just because they thought it was "neat". They often had large families and jobs that did not pay so well. Thus they would have less free time and extra money available to take on such a project, even if they wanted to. While people were typically more "hands on" than they are today, they were also more practical and would spend the efforts on making things functional rather than restoring it to original because it was 'quaint'. As my 91 year old mom-in-law says, people would not be so excited about antiques if they had to use that stuff back in the day. The creature comforts and technology that we take for granted today were either very new or hadn't been invented back then - people did not relish washing their clothes using a washboard or want to heat their homes from a central stove because it was nostalgic - the old stuff just simply didn't work as well as the new stuff at the time. This nostalgia is really a product of modern times, when we have it pretty good and now have the luxury of looking back at 'simpler times' with a sense of fondness (i.e. rose coloured glasses).

Today we can appreciate the building styles of the past, and if an old home has strong bones as you said, it's worth consideration to restore it, which could involve such things as: replacing the foundation, updating the electrical, plumbing, heating, adding insulation, cosmetic restoration, etc. It involves a lot of work and time (I've known people who have spent years renovating their old houses on their own) if you do it yourself, and a lot of expense if you pay somebody else to do it. Not everybody, even today, is willing/able to do this. In fact I'm sure if no old buildings had ever been torn down there would be a good percentage of the public craving for the newest and greatest, that would be disappointed and angry about it (actually exemplified often in this forum).

And to be honest, I think that one of the reasons that the prices for these restored, older homes are so high really just comes down to simple supply and demand - since a comparatively low number of these homes remain today in pristine condition, they are sought after by many who want that type of living style - of course location figures into it also, as the older homes are often located near the central part of the city.

Don't get me wrong, I tend to be a strong proponent of saving and repurposing old structures, but I am trying to separate how I feel about it today from the perspective of people who were living in them 60-70 years ago. Sometimes it can be tough to try to imagine the viewpoint of the past from a current point of view.

All IMHO, of course. Not sure if I addressed your comments all that well, as I tend to ramble sometimes...
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