The House on 116th Street

Click on image to begin slide show.
Click on image to enlarge.

by DIANA SHAMAN

I wonder what sort of family lived here once in this sad old house on 116th Street surrounded by a graffitied plywood fence that warns outsiders to stay away and awaits the arrival of the wrecking crew.

Next to Active Driveway--No Parking, a wag has painted in black marker a devil's face, with horns, a woman in a fancy dress with hat and high heels, and a picture of E.T.

If anything, these added touches make the fence more chilling. They seem to smirk, as if this were some kind of joke. The trees of winter, an apple shorn of spring flowers, a bare oak trembling with cold, help remove whatever memories of warmth and happiness might still have clung to this empty home with its enclosed front porch, an attic, and faded green paint.

Families who lived here once probably had lots of children, I think. It's just that kind of place, suburban, residential, with neat front lawns and substantial houses all different architects and designs. What the houses share are many bedrooms, garages where children can store their bikes, and full attics where they can play pretend and dress up in old clothes that are too good to throw away, but no longer good enough to take up space in downstairs' closets. I remember growing up that way.

I love the old architecture with its sometimes whimsical touches of tiny balconies, open porches where rockers creak on sultry summer nights, turrets occasionally, fish scale siding, slate roofs, and all the unnecessary rest that make the heart sing.

I fear the old house, like too many others in the neighborhood, will be replaced by something very modern, very stark, substantial in a different way that yells at passersby, Look at me because I've made it, and so I'm bigger.

There are so many of these new houses, crowded on parcels never intended to contain so much brick and mortar, towering to the extent the building code allows over the old-timers that made this neighborhood a 19th Century village designed by someone who loved a London botanical garden, trees and green space and large front lawns with modest driveways and places for children to play.

No Parking signs on plywood fences, with huge houses mushrooming behind them, are everywhere now, the mark of prosperity. What makes the house on 116th Street so much sadder is that it still fleetingly exists to remind us of a time when ordinary families could afford ordinary houses, and children played on front lawns and on sidewalks instead of inside dark rooms where the television is the only sound.

Earlier Articles:
  •   New Development in Kew Gardens
  •   Autumn Scenes in Kew Gardens
  •   Lantern Festival at Maple Grove Cemetery
  •   They Lift Up their Voices Every Friday