Friday, November 27, 2009

A Fair Hope for Hoboken (Reposted)

On Tuesday, December 1, I'll leave my old home in Fairhope and return to my new one in Hoboken. This is coincidental, as it was on December 1, 2007, that I moved (more or less permanently) from Fairhope to Hoboken the first time. Much of my adjustment in the two years has been in dealing with the differences and the situations that were much the same in my life in both places.

I posted the following in May of 2008:

My last post inspired a friend to write comparing Hoboken and its preoccupation with Sinatra to Fairhope, my last domain, and its preoccupation with the school that was at the center of the town’s attraction in generations past.

Probably the only similarity is me.

I spent a lot of energy in Fairhope working to preserve its heritage – both at the Organic School and in the history of the little utopian colony itself. Now that I’m in strange surroundings I’m most comfortable around the town’s historical neighborhoods and learning of its favorite sons and its old institutions, some removed and some restored.

This correspondent sees it as basking in the glory of others, even though the others are long gone. Maybe so. I suspect it’s just a different type of brain at work -- mine, mine being surrounded with memories and sometimes all but drowning in them. My home town, Fairhope, is facing its future by destroying its past and building new monuments. Hoboken, on the other hand, has retained much of its past while being open to the new where there is a buck to be made. There’s a difference, and to me the difference is in Hoboken’s favor.

We all have to live in the present and work toward the future. I’m told there is a lot of turnover in the population of Hoboken, and there is rampant political controversy in its conversion from an immigrant community to a bedroom for Manhattan. I could get involved in some of that after having visited the Open House at the Neumann Leathers Warehouse, now a rabbit warren of artists’ studios down by the river. Neumann Leathers is slated to be taken over for development, and there are many, including me, who hope that won’t happen to this unique haven for real artists. A fair hope for Hoboken, but probably there is no stopping the project.

However, Hoboken is no more obsessed with Frank Sinatra than Fairhope is with the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education. On the other hand, these are both pet projects of mine, and I enjoy sharing their good points with the world. Glorying in the past? I don’t see it that way. Certainly both locations are moving forward at a dizzying clip. It’s me who’s determined to keep the past alive.

“Maybe it's time for each of these locations to make their own glory; after all, ghosts don't last forever,” writes my friend. I counter with this – they are making their own glory on their own, and I am making mine in my own modest way. It just happens that one of my pleasures in life is poring over old pictures, talking to people about the way things were, and reflecting on what is good about the past and the present. The future will take care of itself.


Arthur Bruso said...

During the 1970's, Albany, NY (my birth town) ripped the heart out of it's community to build the Rockefeller Plaza complex and destroyed most of the 19th century architecture of the city in the process. True, the mayor at the time was against the project, but the governor, Nelson Rockefeller, had his way. The city has never recovered. It has steadily declined to the point that I barely recognize it as the place I grew up in. Apparently, the destruction of cities was done in the late 20th century as communities tried to figure out what to do with the loss of industry and the mass migrations of populations. What has emerged from the rubble is an economy based on real estate. As we become more dependent on real estate values and the supporting industries to generate income for communities, saving history becomes a financial burden. Erasing the past is an American institution. Combine that with fiscal realities and the past may be doomed.

Mary Lois said...

Arthur, that's one of the most depressing stories I ever read. I'm struggling to accept today's reality and stuff like this just makes me crazy.

Does anybody have a suggestion of how to deal with thoughts like "Erasing the past is an American institution"?

Few love to study and celebrate the past as much as I do. As long as I live it shall not be erased--however, I don't know how to make anybody else appreciate it.

Arthur Bruso said...

I didn't mean to make you crazy, but when I talk to other people about their ancestors and family histories, most don't know anything past their grandparents. A lot of people I know don't even align themselves with any particular ethnic group except American.

In my family, I have very strong ties to my Italian heritage which is my maternal side. There have been family stories that have been handed down and retold through the generations which are colorful and amazing. My father and his side of the family were all very closed mouthed about anything of the past. The Brousseau name has been in North America since the 1600s , but I have no idea how my father fits onto the family tree.

My paternal grandfather barely said 2 words to me the entire time I knew him. There were apparently scandals and secrets that were best forgotten. This is what I meant. America was the place to start over and reinvent yourself. Brousseau becomes Bruso and the ties to France are forgotten, perhaps irrelevant. For me, I feel the less for it.

jacques mullet said...

hirbanThe Egyptian rulers destroyed their predecessors monuments
or had a 're-do' so as to reinforce their stand above all others. The Roman Caesears did
the same. Erasing the past is nothing new.
My home town of Montevallo, AL,
has also changed as have the current 'important' named figures
(which I care little about).
I care about where I am, which you know is the Fairhope of LA
(won't that confuse readers, eh).
This utopian community oft read about long since gave way to money
and its affectations. Folks' needs
remain the same regardless; it is how the needs are met which includes 'modern technologies' that do away with histroical
places. An example from ML while here is about tearing down Theatre 98 and replacing it with
a 2K seat procenium fully flown
winged trapped and pitted stage house. hhummmmph! as I said in person. I like the old Theatre 98 and its many issues, and I like the past that it represents yet. I can be part of that and try to make more of the same, so to speak.
It may be that the lovely ML is home sick for more that the past physicality of cottages and institutions? May be Ml says one thing yet does another in terms of preserving antiquity? For me the
utopian idea is still here (and whatever was in the HO is still there if you can find it. Arthur seems to know where it is.) in the joy of most who come here to live, regardless of those personalities of past significance.
Being Gemini I can relate to other Gemini who have more than one 'way of being'. May be the ML Gemini just needs a break from time to time so as to change from GeminiA
to GeminiB. One Gemini rode the Orient Express the other composts
kitchen waste at the back door.

Mary Lois said...

Hard even for another Gemini to follow, jacques, but I think I know what you mean. There is a common thread, me looking for history I suppose.

To me the Utopian idea of Fairhope had to do with the founders' commitment to the theory of Single Tax. We all know that's pretty much faded now, as has the attraction of Fairhope for really original thinkers and oddballs. That the developers, architects, and newbies are tearing down the little city's old buildings with complete abandon is only a symptom of Fairhope's amnesia about its past.

Arthur says that is an American institution. Maybe so.

As to the building you revere, that's fine. I just don't think it's adequate for the purpose it has been trying to serve for some 30 years. There are some things that are not better just because they are old. It is not an example of any particular architectural style, and it is not a real theater either. It's just that having to fight the venue is not conducive to the best art. I'm not suggesting a bloated, oversized cow palace of a theatre, but one that might be better designed to suit the purpose.

jacques mullet said...

All agreed except for a couple of ideas. First, the challenge to create and present convincing shows
in the old church is part of what I like; knowing that momnent when the audience has truly suspended disbelief regarless of the place, the distance, or any lack of other theatrical propriety. That is theatre in its purest form to me. Huge cast , extravagantly produced shows,
especially musicals, make the old church inadequate, self-conscious, if buildings can have such.
"It is what it is," is the comment I make to those who wish to keep trying to make it like the Met. It does have a 'style' though not touted as a brownstone, or a victorian mansion. It is a style of the time and wherewithall
of its construction. I guess you could say that it is like
people in that you can't tell what goes on inside from the outter appearance. Your other readers
can see it for themelves if they wish
ML has seen it a plenty and has provided acting moments in the suspension of disbelief there.
Those type moments also make it what it is for those who were there in the 97 seats. May be to me, easier disbelief can be had through
'fighting against the venue' by
employing its strengths as a space rather than trying to overcome its lacks.

Without it Theatre 98 would not have a home. Then it would be just another crappy old building to be used as a gallery of some sort, or to be torn down for progress.

Mary Lois said...

I think I now know what people mean when they say that people in Fairhope get attached to the oddest things. An lover of old architecture generally, I have no attachment for that particular building. I'm certain that without it, the local amateur group (Theater 98) would not be without a home for long. And it could get just what it wants, be it an old building or a new design. There are millionaires aplenty who would donate to the cause.

It's quirky to love such a building, and I'm fond of quirky, so I wish more power to those who do. We all need a cause. This is not mine, no how, no way.