Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

A sense of proportion and history

Wauwatosa, historic preservation

I love old houses, their surprises and unpredictability. Of course, when that unpredictability has to do with plumbing or electricity, the charm fades. Still, there’s something about adapting to a house built in another time that ties you to the stories that went before. It gives you context.

Two WauwatosaNow stories make me think other Tosans have some of that same sense.

The first is the plan of Mo's Irish Pub to move the modest ranch houses on the lots it bought for expansion. These are not houses that make people swoon with envy. They’re ordinary houses of the kind in which many of us grew up or raised our children. 

Kudos to the neighbors for objecting to the wastefulness of demolishing a perfectly good house, and kudos to owner Johnny Vassallo for respecting their wishes, for going the extra mile.

Sometimes I walk in Elm Grove, and I’ve been astonished to see fine houses being obliterated to make way for grand houses. A few years ago, the daughter of Clark Oil’s Emory Clark tore down his “dated ranch” and replaced it with a 12,000 square foot mansion with 14 bathrooms, a theater, and more. One visitor exclaimed "I feel like I'm in The Great Gatsby."
Of course people can do what they want with their land, within code regulations. But I can’t help wondering about what drives the need to replace the good with the grand. Or what it feels like for a single woman, rattling around in that much space.

I like a little more cozy, myself.

And as I said, I like old houses. Even ranches. I’m going to stop calling mine that, though, and call it “mid century” when I put it on the market in spring. That gives it a little more context and panache.

The other story is about turning Wauwatosa Avenue into a historic district. The Historic Preservation Commission is working on that designation for the wonderful houses between Watson and Warren avenues. Most of those houses are big enough to hold our dreams and more than enough possessions. And they delight the eye. They were built with an architectural sense of proportion that's largely lost in the era of builder-designed McMansions.

It’s a great idea. It would be a shame to lose those places with individual charm and character, with stories about our past, to something more – but less. Gatsby might have a thing or two to teach about that.

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