Monthly Archives: October 2015

Ray Porfilio and Rickie Harvey

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Ray and Rickie have been good friends of mine since graduate school days in New York.  They had met while undergrads at Williams, and then Ray spent a couple of years studying law at Oxford (and rowing lightweight crew) before architecture school, which provided him with a broad education.  Getting to know Ray during first year turned out to be problem, as we sat next to each other in one studio and found that we had so many interesting things to talk about that it seriously interfered with getting our work done.  (Those of you who know me from later stages in my career can nod knowingly here, but it was really much worse in grad school than it has been since – when you put two people together who have this proclivity, it goes exponential.)

Ray and Rickie moved to Boston soon after graduation, where Ray worked for or managed a succession of very good firms at a range of scales, and Rickie continued her work in publishing and museums.  They lived in great old neighborhoods in Roslindale and West Roxbury,DSCF3869where I visited them whenever my travels took me to Boston.  They raised two children, Parker and Jaqueline, who to the amazement of all parents of recent college graduates, are employed full-time and living on their own.

Greta got to spend one evening with them before she flew back to Eugene for a visit with Linda, and then I stayed for several more days (the most extended visit we’ve had in over thirty years) which still didn’t give us enough time to cover all the topics at hand – book recommendations, architecture and growth in Boston, the vicissitudes of middle age, etc.  Rickie and Ray have both been very active in local politics – this year they are helping to lead an effort to stop or mitigate a natural gas pipeline that will be running five miles through dense Boston neighborhoods with few safeguards – and one evening they hosted a reception at their house for Michelle Wu, a first-term city council member whom they’ve know for years.  For an Oregon resident who has become used to bizarrely transparent and simple political processes over the years, it was eye-opening to spend an evening with their neighbors, all of whom seems to have much higher understanding of the inner workings and craft of politics than anyone on the West Coast.

Ray is now a principal at Epstein Joslin Architects (http://www.epsteinjoslin.com), a firm that works in  a wide range of building types, especially known for their work in performance spaces.  We took a brief tour of their office, which felt strange to me, as I hadn’t been in an office in years where at least a quarter of the employees hadn’t been students of mine.

As with so many old friends on this trip, it was a gift to be able to send so much time with Ray and Rickie, jumping right back into a conversation that has continued for decades.

The Boston that hasn’t changed

the Common

the Common

Revisiting a city where you’ve spent a lot of time is always a strange experience.  On the one hand, you immediately notice how it’s changed, all the new construction and the lack of familiar faces. It doesn’t seem like the city you knew, and you realize it is no longer yours, that life here has gone on without you and that it now belongs to a whole new generation of people.  But then you start to see beyond that, and you’re surprised by how many things you knew still remain.

I lived in the Boston area for six years, leaving in 1980, and I hadn’t been back since 1997.   I’ve gotten used to western cities, where everything is new, and to New York, where change is more rapid and extreme.  Boston has many new things (more on this in a later post), but all the old streets and places felt very familiar – I didn’t need a map, I always knew what would be around the next corner.  This is the first place we’ve visited on this trip where I had lived, and it was strange to be in these old places with Greta, who belongs to a very different part of my life.

perhaps the most beautiful state house in the country

perhaps the most beautiful state house in the country

Beacon Hill, the pleasure of a quiet, Federalist neighborhood in the center of the city.

Louisburg Square

Louisburg Square

the second Harrison Gray Otis house

the second Harrison Gray Otis house

Mt. Vernon St.

Mt. Vernon St.

one of my favorite houses, at the corner of Mt. Vernon and Joy Streets

one of my favorite houses, at the corner of Mt. Vernon and Joy Streets

the third Harrison Gray Otis house, on Cambridge St.

the first Harrison Gray Otis house, on Cambridge St.

The newer houses on Pinckney looked very good – as the rules were relaxed and architects had some fun.

Pinckney St.

Pinckney St.

Pinckney St.

Pinckney St.

Greta has remarkably little interest in conventional history, and we intersected with the Freedom Trail once in a while rather than following it.

the Granary Burying Ground, on Tremont

the Granary Burying Ground, on Tremont

the Old City hall

the Old City hall

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Marshall St., one of the few near Dock Square left unscathed by the Central Artery and Government Center

Marshall St., one of the few near Dock Square left unscathed by the Central Artery and Government Center

Copping Hill burial ground

Copping Hill burial ground

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Boston's unwillingness to discard the old was very evident at the Boston Sailing Center. Even though they had added some new boats, it appears that all the Solings I sailed when I belonged in 1979 are still there

Boston’s unwillingness to discard the old was very evident at the Boston Sailing Center. Even though they had added some new boats, it appears that all the Solings I sailed when I belonged in 1979 are still there

Quincy Market, with the same bunch of tourists

Quincy Market, with the same bunch of tourists

on Comm Ave

on Comm Ave

the Boston Public Library, McKim Mead and White

the Boston Public Library, McKim Mead and White, one of the greatest public buildings in the country

the Abbey mural room at the BPL

the Abbey mural room at the BPL

the BPL reading room

the BPL reading room

And then there are many parts of the city which are not really that old, but they were there when you were, so they too are bathed in the glow of memory.

the Richard Haas mural at the BAC

the Richard Haas mural at the BAC

Back in the day

Trigger warning:  I decided to separate the mostly personal from the mostly professional in my blogging about Cambridge.  The following post is about revisiting the places I lived while there, and may trigger recovered memories or waves of unanticipated nostalgia.

We started at the beginning:  Hurlbut Hall, my freshman dorm by the Union, which was full of misfits, eccentrics and savants.  It had a high percentage of single rooms, usually filled with those the authorities deemed too off-beat to share a suite in the Yard. DSCF3361I pointed out the various rooms where I and my friends and lived, and once again repeated my warning that you have to be careful to whom you speak the first day at college, as you may be stuck with them for the rest of your life.

I then dragged Greta to see the residential colleges, especially Leverett House, where I lived for three years.  McKinlock Hall (the older part) had recently undergone a major remodel designed by Kieran Timberlake, which I wanted to see.  Paul Hegarty, the building manager, took the time to take us on complete tour, so we got to see the excellent conversion of a former dead-pigeon space between the dining hall and the residential wing into a new entry/commons/lobby for meeting rooms,DSCF3462

the stately dining room, which was largely the same,DSCF3457

and the library in the new (1960) section, a serene space by Shepley Bullfinch, whose quality I had forgotten.  Greta got a gold star for spontaneously stating that the structure reminded her of the Johnson Wax headquarters.DSCF3443

Paul also introduced us to a lot of undergrads, and it was a pleasure to find that they were largely as I remembered from my day – funny and smart, and not all on the fast track to Wall St., as had been rumored.DSCF3461

Greta was especially pleased to meet a pre-med varsity football player, who averred that he didn’t know much about UO football, as he just wasn’t that into collegiate sports. On the other hand, I was pleased to see that Jeremy Lin was a Leverett alumnus.  DSCF3451

Then we moved on to Somerville, where I lived for two years after college.  The area in Cambridge near the Somerville line (Myrtle and Line Streets) was actually nicer than I remembered – well-maintained triple-deckers and houses on quiet tree-lined streets.DSCF3616

But then I crossed Beacon Street to Somerville.  I had heard that Somerville had gentrified;  perhaps the rents have risen (we paid $220 per month for a floor in a triple-decker), but the streetscape was as depressing as I remembered.  DSCF3634

A few more trees would help.  And then on to 66 Dimick, home to generations of friends:DSCF3624

our back porch, second floor on the right, hung with many string hammocks in the 70s.

our back porch, second floor on the right, hung with many string hammocks in the 70s.

The neighborhood was still unattractive, still full of graduate students, but there was one major, emblematic change:DSCF3638Johnny’s Foodmaster, one of the worst supermarkets on the planet, had been transformed into a Whole Foods.  Goodbye Slummerville.

Cape Cod

While revisiting a city where you’ve lived as an adult may elicit mixed feelings of familiarity and strangeness, revisiting a place you knew well as small child feels like coming home, especially if that place has barely changed.  My grandparents vacationed in Chatham nearly every summer for most of their lives (but unfortunately always stayed in the same guest house, instead of buying a place when they could have).  So my family spent a few weeks there every summer since I can remember.  I loved it as a child – the cool nights, the old, small town so different from our New York suburb, the ritual of walking to the beach every day.  I think my interest in architecture and towns can be traced back to those early summers.  Once again I wanted to show Greta a place where I had grown up by the sea, so she could see how that related to our own house on an island.

Chatham has changed so little that it was like being in a bad romantic movie where you step back into your earlier life.  Not only were the buildings unchanged, but many of the same businesses were there, such as the Mayflower, where one bought kites and beach toys and other critical things. DSCF3215

The cottages where we stayed were all gone, replaced by new McMansions, but the center of town has endured.DSCF3192DSCF3221DSCF3205

The most memorable part of the town is the walk along Main Street to the Lighthouse Beach.  The buildings are superb, but even more important, the open spaces of streetscape, yards, and drives have a wonderful scale that makes the walk a pleasure, no matter how often it is repeated.  DSCF3235 DSCF3239 DSCF3238

As it nears Pleasant Bay, Main Street makes a turn, and that corner is occupied by a beautiful open yard, a  gift to all the passers-by.DSCF3251

Glimpses from the street to the bay open up between houses.DSCF3270DSCF3295DSCF3319

The only discordant note comes from the spite-painitng of a Greek Revival gem.  It was previously a gift shop, but now is the home of a local non-profit.  Apparently the town denied their request to alter the historic building, so they did their best to ruin the street for all.  It shocked me that in a town where the individual homeowners have so carefully stewarded the experience of the public realm, a community organization can be so self-righteous and monomaniacal.DSCF3266

Other treasures remain.  This may be my favorite porch in New England, looking across the yard to an ancient copper beach, once again sharing this space with the public, rather than hiding it away.DSCF3283 DSCF3287 DSCF3290

One arrives at the lighthouse, which they must have copied from an Edward Hopper painting. DSCF3311

The beach across from the lighthouse.  Strangely, this has changed the most.  When I was young, the barrier beach to the east was continuous beyond Pleasant Bay, and access out to the ocean was to the south past Monomoy Island.  A storm in 1987 broke through the beach here, and in 2007 another storm created a large opening to the north.  DSCF3303

In contrast to almost every other place we’ve visited, here the built environment seems permanent, while the large elements of the landscape are in continual flux.

Jenny Young

A developing subcategory of “seeing friends” on this trip is seeing friends in places where they don’t really live.  Jenny is in this group, as normally we see her in Eugene, where she and her husband Don are both faculty members in the architecture department.  But they also own a house in Edgartown where they spend the summers.  This year Jenny is on sabbatical, staying in Edgartown and working on a book, so we decided to go distract her from this work.

A lot of Jenny’s work – design, research and teaching – has involved architecture in small towns, including an article she once wrote comparing the structure of Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, so she was the perfect guide to these places.  We walked around the campgrounds in Oak Bluffs, strangely deserted in the fall, and wandered to all her favorite haunts in Edgartown, including her daily ritual of drinking coffee (or in this case, cider) at the end of the yacht club wharf.

Besides being a great colleague, Jenny is also a great mom, and so she immediately slipped into mom (or aunt) mode with Greta, which was appreciated, as Greta had been living in dad-world for a month and a half.  Jenny cooked some wonderful meals, on what were the coldest, rawest days of our trip, suggested an endless series of snacks, and invited some friends over to dinner to meet us.  There was also the flip side of mom-mode, where she badgered us into a long bike ride to the beach into the strong wind and possible rain, when we might have sat inside and blogged, if left to our own devices.  (But that all turned out well, with a walk on the beach and the collection of a horseshoe crab shell in perfect condition.)

On a trip where we’re visiting many friends whom I haven’t seen in decades, it was fun to see someone who is normally part of our day-today lives;  it felt a bit like being at home.

Martha’s Vineyard

My blogging output has slowed to a crawl in Massachusetts – after spending the days seeing things, I  spend the evenings talking with old friends.  But I will make an effort to not fall further behind, and  so start off with Martha’s Vineyard.

The Vineyard has always been one of my favorite places, ever since visiting for the first time as a kid. What I always found most appealing was the incredible variety of towns and landscapes, each of which is beautiful in its own right, with the particularity of each heightened by the contrast with the others.  I think I’m especially susceptible to the qualities of the Vineyard from having gone there when I was young (when everything seems magical) and having returned from time to time, with each of these trips being memorable in its own way.  As we now spend our summers on a very different island in Washington, I wanted Greta to see what a New England island is like, how different and how similar. We spent a couple of days there with Jenny Young, our colleague and good friend from Eugene.

Arriving in Vineyard Haven, with a line-up of stellar boats behind the breakwater.  I’m used to the fine wooden boats in Port Townsend, but I had forgotten what a harbor full of classic boats in New England can look like.DSCF2978

Oak Bluffs is home to an array of crazy small cottages, built around the Methodist revival campground area.  DSCF2987 DSCF2997 DSCF3001 DSCF3003 DSCF3031

Edgartown, with its houses of whaling ship captains and small streets.  It is a beautiful town that hasn’t changed much, except for the price of real estate, having been discovered by the absurdly rich a while back, who have displaced the merely affluent.  After traveling across the country and getting used to the crazy juxtapositions of the built landscape, the consistency and quality of the town is a shock.  DSCF3094

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South Water Street

South Water Street

the lighthouse at the entrance to the harbor, where I learned to sail many decades ago

the lighthouse at the entrance to the harbor, where I learned to sail many decades ago

North Water St., with its array of captain's houses

North Water St., with its array of captain’s houses

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the imported pagoda tree, purportedly the largest in the country

the imported pagoda tree, purportedly the largest in the country

symmetry is greatly overrated

symmetry is greatly overrated

Eel Pond

Eel Pond

Aquinnah is the peninsula of colored clay cliffs at the southwest end of the island.  It used to be called Gay Head, and you used to be able to climb down the cliffs, until they realized that this was a very bad idea, contributing to the inevitable erosion.  DSCF3135 DSCF3138 DSCF3142

We didn’t have time to get to Menemsha, or spend any time in Vineyard Have or the inland places, but it was a nice break from the cities we’d been visiting.  And when Greta went to touch the ocean, I realized that we had really arrived at the other end of the country from where we started.

Cider and Donuts on Martha’s Vineyard

The cider stand on a street in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard smelled so good, there was no way we couldn’t stop our bikes and get some. The stand was operated by the Behind the Bookstore Cafe, and served coffee, fresh mulled cider, and homemade donuts. Neither the cider nor the donuts were overly sweet, counting on rich flavors instead of sugar to make it enjoyable. Which they both succeeded admirably in doing. The donut was the softest thing I have ever had in my mouth besides cotton candy. It was salted, which really brought out the sweetness of it. Any more flavor would have been overwhelming.

The mulled cider almost was overwhelming, and it looked almost as awesome as it tasted. It had little bits of apple floating in it, that rose to the surface then cooled and sank like a delicious lava lamp. Its taste was so intense that I couldn’t finish my whole cup then, I had to save it for later. A million spices I couldn’t even begin to identify covered my palate, in every taste except umami.P1040963

The stand is going to be open until December, so if you’re in the area, and can handle rich flavors, go get some cider. Seriously, even if you don’t like cider or are on a no-sugar diet, do it anyway. It is fantastic.