Kit houses, dark green spaces and ‘Hollywood’
Driving down the valley the car came to an abrupt stop as six deer gingerly sauntered across the roadway from one green space to another. The roadway was Charles Street, less than two blocks from where it intersects with Brighton Road and California Avenue. The green spaces, most dear to deer, have been growing in number throughout Northside communities over the past decade.
Houses, mostly built well over a century ago, that provided homes to working families for generations have disappeared. Empty and badly deteriorated, most of these structures were leveled. In their place are gapping straw covered holes in the urban landscape. Demolition acts as an expanding cancer threatening the next block or row of homes. This is indeed the darker side of green and a sight too common in our communities.
Some may see this greening of our neighborhoods as a positive step into the 21st century — more trees, more deer, more turkeys. Others see it as a step backward. The question facing almost every one of our neighborhoods is how these dark, green spaces can be reincarnated with homes that are affordable to working families.
One solution to rebuilding communities was suggested by a team of urban planners who worked with the Central North Side Neighborhood Council in the development of a community plan. These urbanists suggested the possibility of the rebirth of kit houses, an early 20th century phenomenon whose time has come again.
Janet Gunter and Tom Wilson live in a kit house in Perry Hilltop. Their home is one of many such kit homes built throughout the Northside in the first half of the last century. Theirs was designed by Sears Roebuck.
Adam Meyer, a young Northside urbanist who has followed his heart to California, alerted me several years ago of the Sears houses he identified in Brighton Heights and Observatory Hill. These kit homes produced by Sears and other companies could be purchased from a catalog of different styles and sizes.
They arrived in a kit that included all building materials, hardware, electric fixtures, plumbing supplies, even down to the required number of nails, screws, bolts and nuts. Plans were supplied that were necessary to prepare a site for construction. They were smart looking, well designed and affordable. Here is a concept that could reclaim the destructive impact of dark green spaces in our neighborhood.
The kit homes of the 21st century might be a product of Lowes or Home Depot. Perhaps we Northsiders could work with a number of model kit home designs that would be affordable and expandable. In many ways it would be like the sort of common designs that led to the construction of the hundreds of late 19th century row houses throughout our oldest neighborhoods. Here my immediate thoughts went to Hollywood.
“Hollywood” was the name of the neighborhood where my mother and her childhood friends grew up in the 1920s and ‘30s. We now call that neighborhood California-Kirkbride. Growing up I constantly heard stories of what a great place Hollywood was.
Mom’s home is still there at the corner of St. Ives and Lamont streets. Unfortunately it is one of only a few homes that have escaped the forces of demolition. Folks with an eye for urban architecture can see the entire community of Calbride was built with a definite sense of style and unity.
While large sections of the row houses that filled the neighborhood are gone, the very site lends itself to redevelopment. Here the plan should not be piecemeal but address the whole. New styles should be integrated with the old, 21st century needs replacing those of the early 20th century like yards, parking spaces, etc. Calbride/Hollywood is perhaps the perfect site for kit housing that would reclaim abandoned straw covered dark green spaces with new homes, affordable homes, expandable homes and jobs for many folks trained to assemble the kits.
In the process the deer can head back to Cranberry where they belong.