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This battle was lost, but the war goes on…

A watercolor by Zoe Borrell

My clients, Jack and Phoebe, were old friends from our days studying and working at Wainwright House in Rye, New York.

I built my first deck in the mid-seventies at their residence on Palmer Lane in Old Greenwich. Years later, as they prepared to move to the new home I was building for them in North Greenwich, we consulted on what to do with Palmer Lane.

This was a time in real estate history where “tear downs” were not the norm.

Phoebe and Jack were deeply connected to this small, comfortable home where they had raised their three boys. The property had the potential to be divided into two plots … which would put any subsequent house right on top of the existing house and garage. They did not want the property developed in this way. However, there was a view of Greenwich Cove in the distance making the land highly desirable for development.

My clients chose to remodel.

Phoebe and Jack decided to go ahead with a new master bedroom/bathroom suite on the second floor. We also replaced the kitchen counters, toilets, and faucets. In addition, we refinished the oak floors and painted the entire interior. Ready for the next happy family … or so we thought!

They invited a realtor we knew personally to be the Listing Agent, stating that the house and grounds should NOT be shown to developers under any circumstances. I was there on a Saturday, putting some finishing touches on the project while the house was shown to a young, clean cut couple from Ohio. They loved the house, oogled over the views and spoke of raising a family there. An offer was quickly made and accepted – an all cash sale concluded within a few weeks.

Well, it turned out that the couple was a front for developers.

The emerging cash cow of Greenwich real estate was evident. Within several weeks, the little house on the cove and all the work and love within it, fell to the wrecking ball – eventually becoming two prefabricated rectangles of unimaginable splendor.

In an earlier article called Permits, Ownership, Planet Stewardship, I wrote about passing on the legacy of craftsmanship and good karma to the next generation. At the heart level, Phoebe and Jack were deeply saddened by the dishonesty that created this prefab nightmare. It was not the future they had envisioned for 29 Palmer Lane.

In the bigger picture this movement to disavow the past while mining it for profit is why we are in the mess we are in at the moment. A great society builds on the strengths of the past, not destroying them.

The past 30 years or so, we have contributed to more than a generation of magnificent waste … so-called “progress.” Hopefully, we will get another chance to do it right when the next remodeling of history presents itself. I think, I hope, that time is NOW!