Depressing update: The house was demolished this morning (Friday, August 10, 2012). If you’re on the BGSU donations list, PLEASE call the Alumni Center and ask to be permanently removed from the “Donation Call List.” It’d be wise to explain (briefly) why you wish to be removed. The phone number is 888-839-2586.
Earlier this week, I received an email response from BGSU, explaining why the historically significant kit house on their campus must be destroyed.
The loquacious note I received made two points, both of which make no sense to me.
Point one: The home’s remodelings have diminished its historical value.
Point two: Moving the house to another site is not possible, because (and I’m quoting here), “it would simply fall apart if we attempted such an action.”
If they were pitching this “information” to some first-year architecture student, their prolix palaver might be more palatable, but I am not a first-year architecture student.
I am the author of six books on the topic of kit homes. My expert advice has been solicited and provided in two multimillion-dollar lawsuits. My books and I have been featured on PBS History Detectives, A&E’s Biography, CBS Sunday Morning News, MSNBC and BBC Radio. I’ve been interviewed by The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Dallas Morning News and 300 other newspapers and magazines.
Turns out, I know a little something about old houses in general, and early 20th Century kit homes in particular.
So let’s review these two points.
Point one: The home’s remodelings have diminished its historical value.
There’s so much that’s wrong with this statement, I’m not sure where to begin.
Saving the house “just because” it’s a solid old building made from superior quality materials harvested from virgin forests is one good reason to save this structure. And if this were the singular stand-alone reason to save this house, it’s a mighty strong one.
Saving the house “just because” it’s a classic example of a Wardway House (sold by Montgomery Ward in 1931) is yet another good reason to save this house. And if this were the singular stand-alone reason to save this house, it’s a mighty strong one.
Saving this house “just because” it’s one of the very last homes that was sold before Wardway Homes closed down their department is – again – another good reason to save this house. And if this were the singular stand-alone reason…
Saving this house “just because” it’s one of only 25,000 Wardway Homes that were built in the entire country is a good reason to save this house. And if this were the singular (well, you get the idea)…
And perhaps the most important reason is this: The BGSU house was a custom design from Wardway, and the BGSU Popular Culture Building was created in the perfect image and likeness of the Sears Lewiston.
It’s a Sears design (The Sears Lewiston), milled and manufactured by Montgomery Ward.
How many of those have I seen in my travels to 25 states?
Let me think about this for a minute.
Oh wait, there’s only ONE and there’s now a bulldozer poised in front of the house, just waiting to destroy it.
And what about moving it?
Experts have examined the structure and determined that it can be moved for less than $20,000.
Moving this house is a viable, realistic, win-win alternate solution.
So what about this “falling apart” business?
I don’t buy it.
I do not believe that this house would “fall apart” if it were jacked up and moved. Kit homes from this time period were extremely well built and incredibly solid. As mentioned in another blog, these framing members in this house are #1 Southern yellow pine, milled from trees that grew slowly in first growth forests. Slow-growing trees equals very dense lumber.
I’ve examined the lumber in dozens of old kit homes, and it is very dense, hard lumber. Homeowners report that they can’t drive a nail into the old floor joist without pre-drilling a hole. You’d have to see it to appreciate it.
And the “lumber” (and I use that word loosely) that you see stacked high at today’s big box stores doesn’t compare to the quality of lumber present in these pre-WW2 kit homes.
And that’s just the framing members.
The floors in these kit homes were typically oak (first floor), with hardrock maple in the kitchens and baths.
You read that right.
Maple. Solid, hardrock maple in the kitchens and baths. In the late 20s/early 30s, it was known that maple would take a beating in those humid, high-use rooms and last forever. I’ve met homeowners who pull up the old floor coverings in the kitchen and sand down those original maple floors.
They’re mighty pretty when they’re refinished.
That’s what BGSU is getting ready to knock down and send off to the landfill.
And it’s a sickening thought.
If BGSU really wants to destroy this historically significant house, there’s little I can do from my home in Norfolk, Virginia to stop them.
But I do know that they’re wrong about the home’s value: That house still retains a great deal of historical significance to the school, to the community and to the country.
And this house can be moved.
Tomorrow or perhaps early next week, this rare bit of Americana (handcrafted by a rugged individualist who went to the Bowling Green Train Station in November 1931, and picked up 12,000 pieces of building material and turned it into a beautiful home), will be transmogrified into 1500 tons of ugly construction debris at an Ohio landfill.
It’s a damn shame.
Just a damn shame.
If any readers have any ideas what can be done to save this house, please contact me immediately. Leave a comment below and I will respond within the hour.
To read more about the house, click here.
Kit homes get moved surprisingly often. Read about that here.
* * *
As a BG alumni I was appalled when I read this article. I immediately sent an email to the president of the university, Mary Ellen Mazey, voicing my outrage.
I suspect the majority of the college student are unaware of the situation and would be moved to act if were aware.
Sending email to the president of the university (email@example.com) might help. But contacting the campus newspaper might move the students to action.
I am a home owner in Bowling Green and I received the same response. The president Mary Ellen Mazey has been sending vaguely rude emails in reply to anyone that emails her.
I just spoke to the President’s office at BGSU. The house was torn down this morning. I’m feeling ill.
If they could move the old log cabin union from campus to Portage, Ohio back in 1955 why not relocate the Popular Culture building?
Is Dr. Mazey listening too much to Sheri Stoll and putting their checkbooks first rather than historical value of BGSU?
Well. I’m a BGSU alumnus, and the daughter of a professor (deceased). But I’m not about to call and have my name removed from the donations list just because of one building being torn down. That’s ridiculous. My association with BGSU has far deeper ties than this.
There are many assumptions made in this article, the first being the statements about the types of lumber and flooring used in “most” of these homes.
Did the writer visit THIS particular home to confirm that the lumber, beams and flooring matched the specifications?
Did the writer inspect the home to see if it was indeed still sturdy enough to withstand the stress of being removed from the foundation and relocated?
If the writer wanted it preserved so badly, why didn’t the writer come up with the money, buy the house and move it elsewhere?
Change happens. Nothing is permanent. Learn to accept change. It is ALWAYS for the better, even if it requires clearing the way first.
It’s funny you should ask how I know what I know. Seems like the email I received from administrators at BGSU also assumed I didn’t really have much experience in the world of kit homes and historic architecture.
Huh. Wonder what that’s about?
That aside, yes, I’m confident that the statements I’ve made in this article are correct. Perhaps you didn’t notice, but I’ve written a few books on this topic and one of those books is “The Mail-order Homes of Montgomery Ward.”
Turns out, when you research and WRITE a book, you learn even more than when you READ a book!!! 🙂
And, dear little Popc House (may she rest in peace) sent me countless photos of her interior, including photos of lumber, millwork, hardware and more.
Barbara, yes they could have moved this house, but for reasons I can’t begin to understand, they chose not to. It’s really a puzzle.
I too am a BGSU alumna, and the daughter of a professor.
I did call and have my name removed from the donations list because of one building being torn down. It’s outrageous the way experts, historians, alumni, faculty, and members of the Bowling Green community were treated during this entire scandal.
My association with BGSU has been closely tied to the POPC House. I feel sorry for anyone who can’t understand the significance and value of the house that was destroyed this morning.
The house was a valuable cultural artifact and the true loser in the situation might in fact be Bowling Green, OH – my hometown. As there are no other known houses with such an illustrious provenance, it is a loss of a magnitude not yet understood.
@FalconForLife I can confirm that everything Rose wrote about this house is true.
Mostly because I’ve been in that building almost daily over the past two years and did a significant amount of work to document almost every aspect of this house possible before it was torn down.
As for the someone “buy[ing] the house and mov[ing] it elsewhere” – the administration repeatedly stated that was not a possibility.
And change isn’t always for the better. Sometimes, even frequently, it is for the worse.
As an alumnus of BGSU I have already made it clear that I will not donate to an institution that has no interest in preserving its legacy. The other schools I’ve attended, however, I will happily donate to. Paving over the past to build a shiny new bauble (or in this case, likely a parking lot) is shortsighted.
Preserving our past, and engaging with our history allows us to become critically engaged citizens. This is why other universities (better universities) often go out of their way to preserve their heritage – but not the current administration at ol’ BGSU.
This administration is more interested in drawing new students in and collecting those tuition dollars than it is in making sure those students learn critical thinking skills and are able to engage with the world around them. This whole situation shows just how little the president cares about being a caretaker of the university. Instead she wants to attach her name to perceived “progress” even if it destroys the history and aesthetics of our university.
There are many members of the community, academic and otherwise, including experts, historians, students, professors, alumni, and residents such as myself, who would disagree with you.
During this entire process, those who’ve fought to save this historic house have been treated very poorly and unprofessionally.
The woman who maintains this blog is an EXPERT on kit homes, and kit homes are NOT your average building. I know someone who WORKED in this kit home since he was hired at BGSU, and believe me, this house had a few flaws here and there, but overall, it was in excellent condition.
Why destroy a completely functional building only to erect something so costly — during a recession??
If I were a student or alum, I would be worried about my dollars being misused! As a resident, I care about my city’s legacy and heritage, and I’m concerned about the direction of the university as well as this town.
Is it possible to see those interior photos? I majored in Pop Culture at BGSU and feel really connected to the house.
I’ve been in it hundreds of times.
I would love to be able to see the friendly walls and rooms again.
Hi Michelle, Check out the Popc House on Facebook. Marsha has posted some photos there. 🙂
Bowling Green has always “tussled” with the University over issues like this.
I have always paid more than my fair share of taxes aimed at Education, even though I have no children as it has been my investment in our future.
That said, I feel that new stadiums, new band uniforms, etc are a poor way to use up their $$$ allotments. Help from the Tax base is good but use some constraint for the choices made.
“Change is always better?” Please tell me that statement was in error. Need I list examples throughout history were “change” destroyed cultures, races, groups, species, individuals, etc…?
You should just ignore FalconForLife. He/she appears to be an anonymous coward and nothing more than an internet troll who has posted negative tripe on every website they can find on this house. They have no idea what they are talking about, obviously!
I especially liked … “Change happens. Nothing is permanent. Learn to accept change. It is ALWAYS for the better, even if it requires clearing the way first.”
That was brilliant. All involved should be proud.
The people of the Weimar Republic might not agree that we must always “learn to accept change.” In fact, certain sects of 1930s Germany might well take umbrage with your “clearing the way” comment.
Generalizations are only generally true, and the new way is not always the better way.