Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Rosemont by any other name...

Changing Familiar Landscapes
Interestingly, as a child, I was afraid of the giant earth movers digging up the hillside in California: I remember calling them "orange dragons." The color of the "monster" has changed, but when I see the toothed mouths gobbling up the land close to my home in Ellicott City now, I am suddenly connected to my past. And so it goes for many of us--I think.

Now, just seeing the earth movers doesn't necessarily mean
you know where it is happening. In truth, it is happening everywhere, even in this stagnant economy.

Gone, but not forgotten. We have visual memory. So a missing house or radically altered landscape is sure to catch our eye--and even make our mouths drop open. Perhaps after awhile, we accept change, but not in the early stages. Do you recognize the current construction site? Did you remember driving by this green house on the hill?

The property, above has changed: The house is gone; the earth is being reconfigured.
The green house on the hill and the hill, as shown, are now 'history.'

Karen Griffith, Howard County Historical Society Museum Curator, told me a few weeks ago that the prominent green house shown in the photo, above, (on Rogers Avenue) was named Rosemont. She offered this summary: Built in 1884, Rosemont, was owned by James H. Gaither and his wife, Rose. James Gaither ran a livery stable on Main St. He grew the hay on the land off Rogers Ave. In addition, he provided the stone that was used to construct the Historical Society building. Griffith continues, "The Rite Aid building was located on the former Buell's Restaurant and a pond where people skated in the winter is approximately where the Prescription drive-in is now." The land next to the Rite-Aid building in on the market.

So...from 1884, then, until 2009-10, anyone driving toward the District or Circuit Court on Rogers Avenue, off Rte. 40, would have noticed it. Not "it," precisely, because the landscape dominated the house as it sloped gently toward the road. This was intact, serene farmland, or
at least it had that appearance as you left the modern main drag.
I never really thought about what was inside the house, who owned it, what the back looked like; rather, Rosemont pressed its best-case view to the front, typically called "the public way." I think many people thought the site was protected, that the house would not be torn down. However, that assumption would have been incorrect, since the house and site--property--was not within the boundaries of the local historic district--Ellicott City Historic District. That local regulation (as opposed to a State or even Federal historic designation) would likely have prohibited the kind of wholesale change that has occurred to make way for an apartment complex. At least the project would have be submitted to the Historic Preservation Commission for review. Moving KIM PARR...


The focus of this blog feature is artist Kim Parr's ongoing, and in this instance, prophetic documentation of loss and change in Howard County. The painting of Rosemont as seen through the Rite-Aid pharmacy drive though structure is simply one of many examples of Parr's incredible work. The current storefront of KIMPARR, features other building sites in Howard County; she told me she has not painted the current excavation for apartments off Rogers Avenue up the street and across from Rite-Aid. But long before razing of the house and excavation and grade change of the site, artist Kim Parr had painted the historic green house on the hill in explosive juxtaposition to the Rite-Aid pharmacy's drive-through structure. The effect was jarring, at least to me, and one I have still not forgotten.

Left: I took this photograph on April 8, 2010 through the pharmacy drive-in structure to the hill where Rosemont formerly stood. The grade change can be seen in the background, appearing much like a series of steps.

Kim Parr writes:

I am interested in painting the changing American landscape, with a particular focus on real estate development because it is constant, current, and surprising in a disappointing way. It intrudes upon the places we live, in both memory and real time. I understand the importance and necessity of housing and shopping malls, but very often these new additions are ill placed. Poor planning makes them feel incongruous, awkward and imposed upon the landscape. I find this lack of continuity or odd juxtaposition unsettling, curious, funny, and sad. I make paintings about this.

In closing, she says this about her art: I paint about the loss, the process, and the result in hopes that the images will raise some questions, e.g., what are these new developments saying about our relationship with nature? Are there any ethical responsibilities with developers, architects and consumers regarding the changes being made to the environment? Will we regret our disregard for nature?

Parr raises thoughtful questions indeed for all of us interested in the landscape--and historic streetscape--we call "home" to consider. How can new construction be integrated in a way that serves public need, but also preserves the historic character of the land and the views of our land that make us know where we are?

Blog content: Kay Weeks
Photographs: Kim Parr and Kay Weeks
Special thanks to Karen Griffith and
Kenneth Short.

April 8, 2010


Anonymous said...

Such a shame that this house with its lovely setting has been demolished.

Anonymous said...

I always wondered about that house sitting high on the hill above a
huge lawn on the way to the community dinner we both attended, or to your house or old Ellicott City, or even just coming out of the Rite-Aid parking lot. I'd try to tell if anyone was living there, and it did not seem neglected. It was highly visible, prime candidate for a hefty sales price to some developer, and now I'm sorry to say that's what's happened. It really is sad to see something so special go.

If you come to a place never having seen it before, it doesn't hit you, but I'm sure everyone in that whole area is mourning its loss.

RR in Roanoke, VA

Coastcard said...

Yes, Kay, what sadness here. I enjoyed the content of your post, though. It's always good to be made to think...

Anonymous said...

How sad. I think you should send this to the big papers....really good article with lots to think about.

Kay Reid