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The Church We Came From

August 11, 2022

from a solicited submission to a publisher

It was mid-century: after America had risen from the fugue state of The Great Depression to wrest control of the globe from Evil. A new world was born, and in America ancient religion was rediscovered in millions of families in formation after the existential crisis was overcome.

Intimate idiosyncrasy is part of every life – and so every family. But every person is part of something larger than themselves. Millions had died and those warriors who survived were wounded: some physically, but all were changed by a life-or-death struggle. My family was adrift in the wash of mid-century events, just like the other one hundred and forty million who lived through World War 2.

1945 saw those sixteen million men come home to create a new place – a sanitorium of peace created in a new juggernaut: the now industrial, militarized and world-leader United States of America. The violence and terror of the time questioned each human and ripped open our cultural assumptions. Why did the survivors survive? What matters now that we are left alive, when so many died to save us? There are no atheists in fox holes. Those who won the war were at peak fecundity: they were primed to make babies – and they did. The population exploded in that generation and that meant church attendance more than doubled in the decades after the war.

I was one of those babies.

Before they saved the world, under 40% of my parents’ generation went to church every week, about the same percentage as attends church today.  In between those lulls in church attendance, the extreme, violent, and costly effort of that generation literally saved the world – but especially America, where after the war almost 50% of us went to church, and those going doubled in family size in those years. The previous two thousand years of Jesus in our lives had a crest when The American Dream was real.

The winners, my parents’ generation, were also primed to literally ride technology into the future. The Eisenhower National Highway System crisscrossed the American landscape in but a decade, connecting cities. But technology also made millions of affordable cars that could ride on those new concrete ribbons. The new roads and vehicles meant that farmland near cities was, well, more valuable as a place to make homes and babies than make food. The food could come from farther away, using those highways in newly refrigerated trucks and trains. Once distant work was then easy to get to – often in cities that were close by, and the commute to work made for a unique change.

Suburbia was born.

Near-death experiences make for perspective and faith: so when the new infrastructure extended the home into a new ¼ acre lot format for living, all those babies and survivors who bore them were in a renewed embrace of God in their New World. Along with the explosion of cul-de-sacs, it was also an era of the greatest percentage of weekly church attendance since records were taken – in church membership reached an all-time high growing to almost 115 million worshippers in 1960, up from 90 million in 1950. Gallup polled that over 70% of Americans cited religion as “very important” in the 1950s. “Big Religion” created the National Council of Churches. “In God We Trust” was struck onto our coins. Millions now recited “under God” during the pledge of Allegiance added to address Godless Communism. First Hitler, then Stalin offered the terrifying alternative to Christian belief for many, and since God was with us in victory, we would be with Him in our newly minted world, the suburbs.

Church was a growth industry when I was born. Church construction activity grew as much as any building type in history. There was ten times the volume of church building in 1957 as there was in 1946.  Like malls in the 1970s, condos in the 1980s, and universities since, sacred spaces flooded suburbia with religious relevance until the 21st century. In one of these suburbia’s, my family efforted being nuclear. 

We live in this world, now. Our days are spent in transaction, efforting every devotion in rationalized mechanisms — often grim, sometimes ecstatic. We soldier on, accepting limits and working hard to overcome them. We feel entitled to “fairness”, “justice”, objectively reasonable outcomes. We define the guilty, we declare the victimhood that has abused the innocent. But life, even the abused life, is not a transaction, it is a gift. 

Buffalo

August 11, 2022

(from the 46K words sent to a publisher today)

At the end of World War 2, Buffalo, New York, had almost 600,000 people living within its city limits. After my mother’s father died around 1960, my mother’s mother and her sister lived there, as their family had been based in neighboring East Aurora. My aunt had met a very nice man, after her first husband had died young, by his own hand. Her new husband was a professor at the University of Buffalo, a veteran of The Battle of the Bulge, Jewish, who loved and knew the works of Mark Twain to the point of being an expert.

But more, he loved my aunt’s two young children, and they had their own together once they were married. But Buffalo in 1969 was participating in the collapse of America’s Rust Belt and had lost 150,000 residents since 1950.

There were entire neighborhoods that were being abandoned, including my aunt and uncle’s – the in-town Allentown Neighborhood. But the government wanted Urban Renewal, and part of that was support for stabilization of some urban neighborhoods – including Allentown. In 1968 I was home alone with my parents as my brother benefitted from my aunt’s connections and was admitted to Buffalo State Teachers College (definitively not the University of Buffalo, but at least it was a place of higher learning.)

My mother saw her chance to create an escape for herself, occasionally, from a life she had made twenty years ago in Westchester. Using the money from selling our vacation home that she had renovated, my mother divined a new way to cope, perhaps with one of those new Federal Loans for Allentown.

Her choice was strategic. I could have been consigned to a boarding school, as my sister had been. But no. Life was so toxic that I knew that after my sister’s divorce, my mother must have contemplated that, too. But no. When there was no need for a “second home” as alcohol collapsed my father’s life to law and stamps and coins, that asset could be converted.

With some family nearby, and other options limited, it was determined that I would be sent to high school in Buffalo, where my cousin had gone, ten years before – to a small, progressive, private day school not unlike the school I attended, with no in-loco parentis responsibility – fully a forty-minute Niagara Frontier Transit Bus drive up Main Street to a suburban world.

My mother had found another neglected home – a 1870 three story Mansard brick residence with a two story “ell” in the rear, facing an alleyway. The Yankee Gutters set into the eaves that surrounded the slate Mansard roof were fully shot, with water running through them down the face of the building, and all the decorative cornices were gone as was a front porch, removed some time ago. But it was a sound structure, with a huge, ancient kitchen in the rear “ell.” Inside, almost all mahogany and tiger maple millwork and plaster decoration was fully intact.

Soon, Moss Construction (“With Moss You Suffer No Loss”) started a piecemeal renovation taking about two years (including finding two full 3×12 joists cut down to 1 inch depth in a twenty-foot span (!).) Ultimately the Buffalo house had gained a new kitchen and renewed/decorated surfaces and furnishings. Lastly my mother created a duplex rental apartment in the home’s “ell” rear wing – first rented by the NBA’s Buffalo Braves first round draft choice (3rd overall) from Providence College, Ernie “No D” DiGregorio. Unlike my home or our vacation home, no Dickinson participated in construction, although Mr. Moss did hire me for one summer as a helper. I now know this effort somehow seeded architecture in me as a career.

My brother and I would be installed into the antique home, another project for my mother’s renovation, as had been done fifteen years before, in Dobbs Ferry, then Aqua Vista. My mother could express herself, while distancing herself from my increasingly abusive father, and, well, still be his wife. I would live with my brother, who was chronologically older, but, well, my brother. I would adapt. As I had so far.

This was my mother’s life, surviving my father’s.

A Moment

August 8, 2022

(after unending Editing)

The summer of 1972 was perhaps the most intensely focused time in my life: rendering me as good an athlete as I could be in that moment. Although I was elected co-captain of our tiny football team, there were huge changes that year. The scholarships that allowed our private school football team to have enough talent to win, changed. The little league that the school dominated, ended. Not much was left.

A moment lives with me, amid the coping. The team hit the field in pads for the first time in late August of that year. “LINE UP” screamed the assistant coach after my co-captain and I led cal’s. “NUTCRACKER, NUTCRACKER” We who had been there before immediately broke into groups: backs, lineman, linebackers, receivers.

The Head Coach calmly called out our star running back (next year’s captain who went on to start for four years at Union College), then me, then, facing me, the team’s best defensive lineman (who had beat me out of my job the year before) our best linebacker (an angry Junior), an outside linebacker, and the starting safety.

It was our first drill in pads, and we were lined up for the Nutcracker Drill. I faced the defensive tackle, heads up, then ten yards behind him, the inside linebacker, and then another ten yards back the outside backer, and last a safety. The linebackers and safety could only move up if the running back advanced five yards into the ten-yard separation between defensive players – no piling on. Usually, the point of attack saw the back cut off the lineman’s block and get tackled by the first linebacker, or perhaps the defensive lineman defeated the block and tackled the back, or if the next linebacker missed, the safety had to move up. Here, the running back, lineman and linebackers were larger that I was, and were better athletes.

The running back and I faced the defensive tackle, we two linemen got into position, team screaming, as we stared at each other. It was our first contact of the season, after a week of working through plays and technique after a year without football. The ball was tossed to the back as the whistle blew.

A summer of compressed rage, seventeen years of anger and frustration exploded through my body. I launched into the defensive lineman, instantly knocking him down, kept balance, with the back behind me, and came under the linebacker, taking him off his feet, then went through him to chip the next linebacker, with the back pivoting off that hit, then my rage overwhelmed the safety who was terrified at the violence he just saw – and the back screamed in joy, running past the four fallen defensive players.

The team exulted. I had done something for those who I cared most about. Those who cared as much as I did. My body did what I hoped it could. That moment never happened before or since. For six seconds, I was the best player on the field, and never again. Beethoven’s 7th was in my head. The memory is there, now, forever. As is the girl’s smile in dancing class five years before.

1965

July 31, 2022

(after unending editing)

In my first few years at our tiny day school, I had made a few school friends. One, an extremely nice native Japanese student in my class who actually invited me to wonderful birthday parties. They lived a couple of blocks from our home in a “Modern” (!) house.

One of those parties involved an event of the kind my parents had come to reject – the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. My friend’s parents piled about eight of us into their two cars and we drove to Queens. It was an alien universe of radically different buildings – it was as if a hundred Octagon Houses had come to create an entire city.

We were treated to many rides, and one facilitated the permanent scaring of one corner of my brain when a sonic trigger awakens the Ear Worm in my head: the shrill, unrelenting chorus of “It’s A Small World (After All), It’s a Small World (After All), It’s a Small World (After All), It’s a Small, Small World!” we heard relentlessly chorused as we rode thru the Walt Disney World Exhibit on our wee train. The scale and variety of buildings and spaces was amazing.

My parents gave me a $20 bill to buy whatever I wanted to get. And, of course, I got them something interesting, and something for me too! (both purchases are completely forgotten these fifty-plus years ago.)

Despite my complete over-the-moon reaction, my parents, and my siblings simply ignored the possibility that there could be anything they wanted to see there. There were other things to do, and they had to do them.

My friend’s father was transferred back to Tokyo the following year, and the breaks in connection continued.

Welcome to Saved by Design

July 29, 2022

New Stuff:

In A Miracle Of Coincidence: “It is finished.”

In A Year In Lent: Only Consistency Allows Change

In Random StuffClick Bait Christ

In Home Page: What Makes HOME?

In Absence: Easters

In Left To Myself: All That Is Wrong

In Emily’s Days: Coda

In Not (As) Fat: One Meal A Day

In Finding Home: Occupation Preoccupation

In The Rules: 1) Plan. 2) Section. 3) Elevation

In Silence In SpringAstonishing

In Days ’till Spring: “Karening”

News

July 29, 2022

READ:

In ArchDaily: New York’s Tower of Babel

In Mockingbird: The Prodigal Architect

In CT Insider: Column: Rethinking CT’s empty movie theaters, churches and malls

In ArchDaily: Democratizing Architecture vs. Aesthetic Apartheid Architecture

In CommonEdge: Adaptive Reuse Is the Architectural Challenge of the Future

In CT Insider: Column: A ‘Connection Revolution’ is changing architecture

In MockingBird: Sowing Seeds

In ArchDaily: What is Aesthetics

In CommonEdge: Architecture Is Evolving, and the Pritzker Prize Demonstrates This

In CT Insider: Column: ‘Tear down’ culture makes it easy to forget about history

In ArchDaily: “Net Zero” Homes: Marketing Morality

In ArchDaily: The Architectural Pandemic of the “Stick Frame Over Podium” Building

In CommonEdge: Five Simple Rules For House Design That Drastically Lower Energy Costs

In ArchDaily: The Future of Visualization May Be The Past

In MockingBird: Life and Its Absence

In CT Insider: Column: The hazards of hype in a real estate boom

In CT Insider: Column: How ‘The Harvard 5’ brought Mid-Century Modernism to New Canaan

In MockingBird: Consider the Bees in the Air

In CommonEdge: Don’t Blame Bad Buildings on a Lack of Money

In CT Insider: Opinion: Those boxy apartment complexes sprouting up are ‘architectural fast food’

                                                                                                            

Recent Images

                                                                                                             

 The outdoor chapel at Incarnation Camp in Ivoryton, CT

Click here to read about the project.

                                                                                                                

CEPHAS Housing 25 Years Ago in Yonkers NY

Click here to read about the project.

                                                                                                             

WATCH:

On WTNH News:  Madison Architect Sheds Light on Solar Solution for Homeowners

On Common Ground with Annette Ross:  She asked “Where is Architecture?”, I answered

On HGTV:  Mercedes Home Diaries       Password: mercedes

                                                                                                             

Dimly Seen

July 22, 2022

(after endless editing)

In 1903 Harry Dickinson left Newcastle, England to live in Brooklyn, New York. The
story goes that at 22 he came to play English football, employed by the “Immigrant
Leagues” that were created by and for those coming to America. After three years of
play, his knee was injured enough that any income derived from his play ended. He
then became a bricklayer for the Carlin Construction Company of New York City.

In 1906 Lucy Hill and her siblings left Holly Hall in England and arrived in America.
She was, by family accounts, “old” at 25. She worked as a “piecener” at the spinning
mills of textile factories and was to support herself with similar work in America.
Lucy somehow connected with Harry and they were married in 1908. Neither had
graduated from eighth grade.

The sense of distant relatives was that Harry was not a nice man. It was said that his father, a wine taster, was an alcoholic, consequently he never drank a drop.

As was expected, especially for this newly married “older” couple in their mid ‘20’s, a baby was immediately conceived and born in December 1909 – my father George, named after an uncle who had died at sea in the merchant marines.


When my father was one, Lucy discovered that she was pregnant, again, at 27. Harry
did not know. Earning a living hauling brick after being a soccer star was difficult for
Harry, and life with a new baby was not easy for Lucy. Apparently, life was so difficult
that Lucy sought out an abortion – fully secret from Harry.


My father’s mother died while having that abortion. Their son, one-year-old George
Dickinson was then sent to Canada to live with his mother’s sisters – described as
“spinsters”. The removal of pain in the vacuum of immigrant life, detached from
family, makes sense, if you did not love your son.


Things would be repeated.


The devastation of Harry, simultaneously finding out that your wife was not only
having your second child, but that she and that child had died, and her death was
because she could not accept having another child with you, is not any easy
apprehension. But it happened. Its impact had the resonant devastation that echoed
throughout an entire century of three generations.

 
For five years up in Toronto, George would wander away. His aunts feverishly looked
for the 4-year-old. When they found him on one of those occasions, George was
walking upon the docks of Lake Ontario. In relief and consternation, they asked him
“Why did you leave, Georgie?” His answer: “I was looking for my Mum.”


Harry, my grandfather, died the year that I was born, 1955. His lifelong pivot from a
double homicide, ended a family that had no recorded history, but had undeniable
facts that I was forced to deal with my entire life.

The difficult fact was that upon her death, my grandfather Harry had her body
shipped to Northern Westchester – a virtual wilderness to those who lived in
Brooklyn in 1911 – to the Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla – a truly beautiful place. In
the early 20th century, Westchester County was essentially farms and summer homes
for the rich. But the cemetery was right off the railroad line. Lucy was the only
Dickinson buried there, as Harry was to be buried in Queens, with his second, and
ultimately third wives.

Clearly Harry Dickinson wanted to exile his dead wife as far out of his sight and mind as possible. The inexpensive cast grave marker was much the worse for wear, but was probably affordable for a bricklayer, especially given the circumstances. But it was more than that.

Playing

July 20, 2022

(after endless editing)

During the season, football practices were of two types: the long, hot preseason variety, lasting about three weeks, where endless technique drills were balanced by endless input of schemes, offense and defense as we were a tiny team. Once the season began, there was about ten weeks of regular practices,five days a week after the school day – less running, starters and subs chosen, less terror.

In those preseason three-hour sessions, everyone played against everyone in many positions as the coaches wanted to see who could do what. In my sophomore year, our great receiver, who went in to play in college, was running a simple hook pass route, I was playing linebacker for reasons that eluded me, but I knew what he was running, so when his 6-2 frame turned and he leapt to snag the ball at the peak of his jump, I had dropped back just enough to be able to launch into him from behind, hard. He did not like the contact, and ripped back his elbow into by 1966 face mask that offered no resistance. Fifty years later, my left front tooth is still lagging an 1/8 of an inch behind the right.

In those summer practice days I would often have a summer cold, and would uncontrollably blow my nose upon contact, not a good thing for an underclassman hitting a senior. So, I went to the drug store and got “Privine” and emptied three stoppers from the little bottle into each nostril on the bus up to practice. The results were instant, and unexpected: first, no mucus. But then there was no feeling of any kind in my entire head. And a fully racing heartbeat. I then read the instructions: “Maximum Dose Three Drops Per Nostril” I think I overdosed by a factor of 10X the limit: I felt no pain that day, had a great practice, terrified myself and never touched “Privine” again.

Practice happened in all weather. Hailstones were delightful in their sound against our helmets. Playing in snow was hilariously fun in the wild sliding on the ground below. Even mud was joyous in the soft explosions created when bodies are thrown into it. Thunderstorms happened too. And lightning. After one such practice, a bunch of us were leaving the locker room. We then overheard a car radio announce “Four high school football players were killed by lightning in Texas this afternoon when huddling up asthunderstorms poured during practice.” Great.

We never were allowed a drink of water during practices, as it “built character” to be dehydrated. Butthere were salt pills offered, that most assuredly had bad implications in the wrong conditions. But nobody died. 

Anything that deviated from the grind of practices was delightful. One 1970 August a white van was parked next to the practice field. At one moment, three men opened the van rear doors and brought out white buckets, dumped newly opened plastic bags of powder into them. They then began filling the buckets with water from the hose next to the field.

For the first time ever, Coach yelled “TIME OUT – Everybody have a drink, from the bucket!” We gladlygot in line; the water had turned the sunbaked hot hose water a bright yellow green. Any liquid was better than no liquid and we drank. The water tasted like salt, a lot of salt, and something.

I looked down at the buckets. They had black lettering printed upon them, reading “University of Florida Athletics”. Later, we learned that our connected coach, knew someone who knew someone who wanted to test a way to hydrate their football team, the University of Florida Gators. The bright yellow-green salty stuff was later called “Gatorade” – and we did not die testing for their team.

HOME as Architecture

July 17, 2022

LIVE! NOON! THURSDAY, JULY 28th 89.5FM Streaming WPKN.ORG

This Month’s HOME PAGE is a unique full hour with an architectural critic and Pulitzer Prize winning writer Paul Goldberger, who went to Yale, and has written any number of books on architecture, including “Why Architecture Matters” and “Ballpark”, taught at The Parsons School of Design. Goldberger written for the New York Times, Vanity Fair, and the New Yorker.

Architecture is the focus of the hour, and homes are the “Ur” building. Homes are the most generic place. We all have them. Either a room, home, institution, we all set our head down and night somewhere, and most often we want that place you extend and express who we are. In that way, homes are fully universal, created in the vernacular of their origins, a social fundamental, a cultural mirror, what it means to be a human, beyond nest or burrow.

Our culture is at a crossroads: The 20th century seems a hundred years ago, COVID and Artificial Intelligence are both present but their impact is unknowable, and the next generation will be completely transformed by technology, environmental and moral change that has not been seen since the Industrial Revolution.

Architecture never leads, it follows. Huge changes have rendered the buildings we used to use daily useless: The office tower, the shopping mall, the worship space, the movie multiplex, even our urban centers may all be repurposed in just the next decade. In all this, we are leaving a housing bubble.

Where has architecture been, where is architecture now, and where will architecture go? HOMEPAGE thinks about how the home reflects our culture, so how we live is at the center of the discussion.

No one in this moment knows architecture as fully as Paul Goldberger: JOIN US.

Football

July 15, 2022

(after endless editing)

As with all families, there are patterns we live in,including my early suburban life. My father’s morning walk down to the commuter train to Manhattan was the ritual. I do not recall him ever having a sick day in the years I lived with him.

My father’s rigorous dressing each weekday, and the Sundays he went to church, was a full half hour. First shaving and putting on boxers and an undershirt, no matter the weather. Then garter belts were strapped on, to keep the socks up, then the starched shirt with its fold-over French cuffs and cuff links, suspenders, the collar pins to push the Windsor tie knot out, cuffed pants, a vest and gray flannel suit with a pressed handkerchief set in the suit’s jacket breast pocket, slightly visable, and often used. From September to June, then, often a seersucker suit until August. And the black Oxford Wingtip shoes with the holes in their applied pieces. His pocket watch fob and chain inset into the tiny vest pocket and the daily ritual as complete.  

Virtually all clothing was from Brooks Brothers, as were the hats he always wore – brown or black or, with pinstripes, straw, even after the Kennedy inauguration, where the new president eschewed hats in defiant youthful expression. 

My father’s return from New York City each day meant a family train pick-up, then drinks, dinner, yelling and stamp and coin sorting those five days a week. The weekends were their own pattern. Perhaps no shaving, no formal dress. Just breakfast, chores or stamp and coin sorting, then drinks, dinner, yelling, and sleep. 

But Sunday afternoons in the fall were different. The pattern had a weekly break.

My father would lie upon his side of his bed, and tune in the New York Football Giants, on the local broadcast TV station, perhaps the CBS affiliate, prior to the advent of the American Football League, The screen sitting atop a tolling cart shown black and white images upon our Zenith TV with the tuning-fork silent flicker that triggered remote channel changing and volume control – complete with rabbit ear antenna set upon the set’s top.

As with dressing, eating, sorting stamps and coins, smoking was continuous. Commentary in the play of “Spider” Lockhart, Willie Young, or Fran Tarkentonwas continuous, too. I lay upon the end of the bed, and watched with my dad. When I was seven I even saw the team, distantly, at Hackley Day Summer Camp one summer, as they practiced there, marveling at the flexibility of Willie Young. Two years later I then urinated next to the team’s First Round draft choice in 1965 as a nine year old, my first day at Incarnation Camp. I have no idea why he was there, but as he peed he said “My back teeth were floating” to my deep admiration.

My mother had Buffalo family, who knew the wee school I attended. I saw the brochure – it had an image of football. I had seen some games on TV, and I once went to a game with my Dad at Yankee Stadium.

So football was a thing my father and I could share when he was not drunk, or dressing, or screaming.

I had zero connection to anything more physical when raking leaves in autumn, as my parents were similarly detached from anything but coping. But I liked what I saw in black and white those afternoons. I then saw an NFL film on that TV that described football positions. Based on that I determined that I should be a fullback, not knowing my glacial speed. When I shared that with a friend they looked at my “Husky” body and soft physique and unsurprisingly laughed heartily.