I spent last week visiting a province I had only been to once before, in my 20s, when my father then owned a big old Victorian house in Lunenburg on the South Shore.
This visit included a lot of driving!
There are no direct flights from NY to Halifax, so it becomes an all-day affair with a layover in Toronto (90 minutes north then 2 hours east.) I arrived, of course, sweaty and exhausted after an entire day masked, just in time for sunset — to drive 90 minutes in the dark on unfamiliar roads.
How had I forgotten how tiring and stressful travel can be?! Because I hadn’t been in an airplane since June 2019…
I was staying with my best friend from Toronto high school, who designed and built an off-grid home on a lake in a forest there. I hadn’t seen them in three years, since they left their rural home in Ontario. They were super welcoming and their 27-acre property was so blessedly beautiful and silent.
Morning mist at the lake!
I went up to see a house we are thinking of buying, after years of looking fruitlessly at real estate ads, watching prices literally double in the past year as wealthy people fleeing COVID have snapped up a lot of Nova Scotia real estate, driving up prices and making anything in our budget unattainable.
I finally found a really pretty gray shingled house, 2 bedroom, circa 1906, its interior unchanged for decades and uninhabited. We made an offer which was accepted.
The dining room…the house is full of their stuff.
Every room has wallpaper — I really like this one!
There are 3 calendars in the house — 1938, 1947 and 1953
But only then did the true fun begin….I was now dealing with 10 different individuals (!), including a realtor, lawyer and eight different tradesmen, from septic to wells to two general contractors. One afternoon, I was trying to talk to two of them at once with only an hour to conduct business because the realtor had to leave — and we had all missed the earlier ferry.
Oh yeah, you need to take a five minute ferry to reach the village, (pop. 300), one of three on an island.
Why do anything EASY?
So it was a week of a lot of learning for a woman whose entire life has been spent in apartments in cities and towns of 10,000 to millions, never in a remote village.
Even at our advanced ages, Jose and I have never owned a house, or even looked at one or made an offer — but a surprise inheritance (!) from my late estranged mother made this possible.
The house is not winterized or insulated so this would only be for summer use. That doesn’t bother me, since I really enjoy my NYC life, with easy access to museums, shows, ballet, opera, shopping and restaurants,
If this goes through — and we have hit yet another unforeseen potential deal-breaker just now — it would also give Jose and I a foothold back in my native Canada. Because if T—p wins again, and it is not looking good right now for the Democrats (trounced in recent elections), I’m not going to live in chronic anxiety for another four nasty years of GOP rule.
Highlights included three-hour drives to the house and back; sitting in morning silence by their lake; visiting a friend in Halifax I hadn’t seen since my wedding in Toronto a decade ago.
I loved the Nova Scotia accent, with its drawn-out vowels, and people were kind and helpful.
I’ve lived — which stuns me — for 25 years on the same street, a steeply hilly winding road that has raccoons, deer, coyotes, raspberry bushes and still has a clear view, however unlikely, of the gleaming towers of Manhattan 25 miles due south.
When I moved here, the corporate headquarters for Hitachi on our street, a vast expanse of orchards and green lawns, was ringed by split-rail wooden fences. Those fences are gone now and I miss their rural charm.
Across the street from Hitachi, all this time, has been a thick, impenetrable woods, deep, dark, leafy and green, a lush and powerful natural sight and sound barrier dividing our quiet street from a busy four-lane highway running east-west a block away across our suburban county.
I’ve always marveled at how rustic and quiet it’s kept our street — it has never felt suburban to me because of this — and been grateful for that.
Here are some images of the sudden changes that began this month. Changes that have now forever altered the bucolic character of our street. Now, in an unwelcome change, we can see not only the office buildings on the north side of that road, but clear through to the south side.
The world is intruding.
It’s inevitable. Undeveloped land often holds potential commercial value. Land offers developers profit and the town added tax revenues.
But landscapes unaltered retain their own beauty, silence, natural life and history.
I often wonder what our suburban New York landscape was like before the Europeans arrived — as it is, we still have New York State’s second-oldest church a mere 10 minutes north of our home.
Who remembers what lay there before?
And there I was recently, in a shiny, new-ish TD Bank in Elmsford, NY, one of the least lovely towns in Westchester, NY, a sadly industrial mish-mash of office complexes, car washes, big box grocery stores. You wouldn’t think, seeing it today, there would have been much very attractive to miss.
And there was a photo mural — here’s a poster they’ve printed and keep in a stack for us to take — of what was there before.
I found this deeply moving and so unusual. A multinational bank caring about what its local customers might have remembered of that landscape, of their town’s history?
I’m at an age now where too many places I’ve known and loved are gone for good.
In Manhattan, the extraordinary profits to be made in real estate have closed many well-loved spots. One of the most recent was a pharmacy, Avignone, on the southwest corner of Sixth and Bleecker, which was one of the city’s oldest.
The lovely Cafe Angelique, barely a decade old at the corner of Grove and Bleecker, closed this year when the landlord suddenly demanded a monthly rent of $45,000. You just can’t sell that much coffee or that many cupcakes.
Here’s Neil’s, on the same corner of Lexington and 70th for 50 years.
If you, like me, are a fan of the TV show Project Runway, you might mourn the loss of this midtown New York City Building.
From The New York Times:
It is only 53 years old, but the cornerstone of a doomed building in Manhattan’s garment district reads like an impossibly hopeful sentiment from a distant time, from a world that can never be recovered.
“Dedicated to the ideal that, through better human relations, understanding and good will among peoples, the supreme dignity and indissoluble brotherhood of man can be achieved.”
This was once Brotherhood House.
At the end, the six-story building at 560 Seventh Avenue, at 40th Street, was barely remembered by that name, or as a crucible of social advocacy in the 1960s.
Now, it is vacant. The departure of the last tenant, the Garment Center Synagogue, has allowed asbestos abatement to begin. Demolition is to start this year, followed by the construction of a 29-story, 238-room Dream Hotel, opening in 2018.
In my hometown of Toronto, a beloved landmark, The Coffee Mill, closed this year after a 50-year run. I will miss their goulash and strudel, their cappuccino — and the memory of my childhood visits there when they first opened.
It’s one thing to mourn a lost restaurant or shop.
It’s another entirely when our natural landscape, as it is every day anyway, is forever changed — and possibly destroyed.
On the South Rim plateau, less than two miles from the park’s entrance, the gateway community of Tusayan, a town just a few blocks long, has approved plans to construct 2,200 homes and three million square feet of commercial space that will include shops and hotels, a spa and a dude ranch.
Among its many demands, the development requires water, and tapping new wells would deplete the aquifer that drives many of the springs deep inside the canyon — delicate oases with names like Elves Chasm and Mystic Spring. These pockets of life, tucked amid a searing expanse of bare rock, are among the park’s most exquisite gems…
Less than 25 miles to the northeast of Tusayan, Navajo leaders are working with developers from Scottsdale to construct a 1.4-mile tramway that would descend about 3,200 feet directly into the heart of the canyon. They call it Grand Canyon Escalade.
The cable system would take more than 4,000 visitors a day in eight-person gondolas to a spot on the floor of the canyon known as the Confluence, where the turquoise waters of the Little Colorado River merge with the emerald green current of the Colorado. The area, which is sacred to many in the Hopi and Zuni tribes, as well as Navajo people, would feature an elevated walkway, a restaurant and an amphitheater.
Maybe it’s the result of having spent my childhood summers at camp, canoeing through landscapes unchanged for centuries, possibly millennia — granite outcroppings, wind-whipped pines, dark, deep, cold lakes.
I am most moved, sometimes to tears, by places of timeless natural beauty: Corsica, Thailand, the Arizona and New Mexico desert, northern Ontario.
We’ll soon be renting a seaside cottage in one of the most rural parts of one of the most rural countries, Co. Donegal in Ireland. Can’t wait!
I love the paintings by The Group of Seven, Canada’s equivalent of the Impressionists, whose images of our land, from the Arctic to the crimson trees of autumn, always make me homesick.
Do you have a landscape you’re deeply attached to?
Use-ta-ville…The place you go back to that’s now gone.
“It used to be…”
We’ve all got them, the places where we once lived or attended school or loved visiting or eating in or shopping at. As life changes, sometimes at a dizzying pace, it can be comforting to re-visit these spots. Many are filled with memories — great dates, a proposal, a graduation, a terrific meal — and the physical place becomes a touchstone.
It’s been such a lovely respite, while awaiting a train or a friend, to browse its well-edited selection of books and cards. I’ve made some great discoveries on its front tables over the years, and was thrilled when my own book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” briefly ended up in their front windows.
I grew up in Toronto, a sprawling city of 3 million people, and moved to New York a long time ago, but I still go back once or twice a year to see old friends and to enjoy places I’ve been visiting for decades.
Like Courage My Love, one of the city’s best vintage clothing shops and The Papery, a great little stationery store I once sold my home-made envelopes to when I was in high school, and — for many years — a beloved cafe called The Coffee Mill, which served strudel and espresso and schnitzel on its lovely outdoor terrace and cosy interior.
It closed in September 2014, after 50 years in business, back in the day when those kinds of foods were exotic to white-bread WASPy Toronto.
We also lost a favorite restaurant on Queen Street, Prague Deli, who had renovated it into an even more welcoming spot, a perfect refuge on a bitterly cold winter’s afternoon. Gone.
Toronto also recently lost the 65-year nightclub, the El Mocambo, where the Rolling Stones once played.
I often go back to my high school, Leaside High School, to talk to the students about what it’s like to make a living as a writer. It’s very odd, but also oddly comforting, to walk those terrazo-ed hallways once more. It looks exactly the same!
Every city, especially when there are millions or billions to be made flipping and developing commercial real estate, loses bits of its past, and we stand by helplessly mourning all those lost memories.
One of my favorite Manhattan cafes, Cafe Angelique on Grove Street in the West Village, disappeared overnight in the fall of 2014 when the landlord demanded $45,000/month in rent — for 1,000 square feet. My lasting memory of it now was a lunch I had there with a fellow journalist I’d long admired and listened to on American Public Media’s business show, Marketplace.
Now its gutted space is one more about-to-be-gentrified spot filled with a mega-brand.
One of the most poignant of these moments happened for me early in my courtship by Jose, my husband, who grew up in Sante Fe, New Mexico. His father was the pastor of a small Baptist church and they lived in church housing — all of which was torn down and replaced by the Georgia O’Keefe Museum.
So we stood admiring one of her legendary paintings as Jose said, wistfully, “This used to be my bedroom.”
All that’s left of his childhood home is a small courtyard with an apricot tree, whose fruit his mother used to make into jam.
Is there a place like this from your past you (still) miss?
Maybe not, for some people, who are born, live and die within the same four walls or zip code or area code, state, province or country.
Others, like me, feel both at home in many places yet not really rooted in any of them.
I was born in Vancouver, Canada; moved at two to London, England; back at five to Toronto; then on to Mexico, Montreal, Paris, New Hampshire and then New York.
I’m writing this on a park bench in a small town in Ontario, visiting my father for a few days to celebrate my birthday and his 85th next week. He bought a lovely 1860s home a few years ago here and has fixed it up nicely — the garden now has fruit trees and a pond with koi.
To me, it’s heaven, a place I’d be thrilled to own.
But he wants to sell it and move. To where? Anyone’s guess.
Itchy feet are normal in our family.
My mother has lived in New York, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Mexico, England, Toronto, Montreal, Peru, British Columbia; my father in Vancouver, Toronto, Ireland, London and for several years on his boat in Europe.
So I have nowhere to call “home” in the sense of some long-cherished family homestead, nor any expectation of inheriting one.
And longtime Broadside readers know that my husband and I are not close to our families physically or emotionally. Working freelance means those relationships are tenuous and often temporary.
I like living in suburban New York and am always glad to return there, but some of my deepest friendships remain in Toronto, a place where real estate is breathtakingly and punitively expensive, as out of reach for me financially, even after decades of hard work and saving, as Santa Fe, New Mexico is for Jose, my husband, who grew up there and would love to return. My husband’s late father was the minister for a church there — long since torn down and replaced by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.
Only a small courtyard and an apricot tree now mark his childhood home.
I joined a local church in 1998 but have not been there much recently, too often feeling out of step with a wealthy and conservative congregation focused on child-raising.
Oddly (or not), these days I most often feel I belong at my local YMCA, as I am there so often for my dance classes and to use the gym. There, I always see people I know and like.
I spent a few minutes in the library here, asking if they have my latest book. They don’t, but the librarian said “I read you!” Which was pleasant.
Then I went to the local convenience store and was thrilled to find my first-ever story in the July 2014 issue of Cosmopolitan.
Sometimes I feel my work, friends and husband are my real home, the place(s) where I belong and always feel valued — not within family or a job or faith community or specific geographical setting.
Strangely, I dreaded the loss of the house from a very early age. I had nightmares about it.
house you love is hard. Relinquishing a house where you grew up from
your earliest childhood, where you spent your first springs, summers,
autumns, winters, every one of whose corners, cupboards, creaking
staircases, floorboards and smells became almost like an extension of
your being, is harder still…
We bade farewell to the house on a perfect golden September day,
which started misty and hazy and rather mysterious before the sun broke
through. Some people had told me that it would be easier to leave the
house when it was empty, as it would have lost many of its most personal
connotations, pieces of furniture, even curtains. But I did not find it
The house seemed just as beautiful as ever to me on the day of our
departure. In some ways even more beautiful, as being emptied of
furniture can restore a certain youthfulness and sense of possibility to
a dwelling. The upstairs spare room, which had become a sort of dump
before I cleared it out, hadn’t looked so inviting for decades.
We, three generations and a stalwart family friend, had a sunny
picnic on the raised terrace outside the front door, sitting on the low
wall rising up from the hydrangea beds, as there were no longer any
I’ve only lived in a few houses with my parents, at least those I can recall.
There was one in London, when I was very small, then one in Toronto, a big brick house with a deep backyard and my bedroom at the very top, where I lay in bed and listened to the radio. I knew my mother was climbing the stairs when I heard her ankles popping. There were brilliant yellow forsythia bushes outside the kitchen window I used to call “for cynthia” — my mother’s name.
When my parents split up, and I was about seven, that was the end of that house. I miss it still.
I didn’t live in another house until eleventh grade, when I moved in with my father into a white brick house on a Toronto corner. There was a lilac tree just outside the kitchen door and a huge park behind our yard where our dog would get out and run in circles really fast, usually whenever I was having a party and it was the last thing I wanted to deal with.
Since then, after leaving that house when I was in university, I’ve never owned one nor have my parents stayed very long in any of theirs, usually only for a few years, scooping up a healthy profit, and moving into yet another. I watch the houses come and go, envious they’ve even owned a house, let alone several. I wonder if I ever will.
My father had a 200+ year-old house in Athenry, just outside Galway City, for a few years, that’s now a nursing home. I loved my few brief visits there, scything the lawn and staring out through its ancient, rippled glass panes.
When I return to visit Toronto, I often drive past that white brick house. It doesn’t look much different, even all these years later.
Jose’s childhood home was torn down and is now the Georgia O’Keefe museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The only remainder of his life there is a tiny courtyard and the apricot tree from whose fruit his late mother once made jam.
There are families who lovingly and carefully preserve not only their memories, but all the artifacts of their ancestors. Not ours. I had seen a few photos and never got to meet either grandfather.
The very little I knew of my great grandfather, Louis M. Stumer, was a brochure for an office building in Chicago, the North American Building, in which he was an investor at the turn of the century.
With the Fourth of July coming up, and the recent renewal of my green card after 22 years of living in the U.S., I Googled him recently. I wanted to learn some more about the man, and found an eerie set of coincidences. I’m a journalist — he published two successful literary magazines, The Red Book and the Blue Book. I just finished writing a book about the retail industry and discovered that he owned or co-owned one of several prominent Chicago stores of the era.
I even found a photo of his mausoleum, the one to which my mom holds the key.
A photo of his wife, swooning in a theatrical tableau, from a 1907 image in the Chicago Daily News, may explain my occasional penchant for drama.
As I was growing up, Louis was only an initial, S, the middle of my grandmother’s monograms. The man was a total mystery. He was Jewish and Republican; I’m neither.
From a newsletter of the Chicago Jewish Historical Society:
While mail order remains Rosenthal’s chief claim to fame, he was also active in other enterprises. Together with his partners, Eckstein and Stumer, he was involved in such ventures as clothing and millinery establishments, restaurants, and drugstores. Emporium World Millinery was one of their largestventures. The partners also owned and managed real estate properties, and even had success as magazine publishers (The Red Book and The Blue Book).
(The Red Book sold a fairly astonishing 338,5000 copies in 1906 — according to a piece about Chicago publishing I found in the American Journal of Sociology from 1906. Much to Easterners’ annoyance, these upstart Midwestern publishers gave New Yorkers a run for their money.)
The real estate group built on and owned by the Chicago Board of Education, on 99-year leases dating from 1890. The flagship property was the North American Building at 36-44 South State Street, a 19-story office building with many tenants, most of them wholesalers. Benjamin Rosenthal’s office was located in this building. The seven-story Emporium Building at 26-28 South State was occupied for many years by the Miller-Wohl Company, retailers of ladies’ ready-to-wear. The Mercantile Building at 10-14 South State was leased by the S.S. Kresge Company for its own use.
I wish I could have met him. He was clearly a driven, shrewd businessman, and learning these details helps better explain why my maternal grandmother was such a grande dame.
Born and raised in Canada, I always found my American relatives — and their astonishing self-confidence (Canadians hate that!) — intriguing.I always wondered who they were and what shaped them and how they affected, or didn’t, their own communities of the era.
My new green card arrived this week. It is now really green, with a Statue of Liberty and my photo, this time not in color but sort of a ghostly black and white. My signature is on it below my photo, and my birth date floats above my head in an odd, receding wave. It’s also got my thumb-print. It’s good for another ten years.
Thanks to Louis’s grand-daughter, my mother, who passed on her American citizenship to me to acquire the green card, I get to live in the U.S. — and celebrate the 4th. in his country.
What have you learned about your grand or great-grandparents that took you by surprise?
It’s the American Dream. (That’s one of those phrases Americans — and their realtors — take for granted. There is no corresponding Korean or French or Canadian “dream” of owning your own home, preferably a little colonial with a lawn and a backyard. Other countries don’t allow mortgage interest as a tax deduction.)
Writes Virginia Postrel:
The fantasy of a life transformed is what makes the ads and features in interiors magazines so enticing—no fashion or celebrity magazine glamorizes its subjects as thoroughly as Architectural Digest or Elle Decor—and what gives HGTV’s low-budget shows their addictive appeal. The longing for the perfect life in the perfect environment can make real-estate listings and “For Sale” signs as evocative as novels. This domestic ideal gives today’s neighborhoods of foreclosed or abandoned houses their particular emotional punch. A stock-market bubble may create financial hardship, but a housing bust breaks hearts.
Although Ms. Daum did buy a house in 2004 and watched its value rise and then fall, her self-deprecatingly funny memoir isn’t a tale of real-estate speculation. Rather she uses her lifelong obsession with finding the ideal living space to probe domestic desire, a deeper restlessness than the search for quick profits.
Whether because of alienation or ambition, Ms. Daum’s family, when she was growing up (first in Austin, Texas, and then in New Jersey), shared “a chronic, lulling sensation of being aboard a train that was perpetually two stops away from the destination we had in mind for ourselves.” That feeling manifested itself in a “perpetual curiosity about what possibilities for happiness might lie at the destination of a moving van.” The result was a childhood filled with weekend trips to visit open houses, dinner-time conversations about relocation and, in Ms. Daum’s teenage years, her mother’s sudden move to her own home: “four walls whose color scheme required approval from no one. It wasn’t another man she wanted but another life.” (Ms. Daum’s parents did not divorce.)
I’ve been living in the same one bedroom apartment since 1989. Will I ever own a house? Not anywhere near I live now — a nasty little shoebox with .25 of an acre on a busy street would run me $500,000 with $12,000 a year in taxes. I’m hoping to buy one, or at least rent one, in France in retirement, and living in 1,000 square feet (about the size of an affordable house in my town) allows me the extra cash to fly to France in the meantime.
My Dad has been scouting houses in coastal Maine, trying to figure out what to do with his. I know a house is a major dream for millions of people and you need a space with room(s) for kids and their toys and pets and activities. We lived in a house when I was little, and when I was in high school, but, other than my rental on the top two floors of a Toronto house, and our rented apartment in an old house in rural New Hampshire, it’s been apartment living since then for me.
There are some amazing houses in my town, one, a huge shingled Queen Anne painted the pale pink of strawberry ice cream with green shutters and several with wisteria trees snaking up across their verandahs and eaves. There are one or two I would love to live in, but could never afford them.
I really love our apartment. I’ve re-painted it a bunch of times, especially since attending interior design school. We have astonishing views northwest up the Hudson and I have hawks and geese and crows swooshing so low over my top-floor balcony I can hear the wind through their wings. I love the light and quiet and feel blessed to own my own home. Its small-ish size and manageable mortgage makes me feel safe, even while working in an industry shuddering through insane and terrifying changes.
I basically see a house as a money pit, something that endlessly needs upgrades and repairs, mugging you financially when you can least afford it — new boiler! new roof! new driveway!
It’s hard for any journalist who’s ever worked there, or visited its offices, to imagine The New York Times’ former building, at 229 West 43d Street, becoming just one more Manhattan midtown property under development by a foreign investor. Long-time employees remember the daily tremors as the presses started rolling, and the truck bays are still there, ready to deliver papers now printed elsewhere. The lobby, entered by a small revolving door, was surprisingly small, even cramped, with a house phone you used — as in the new building — to call whomever you were there to see.
The new building, which is gorgeous if comparatively soul-less, even with its turmeric and cayenne-colored walls and its spectacular cafeteria, just feels like one more tower.
“The strongest thing going for the property is its location and the continued vibrancy of Times Square as a tourist center and a magnet for visitors,” said Richard A. Marin, chief executive of Africa-Israel USA, Mr. Leviev’s American real estate company. The new plan, he said, “will allow us to create the most value and make the greatest contribution to the Times Square neighborhood.”
It is anyone’s guess whether this plan will work any better than the last one, given the soft condo market, competing bowling alleys in the Times Square area and falling hotel rates. But there is no better place for a radical reinvention than Times Square, where peep shows, T-shirt shops and prostitutes have given way to Bubba Gump, the Hard Rock Cafe, theaters, French cosmetics shops, bankers and millions of tourists.
“Times Square has a special kind of alchemy that’ll make your head spin,” said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, a business group. “Sleazy becomes sexy, a bank becomes a theater, decaying landmarks become multiplexes or luxury condos, and a gritty newsroom and printing plant become a boutique hotel. The only thing you know is that you don’t know what’s next.”
Mr. Leviev, a diamond magnate who travels with a coterie of bodyguards, had been having trouble paying the $711 million in loans he had piled onto the former Times building, which the newspaper occupied for nearly a century before selling it to move to a new tower on Eighth Avenue in 2007. Mr. Leviev was so intrigued with New York real estate, brokers said, that he did not even tour the building before he bought it.
Reader’s Digest, whose palatial 700,000 square foot building in Pleasantville, a suburban town about 30 miles north of New York City, will be leaving its iconic building next summer, after 71 years there. In the current, lousy economy, the owner of the 116-acre property, SG Chappaqua, is having a tough time finding tenants thanks to restrictive zoning laws demanding each one take huge spaces, one at least 200,000 square feet.
It, too, was a place of history and presence, the walls hung with Impressionist paintings, a hushed 1950s elegance evident the minute you stepped in the door.
The county office market has been hit hard once again by an economic downturn. The volume of commercial transactions in Westchester is down, to about 900,000 square feet at the end of the third quarter of this year, from 1.6 million square feet for the same period a year ago, according to numbers tallied by CB Richard Ellis.
The vacancy rate countywide increased to 17 percent in the third quarter, from 16 percent at the end of the period a year ago.
Separately, when SG Chappaqua acquired the property, it also proposed building about 220 luxury condominiums and town houses and 56 middle-income housing units on the Reader’s Digest campus. That application is wending its way through the approval process and a decision is expected sometime in the next year.