Background:

My Alma Mater, Bowling Green State University, Will Soon Raze This Historic “Sears” House

Really, BGSU?

The school where I earned my B.A. in History is about to needlessly knock down a very cool building that is historically significant.   Their stated purpose is to build a new student health center.  I understand that  universities need to expand, but I also believe there would be several reasonable alternatives to razing a one-of-a-kind historic building.  It bums me out enough when individuals knock down historic buildings, but when a (supposedly) enlightened institution like a college fails to demonstrate vision & wisdom, it’s kinda depressing.   And so far, the university has been unswayed by the uproar and protests to save the building.  And now, demolition is scheduled for August 7th!

I want to make just a few quick points (with pictures!):

1) The building that BGSU administrators wish to destroy is a historic “Sears” home from circa 1932.  As you probably know, Sears (and other companies) sold “mail order” homes — or “kit homes” — from catalogs in the early-1900s.  After you ordered your house from Sears, the lumber and the hardware for your chosen house would arrive in your town on railroad boxcars, and you’d then haul the crates & lumber to your yard & build yer’self a house.  And yet this particular house has a fascinating & complex story behind it that makes it far more significant than your average Sears house.   In fact, it’s quite rare how the house was purchased — ordered and replicated through Montgomery Ward.  I highly recommend reading Rose Thornton’s interesting story about it here and an updated installment here.  The image below is from her article, and it shows an early picture of the BGSU house (left) compared to a Sears catalog advertising the “Lewiston” model that the BGSU house was copied from.  I think most would agree that the era of the “mail order” house was a fascinating period of American consumer culture, and these remaining houses are truly artifacts of that cultural era.  It would be a shame to lose this one.

2) Speaking of the significance of American culture . . . and this is laughable to me . . . the university’s famous, one-of-a-kind Pop Culture department has been housed in this building since the 1970s.  I’m not making this up.  I mean, hey, what better way to celebrate American culture than by destroying some American culture?   Oh, and the professors in the department were not made aware of the plans to demolish the building until only days ago, and their opinions were not sought.  They were apparently left out of the process entirely.

3) This house was home to 11 presidents of BGSU.  So even throwing out the Sears/MontgomeryWard significance, the fact that this was the executive mansion of so many of BGSU leaders makes it historic & worth saving for the BGSU history, alone.  The below picture that I dug up somewhere shows the former beauty of this elegant and stately Tudor Revival home after the landscaping had taken hold.  You can certainly see why it was the president’s house.

4) The location of this building is not even really on campus.  Is this really the only place they can build?  The threatened building is across the street from campus in a residential neighborhood.  As the map below demonstrates, the “main” campus is bounded by a very busy street  called Wooster St., beyond which is a neighborhood that is almost entirely residential.  On the map below, notice the black line (Wooster Street) and count how many university buildings are located below it.  Almost none.  I used to walk past that house everyday on the way to class (I really did go to class sometimes), and I used to think it was really cool that the college had once expanded but kept the house, which made sense because it was on the residential side of the road.

In fact, check out this really old picture from (I’m guessing) the early 1930s (it looks like the house may have just been built based on the condition of the front yard).  The house is clearly proud of its position as the crown jewel of the residential neighborhood sprouting up behind it.  And I’d bet the house never suspected that one day the college it so admired would reach across the street and pound it to death with an angry fist.

5) Lastly, how about the whole “sustainability” thing?  BGSU’s own Office of Campus Sustainability claims that the college “places great importance on…our efforts to reduce our consumption of resources and minimize our ecological footprint.“  But are they willing to put their money where their mouth is?  Even people who don’t care about history or old houses concede that re-using old buildings is “greener” than knocking them down — which wastes materials already harvested from the earth, only to extract even more (dwindling) resources from our planet to build new (often larger) buildings.

As the National Trust for Historic Preservation points out, “Historic preservation is an important component of any effort to build sustainable communities. . .The construction, operation and demolition of buildings accounts for well over 40% of the United States’ carbon dioxide emissions, and reuse and retrofitting our existing buildings can reduce these emissions dramatically. Older and historic buildings –  which were often built in dense, walkable and connected places –  also help create the character-rich and human-scale communities that attract people to more sustainable, urban living patterns. . .We don’t discount the value of new, green construction – in fact many green technologies can and should be applied to existing buildings to improve performance.  But new construction – no matter how green – still uses energy and other natural resources and generates construction waste that clogs landfills.”

Demolition of the building is scheduled to begin on August 7th!  If you agree that the Pop Culture building should be saved, and that the university could evaluate alternatives that don’t destroy a historic, already-existing resource, why not take a minute sign the petition or shoot a quick email to BGSU President Mary Ellen Mazey (mmazey@bgsu.edu)?

7 Comments

  1. by Marilyn McDowell, on 08.02.12 @ 8:18 PM

     

    The home my cousin Virgil Taylor ordered from a Montgomery Ward catalog should not be demolished. This historic home is a visual resource in which we can learn about significant events in history. Ordering a home from a catalog and paying $47 a month for a mortage is the history of this home. If the home were demolished this icon of days past will be gone forever. This is a treasure that should be valued and not knocked down with a wrecking ball and hauled to the landfill. I hope you will reconsider your decision. Regards, Marilyn McDowell.

  2. by Lara, on 08.03.12 @ 7:42 AM

     

    Hey, nice post and cool aerial photo you discovered! Personally, I think the house is coming down next week.

  3. by Catarina Bannier, on 08.03.12 @ 6:04 PM

     

    Very sad. Your post is such a well-reported example of how time slowly rolls over these houses, one by one, and for so many different reasons. Thanks for documenting this.

  4. by Dan Shoemaker, on 08.04.12 @ 11:17 AM

     

    Signing the petition is probably more useful than sending an e-mail, since the President of the University does not appear to be listening. Signatures on the petition are more public and can be counted.

    Will the house come down next week? Maybe. But the president is meeting with the faculty of the Department of Popular Culture on Monday. For my own part, I do not believe in the inevitability of any decision made by a human mind. Minds can be changed. In a sense, the purpose of a university is to create and disseminate knowledge that expands minds and changes the world.

    Thanks very much for writing this blog entry!

  5. by Raymond Schuck, on 08.04.12 @ 11:56 PM

     

    Thank you very much for writing about the Popular Culture House. It’s hard for me to look at the pictures on this page and not become immensely saddened by the prospects of this house being demolished.

  6. by Do You Have 60 Seconds to Save a Sears House? (Part IV) | Sears Modern Homes, on 08.07.12 @ 12:43 PM

     

    [...] To read an excellent blog that talks more about the ecological importance of preserving this house, … [...]

  7. by My Alma Mater, Bowling Green State University, Will Soon Raze This Historic “Sears” House | historical tales, on 04.28.13 @ 10:49 PM

     

    [...] Really, BGSU? The school where I earned my B.A. in History is about to needlessly knock down a very cool building that is historically significant.   Their stated purpose is to build a new student health center.  I understand that  universities need to expand, but I also believe there would be several reasonable alternatives to razing [...] Read story [...]

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