September 7, 2009
The house on the corner
Spring Valley, N.Y. – For just about 90 years, nine decades that brought this village through post-World War I prosperity, the Great Depression, an awful Second World War, new post-conflict boom and the growth and the beginning decline of suburbia, a beautiful Craftsman-style home has stood on the corner of South Madison and Castle avenues. It has been a polished jewel in a once well-kept neighborhood now suffering from dense multi-family and boarding house zoning that has encouraged landlord neglect and official indifference, balanced in favor of added tax revenue.
Two brothers were raised in that home, sons of the owner of a large commercial bakery. One became the General Organization president and all-around popular man on campus at the high school across the street. Both brothers were successful businessmen, even after the bakery closed because much larger corporations undercut the price as they also cheapened the bakery goods.
Well into their 80s, the brothers followed the wishes of their parents, who were meticulous in keeping the corner home beyond neat. The lawn was always mowed, the trim painted in its usual yellowish cream, the art-style glass polished. The boarding house up the street gave up its lawn so multiple cars could park there. The high school was sold to a private group that has allowed it to deteriorate almost to ruins. There is litter. There are neglected homes. There is a general shabbiness in what used to be one of the best sections of a once-prosperous village.
Now the jewel at South Madison and Castle avenues has joined the community’s decline. The last of the brothers has passed away, and the family home, an example of how to keep your property neat, has passed, too, into the hands of those who see such houses merely as a place to live, a place to make profit. The lawn is cut when it’s cut. The trim gets no paint. The glass goes untouched. “Why are these things important?” the new owners seem to suggest.
Soon, what stood for so many years at this corner will morph into look-alike modern suburbia, at least that part of suburbia recognized as decline.
Village leaders seem uninterested in the decay, for they have let it happen for almost four decades now, as housing developments sucked away old village families and strip shopping promised a better trip than the downtown Main Street stores. Now, many of those strips have themselves fallen victim to mega malls, and the housing developments are graying, many in need of repair and many owned by seniors who have no use for the numerous rooms. (Didn’t anyone think of that when these large homes were built?)
Even as suburbia has declined, though, even as the village of the two brothers’ birth withered, the corner at South Madison and Castle was a shining example of what can be done, what must be done, in such decay. Pity that their neighbors never