Saturday, June 16, 2007
It has been my privilege since 1992 to live in a building that was once the home of one of the city's first council members. Shipping magnate Joseph Yates came to Plainfield in the mid-19th century and was on the original governing body in 1867.
I can only imagine the life of its inhabitants before the building was lifted and turned sideways, making way on the block for some rather nondescript apartment buildings. Nowadays it is a six-family, but because of its configuration on a very deep lot, we enjoy more green space than anyone else on the block.
Unfortunately the building is just outside the Crescent Area Historic District and has none of the protections afforded by the Historic Preservation Ordinance. Its exterior is crumbling due to water damage. We often find bits of the decorative woodwork in the yard. Without better intervention, time will take its toll and maybe the building will be replaced by another nondescript apartment building (or some condos - it's only a short walk to the main train station).
The clock is ticking for the Yates building. I sense it every time I see a new crack in the stucco facade or watch birds and squirrels invading the eaves. Whatever its glorious past, it is headed for an ignoble future. To those who enjoy the fruits of the historic preservation movement in Plainfield, I say, be glad. The expense of replacing "like with like" and other strictures may feel like burdens at times, but those who comply are ensuring a legacy of outstanding architecture for generations to come.
Wherever I go next, be it another communal household like the old Rainbow group on West Eighth or some form of senior housing, I will remember with joy the 10-window porch room whose light wards off Seasonal Affective Disorder, the gardens that literally bring me back to earth, the cardinals and goldfinches that visit our yard and the intricate workmanship that I see in details of the building.
Meanwhile, I will stay on in this location that lets me walk to City Hall, the Plainfield Public Library, Plainfield High School, the post office, the downtown and train and bus stops. I'm living the transit village life, thanks to the Yates house.