Lewis Mumford wrote that, in a city, “time becomes visible.” Not, it would appear, in Raleigh, North Carolina, where a city board has just decided that a rather discreet and understated modern house might need to be torn down because it damages the ambience of a historic district, which is to say it destroys the illusion that the neighborhood is a place in which time has stopped.
It’s actually a little more bizarre than that. Louis Cherry, a respected Raleigh architect, and his wife, Marsha Gordon, had long liked the Oakwood neighborhood, a pleasant, older section of town not far from the center of Raleigh, and a couple of years ago they bought a parcel of land on Euclid Street, in the heart of what is called the Oakwood Historic District. Oakwood is not the kind of historic district you would find in, say, New Orleans, where the buildings are of pretty much the same style and the same period. It’s a mix of 19th- and 20th-century houses, of varying size, style, and quality, and construction there is overseen by the Raleigh Historic Development Commission, which, working under pre-determined design guidelines for historic districts, opines on whether or not it considers plans for new construction in the district appropriate.