Several years ago, I called a real estate agent in my hometown, Newburyport, Mass., with (as one tends to bring to agents) a fantasy. I wanted to buy the Pink House.
I had first glimpsed this house as a child, from the back seat of the family station wagon en route to the beach. The foursquare single-family home sat alone on the road out to Plum Island, overlooking a vast flat landscape of pristine salt marsh. The sight unnerved me and became a mainstay of my nightmares: A lonely, unloved thing looming against a howling sky, its cupola a leering, all-seeing eye.
The more claustrophobic I felt, the more I fantasized about the Pink House. Looking at images online (an arresting vision in any season, it’s a popular subject for local artists and photographers), I’d daydream about how liberating it would be to live alone in high “Grey Gardens” style and own such an extraordinary view.
Ardor for such houses isn’t uncommon. Take 11 Spring Street in downtown Manhattan. Before it was sold in 2006 and converted to condominiums, the abandoned brick building covered in graffiti was a beloved reminder of a city that no longer is (and even made it into a Lou Reed poem).
Or picture the overgrown, derelict Granville mansion at the fictional 320 Sycamore in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” “Oh no, George, don’t,” Mary Hatch pleads when George Bailey threatens to throw a rock at a window. “It’s full of romance, that old place. I’d like to live in it.” Lucky for her, she did. […]