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Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Ugly Houses In Nice Neighborhoods–Diversity Has Its Limits

Rosewood Park is a leafy, upscale neighborhood of Washington, DC – professional, woke, and wealthy.  Rosewood Park is not the top of line, not a Spring Valley or Cleveland Park, but nothing to shake a stick at.  The average selling price for houses in the neighborhood is well over a million dollars, and even the 1920s bungalows, modest, often prefab houses built for simplicity and airiness, do not bring down average property values since bungalows have acquired a certain retro cachet, and new owners make significant additions, often doubling their size.  Rosewood Park, although only 500 feet above sea level is noticeably cooler than the swampy bottom of the city.  In fact many of the bungalows were built as summer houses, and the raised porches were perfect for catching the errant breezes from the Potomac.

Image result for images prefab bungalows washington dc

Most of the houses are traditional brick colonial built before World War II with the solid construction made to last rarely found in new homes today.  These houses when modernized – enlarged kitchen with oversized refrigerators, 6-burner, restaurant quality Viking stoves, butcher-block center islands, and track lighting; open living rooms, high ceilings, and spacious combined bedrooms – are new homes within old shells, the best of both the solidity of the 30s and the polished, bright, stainless steel of the 2000s. 

Roseland Park has always been the home for young professional two-income families able to afford the $1 million asking price. While housing prices have increased well over 10 times in the past few decades, professional incomes have kept pace.  There are fewer middle class families in the neighborhood – police, fire, teachers, and emergency workers have moved out to the Maryland suburbs – but this outmigration is not restricted to Rosewood Park.  Gentrification has occurred throughout the city and even areas which were stone bad slums have seen an influx of wealthy whites who have, in their turn, expanded, renovated, and remodeled.

Image result for images typical homes au park dc

Recently however Rosewood Park has seen its share of what residents have called ‘monstrosities’ – three and four-story houses wide and deep enough to fill the entire lot, dominating the houses to either side and setting a new tone for sub-sections of the neighborhood.  The gossip on neighborhood chat sites and over back fences has been consistent – who could possibly have built such bourgeois, tasteless, grotesqueries? Have they no respect for community values, tradition, and good taste?

Of course the owners of these new, non-traditional houses, feel that they indeed have good taste; that they respect District zoning regulations, and have built their dream house on still-affordable land.  There is one house which has been the subject of the most catty remarks.  “Arabs”, the gossip goes because in the mind of upper middle class professional Americans who have been schooled in the Ivy League, summer on the Vineyard and winter in Gstaad, ‘Arab’ means the most meretricious taste ever.  Thoughts run to harems, Kasbahs, and the garish opulence of Turkish pashas – heavy drapes, ornate detailing, everything gilded, inlaid, polished, and glossed – when neighbors discuss ‘the house’.  

They snicker at the Mercedes, BMWs, and Bentleys parked in the driveways of three-car garages, turn their noses up at the faintly Middle Eastern smells coming from the kitchen, and laugh at veiled women who get into chauffeur-driven limousines.

Image result for images turkish pasha palace interior

The neighbors aver that even the overstretched size of the house would be tolerated if it weren’t for all the frieze-work, arches, ornate birdbaths, and Moroccan doorways. 

De gustibus non disputandum est – in matters of taste there can be no disagreement – has been the meme for tolerance and respectful distance for millennia.   Since everyone is different, especially in an era which encourages diversity and multiculturalism, then there should be no raised eyebrows over a sconce or Italian marble, gold peacocks, and triple-level porphyry fountains.  Or Persian thick pile carpets, cut glass colored windows, carved potpourri, or embossed silver cutlery.   

Yet there is no snobbery, no impatient dismissal of the ugly, outlandish, and inappropriate like the disputing of taste.  To most people, despite the old adage, there indeed is something called good taste, and they have it.

Residents of Roseland Park who have for years lived quite happily in their old, traditional, well-built, conservative, but small homes, shake their heads at the size of the ‘Arab’, oversized ‘monstrosities’ going up in the neighborhood.  Why the very idea of game rooms, gyms, entertainment centers, indoor lap pools, and three floors of canopied beds, guest rooms, and servants quarters is unconscionable.  Who could possibly need all of that space? they rhetorically ask.  Only the filthy rich, tasteless, unsophisticated. 

The  cattiness does not end with the oversized, ‘Arab’ houses. It extends to ‘ambience’.  For those who grew up in New England or the Tidewater, garish Christmas displays were considered bad taste.  A simple holly wreath on the front door, a simple tree with two strands of lights and a star, and a sprig of mistletoe in the hall was quite enough.  

Who lives there? neighbors asked when they walked past a traditional colonial house whose front yard was festooned with inflatable reindeer, Easter bunnies, Leprechauns, Uncle Sams, plaster Virgins, blue grottos, and plastic palm trees.  The owners of the house were doing nothing wrong.  There was no zoning ordinance which prevented exuberant lawn displays, and they were well within their rights; but yet they offended each and every conservative traditionalist who walked by.

Image result for Images Yards with Inflatable Displays Christmas. Size: 204 x 204. Source: www.walmart.com

It is important to note that Roseland Park is one of the most woke neighborhoods in Washington.  It voted over 95 percent for Joe Biden, is passionately behind anything Black, environmentally sound, and economically equitable.   So it is perhaps surprising that such a tolerant crowd could be so dismissive, nasty, and ill-natured when it came to other people’s houses. 

However, tolerance for the woke is confined to very narrow interests of race, gender, and ethnicity.  They would – or at least they say they would – love to have a Black family as a neighbor as long as they were professional, conservative, well-bred, and –educated. 

The Washington DC city council, now with more members espousing the radical left racial and economic agenda, has proposed building a low-income housing complex in Rosewood Park.  Diversity, inclusivity, and tolerance cannot be in name only, the Council stated.  It must be real, physical, and visible.  but for Rosewood Park residents the idea of having garish, multi-story, meretricious ‘Arab’ houses and a ten-story vertical slum was simply beyond comprehension.  

As soon as the idea was aired by the council, the Rosewood Park Neighborhood Association stormed their Councilmember’s office and let her know in no uncertain terms that this would not stand.  Not only would the infusion of lower class minorities distort the carefully balanced, carefully planned diversity of the neighborhood, a housing project would simply be ugly. 

Scratch the surface of Roseland Park, and you find a community like every other – concerned with property values, schools, and social integrity.  Neighbors want to live in a community whose residents look like them, act like them, and live in houses like theirs.  Nothing racist or exclusionary about it.  The Leonard Bernstein song from West Side Story rings as true as ever – stick to your own kind.

Martha’s Vineyard is perhaps the best expression of American WASP culture.  It is uniformly old school, patrician, English, and tasteful in a particular 18th century way. As an island favored by the intelligentsia and literati of the East Coast who want it kept pristine and unchanged, it has the clout to resist the inroads of ‘New York’ money.  The residents of the island, as woke as any, see no problem with this insularity and exclusionism.  The market must be stopped if it means ‘New York’ distortion of our values, our traditions, and our good taste.  All kinds of anti-democratic chicanery is going on to be sure that this happens.

Image result for images old traditional neibhrothood marthas vineyard

The few conservatives in Roseland Park see nothing wrong with ‘Arab’ houses, lawn furniture, or outsized houses.  If the laws of the municipality permit, then anything goes; and in fact the higher the property value of homes, the more tax revenue accrues to the state.  

Let Rosewood Park liberals complain.  It is the market at work and whinging about it is just silly; and yet the brouhaha continues.  Photographs are taken of every oversized, non-traditional, alternately designed home and circulated on the Internet.  This cannot stand Roseland Park advocates insist.  We must do something!

Of course their intentions are hopeless.  The market, the tax base, the demand of young, non-Ivy Leaguers, and changing taste will, as always rule.  As has been the case of housing markets everywhere, ‘If you don’t like it, leave’. 

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