Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House In Historic West Haven – Part 2

 

The war was still reverberating in 1946 when the former editor of Fortune magazine, Eric Hodgins, wrote the novel Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. There was a national housing shortage. The American dream of the returning G.I.’s included home ownership. The film correctly read the mood of those who wanted to move on to pursue the American dream. (See Part 1 for further information on the genesis of the Dream Houses.)

In 1988 Marianne Stanley Farris & David Farris bought Mr. Blandings Dream Home from Sam Arrington’s estate to become the second owners. Their daughter, Kate, was 8 years old at that time. (Above, The Dream House photograph as it appeared in 1988.) The Farris’ began to modernize the house while keeping in mind its architectural integrity. It took six months to redo the interior, lay a brick path to the front door, add a porch roof over the front door. (SEE PHOTOGRAPHS OF TODAY’S HOUSE IN PART ONE)  The photograph to the right is of young Kate, with her parents. She could not have imagined that one day her own darling daughters,  Mari Robin and Frances, would be playing in the back garden in their own playhouse.   

In 2004, James & Kate Tharin were expecting their 1st child when they bought the Dream Home from Kate’s parents. I have written before that I believe we find the memories of the caretakers of a home floating forever in the dust motes seen in the sunlight through the windows. In Mr. Blandings Dream Home the Arrington family, Marianne & David, James & Kate, will always be found.  Mr. Blandings Dream House represents all of our dreams of living a life of peace and prosperity, of those we love, family, and friends around us, our children playing safe and free.

There is a PS: to this story. Kate Tharin, who grew up in this house tells us that the kitchen knives remain in the same drawer and that she and James have no plans in upcoming improvements to remove the radiator covers from the walls in spite of the fact that they are no longer in use. Best of all, the piano that sat in the living room of Kate’s childhood is coming back home and will be placed in the same corner. James Tharin and his family are living their particular dreams in a special house with a unique history. The 8-year-old girl grew up and cast her own spell on the interior design of her childhood home which deserves a magazine spread. James Tharin, handsome and good humored, is a fine stand-in for Cary Grant as Mr. Blanding. The Dream House is yet another reason to appreciate the West Haven Historic District in Rocky Mount, NC.

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The Historic District Gardens of Rocky Mount – A West Haven Poem

“A garden should make you feel you’ve entered privileged space — a place not just set apart but reverberant — and it seems to me that, to achieve this, the gardener must put some kind of twist on the existing landscape, turn its prose into something nearer poetry.”
Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education

 

Turning prose into poetry is exactly what MaryJo & Edwin Williamson have done with their Historic District West Haven garden situated a mile west of the business district of Rocky Mount, NC.  W. Henry Toler, secretary-treasurer for People’s Oil Company and his wife, would be amazed at what the Williamson’s have created since moving (2006) into the two-story brick Cape Cod house that was originally built in 1937 for the Toler’s.  The garden is a lesson in how to patiently write a ‘poem’….starting with the installation of pathways in increments, relocating plants, welcoming plant material from friends and neighbors who were dividing and editing their own gardens, and one project at a time, making a garden that has become a healing place of wonder & joy for The Head Gardener (MaryJo) and her Under Gardener (Edwin.)

The success of this joint endeavor manifests itself in a myriad of ways. The sound of water in a garden creates serenity, and MaryJo & Edwin’s 1st project was building a pond edged with rocks they brought home a few at a time from trips to Halifax Co.

Next, Edwin thought he was building himself a tool shed that got commandeered by MaryJo. When you see this charming structure, you will have no trouble imagining the magic it holds.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Partially inspired by the years the Williamson’s lived in Carmel, California, Edwin built a gazebo that houses some of his Navy memorabilia. The structure is tucked in the corner, another surprise I found while wandering through the garden.

Whimsy plays an important role; a teapot, cups, and saucers holding food for the birds, a collection of bird houses handsomely displayed on perches Edwin has created. MaryJo sews her own garden flags. It would be impossible to select my favorite thing about this wonderful garden, whether it be the hardscape of paths and patios, resting places to sit or happily situated plants, but the mailbox that the Under Gardener leaves love notes in for the Head Gardener and a Corbel from the old sanctuary of 1st Baptist Church, where the Williamson’s were married, ranks high on this romantic’s list.

While MaryJo mentions the Daphne bushes and Coneflowers as favorites, Edwin loves the roses. There is a Sweet Betsy Bush like MaryJo’s grandmother had in her garden. This is a year-round garden where there is always something blooming in this well loved and cared for space. It turns out that from Google Earth Maps, the pathways around this garden are visible. One can find God in a garden and this one is no exception. It made me think Google Earth is surely akin to how God sees us, our pathways watched over by his love and care.

MaryJo and Edwin are taking care of their little slice of heaven, a garden designed and maintained by two knowledgeable, interesting and extremely wonderful folks. We thank them for sharing the garden with us. If you know of a garden in one of the historic districts that should be included in this series, please let me know in the Comment section below.

            

     

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Seeing the Beauty of Historic West Haven Through the Eyes of Its Architecture – Part 2

A Dry Stacked Stone Wall to Appreciate in Historic West Haven

 (The walls) endure in part because a rock is as near a definition of “forever” as exists. Do it right — square, plumb, and well-tied throughout — and the wall will be standing long after you and I and all our other accomplishments and failings are forgotten.”                               -John Vivian-How to Build a Dry Stone Wall

I’ve written about placing my hand on a brick when admiring the preservation of a building. Appreciating the stonework in West Haven is an opportunity, as deceased Irish Priest, author, poet, John O’Donohue says: “Draw alongside the silence of stone until its calmness can claim you.” I stood for a few moments before the stone wall pictured above. I’m not going to tell you where the wall is because you must go and find your own stone to find its calmness. The home on the right is fronted with a low stone wall and pictured is this stunning entrance pathway that speaks of lasting beauty. This is the 1930 Margaret Griffin House (1617 Rivera Drive) also referred to as Pine Hall.

The two-story brick Colonial Revival style house is laid in Flemish bond. The seven-bay symmetrical facade features decorative stone and brick work, including a stone frontispiece. This photo doesn’t do the house justice, I apologize, but it does show you the results of John Wells wisdom in specifying that only a minimum number of trees could be cleared during construction. An abundance of mature trees is part of the glory of West Haven. Haven’t we all driven through a neighborhood with beautiful homes and tried to imagine what our lives would be like if we walked through the front door of one of our favorites and called it home. Could you blame me when I stopped to take a closer look at 408 Wildwood? I’ll let it speak for itself, but the gardener in me said, “Oh, yes!”

  

 NEXT TIME: Part 3- Looking at Historic West Haven Through the Eyes of Its Architecture

Seeing the Beauty of Historic District West Haven Through Its Architecture – Part 1

“A place without meaning is no place to be.”
Wayne Gerard Trotman

I experienced a glorious early spring day on March 9, 2017, while driving through the Historic District of West Haven. I knew the weather was a gift to relish because it would not last. Entering into a quiet world, free of traffic, it allowed me to take photographs while standing in the road, yet I was only a mile west of downtown. I was accompanied by bird song celebrating the day. LISTEN.  The photo on the right is Wildwood Park that sits along Waverly and Rivera Drive where I stood to breathe in the warm sun and birdsong, definitely a Lenten blessing.

What one appreciates immediately about West Haven is its curvilinear streets, the first planned neighborhood in Rocky Mount to deviate from the usual grid system found in the other Historic Districts. Like the beads on a rosary, we touch each esteemed name associated with the creation of this idyllic twenty-five block area that reminds us how important beauty is to our lives. We remember John Wells, the local civic engineer who was the developer and realtor for the 211 acres of wooded property. (1928) The architects Thomas Herman of Wilson and Harry Harles of Rocky Mount and….drum roll please….local contractors D.J. Rose and Samuel Toler, who built homes in West Haven.

Come, educate your eye! Let’s look at two Colonial Revival style homes that will help you recognize this style when you see it.  Many of you are fortunate to know the stories and the people that call these lovely places home. I had to use my imagination. When writing about the homes pictured in this post, I thought of the 1950’s  and the clothes that were worn, the music listened to, and the cars people drove. One doesn’t need the personal details of these homes to fall in love with these architectural treasures in yet another historic district of Rocky Mount. Whether it is a shotgun house, a bungalow, or a Colonial Revival, our cup runneth over with architectural gems.

On the right is an example of a typical Colonial Revival style home found in West Haven. This is the 1951 Robert Walker House at 515 Piedmont Avenue.  This two-story, brick house has a symmetrical three-bay facade with a recessed entrance with sidelights and side panels and a segmental arched wood transom over the door. Note the house is balanced by exterior end chimneys on the side elevations along with one-story wings on each end.

Here is a frame version of the Colonial Revival Style, the 1950 Edgar Joyner House at 322 Piedmont Avenue. A two-story, side gable house with beaded weatherboard siding with typical Revival style details that include dentils at the cornice, a symmetrical three-bay facade, and a pedimented portico supported classical columns. A one-story addition includes a side sun porch.

TOMORROW: Seeing the Beauty of West Haven through its Architecture – Part 2