Two weekends ago while visiting friends at the New Jersey shore, my wife and I paid a visit to an architectural salvage yard, called Recycling the Past, located in Barnegat, NJ. Their enormous lot is a treasure trove of building pieces. As a fan of buildings I was in heaven. There are Victorian mantelpieces, signs from 1950s amusement parks, terra cotta decoration from 1920s buildings, 15-foot stone columns from a closed state mental hospital and on and on.
Recycling is in vogue. We recycle cans, paper and glass at curbside to minimize trash put into landfills. The reason to recycle buildings is more complex.
In America buildings often have short life spans. A thirty-year baseball stadium is obsolete, whereas in southern France I visited a Roman stadium 2000 years old that is still used for bullfights and rock concerts.
When a house or commercial building is deemed too expensive to renovate or unsuited to its site's next use, then it's knocked down. Pre-World War II buildings often have a level of craftsmanship and quality of materials that current buildings frequently lack. This makes the well-crafted fragments of older buildings valuable to buyers who can appreciate and afford them.
My emotions ranged from delight and wonder at seeing beautiful salvaged objects that may find new homes to sadness and melancholy contemplating the decay and destruction that led to these objects being orphaned from their original settings.
Enough claw footed bathtubs to shoot lots of Cialis TV ads.
Detail of copper panels from an old Atlantic City school.