something old, something new

jellybean row

This streetscape is one of Saint John’s treasures. The group of “jellybean” buildings are c.1860 Second Empire row houses with sophisticated carved window and door surrounds. They are colourful and quaint, old and attractive. They remind us the time when most buildings in the city centre were wood, and the fact that most burnt in the Great Fire of 1877.

A few steps down the street in either direction are modern office buildings, brick and concrete, glass and steel. They house scores of office workers, shops and businesses. They are tall enough to command a view across the city. They are not particularly notable as architecture and do not attract tourists, but they are also a vital part of the city.

The beautifully painted row houses are now locally famous because a citizen’s group lobbied — successfully — to save them from the wrecking ball. The city was concerned that they were decrepit and needed the land to build a new office building. Over time, the old wooden buildings became more expensive to maintain, and the new concrete buildings became easier to construct.

The question is always one of balance, between a city’s historic heart and its economic vitality, between something old — to keep us rooted, and something new — to give us wings.

Photo taken on January 20, 2011


9 thoughts on “something old, something new

  1. I’m glad these buildings were saved. There are plenty of other lots on which to build office buildings.

    At the same time, I wonder what it’s like for the people who rent the flats in places like these. Antiquated heating, substandard windows, uneven staircases, insect pests, absentee landlords — these are just a few potential problems inherent in ancient buildings. Who pays for the factoring-in of dignity for less-than-middle-class citizens?

    • You’ve made a good point, lavenderbay. If landlords do restore these old buildings and treat them with proper care, the rents might become too high for any but the most well-paid of tenants. But it would be nice if there was a heritage allowance or renovation tax break that would help to make good care of historic buildings more affordable and rewardable.

  2. If we don’t keep the old, we don’t know where we’ve been. If we don’t have the new, we are static.

    Parts of my house were built in 1842. The newest part was built around 1985. So, I guess I have old and new, all in the same house.

  3. It all comes down to $$. I think the buildings are an important part of heritage, and as such, worth the city investing in, repairs, update of interior, etc. As you say, tourists don’t come to see steel office buildings and heritage is part of what makes a city worth living in. But as LB notes, tenants should pay the price.

  4. I’m glad they managed to save them, either way. Took me some time to realize that these were the «Jelly bean houses», even though I’d passed by them several times a week! 🙂 Strange … I’d seen them on several pictures, but always from some different angle or whatever.

    In my little hometown, they tore down most of the old during the 60’s, like in so many other places. Luckily, at least one little street was spared, with buildings from the 1700-something.

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