Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Lessons from Lawrence

i spent a few days in Lawrence, Kansas over the holiday - a college town (Rock Chalk, Jayhawk) with a wealth of civic and school pride, a consistently-humming-with-activity historic main street, and a quality 1860s to 1920s midwestern housing stock that any U.S. city in their right mind would wish upon themselves.

There are lessons to be learned everywhere, but Lawrence's homegrown creativity, boutique sensibilities, and artist-class vibe lend themselves easily to the potential of our own rivertown anacostia neighborhood. Look here:

Welcome to Massachusetts Street, the city's main retail destination, but also home to walkable everyday needs - where old blends with new, hip with hippy, and a (to some) frightening influx of chains threatens a long list of locals:

the hardware store, still a local and helpful resource. loving the 20th c. signage

ingredient, a sweet sign and a focus on fresh salad. I could go for one of these on MLK...

urban outfitters in the very "urban outfitters-esque" old Varsity Theater. old theater as new retail is an interesting model that i haven't seen much of, but definitely works.

still not sure how i feel about this one, but sometimes the rules have to be broken

love. it. Signs of Life (tagline: Books & Art, Truth & Beauty) is an amazing blend of coffee shop, bookstore, and art gallery; warm, inviting, and interesting.

Moving from the main drag to the more residential area, but pause for a quick peek at a humble and human-scale sign. We don't always need fluorescent lights to blast out information. sometimes a more human approach is most appropriate:

you can usually count on small-city architects to have cool offices. no exception here.

if you didn't already know, i'm a huge supporter of dark-contrast windows. adds a certain understated punctuation to an exterior:

green fishscales + black windows + garlands = the sum of all classy

unpainted stainless steel roof with washed-out brick: the perfect combo of actual rustic and country-living chic

simple black and white - hard to go wrong here

kansas stone and forest green. check out the great picket fence - don't forget that you can apply for one with the Historic Homeowners Grant. Although now mostly replaced, this same style used to grace many of the front yards of old anacostia

Lawrence's alleys provide access for the unsightly aspects of everyday life: trash cans, utility wires, and garages...

i swear, if that clean-looking wire is all it takes for Lawrence, aint no way we need our utility line disaster in anacostia

...which allows the streets to exude clutter-free elegance on a human scale. no unnatural tree-shearing here to make way for the telephone lines:

the streets are (too) wide, but the stop signs are many

it really is (always) the details that pull everything together. Unfortunately for the modern streetscape, design details have largely been the first thing to go in our computer-generated society. But there is hope:

even the sidewalk bricks are stamped with a little extra detailing. this was one "pattern", but there is quite the variety from block to block.

there will always be brick sidewalk dissenters (and for good reasons), but i am a big fan. especially loving the herringbone crosswalk and granite outlines.

Washington, DC is a city of old street names. Especially in older areas like Georgetown and Anacostia, there is a street name legacy that has largely been forgotten in the era of letters and numbers. Anacostia's Uniontown (generally the historic district) was laid out in a grid of presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and so on. We could definitely use these in our neighborhood:

this is something i will be pursuing for anacostia.

Lawrence is great. It's inspiring to see a place with so many good examples for our hood to follow, and that has found a way to creatively rejuvinate, stay local, and retain a class-act flavor as it grows. i won't speak for the numbing suburbs that flank it, but its historic center is classic America, and a town with a heckuva lot to offer.

photos by DG-rad


Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing the pictures! It's a pleasant flashback to my college days in smalltown Missouri!

Anonymous said...

Wow, this perhaps show my ignorance, but I'd never expect a nice city like that to be in Lawrence, KS!

Ann said...

Very cool to see our town through your eyes. I love what you picked up on and the brick photo is great.

Next post: Perry, Kansas?!

Hannah said...

classy post, DG. makes sense that it's called Massachusetts street, after all. (reminds me of some towns near me in MA.) based on your love of the photo of the black and white house I think you should read the book "Peace Like a River" by Leif Enger.

Matt Siemer said...

hey DG

What brought you to Lawrence? I used to go there occasionally when I lived nearby, but most people don't go there just for fun.


David Garber said...

i spent the first year of my life there, and still have a lot of family in the area. it's a good place to go back to.

The Hitchcocks said...

Hey David! Great pictures -- you're making me a little homesick. So sorry we missed you over Christmas. I guess you'll just have to come to Sioux Falls. We've got a pretty nice downtown and historic district, too. Actually, I took to Sioux Falls right away because it reminded me a lot of Lawrence.

LB said...

i really love this post, your pics, your ten pence.

mrb said...

i love the little green house and the herringbone bricks! beautiful pics and great post dave.

Sara B. said...

DG - the urban outfitters in charleston is an old theatre also...that company must love to snatch the old buildings up. i tried to find a picture of it from the outside but this was the best i could come up with:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this wonderful post! Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to remind us why we love our town so much. I can't wait to visit Anacostia again to see how things progress there.

Also, Massachusetts Street was definitely named as an homage to the real state. I don't know the historical particulars, but I know there was some "homesickness" with the first Lawrence settlers. Naming streets after home states helped, and Massachusetts is the main drag in Lawrence. We call it "Mass" Street.

Thanks for the post!
Clinton, Lawrence, KS

Miss B said...

This is great! Thanks for such a wonderful perspective of Lawrence. I know I love having the opportunity to live in a really cool old house as a college student (Rock Chalk) and it's nice to see an out-of-town'ers perspective.

A lot of the streets that run north south are named after states (at least until you hit Iowa street). They start with Delaware (on the east end of town) and each street after that is the next one to join the union. It's a nice little history lesson for those of us forgetting our US colonial history!

Sariane Leigh said...

Wow, what a beautiful tucked away little place. What's even crazier is that Anacostia is so similar in its historic architecture.

I am so with you on the electric lines. Most in Anacostia are even hazardous- lying low, crossing under trees etc.

I can only hope that the future of Anacostia incorporates the old with the new instead of tearing down everything.

Kathy Stegall said...

Thanks for the beautiful perspective. I still love Mississippi Street and often miss living there....but the country has its charms. Are you going to buy at the auction?