Monday, March 10, 2008

Which reminds me...

Aimee at Aimee's Petite Maison is doing a fun and generous giveaway for a Solay Salt Lamp. All you have to do to get into the running is post a comment on her blog by March 17th stating why you'd like to win it.

I commented half jokingly that living in Pittsburgh, I could use some negative ion cleansed air.

Half joking... Which reminded me that I've been intending for a while to blog something about the soot covering our house.

Native Pittsburgh-ers like to talk about how much cleaner Pittsburgh is now that the steel industry has largely been replaced with medical industry. Uh huh... Pittsburgh still ranks number two in the nation for worst air quality. You may have come a long way, baby - but there's still a long way to go.

Which brings me, finally,back around to the topic at hand. Our sooty stones. Which I love. Decades of soot and crap have fallen out of the sky and covered our sandstone (limestone?) with a patina that ranges from lightish gray on the more protected areas, to a deep velvety black on the more exposed areas. It's given the facade an almost verigated appearance.

One of our neighbors, and a couple of co-workers, noticing that we are "fixer-uppers" have suggested that we have our stones cleaned. We're about as receptive to this suggestion as we were to the mover who suggested we enclose our front porch to increase our first floor living space. No.Freaking.Way.

I don't care how many buildings downtown have been given a "new lease on life" after having their grimy history sandblasted or power-washed away. It's not like we have some weird love of grime. But, we do have a love and respect for history. I know this house wasn't built to look this way, that the steel mills down the river changed it from it's original and intended form, but neither of us want to "restore" this aspect of the house.

It's late and I'm not even sure how to articulate my feeling about this but I hope I can make it make sense to someone besides DH that the sooty layer on our house should remain, like a testament to what made this city what it was. Like a tribute to the men and women who lived and toiled in this gray polluted city where the mills followed the men home from work, covering their homes, their gardens, and their families with black reminders of the blast furnaces. Where no shopkeeper or executive could find complete exclusion from the price being paid by the men in the mills. To enjoy the commerce, to profit in this economy they too would have to bear the stains of the product making it all possible.

In our basement we have what is commonly referred to (at least by local realtors) as a "Pittsburgh Potty". Most older working class houses here seem to be equipped with at least a toilet in the basement. Ours has a shower as well. We've been told that these were considered a necessity earlier in the 20th century. So that the men, returning home after working a hot, dangerous, back breaking twelve hour shift, covered with soot and scale could clean up and change their clothes in the basement so as not to ruin the family floors and furniture.

So, no... we're not going to come to this town like a couple of johnny-come-lately carpetbaggers and wash what are now "our" stones squeaky clean like nothing ever happened here. It would feel disrespectful, I think. Besides, to our eyes they're lovely just the way they are.


Sandy said...

I like your thinking. Great post!

Corey said...

While you won't wash the stones, will remove the downstairs bathroom?

A lot of Baltimore rowhomes also have a toilet downstairs, but usually no shower. I have a toilet that sits in my basement, upon a throne, with no walls around it. It's a beautiful sight indeed.

We are in said...

Thanks, Sandy! I'm so glad someone understands our thinking on this.

Corey, we saw a lot of houses like that here, too! With just a toilet sitting out in the open, usually near a laundry sink, sometimes with a shower curtain in front of them, but just as often nothing to make them private. One house even had a toilet right inside the basement door, on the landing!

Ours is actually kinda "upscale" I guess, as far as Pittsburgh Potties go - it's enclosed in a small bathroom with a sink and shower stall. We're going to keep it. It's already come in really handy. We used it while we were redoing the plumbing in the upstairs bath. We left the walk-out basement door open for the roofers to be able to use the bathroom when they were here, for washing the dog, and for showering off after digging new flower beds.

So, I guess what was something of a necessity when it was put in is now a sort of "luxury" for us. We don't have to break our backs in a steel mill, but we too can clean up without tracking through the house.

Do you know if there's a story behind the purpose of the Baltimore rowhome "potties"?

Jenni said...

Many of the old houses around here have that odd basement potty, with a sink. Just out in the open on display like.

Jennifer said...

Character is good. History is good. I see no reason to clean!

beginnerknitter said...

I'm so happy i found your blog. We live in NJ and just bought what i think is an American foursquare- and we have what you call a "Pittsburgh potty" as well but its litterally just that. Its a toilet next to the sump hole. No sink, nothing. We have to do something about that someday, but for now its quite a conversation piece.

I agree about leaving the Patina.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the Pgh suburbs (a neighborhood called Eastmont - between Penn Hills & Monroeville) and our house had a bathroom in the basement. It was a bit more formal than what you seem to be calling a Pittsburgh potty but it sure was handy. There was a wall hung sink, toilet and huge shower stall - the walls were all concrete block so I'm sure it was original to the house. Our house was a ranch on a slight hill - the main floor was at ground level on the front and the basement was at ground level on the back. The shower was wonderful for dirty kids & dogs and the toilet & sink meant that the upstairs was kept clean when working or playing outside. Sure miss something like that in my current house!

jonathan said...

I like to tell people that we're doing a "functional restoration" of our Victorian. We want to retain the things that make the house charming and "old," and we want to restore the features that make a Victorian a Victorian, but we also need to be able to live here with our cats and maybe some future kids. I think that what you're doing with the exterior of your house is a good thing, and your post describing it is great.

I'm sure you've noticed a bunch of buildings in downtown and Oakland getting the "clean" treatment. To be honest, I liked the Tower of Learning better when it had that sooty patina to it. The mills that helped this area to become what it is changed things here, some of those permanently. My grandmother (if you're Polish like we are, one might call her "Babcia") still tells stories about going to work in downtown Pittsburgh, and having to take two sets of gloves--one to wear on the way to work, and another to put on when at work because the first set was already covered with soot and dirt. We have come a long way since then, but the history that the outside of your house (and so many other buildings and houses) tells is something both sad and glorious at the same time. I couldn't imagine stripping that away.