“We know the name of the architect of Grand Central, but who swept the floors?”
I heard this quote on a StoryCorps podcast this morning, and spent a moment hovering on the brink of crying in my car. Yes, yes, a thousand times YES. This is why old buildings matter, because they belong to all of us. Because you can point to it and say I lived there, I worked there, I went to school there. It is built, physical proof that you exist, that your life story is true. I thought about a kid (now in his early 20s but I still think of him as a kid–ed.) I know on the North Side of St. Louis…. Many of the buildings he’s lived in have been torn down. A mutual friend remarked, “It’s like the carpet of his life is rolling up behind him.”
So yeah, this is why I sometimes lose sleep over a humble house. This is why my favorite building is a two-story storefront (ILY, 4831 Fountain). This is why I say we need to talk about the stories of buildings’ lives and what they meant to people, not just which catalog the architect Dead Q. Whiteguy ordered the terracotta from (as much as YOU KNOW I love that info too). This is why I talk about the neighborhoods we lost for the freeways and the ones we are still losing to sketchy banks and Paul McKee.
The Guardian Building matters because it is so goddamn beautiful but also because it was built by many sets of hands, also because so many people have worked there and walked through the doors. The Guardian Building also matters because we all love it, visit it, show it off, take it as a proud symbol of our identity as Detroiters, photograph it, run our fingers over the carved stone. Standing in the Guardian Building’s lobby fills me with emotion but I am moved just as strongly (if in a different way) by standing in the front yard of the burnt house that was my mother’s childhood home.
Places matter, and they matter because of *all* of their people.