The Clash: Preserve The Old, Make Way For The New

THE OBSERVER

March 31, 1991|By Mark Guidera

When the wrecking ball comes to finish off the Victorian-style building which sits on the northwest corner of Routes 22 and 543 outside Bel Air, there will be those who may curse the man who owns the property.

Henry Boyer of Churchville bought the 1 1/4-acre property about 14 years ago from Dr. Willard Hudson, at the time a well-known doctor in the county.

Then , recalls Boyer, the good doctor was glad to be rid of the building. It needed work, time and money. "It was dilapidated, really," says Boyer.

Boyer figured he'd invest in the site and hope that it appreciated in value for his retirement years.

His proved a wise business decision, one of those decisions in life we all wish we could target and make.

The Mobil Oil folks offered Boyer a deal he couldn't refuse.

He hasn't said how much they'll pay him to lease the site for a gas station, but it will be a handsome sum no doubt.

If it were you or me signing the deal with Mobil, we would say this:"Ain't America great?"

But some historic preservationists and DocHudson's granddaughter, Kenyon, don't see it that way. They are cursing Boyer's decision to raze the building.

They want stronger county laws enacted to prevent the owners of old buildings from being able to knock them down whenever they feel like it.

They think Boyer is skimping on his public duty by not preserving the building and thesite. To them, it is hallowed ground.

Why? Because the building served as a maternity hospital in during the 1940s. No matter where weare born, we always regard that place, be it hospital or home, as sacred ground.

I'm sure it is nice for those who were born in the old building to be able to drive by it and point out to relatives from Iowa and friends from the big city that, yes, that's where I was born.

The building, with its wide, narrow front porch and fading creampaint and Victorian design evokes a time when America was agrarian and wholesome and good.

A time, of course, that is more dream than reality.

Boyer is a realist. And this is what he knows: The site is not sacred ground. "People tell me they were born in the house and I say, 'Great. For a buck, I'll show you the room where you were born.' So far, no takers."

The site is no different really than the old beat-up farm house that used to sit way back off the road on Route 1 just spitting distance from the Harford Mall in Bel Air.

An old cow used to laze in the sun near the hum of traffic on Route 1. We all mourn the departure of Betsy the cow. She gave Route 1 in Bel Air acertain, ah, charm.

I don't remember, though, many people rushingto save that old farm house. Most couldn't wait until the the new Dunkin' Donuts opened in the shopping plaza that replaced Betsy's hallowed grazing grounds.

Boyer offered to give the building to anyone who wanted to preserve it as long as they carted it away.

He's gotten no takers. Not even the county government, whose planning director tried to intervene and get Boyer to reconsider and save the property from change.

In a way, the building seems picturesque up on theknoll above the road. But strangely out of place, too.

Across thebustling intersection, there is the neon green and blue trim of a Royal Farm Store with teens hanging out in the parking lot. Spanking new commercial ventures and houses can be found sprouting faster than spring wheat nearby.

The debate over Boyer's decision to bulldoze the once-upon-a-time hospital and build a gas station says something about progress and historic preservation, I suppose.

We are sentimental about old buildings, the way we are about old dogs.

They are nice to have around to look at. But we really don't want to be the ones to pay the bills to keep them going.

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