With all foreseeable options exhausted for saving the historic 1870s Church on Church Road, it is almost a foregone conclusion that it will soon be removed from the site, one of the last vestiges of an old Sterling/Guilford that exists mainly in a handful of photographs and snips of history. “Why didn’t you buy it?” and “If you wanted to save it, you should have paid for it,” the knuckleheads will scream, as if every Manhattanite should have coughed up the money for Pennsylvania Station or every Minneapolitan for the Metropolitan Building.
The Davis One/Young Group will hide behind their LLC, “it’s not our decision, we’re a corporation,” they’ll say, “we just need to make money. Don’t you get it?” Builders have always tried to trick people into believing that preservation and development is a zero-sum game, that the new can only be built at the expense of the old. The idea that anybody involved with the company wouldn’t feel a twinge of embarrassment for thinking of replacing an 1870s church fronting a major road in a historic section of Sterling with a 4-story, 88,000sf self-storage facility is absurd, especially in light of the fact that several storage facilities already exist within 2 miles of the location. That a confluence of new development and historical reverence couldn’t be reached or that a vaguely aesthetically-pleasing proposal couldn’t be put forth is a shame.
“There is nothing economically or socially inevitable about either the decay of old cities or the fresh-minted decadence of the new unurban urbanization,” Jane Jacobs wrote in her classic on public spaces The Death and Life of Great American Cities, lamenting the “degree of monotony, sterility and vulgarity” of the built world that is given to us by those who feel they know better. The proposal for the church site even extols the provision of a small park for events and picnicking. Jacobs goes on to write that “decades of preaching, writing and exhorting by experts have gone into convincing us and our legislators that mush like this must be good for us, as long as it comes bedded with grass.”
Will anybody from the developer’s group ever even pass through Sterling to see their blemish on the horizon? Will the return on investment offset the debasement of a small corner of history? Will the investors be satisfied with an architectural race to the bottom?
On Grand Central Station, a preservation win that only came after so many losses, Jackie O wrote:
Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future? Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters. Maybe… this is the time to take a stand, to reverse the tide, so that we won’t all end up in a uniform world of steel and glass boxes.
In a few years, the church will be gone, ravaged by outsiders and replaced by a demoralizing steel and glass box, just another forgotten piece of Sterling’s history.