The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

22 October 2003

That 50s show

The new house, of course, is new only to me: it was built in 1948, and most of the neighborhood as it exists today was in place by 1953 or so. Inasmuch as it's the city's express desire to keep this place looking like 1953, I find myself contemplating the Fifties as we know them, and as they've been redefined in the half-century since.

Decades, of course, seldom conform to mere chronology, and the Fifties were arguably the longest decade of the twentieth century, beginning 25 June 1950 along the 38th parallel on the Korean peninsula and ending 22 November 1963 in the city of Dallas. In the intervening years, we've been taught that the Fifties were a perfectly dreadful era, riven with paranoia and choked with conformity, the spectres of Jim Crow and Joe McCarthy glaring down upon the landscape, and June Cleaver forever stuck behind her vacuum cleaner.

But a truer picture of the Fifties, I think, emerges when you stand these arguments on their heads. Tailgunner Joe's obsession with communists, however overwrought, was based on fact. Jim Crow was about to be plucked: in 1954, Linda Brown won out over the Topeka Board of Education, and the following year Rosa Parks was arrested, precipitating the Montgomery bus boycott. Innocuous pop tunes were displaced by rhythm and blues and its marginally-legitimate child, rock and roll. And while Ward may have been the nominal head of the Cleaver family, it takes less than half an hour to notice that June actually ran things.

And I think of the American automobile industry, which produced such marvels as the beautifully-understated '53 Studebaker and the wonderfully-overdone '57 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser, reminders that the Fifties were a time when Americans thought they could do just about anything. Then came the misadventure of Vietnam, which persuaded us that we weren't all that omnipotent after all. We haven't been quite the same since.

But in the Fifties, the sky was the limit, the bonds of earth still surly, and while I have no compelling urge to turn back the clock, I'd like to see some vestige of Fifties ebullience, that peculiarly American brand of self-confidence, take root and grow in the 21st century, while I put down roots of my own in a place (and not just a physical place) that remembers.

Posted at 9:11 AM to Almost Yogurt

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Congrats on the new digs, but I feel the need to say that you might be lucky that your '50s domicile was left that way long enough to be preserved. The house we moved into was built in '59 (oak wood throughout, thank goodness), but didn't survive the 60s and 70s without some nasty redecoration. Luckily the 80s and 90s contributed a bit to the decor, but needless to say we have some paneling to paint and some wallpaper to take down. And I like the idea of a car to match the house!

Posted by: Steve Gigl at 9:23 AM on 22 October 2003

When I first started house shopping my Mother remarked that I was looking at houses that were as old as I was and whatever on earth for. The one I wound up buying was built in 1965 and was updated (inside) to look like late 70s which was just fine with me :) The reason? Because it was built in a manner which fell by the wayside only shortly thereafter.

Posted by: ms7168 at 2:26 PM on 22 October 2003

I'm in the same boat. New house for me, built in 1936. Valued at $169,000. Sold for $289,900. Welcome to home sales in Massachussetts.

Posted by: SageOne at 10:25 AM on 23 October 2003