John Nolen writes quite a bit about the public and private buildings in Erie, and very little of it is complimentary. That is unfortunate, but really, I understand. Strangely, one of my greatest pleasures before COVID was paying my property tax in person. Lauren, who worked in the city tax office was always a good sport when I came in (I’m sorry Lauren ☹). I would have my check in hand, wear black, and loudly comment on here I was in the “architectural gem” City Hall paying my money. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe in paying for fire and police protection and schools. It was just my comment that I was entering such an ugly building to do so.
Erie could be much prettier. Our old public buildings have been outgrown or were seen as outdated, consequently many were demolished. The replacements were built in the current trends of the time and quickly became dated. Just look at State Street right now. The further one travels south on State Street, the buildings have empty lots in between and the mix of building style confuses any potential customers. Fortunately, the Erie Downtown Development Corporation is striving to create new buildings in the age and style of the old for a cohesive look.
Our private buildings (homes) have some interesting neighborhoods with classic architectural designs but overall, the city is filled with “monotonous, dreary, commonplace development” (Nolen p. 71). The neighborhoods are not well developed with a school that could also serve as a community center, large school yard, park or playground, and a similar architectural style giving residents a sense of belonging.
The one compliment Nolen does give is to the “new” homes in Lawrence Park. He felt the planning occurring before any building commenced was positive. Nice homes with good sized lots were being created at an average price of $2,000. In 1913, the average wage of a skilled worker was $750 per year, for an unskilled worker, $500. Therefore, if the average proportion of income paid to rent did not exceed 20%, these were affordable residences. I did not realize affordable housing was an issue at the time, just like now.
There are many efforts being made now by homeowners in the city to maintain the historic integrity of the buildings. Improvements are being made that do not reflect the current trends but those styles which are seen as more classical and lasting, whatever the age of the home. I applaud those efforts for a constant beautification of our city and encourage public planners to create new buildings which reflect the same sentiments.