Photos taken where I’ve lived or visited are special, as they portray a strong sense of place. When revisiting these photos as a whole, they reveal patterns which bring back memories lodged in my memory. Photos can be large landscape views or buildings; they can also be more detailed, depicting a city’s character. I found both large and small genres of photos in Library of Congress collections on-line and was intrigued by photo displays of doors and porches taken in New Orleans around 1900. These images revealed the personality of New Orleans at the time – warm, hospitable, and friendly “porch-living”.
Living briefly in Chicago, I took photos of neighborhoods around my apartment, which was north of downtown and close to the lake. There were many nice doors from which to choose for photographing. Pleasantly surprised by my photo collage of Chicago neighborhood doors, I became intrigued in their ornamental correlation to place. What did these doors project about a residence or neighborhood? Did they tell stories of Chicago, individually or as a group? To the point – what properties of door patterns revealed a sense of Chicago – as a place, so that I was never satisfied and never tired of studying doors in Chicago?
Chicago north of downtown is a nice, older neighborhood with many houses and buildings between 100 and 125 years old. Front doors were usually ornate and handsomely decorated. Doorframes were often carved stone and/or patterned brick. Wooden frames and doors were made of hard woods seldom seen now in new construction – oak, chestnut, walnut, cherry, or hickory. Often wood was elaborately carved and lacquered or varnished to a fine finish. Glass – beveled or etched – added elegance to the entry, whether glass was a window in the door or included in the door frame.
These doors have beckoned for many years, “If you have means, live here! This place is elegant, solidly built by craftspeople, and also well-kept. This is a place for the educated upper middle-class city worker-commuter. It is easy to walk to work in less than an hour or trolley in less than 15 minutes. If you want to live among neighbors of class and high-standing, consider our establishment as your home.” Well landscaped, safe, well-lit, and close to shops and major thoroughfares, it had always been a nice neighborhood. Property owners wished the surroundings to remain well-kept. In short, every front door was a display for the residence building – it was the best the owner could afford.
St. John’s, Newfoundland
The character of St. John’s, Newfoundland is “rough, tough, windy, cold, blue-collar, hardy, lively, colorful, and welcoming.” After John and Sebastian Cabot explored the Grand Banks around 1497 AD, fishermen from England, Normandy, Brittany, the Basque region, Spain, and Portugal all exploited Newfoundland waters and used St. John’s harbor. Fishermen salted and dried their cod catch along rocky shores, laying split cod to dry on rocks, racks, or wooden wharves and ramps. Starting around 1750, Irish emigrants arrived in large numbers to Newfoundland. The city is now marked with a vivid Irish ancestry.
Life has always been only for hardy souls in Newfoundland. Recently, employment in oil and oil-related construction was decimated by Covid-19, and only 30 years ago, the cod-fishing bonanza in the Great Banks went bust when the government stopped all cod fishing, the island’s major industry.
I noticed colorful “Jellybean Row houses” of St. John’s on my first walk about town. Legend says houses were painted colorfully to be visible from ships at sea. Other say brightly colored houses used colorful, leftover mariner paint from ships. Actually, bright colors are from the colorful 1970’s, when downtown needed livening up. Houses and doors in downtown St. John’s were colorfully painted. They still are. On a house across the street, I counted five different bright colors of paint. And no, colors did not complement each other. I thought people painted obnoxiously bright as a statement of collective individualism – if there is such a thing. Although they keep their houses, roofs, and doors in good shape, the odd colors are a bit of sassiness similar to an Irish lad making fun of a prissy English Lord.
Doors are not particularly finely crafted to make an impression; doors are functional, and many were noticeably made by a home’s earlier occupants. A few fashionable doors adorn a few big estate homes built by craftspeople. But colorful Row houses are built against one another, separated only by a party wall. Most doors are wood – pine, fir, spruce, and occasionally a hardwood. There is little carving or decoration beyond bright colors. Sometimes, an outside storm door, fully operational, is painted to clash with colors in the main door. Colorful doors of St. John’s are far from elitist. Doors for working class residents symbolize those who struggle to make St. John’s a home over many generations. They are a proud lot of folks who take pride in how they created a colorful tourist attraction from their humble dwellings, built side-by-side to save original lumber costs.
Stone doorframes encase most doors in the old, historic places of Israel. Interested in seeing the old stone masonry of Israel, I took many close, detailed photo images of the workmanship and structure. The large stones – up to 60 tons – were the most massive I’d seen. With my engineering knowledge, I imagined ancient engineers planning and executing the transport and placement of such large, unwieldy stones to their final resting places within patterns of structure. One must walk through a door to enter an old, stone masonry synagogue, mosque, or church, so doors were symbolic of our introductions to such places.
It’s understated to call doors we saw in Israel “old”. They were really old. Or at least many stone and masonry door frames were thousands of years old; wooden or metal doors in place now may not be originals. I’m reminded of antiquity of place when once again viewing photos of Israel’s doors.
Some ornate doors, such as artistic bronze doors of a Nazareth church, are pieces of art. The newer, nice wood doors – perhaps a few hundred years old – were carved and finished; some were painted. Nicer doorways were arched or transomed masonry, echoing antique styles. But I’ll remember the old, tired doors of residential neighborhoods in Jerusalem and Jaffa – wood, solid metal, or metal grates – as fixed memories of place – ancient homeland Israel. Adapted to new technology, residential doorways were notched for electrical wires and rain downspouts. Holes in masonry jambs, where previous doors had hung on hinges, were visible; so was fading paint and worn, stone thresholds. Doors and doorways were various sizes, a reminder they were all custom built and not purchased at the lumberyard.
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