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If walls could talk: Three portraits of Chautauqua’s historical homes

  • Zoe and Ken Barley share lunch in their steel Lustron home Monday, August 20, 2018 at 23 Hurst St. RILEY ROBINSON/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

What makes Chautauqua homes unique is less the snaking porches and froths of gingerbread trim, and more the property deeds proudly displayed in front foyers: a lineage of owners documented like one’s own ancestry.

Steve and Pati Piper, owners of “The Buckeye” at 20 Center, refer to past owners by name as if they were friends, and portraits of the original owners, Mr. and Mrs. Ward, are the largest art on the first-floor walls. Their home was built in the 1870s on a tent platform; Steve Piper said his parents bought the property in 1963 for $3,500, which included not just the house, but dishes, 19th-century furniture and even vintage chamber pots (which, fittingly, now hold the cat litter). When he pokes the ceiling of a second-floor bathroom, it has supple give: He explained that it’s tent canvas at the core, coated with layers upon layers of paint.

“We kept it old Chautauqua,” he said. “It’s as much Chautauqua’s history as it is our own.”

Jane Buch, owner of Park Place at 31 Clark, also takes pride in her house’s 19th-century construction, but has enjoyed mixing old with new, accenting the building’s four apartments with arrangements of vintage wares like lace collars, spoons and cheese graters alongside her own artwork. She describes the style as “Victoriana,” and while most visitors think it’s just very well preserved, Buch said “nothing about it is original,” after all the restorations and repairs.

And in this mix of wood and canvas, the steel walls of 23 Hurst mark another historic era. “Steel Away,” owned by Zoe and Ken Barley, was manufactured by Lustron after World War II, in an attempt to quickly provide housing for returning soldiers. The Barleys now belong to an email group where a dwindling number of Lustron owners swap advice that sounds like caring for a vintage car: how to best combat rust, or find rare metal parts no longer for sale.

Zoe Barley said the upkeep is well worth the effort: “I think if you let one of these go, it would be a mistake.”

Tags : BarleyBuchhistoric homePiper
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The author Riley Robinson

Riley Robinson is a photographer at the Daily and a rising sophomore studying journalism at Northeastern University. She discovered photography after a ballet-related knee injury, and has been passionate about arts reporting ever since. She also enjoys memoirs, road trips and adopting too many houseplants. This is her first season at Chautauqua.

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