The Madison Historic District Board of Review did it again Monday night.
“Listen to us, ignorant local yokel: You knew you should have sought our sanctified approval before you took those historic wooden windows out of your house and replaced them with (Yuk!) VINYL ONES! You violated one of the Ten Commandments of historic preservation: Thou shalt not hold in disrespect those appointed by the lord mayor to tell you what you may or may not do with your own property. We therefore turn thumbs down on your insolent attempt to present us with a fait accompli. You shall retrieve those honored ancient window frames — don’t tell us you don’t know where they are, because we know (but we’re not going to tell you — find it out for yourself, peasant), remove those putrid vinyl frames and put the wooden ones back where they belong, or you will be subject to legal action and a fine of up to $10,000!
“And don’t forget to bow deeply before leaving our august presence.”
OK, I’m exaggerating — a little. But it’s not for nothing that most Madisonians have referred to it as “the hysterical board” on at least one occasion. I’m not picking on any individual members, past or present. But the attitude of the board, collectively, toward the people of downtown Madison over the years of its existence has been, often, breathtakingly arrogant, condescending, and elitist. THEY are the ones who know what’s best for our old buildings; we hayseeds if left to our own devices would have Madison looking like downtown Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, in less time than it takes to say “historic district destroyed.”
Yeah, sure, Mr. and Ms. board member who moved here three years ago because you thought Madison was so beautiful and scenic — if you can only save it from we dolts who have always lived here. Naturally, without the presence of the hysterical board we would tear down every old building in the downtown and replace them with quonset huts.
Gosh! Wonder what kept these old buildings from being torn down by us ignorant Midwesterners for the first 170 years of the city’s history? Do you suppose there was actually a historic board in the 19th Century that we haven’t been told about? Must have been them that restrained our ancestors’ predilection for wholesale destruction of their own property.
The old-time Madisonian members of the board always have acted as the sensible, restraining influence on the out-of-towners who wanted to put us all into a straitjacket. Unfortunately, they’ve seldom been in a majority on the board.
At this time of history, with government in heavy disfavor with so many Americans (tea party in Madison, anyone?), the historic board needs to learn some humility. It was established by action of the city council. If it gets too far out of line, it could be dis-established the same way.