PEMcast: Episode 008.1

The same day that shortsighted city planners allowed New York’s Beaux-Arts style Penn Station to be demolished, the front page of the New York Times told of the impending demolition of more than 100 buildings in historic Salem, Massachusetts.


Penn Station

Penn Station, courtesy of Library of Congress


Essex Street in Salem in the 1880s.

From the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, in this episode of the PEMcast, we explore how almost exactly 50 years ago, Salem was saved from the wrecking ball thanks to one woman and her mighty pen. It’s the first in a series of episodes we’re producing about historic buildings around the world and the stories they tell. Whether a palatial estate or a ramshackle hut, historic buildings usually have a good story. The Peabody Essex Museum preserves 22 historic houses around Salem that tell stories of America’s early history.


A fireplace mantel inside PEM’s historic Ropes Mansion. Photo by PEM curator of American Art Austen Barron Bailly.

Today, however, we tell just one story of Salem, taking you to October 13, 1965 with the headline Foes Fear Plans Will Mar Old New England Heritage. 

Photo by Garth Huxtable

Ada Louise Huxtable was a Marblehead, Massachusetts resident and architecture critic for the ‘New York Times.’ Her piece in the Times helped save Salem from the wrecking ball 50 years ago. Photo by Garth Huxtable


Elizabeth Padjen, an architect and journalist based in Marblehead, Massachusetts, talks with the PEMcast about urban renewal plans for the 1960s and Ada Louise Huxtable’s championship of downtown Salem. Photo by Chip Van Dyke


Boston’s West End, courtesy of Boston Public Library

Padjen and Van Dyke

Elizabeth Padjen is interviewed at PEM by Chip Van Dyke. Photo by Dinah Cardin

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Chip Van Dyke interviews Emily Udy and her daughter, Caroline. Emily is the preservation manager for Historic Salem, Inc.



Salem’s marketplace near Old Town Hall.

Salem Farmers Market

The Salem Farmers Market takes place each summer and fall right where the wrecking ball would have taken out historic buildings in the 1960s. Photo by Social Palates.

Today, Salem homes are covered in snippets of stories on plaques from Historic Salem, Inc.

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Photo by Chip Van Dyke

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Edmund Johnson was a cabinet maker whose work can be viewed in PEM’s Putnam Gallery.
Photo by Chip Van Dyke


Photo by Dinah Cardin


Photo by Dinah CardinIMG_6969 


Sometimes Salem residents take matters into their own hands. Photo by Dinah Cardin

Listen to more about the demolition of historic Penn Station on this 2015 episode of the 99 % Invisible podcast. For more on Ada Louise Huxtable’s impact on American architectural preservation, see this Hyperallergic piece, written after her death in 2013, and in this piece in the Salem News. 

October 15th marks the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The 52-page act, available as a downloadable PDF, begins with  ”The Congress finds and declares that the spirit and direction of the Nation are founded upon and reflected in its historic heritage”


Our summer-long social media campaign #HistoricHouseCrush is good fun! If you’ve just taken a great photo of a historic place — maybe on PEM’s campus or somewhere else in the world — be sure to tag it with historichousecrush on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, so the historic house crusher community can enjoy it.  (Our accounts are here: Instagram, Twitter (@peabodyessex) and Facebook.)

Special thanks to Elizabeth Padjen and Emily Udy for talking with us. Lisa Kosan consulted on our script for this episode. Producers for the PEMcast are Chip Van Dyke, Dinah Cardin, Whitney Van Dyke and Caryn Boehm. Corbett Sparks is our audio engineer.

Find the PEMcast on Soundcloud, iTunes and anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Stay tuned for the next episode of the PEMcast, when we go to New York City’s Lower East Side to visit the folks at the Tenement Museum and have a chat with Frank Vagnone of Twisted Preservation. 

Dinah and Frank

Dinah Cardin and Frank Vagnone

Music for this episode:
By the Coast (2004) by Antony Raijekov CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
People Over the Mountain by Tim Kays CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US
Wounds by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0


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