A Goodbye Letter to Ridgewood’s Architecture

Nothing evokes home to me quite like the empty silhouette of downtown Ridgewood on an early Sunday morning. Before I lean haphazardly into my morning shift of mass producing lattes for the public, I feel the shape of the buildings against the sky like an old friend. If nothing else, I place my identity alongside each gothic Victorian house lining the sidewalk, each night spent observing the opulent moonlight on Track 2 of the train station. Much could be said of the fifteen years I’ve lived in this town. Many of the days sputtered past at a rate so stagnant it felt nearly retroactive. As I find myself looking ahead towards the next phase of life, I find myself drawn to architecture. I daydream about the buildings and lack thereof, the opportunities that come with inhabiting unfamiliar space. In the same dizzying moment, I have to feel the weight of what I’m leaving behind: a man-made duck pond where I spent summers volunteering in blistering heat, seemingly illogical back roads where I rode my bike as a child. Each fork in the road of my life can be reduced to something physical that I encountered in Ridgewood, a design choice that left the town slightly different than it was before.
Formally created in 1894 and dubbed the Village of Ridgewood, the town had already been inhabited by American settlers starting with Johannes Van Emburgh in the early 18th century. With over three hundred years of history, the town seems to be in a constant state of fluid motion, never ceasing to pay homage to the antiquated houses of the past. But for each Victorian house left standing despite the odds stacked against it, there’s a James Rose Center nestled quietly in the center of bustling traffic. Of all the suburbs of the northeast, the accomplished landscape architect James Rose opted to build a masterpiece in the backyard of a football field in Ridgewood. Hidden places like this are what tie me most closely to my environment. I may never understand what led Rose precisely to this town in 1953, but I find myself deeply and inexplicably fulfilled in the space he created here. As I reckon with my departure from the school I’ve attended for four years, I think of the details I was usually too preoccupied to notice. I sit at the base of the school, looking upward. Notice the bell tower, often the subject of urban legend, and the angularity of the bricks that lead my eye there. I trace the hexagons of the wire fencing in the courtyard, take extra note of the creek I pass every day on my way home. Maybe home is a sense of familiarity. Maybe it’s not having to look where I place my next step in the sidewalks around my house. Knowing each notch and crack in the pavement may not amount to architecture in the minds of many, but the suburban landscape of Ridgewood feels implicitly second nature to me. In thinking tentatively of the next place I’ll call home, architecture is a tangible reminder that not everything in this world is in a constant state of transformation (though it may feel like it to every class of graduating seniors.) You just have to look to your environment to remember that some things remain unchanging, preserve their foundations in spite of it all.
Violet Maxwell staff writer Graphic: Amelia Chen

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