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Home Sweet Historic Home

Rifka Junger

Passionate about living in a 500-year-old Old City home, a beautiful 1920’s Tudor in LA, a quaint cottage in England once owned by a lord?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

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NOTHING NEW HERE When Bobov 45 purchased “The Swan” pub in Stamford Hill and planned to rebuild it, the public outcry was enormous — plus, it was close to a protected building zone. In the end Bobov agreed to keep the original façade intact. Homeowners in London encounter similar sentiments: “They don’t want the Stamford Hill of 2030 to be much different from the Stamford Hill of 1970. They will fight every change tooth and nail.” Pictured here, the Belz nursery and cheder.

“May I venture to guess that right now you are reading these very words while sitting in your air-conditioned home, sipping on a cold lemonade perhaps, and not giving a second thought to the sweltering temperatures outside? 

Not so in my home. As I type these words, the thermometer gauge on my window is creeping steadily higher as the temperature outside spikes. Fans whir in the rooms and the option of a cool shower is never far at hand. For while most inhabitants of modern countries take the installation of an air conditioner for granted, some of us live in places where these things are ruled by the strictest of regulations. 

This is the case in my humble abode in Vienna, Austria, where we live on a historic street in which air conditioners are not allowed. In fact, no object can protrude from any building façade anywhere in Vienna without the strict consent of the government. 

Of course, not everyone abides by the rules. Some install their units facing the street, hoping the building inspectors will turn a blind eye. In fact, the joke in my part of town — Vienna’s second district, dubbed “Mazzesinsel” (Matzah Island) for the Jews who have lived here for centuries — is that if you want to know where a Jewish family lives, look for an air conditioner jutting out the window. 

Why do I willingly tolerate this? Fourteen years ago I found a dream apartment located right near my parents and sister, around the corner from my boys’ cheder, and right across the street from Vienna’s oldest baroque-style park. What a lucky find! The summer after we moved in, it was unbearably hot. My parents, seeing how we were suffering from the heat, gifted us an air conditioner. I was over the moon and promptly had it installed, relishing the cool air.

At the former Schneller compound, new apartment buildings going up on the site are required to match the existing historic structures, including rounded windows and wrought-iron porches

The relief did not last long. A knock on the door revealed two building inspectors holding files and clipboards, their sweaty foreheads full of indignation. “Don’t you know it’s illegal to install an air conditioner that protrudes onto this historic street? You live in a historic zone and must get rid of the device within 14 days or we shall remove it at your expense.” All my pleading, cajoling, and niceties didn’t lead anywhere. Out came the air conditioner and back we went to sweating. These experiences and my subsequent involvement in development projects made me curious about the various laws pertaining to historical preservation of landmarks. How does the rest of the world decide which buildings to landmark, and what kind of restrictions do they place on such structures? So off I went on a discovery trip…

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