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Main Line Today’s Resident Historian Mark E. Dixon Features Renowned Architect Frank Furness

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If Frank Furness WERE designing homes today, would people be buying them? Not many, it seems.

“I see Furness as someone who was successful before the advent of mass consumption, which required getting large numbers of people to think the same way and want the same things,” says MLT’s resident history expert, Mark E. Dixon, whose “Demolition Man” examines the complex personality and dwindling legacy of the storied architect. “In his heyday, rich people went to him for distinctive, custom designs—not for something routine and in good taste.”  

Furness’ undoing, Dixon argues, may well have been the center-hall Colonial. “In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it became an architectural tool to help naturalize recent immigrants,” he says. “Emphasizing an architectural style associated with the Founding Fathers was useful for builders and also comforting for new arrivals, who wanted to fit in with old-stock immigrants.”

Dixon references a recent story in the Philadelphia Business Journal about the teardown phenomenon that’s just resumed after a long pause. “What’s biting the dust are mid-century ranchers, which were considered modern by our parents’ generation. A realtor once told me, ‘You don’t have to be creative to build houses.’ Everyone wants pretty much the same thing, because builders and all the different suppliers involved have trained them to want the same thing.”

Full disclosure: Dixon himself lives in an 1816 farmhouse with a center hall.

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: For “Dollars and Sense”, senior editor Tara Behan tapped local business owners and financial experts to get a feeling for how spending habits have changed in the six years since the national economy went awry. Here are a few telling comments that didn’t make it into her story:

“Groupon has changed everything. People are always looking for a deal.” —Maurice Tannenbaum, OMG Salon, Gladwyne

“The people who are coming to me are 50 and above. They’re seeing people their age losing their jobs, and they want to be ready.” —Patti Brennan, Key Financial, West Chester

“More people are comfortable with having a bigger emergency fund. Even though they aren’t making any money on it, they want a little extra cash so they’re protected from whatever may happen.” —Pete Hoover, Hoover Financial Advisors, Malvern

Have a happy and safe 2014.

Hobart Rowland Mark E. Dixon Tara Behan