June 23 2011 12:00 AM

325 Lathrop St.


Property: 325 Lathrop St.

Owner: Virgil Rowe

Assessed value: $36,400

Owner says: Could not be reached for comment

Architecture critic Amanda Harrell-Seyburn says: Aluminum
siding — the precursor of vinyl siding — was the spark that ignited what
has become a serious preservation issue. Despite growing awareness,
home owners continue to choose inauthentic siding options — like the
aluminum siding at 325 Lathrop St. — that becomes contorted and alters
the quality and character of homes in urban neighborhoods to rural
farms. Wood siding is one of the only exterior finishes that is a
renewable material and lends a beautiful textural quality. Unlike vinyl
and aluminum that will eventually end up in a landfill, wood is a living
material and has warmth. Wood siding matters.

The wood frame house with white-washed wood siding and a white picket fence is an American icon. Wood siding was and is favored by Americans for its simplicity and affordability. Easy to obtain from the woodland rich regions of North America, wood siding has been the exterior finish of choice — especially in the Midwest — since the earliest days.

Building materials and exterior finishes in particular play a strong role in shaping regional character. The availability of a resource in a region is directly proportional to the role that resource has in shaping architectural character. It just makes sense. New England’s residential architecture favors stone. New Mexico’s? Stucco.

Flush with forests, wood siding strongly defines the character of Michigan’s residential architecture. From early settlers’ simple farm houses to the ostentatious Victorians of the late 1800s, colonial revivals and tutors of the early 20th century — and the many minimalist mid-century moderns — wood siding has significantly defined Michigan’s architectural character and will continue to do so as long as homeowners don’t abandon this sustainable practice to save a quick buck by laminating their houses in plastic.

When standing on the sidewalk in front of 325 Lathrop,
don’t be concerned that maybe one of your legs is longer than the other —
the house has an actual slanted appearance. That’s because the first
floor roof sags to the south. Accompanying the off-kilter roof are
windows with no frames that expose the plywood and wood frames

This house also sits close to its neighbor to the south
and shares a driveway and garage in back. The 325 portion is a stained
white with broken wood boards, while 327 has newer shades of forest
green and dark blue.

—Andy Balaskovitz