Going Street Commons: The Fig Story
June 17, 2019
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.
The second best time is now.
– Chinese Proverb
If you spoke with any builder about an ongoing project, you would eventually hear The Story of the Lot ®. It could be anything from community reclamation to family history, or even a clerical error that resulted in a bizarrely shaped parcel of land. No matter the project, there is always a story; and the Going Street Commons has a good one.
This story begins, as so many do, with a house. This particular house belonged to Nathan Stewart. It was a simple home, not particularly attractive or grand, and when our story begins it is in severe disrepair. The house had stood for nearly 100 years. Nathan’s mother had been born in the house and it had been his grandmother’s before that. This was a family home dating back to when the Cully Neighborhood it resided in didn’t even exist. For as far as anyone could see the area was dominated by ranches, horse pasture and hard packed dirt roads.
Then, sometime after World War II, a friend of Nathan’s made him the present of a fig tree that they had brought back from Italy. Nathan planted the little tree in the backyard of his home and over the years and decades it grew and flourished.
Trees are special things; everyone in Oregon knows it. We have an affinity for trees, not simply because of their tangible benefits (cleaner air, fresh fruit, shade and so on) but because trees are living history. Every child is taught in school how to determine the age of a tree by counting its rings. This translates into the ability to gauge the general age of a tree by its size. With a little reflection, tree’s become doorways into history, providing a present day, tangible link to events that happened in decades or even centuries past.
The fig tree remained where it was, largely undisturbed by time and change. It bore silent witness to the transformation of the land around it as it migrated from farms and ranches to houses and apartments. The hard packed dirt roads became gravel and eventually asphalt. All through the disillusionment of the 1960’s, the excess of the 80’s, the technology charged 00’s and into the 2010’s the tree stayed where it had been planted. It grew and bore fruit under the caring eye of Nathan Stewart.
Then, in 2017, things changed. Nathan’s parents needed help and his home had become too run down to stay. But this was his property and he didn’t want to simply sell it to the first person that would meet his price. He wanted to do something that mattered; something that honored his family’s connection to the land. He had options, not a week went by that he didn’t have an offer from one developer or another.
Instead, Nathan came to Birdsmouth. He knew that we were committed to building Zero Energy homes and that we had a reputation for quality and craftsmanship. Most importantly, he came to us because he wanted to do right by the land where his family had lived for so long.
Naturally we jumped at the opportunity to design an entire community of Net Zero Energy ready homes that would stand as a testimony to our ideals that super efficient, custom homes could be built for the same cost as the less efficient code-standard variety.
On top of that, Birdsmouth CEO, Josh Salinger, has a very intimate connection with the Cully Neighborhood. He has close friends who live in the area and he was married directly across the street from the Going Street Commons project under an azumaya that he built as his final solo project before starting Birdsmouth.
So, after purchasing that lot, and half of the one next to it, we were able to begin designing what would eventually become the Going Street Commons. However, in order to layout the houses and get the permits for the design we had in mind, the fig tree had to go.
But, Josh didn’t want to get rid of a tree that was so central to the history of the lot, so he compromised and took a few sprigs from it and planted them in pots, where they are currently growing.
Once they are big enough to transplant, the plan is to move them back onto the property. It’s something of a homecoming; a tangible historical link between the rustic past and the ecologically friendly future.