Every other year for more than 30 years, the month of May not only heralded the arrival of spring, but also the Frederick Law Olmsted Society Housewalk. But in 2016, architectural buffs and nosy neighbors will have to find another outlet for their curiosity because the housewalk, for now, is on hiatus.
One of the society’s major fundraisers, the housewalk has been a biennial staple of spring since at least the mid-1980s. Connie Guardi, a longtime Olmsted Society member said she remembered the society’s first housewalk — featuring just one home — in the 1970s. But it took some time before the society made it a regular happening.
However, the last couple of housewalks were not financial successes, and the society’s board of directors decided to pull the plug on a housewalk in 2016.
“I don’t want to say it’s completely abandoned, but we want to look at some other things,” said Olmsted Society President Rob Dixon. “Homeowners in Riverside have been very generous. Maybe if we have a critical mass of people in close proximity [who want to open their homes to the public], we can do it again.”
Housewalks are incredibly labor intensive. In addition to convincing homeowners to allow scores of people to walk through their houses, organizers typically have to come up with a unifying theme and then do research to provide tour-goers with information. And the housewalks cost the society about $5,000 to pull off.
In 2014, the society chose “sustainability” as its theme, a bit of a departure from past housewalks, which often have focused on the work of important architects and the village’s grand Victorian homes.
“The last two ventures didn’t pan out well,” Dixon said.
Part of the goal of the housewalk, Dixon said, was to bring people to Riverside and to showcase the village.
Last September, the Olmsted Society hit upon the idea of the HopStop — a craft beer-focused event featuring the products of local brewers at the historic downtown train depot.
The event drew 275 paid entrants and was a financial success, according to Dixon.
“It provided funds probably on par with a pretty successful housewalk,” Dixon said.
As a result, the society is hosting its second HopStop on Sept. 24 from 4 to 7 p.m. And the society is looking to expand the event into the green space adjacent to the train station in order to accommodate about 425 people.
“I think last year’s event had good energy and the weather was beautiful,” Dixon said. “We hope to have a good level of excitement about it.”
While Dixon wasn’t prepared to say that the housewalk was dead, there would have to be a groundswell of support to organize one for it to be revived. Membership in the society is down to about 140 people — from a high of about 250 — and events like the housewalk need a lot of people to pull off.
“If people value what we’re doing, they need to step up and become members,” Dixon said. “It’s a lot of work, and the Olmsted Society could definitely benefit from people bringing their energy to it.”
With the 50th anniversary of the Olmstead Society looming in 2018, what would be the next regularly scheduled year for a housewalk, it might be motivation enough to mount another tour. But for that to happen, someone’s going to have to volunteer to lead the charge.
“I don’t foresee one in the near future,” Dixon said.