Italianate townhouse, 5th Street NW, Washington DC, 2021

Many great stories are steeped in the mythos of decline — civilizations that have past their peak of glory, lands where ancient ways have been lost. Lord of the Rings, a popular mythology for our time, constantly waxes on the forgotten knowledge of the past, the “spent blood” of the great race of men, the departure of the fair elves, the decline of great cities and strongholds.

I think there is something to that mythos — the notion that we are living in a time when greater glories lie behind than what is ahead. Not that the idea is necessarily true, but that it is a concept that resonates.

One need look no further than this handsome DC townhouse, whose wood cornice brackets and dentals are rotting away. Show it to an American and we will lament: it’s a shame we can’t make keep up things this beautiful anymore, let alone make new ones! We struggle collectively with the structures handed down to us from America’s golden architectural ages. Decay of this sort evokes a sadness — perhaps born of civic wisdom, perhaps of indulgent self-pity. The wisdom recognizes a thing of beauty is being lost. The self-pity forgets that we do still live in an age of wonders.