Lakeshore Gateway Arches and the Swastika

by Tim Gilmore, 6/18/2012

She knows of two things hidden away in one block of Colonial Avenue in the neighborhood of Lakeshore.

She knows of the house built in the middle 1920s that contained a large brick swastika in one front exterior wall. She remembers when new residents rebricked that wall and removed the swastika.

She knows of the small white house built in the late 1920s with the lovely fireplace and the screened front porch. She wrote a novel in that house. In the room where she wrote it, once the old word processor and the bookshelves were moved out, once she was moving out, she stood inside the room’s closet and faced the room. Just above the door, inside the closet, she wrote her name and the date she had finished the novel and the name of the novel. Years later, when she forgot the novel’s name, the name would still be inscribed inside that house.

The house with the swastika was built in 1926. She knew that before the Nazis, the swastika had a variety of meanings in cultures all over the planet. Usually it represented something like the fluidity of cardinal directions, something mystical about all points blurring into each other. So the pattern of the swastika in the Lake Shore house was a terribly unfortunate timing. But the thought that always amazed her was that the swastika in the wall of that house had stayed there through the Great Depression, through World War Two, and on into the 1990s, before someone finally dismantled it.

Once when she was in her writing room on Colonial Avenue, working on a story, a tornado ripped down the street. Absorbed in the story, she heard nothing, but she soon saw the oak trees pulled down by the storm.

Once the next-door neighbors backed their pickup truck up in their front yard and unloaded a coffin, which they took inside their house. The neighbors had dyed their hair black and wore black makeup. They made music on synthesizers in their living room that sounded like the theme music to Dark Shadows, the late 1960s vampire soap opera.

Once a possum invaded the back porch at night, ripped the cat food bag to shreds, and terrified her fat tabby cat.

Often she walked down to the old Lakeshore gateway arches, big stucco things, faux-Spanish design, stretching across a wide central median and street corners on either side of Bayview Road at Appleton Avenue. She walked to the arches with a Victorian novel, Dickens or Thackeray or pre-Victorian Romantic Frankenstein, and climbed the arches with her book. Hundreds of days, she walked to the arches and climbed up and read for hours beneath the blue sky and palm trees.

She couldn’t give a damn about the rest of the town, but she fell in love with those arches. Built in the mid-1920s, they welcomed you to Lakeshore, though the bastards widened ugly Blanding Boulevard and demolished two of the arches decades before she came to them. Still the arches stood a faded white against the pool hall and the bike shop and the strip club, and she loved them. They were hers. They were hers because they let her climb them and rest on top of them and lose herself in Great Expectations. They were hers because they remained amidst what had grown up around them. They were hers because no one else claimed them. They were hers because they fit her personal world, wherein she wrote a novel whose name she would forget in a house on Colonial Avenue wherein she would secretly inscribe the name of the novel.

The Lakeshore gateway arches were hers because she always remembered them when they were lost in the midst of a city that had forgotten them.

One Saturday when the summer heat had been cruel, miserable and depressing, thunder boomed through the clouds, and it began to rain. She left her little house, let the squeaky screen porch door bang shut behind her, walked past the brick swastika, walked across Cassatt and Blanding, and came up to the arches in the rain. She climbed up their broken smooth stucco, crawled toward the apex of an arch, and lay down over Bayview Road and the cars that crossed underneath.