Left: How many inches of snow will it take to collapse that leaning balcony? Amsterdam, New York, a grand old carpet milling town on the Mohawk River, has been in decline since before young Kirk Douglas left town in the 1930s.

Right: Oakland, California has always been a seafaring town. Perhaps it's no coincidence that many of its early houses have the compound curved and tightly-planked look of a windjammer's hull. Even with some inauthentic modifications, this house is better than holding its own in a gentrifying East Oakland neighborhood.

This house and its leaded glass window are the only survivors of an entire Oakland, California neighborhood. Located in a one-time urban renewal zone behind the Oakland Paramount Theater, the house has been surrounded by industrial buildings and acres of asphalt for years.

Although the outlook would be grim for most buildings in this situation, there is enough interest in restoring the Paramount and preserving the Victorian elements of downtown that it may yet cheat fate. In the meantime, judging from the open window and some nearby perchers, it may be serving as a most impressive birdhouse.

What could be sold from a storefront this lovely? Beech Avenue in Buena Vista, Virginia has a half-dozen big frame Victorian commercial buildings which are neatly painted but largely empty. On a hot Shenandoah Valley afternoon, the heat waves rising from the asphalt and wavy old-fashioned window glass play tricks on the eyes. Still, the perception that a spectral figure was waving its hands behind one dark display window was too eerie to dismiss. As it turned out, one of the present tenants, a flock of pigeons, was flapping its white-feathered wings as it fluttered to a new perch.

- Amy Sefton (2002)