One of my favorite features on Google Maps is satellite view, which provides a remarkable bird's-eye view of most any address in the United States. Today I found myself looking down at my childhood home, a structure that no longer exists. It was an interesting experience. I wasn't sure what to expect when I typed in the address, and when it first rendered on screen it took me a few seconds to recognize what I was looking at. I didn't expect to see my old house. I expected to see the two modern monstrosities that replaced the 200-year old farmhouse. Instead I found myself looking down at the original house, caught at a moment after the first new house had been built but before my house was torn down to make way for the second one. The photo must have been made late in the year after most of the leaves have fallen off the trees. The contrast between the green of the lawns and the brown of the trees and underbrush creates a confusing landscape.
I've drawn an orange line around the original boundaries of the yard. The smaller house with the red roof is my old house. The larger house with the gray roof is the newer house. The yard is on a hill, so the newer house sits well below the old house, so much so that the roof line of the new house is below the ground floor of the old house.
The new house on the lower part of the lot (left), which has that look that I can best describe as new money Key Largo, doesn't fit at all with the architecture around it. The lots in the neighborhood are generous and the footprints of the houses were typically small which created a lot of privacy. I had an opportunity to visit during this period and the sight of this new structure looming up just below the old patio was a disconcerting change.
Of course the new owners of the original house tore down the strucure and built their new house closer to the house on the lower part of the lot. The Village of Scarsdale forced the new homeowners to retain the original facade and the 200 year-old stone bridge that runs across a small creek in the front yard. The old facade was left in place and a new house was built that with wings to the left and right of the original structure. The wing on the right extends down the hill and creates a new, lower floor. With street view you can look across the bridge and see the original facade, part of the wing on the right, and the roof of the wing on the left (above right, color added). None of this can bee seen with Google's satellite imagery, but it can be viewed with Google's street view feature. For those who are not familiar with it, street view is a feature on Google maps that allows you to see a 360 degree panoramic street-level view of a point on the map. When the service launched in May 2007 only 5 cities had been photographed. A year later the size of the collection is impressive, with imagery available for more than 50 U.S. markets.
Move 20 yards down the street and you can see the three-story right wing which is as large as the original house. Street view is fun to play with and very helpful in a number of situations, from house hunting to finding directions. As a snapshot of a moment in time it gains more meaning, it becomes an interesting visual archive. Google's goal is to provide street views from around the world, which may suggest that adding new views will be a higher priority than updating existing views. If that is the case, neighborhoods already documented may be frozen in time, a visual time capsule of U.S. major metropolitan areas from 2006 to 2008.