Friday, January 19, 2018

The H. E. Benson House, Detroit, MI

The H. E. Benson House, Detroit, MI. 1860 Source: Scott Weir
The H. E. Benson house was built in 1860 for a prominent lumber mill owner on Jefferson Ave. one of the chief society streets in Detroit. As opposed to some of the more flamboyant houses, the Benson house is rather reserved, accomplishing its goals with verticality rather than ornament. The house has an interesting plan, apparently irregular, but with the tower shifted to the side rather than placed in the center; this movement of the tower and placement between two gabled pavilions establishes the side façade as a towered pavilion plan. It appears the main entrance was actually quite recessed from the front of the house, at the base of the tower under the (what seems to be) iron porch. Each section of wall is framed by a slight projection that follows the corners and the gable, outlining the façade, with a string course separating the floors; it's clear the painters chose to exploit this feature in their scheme. The thin brackets are only complemented by an architrave molding. The gabled facades are uniformly treated, with triple rectangular windows with a bracketed molding above and in the gable there is a round window. Note the small metal fringe that runs above the eaves with classical anthemia. The tower is particularly surprising, as it is rare to find one on which every side is gabled. A triple arched palladian window tops the tower while lower stories have arched windows, with three on the top stage, two on the second floor, and one on the first floor. The architect used arched windows exclusively on the tower for emphasis and to differentiate it from the rest of the angular house.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Francis Adams House, Detroit, MI

Francis Adams House Detroit, MI. 1860s Photo: Scott Weir
The Francis Adams house, built sometime in the 1860s (he moved to Detroit in 1857 and was established at this location by the late 1860s) for yet another lumber merchant, is one of the zanier Italianates I've seen. It's hard to classify what stylistic influences are at work on this building, but rococo revival springs to mind, as we saw its influence in the Backus house in Baltimore. This symmetrical plan brick home has a very sedate first and second floor, with pairs of tombstone windows sitting atop bay windows on the flanking bays and a triple arched palladian in the central bay. But like the Swain house, the top is where the action occurs. The cornice's architrave molding swoops and dips fantastically along the façade, interrupted only by paired c scroll brackets; this culminates in the central open pediment which appears to be a rococo/Flemish form topped by a pile of carved vegetation. This pediment rests on stepped brackets and encloses a window with a swooping hood molding that reminds me of Chinese designs. The whole is topped by a magnificent cupola that repeats the triple arched palladian form as well as the vegetal carving. In considering the house, it is clear that some continental European baroque forms are at work; considering Adams and his wife were both Maine natives, it's anyone's guess why they chose such a playful European form for their home.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Detroit's Lost Italianates: The Isaac Swain House, Detroit, MI

The Isaac Swain House, Detroit, MI. 1863 Photos: Scott Weir


This post kicks off my discussion of a fascinating series of lost Italianates from Detroit. I have to especially thank Scott Weir for his collection of photographs of these gems. 19th century Detroit was one of the wealthiest, growing cities in the US, and that wealth as a transportation hub with close access to Canada and Michigan natural resources. Detroit was a well planned city from the earliest periods in its history, with broad boulevards, a grand street plan, and plenty of impressive homes constructed by the city's wealthy merchants. Unfortunately, the economic decay of the 20th century, as well as geographic changes in Detroit's fashionable areas took a major toll on the city's architectural heritage, as they have in most American cities. Wealthy Detroiters constructed their elaborate 19th century mansions near the downtown in neighborhoods that soon succumbed to business pressures and lifestyle changes. The Swain house, built in 1863 for an abstemious, uptight, and wealthy lumber merchant was built at 1115 Fort Street, a site now occupied by industrial buildings and an MDOT office near the highway. Still, for the purposes of this blog, lost homes are as valuable specimens as existing ones, in that they give us a clearer picture of the stylistic diversity of Italianate design.

The house is one of the most substantial Italianates featured on this blog (the biggest ones are always the first to fall). It follows the five bay plan with a strong central projection and appears to have been built of brick. The photo at the top of this page shows the house in the late 19th century, while the one below is closer to the period in which it was built; apparently the entrance porch was in need of some expansion at some point in the house's history. Chimneys seem also to have been added. All of the home's windows were arched (first floor round, second floor segmental) with extremely heavy drip moldings festooned with foliage and carved keystones. The windows on the top two stories of the central bay were both triple arched palladians. But while the porch and body of this house are not particularly elaborate, the cornice and upper stages are a testament to the possibilities of the lumber Swain made his fortune in. The height of the paneled cornice which is of the arched variety is extreme, giving the house a very top heavy feel. The elaborately carved brackets accentuate this, being expensive double s scrolls that alternate in size. A bold architrave molding with dentils below the windows places an exclamation mark on the overdone cornice. Additionally, the surprises continue as the eye moves upward, with an odd, seemingly hexagonal, cupola. The unusually tall cupola repeats the triple arched palladian windows and is topped by a very strange rounded railing with strong newel posts. This same railing, which almost looks art nouveau or jugendstil, seems to have been repeated, as the second image shows, further down on the roof, perhaps a second rooftop balcony. The cupola is also unique in that it is rare that a house has such strong gables also have a cupola, which is primarily associated with the hip roof. In a house of rooftop surprises though, the strange cupola merely completes the top heavy design.


Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Alexander Magruder House, Vicksburg MS

The Alexander Magruder House, Vicksburg MS. 1850 Photo: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia
This house was built in 1830 as a single story house in the Greek Revival style by Richard Featherston, but was remodeled into a two story Italianate structure in 1850 by Alexander Magruder, a doctor. It is a five bay symmetrical design, reflective of its Greek Revival roots, with sparing details, and a noticeable lack of window surrounds (the tracery looks to be an addition of the 1890s). The facing appears to be some kind of stone or perhaps a very deeply scored and textured plaster, with quoins in the corners, giving it a rather grand frame. The entablature on both the porch (with thick, square, Greek Revival pillars) and the house match, following the paneled style with sharply angular brackets. Perhaps its most attractive feature is the main door, which has an elaborate pilastered surround with panels matching the entablature, curvaceous brackets, and a fine basket handle arch transom. The house is currently a place one can rent to stay in. The fine and tastefully decorated interiors can be seen here.

Source: Jeff Hart
I'd like to mention another Italianate here, the demolished rectory of St. Paul's church (all images from HABS).



It was built in 1866 and designed by the priest, Jean Baptiste Mouton, and pieces appear to have been prefabricated in Ohio and shipped down. Despite the Gothic detailing, the house is solidly Italianate, given its cornice with angular brackets closely spaced, its symmetrical five bay plan, and its hip roof. It is one of several hybrid Italianates, like Indian Italianates, with a different stylistic vocabulary applied to a Italianate frame. Here, the Gothic details consist of window labels in a Gothic vein, a Gothic porch with a heavy ogee arch, and pointed windows. This last feature is an interesting transformation of the typical Italianate triple arched palladian into a Gothic formation. The whole façade was stuccoed and scored to appear like stone, making the undoubtedly brick house match the grandeur of Gothic stonework. Unfortunately, this was demolished in 1972.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Lazarus and Leona Baer House, Vicksburg, MS

The Lazarus and Leona Baer House, Vicksburg, MS. 1870 Source: Jeff Hart
Source: Jeff Hart
The Lazarus and Leona Baer house was built as an irregular plan Italianate in 1870 for Jewish merchants. The similarity both in styling and in plan and details to the Beck house suggests that it may have been contracted to Beck, especially the way that the window moldings are rendered in brick, which is exactly similar to those on the side façade of the Beck house. The house disguises its volumes with numerous porches and protrusions. The main recessed pavilion is disguised by a double story porch with simple spandrel brackets and an entablature with alternating long and short brackets, with the long carrying the posts of the porch into the top of the porch. The main entablature has long angular brackets interrupting a run of shorter brackets. The gable in the projecting pavilion has decorative Eastlake bargeboards and this pavilion's two story bay window allows the house to keep its volumes and mass intact so that it does not appear flat, as it would without the window, since the porch extends to the edge of the projecting pavilion. The interior is just as elaborate, with fine Eastlake woodwork and an impressive multicolored floor in the first floor vestibule (seen below). The house currently operates as a bed and breakfast.


Similar in design, but simpler, is another house in Vicksburg, irregular in plan, with spartan windows, a simple entablature, and a jazzy Gothic revival porch.

Source: Jeff Hart

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

'The Magnolias' Vicksburg, MS

'The Magnolias' Vicksburg, MS. 1877 Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia
Known as 'the Magnolias' this house has little information about its original builder, although it was constructed in 1877. Like McRaven, the house is a side hall plan with a porch façade, but unlike McRaven, it exhibits many more Italianate details. The window treatments of the house are all segmental arched with thick hood moldings swooping over, and the door fits a Greek Revival design into the segmental arched shape. The house is all about its jigsaw work, with the porch, like McRaven, supported on thin openwork posts with Gothic jigsaw designs and with a jigsaw balustrade. The spandrel brackets on the porch are especially delicate and frilly and form basket handle arches. The entablature is of the bull's eye paneled cornice type, with a row of panels in the frieze filled with incised Eastlake designs, and a layer of dentils with small bulbous brackets emerging. This run of short brackets is interrupted by longer brackets coordinating with the posts of the porch, keeping the verticality of the design. I have to say, while very kitschy, there is something quite authentic, especially to the 1870s, to the yard crowded with all kinds of clashing odds an ends, a Thorvaldsen Hebe, a canon, and Japanese lanterns. Victorians loved those kinds of tchotchkes in front of their houses as a sort of exterior furniture that personalized the house as the objects collected by the owner personalized the interior.

Source: Wikimedia

Monday, January 1, 2018

'McRaven' the John H. Bobb House, Vicksburg, MS


The John H. Bobb House, Vicksburg, MS. 1849 (1797) Source: Wikimedia
This house has a complex building history. Originally built in 1797 as a small house, it was expanded in the 1820s and further finished in its present form in 1849 by John H. Bobb, a hybrid Greek Revival/Italianate affair, of the side entrance plan, typical with southern houses. The house was used as a field hospital during the Civil War and Bobb himself was shot in a dispute over flower picking in his front yard, all giving the house, currently open as a museum, the distinction of being haunted. The house has a simple typical Greek revival façade, with spare lintels over rectangular windows. It's the porch which really brings in the Italianate design (the porch façade type), with thin supports, pierced with jigsaw designs and lacy brackets supporting a large Greek Revival entablature pierced by Italianate paired s scroll brackets. Of particular note is the somewhat odd extra layer at the top of the cornice with dentils that almost look like Gothic crenellations. 

Source: Jeff Hart
Similar is this house, at Adams and Grove, probably built as a Greek Revival (1850s?), somewhat later, and furnished with a similar porch and bracketed entablature. Note here how the architect has eschewed the double columns for the porches, instead creating openwork struts with ironwork inset into them instead of jigsaw work that do not divide at the floor of the second story. Also, note how the entablature is less dependent on the Greek Revival, somewhat less classically correct here.