Monday, May 6, 2013

The Wing-Williams House, Albany, NY

The Wing-Williams House at 284 State Street in Albany was built in 1860 according to this site. The plaque on the house may read differently though. That teaches me for not taking a better photo of the plaque although it was hot, and I had already spent close to four hours tooling around the Albany Rural Cemetery, a must visit when going through the Capital Region. Albany has one of the most intact neighborhoods of Italianate row homes, the Center Square district, I've seen outside of Cincinnati. The Italianate seen in Albany is characterized by incredibly ornate and complex cornices and sculptured hood moldings with generous amounts of incised Eastlake decoration and trim. Also characteristic are large box windows overhanging entrances. This house, however, does not display these features.

This house instead tries to create a sense of grandeur that separates it from the more elaborate styling of the typical Albany row house, looking more toward Anglo-Italianate Renaissance precedents which formed the basis of many of the great brownstone mansions appearing on New York's Fifth Avenue than the vernacular American precedents of other nearby homes. Still the house has features that separate it from the strict Anglo-Italianate style of the Athenaeum in Philadelphia. The house, like the Albert house in Baltimore is a five bay row house and has a recessed bay in the center. Starting at the base, the rusticated stonework of the basement follows the segmented arch curve of the basement windows with paneled carved keystones. Thus the basement story has an undulating effect as its line curves along with the windows; a traditional Renaissance design doesn't employ such variations on the straight horizontal divisions between floors. The window treatments are also odd; the hood moldings don't conform to traditional curved or pointed pediments but instead have an raised vertical projection in the molding that interrupts its flow over the first floor's segmented arched and the second floor's round headed windows. This is the flat-topped trefoil arch so characteristic of the 1860s and 70s. The little finials on the sill flanking the window, suggesting a continuous surround, are also strange. These variations on the Renaissance scheme are influences from the Albany vernacular.

Similarly the cornice, like the hood moldings, has variations from the norm. The brackets and molding mostly follow Anglo-Italianate ideas, however, pairs of brackets at the corners of the side bays descend lower than the other brackets, creating a variation that defines the facades sections, but also departs from Renaissance form. The frieze is paneled in a vernacular way, and beneath the frieze are small guttae (or drops) running the length of the entablature and softening the line. Many Albany row houses use drops to enliven an entablature's line. The door is a fanciful creation, with cable molding, a centered cartouche and the segmented arch breaking the horizontal cornice line. The central window is divided in two, almost in the Venetian manner, but where the round window should be between the two arched windows is a dense swag of foliage. Below I have a detail shot of the door.

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