Friday, May 24, 2013

Three Sandstone Italianates in Madison, WI

The Gilman House, 1855 Photo: Shihmei Barger

The Fuller-Bashford House, 1856 Photo: Richard Hurd

The Kendall House, 1855 Photo: Shihmei Barger
These three Italianates form a natural group. They were all built around the same time and in the same neighborhood, Madison's Mansion Hill District, by the city's wealthy. They are all built of the same sandstone and have similar detailing; thus, they represent a good window on the styling of one particular area at a specific time. Architect August Kutzbock, who has designed several houses in earlier posts probably had a hand in designing all three. These houses are notable for their simplicity of ornamentation and their dependence on sandstone and its texture for effect, rather than elaboration of moldings and variation of elements. They serve as a good contrast of Kutzbock's more flamboyant designs for the Keenan and Pierce houses nearby.
The Gilman house follows the irregular plan, odd as it may seem. It lacks the tower, which is not an uncommon practice, and the area that should be slightly recessed for the tower's base is flush with the projecting pavilion; elongating the design. It was built in 1855 for Julius White, but its real claim to fame is that it housed the governors of Wisconsin from 1883 to 1950. The house has segmented arched windows and spare sandstone window surrounds; the greatest variation is the pairing of windows on the right of the façade which top a box window. The entablature is narrow and the brackets are an interesting feature in that they strive to give an impression of width rather than height. The porch on this house is not original.
The Fuller-Bashford house also follows the irregular plan, but features the tower, which is apparently a rarity in Madison. Perhaps the sunny campanile didn't appeal to the settlers in the snowy north. It was built in 1856-7 for Robet Bashford, an attorney and mayor; the Fullers were railroad tycoons who bought it in 1865. This is one of the more sophisticated houses; it features eared window surrounds and paired tombstone windows (also with eared moldings) in the projecting pavilion. The cornice is spare, featuring no brackets but only a run of dentil molding. Unlike most of the houses we have seen, this tower does not feature arched windows on the top story, but simply repeats the windows of the other floors, an oddity. There is an odd aspect to the windows; the second floor windows appear a bit too long. Often architects tried to vary the window height; in general the windows get smaller as one moves up the façade. In this house, however, they look to be the same size regardless. The rather ghastly porch is not original to the house, although I don't know if it originally had one.
The Kendall house follows the symmetrical plan, with a mansard roof added in 1873. Originally it had a shallow hip roof with a cupola. It was built for J. E. Kendall, a banker, in 1855. This house features shallow pedimented cornices above the tall windows and the front door has ear moldings. This house seems to have been jazzed up with a box window and cornice, which look from their size and elaboration to be Second Empire additions, although there's a possibility they could be original.
Taken separately, these houses are not particularly impressive. As a group, however, they provide interesting information about the simple and elegant tastes of Madison's early wealthy families and about the early parts of Kutzbock's career before he embraced the complexity of Rundbogenstil. They serve as the perfect foil for the later houses of how a few years and the growth of a city could radically change the freedom with which people personalized their homes.

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