|The William H. Graham House, Baltimore, MD. 1850|
Photo: Marc Szarkowski
These next week of posts will focus on Anglo-Italianate houses in Baltimore! In its Mount Vernon neighborhood, Baltimore developed a surprising collection of high style row houses in a sober and elegant Anglo-Italianate style. Partly, this might have been the influence of European-born architects on the city, partly the city's cosmopolitan nature, and partly the interest of its newly wealthy class and their relationship with Europe. The neighborhood, Mount Vernon, is one of the finest examples of aesthetic urban planning. It is marked by a series of four squares that radiate in a cross out from the central square containing a column that honors George Washington (1829). There was a building boom on the squares in 1850 that transformed a neighborhood of detached houses into a dense enclave of stately rows. At any rate, it is an important set of examples of highly European influenced design in the US.
The Graham house is a landmark at 704 Cathedral Avenue in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood. It was built in 1850. I did not know for whom it was constructed, but fortunately Oleg Panczenko filled me in, which I very much appreciate. He notes in the comments:
"The Graham House was constructed in the 1850s for William Hamilton Graham (1823-1885), director of Alexander Brown and Co. and son-in-law of George Brown (important names in Baltimore’s banking history). Mr Mencken occupied a third-floor apartment with his wife, Sara Haardt (1898-1935), from about August 1930 to March 1936.
After Sarah’s death on May 31, 1935, Mencken wrote to Joseph Hergesheimer (March 19, 1936): “It turned out to be completely unendurable, living in this apartment. It was too full of reminders, and too dreadfully empty and lonely. I am going back to Hollins street with my brother August, and taking Hester [Denby, cook and housekeeper] and Emma [Ball, cook and general domestic] along.”
I won’t recite the tedious chain of title but will make three notes: (1) The Monument Place Apartment Company owned the building from 1918 to 1937. (2) Lawrence d’A.M. Glass purchased the building in 1976. (3) In November 2011, Baltimore City took title to building by condemnation so that it could be used used as an annex to the School for the Arts."
Thank you, Oleg, for the correction!
The house bears a great deal of similarity to the Augustus H. Albert house not far away. Both follow the five bay plan, both are constructed of brownstone, and both draw from the Anglo-Italianate vocabulary for their ornamentation. One interesting thing I notice about both houses is that the central bay is slightly recessed. I have seen this in other row houses, such as the Wing-Williams house; however, it seems to be particularly popular in Baltimore's houses and is found in its Greek Revival architecture, such as that of the Mount Vernon Club (1842) as well as the early Italianate Thomas-Jencks-Gladding house (1851). The recessing of the central façade might have been a particularly popular method of handling a five bay façade in Baltimore. It definitely tries to present a pavilion effect.
The house is not as complex as the Albert house in its variations. Starting from the basement, we have a rusticated base with semi-circular windows covered by grills. These are topped by thick, heavily carved brackets and cornices that probably supported iron balconies, now gone. The window treatment is the same for all the windows; the sides of each molded surround feature inset panels with carved cable decoration, topped by foliated brackets and a cornice with dentil molding. The windows gradually decrease in height with each story, a common feature of row house design. The entablature is horizontal and follows Renaissance precedents in its accurate simplicity, its small thickly spaced brackets, and its deployment of dentils and egg and dart molding. One notable feature is that unlike the Albert house, the entablature on the Graham house does not recess with the façade but runs in an unbroken line. The central bay has doubled windows. The door of the house is particularly fine, copying the window surrounds with an arch in the center with elaborate carved foliage in the spandrels. Baltimore seems to have liked elaborate carving as demonstrated in the Backus house. The door is recessed and the portal has niches on either side. The following enlargements highlight some of the details.