Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Thomas-Jencks-Gladding House, Baltimore, MD

The Thomas-Jencks-Gladding House, Baltimore, MD. 1849-51
The impressive staircase. The dome is Tiffany. Photo: Meredith Kahn
It's fitting to end this look at Baltimore's Anglo-Italianate architecture with perhaps the city's most impressive house, the Thomas-Jencks-Gladding house at 1 Mount Vernon Place. One of the earliest houses constructed in the neighborhood, it anchors the area around the monument and provides, along with the Peabody Institute across the street, an impressive gateway from the monument to the downtown. The house was designed by Niernsee and Neilson, a firm we have encountered before, and was built in 1849-1851 for John Hanson Thomas, a politician. It was one of Rudolph Niernsee's very first designs. Later it was sold to the Jencks in 1892 who altered much of the interior and added a bay window on the east facade for the dining room. Despite these alterations, however, the house retains a great deal of mid-19th century design inside. Both the Thomases and the Jencks were part of Baltimore's high society, and the house served as an impressive showplace for the family to their notable list of guests. Abandoned in 1953 after the last of the Jencks died, the house was restored by Henry Gladding in 1962, an early example of preservation for a Victorian structure. Usually in the 1960s, people couldn't get rid of Victorian architecture fast enough. Perhaps the classicism of the design made Gladding want to preserve it. The house is currently called the Hackerman house and houses the Walter's Art Museum's Asian art collection.

The house is particularly noteworthy for its transitional blend of Greek Revival and Italianate elements. It follows the five bay plan and features on each side the recessed central bay common to other Baltimore five bay homes. The east side is only three bays wide, making it appear more like a symmetrical plan house. The house is faced with brick, which is probably correctly painted white to resemble stucco. Some of the elements could go either way stylistically, like the double Corinthian columned portico. The composition of the door with its transom and sidelights separated by pilasters is definitely Greek Revivial in form. So are the cast iron palmettes above the cornice. The house is Italianate in its elaborate hood moldings and bracketed cornice. Starting from the ground floor, the house sits on a rusticated stone basement. The windows are very tall and are connected in pairs by cast iron balconies. The hood moldings on these and the second floor windows are bracketed with a small frieze and dentils above. The moldings lack a strong cornice, which is replaced by Greek style vegetal carving. A strong, simple cornice separates the first and second floors in a highly Renaissance fashion we have seen before in Baltimore.

The second and third floors are not separated and feature on the second floor tallish windows with their signature hood moldings and small third floor windows directly under the cornice's architrave. The second floor windows have small iron grilles inset into the frame. The cornice features an architrave and alternating brackets and panels in the frieze, making it a panel cornice. The central bay is slightly different. Besides the presence of the Greek Revival door, the windows on the upper floors are tripartite to emphasize the central bay's greater width. The portico is also notable as one ascends it from the sides rather than directly from the front, a feature, which as I suggested before, lends the house a certain grandiose quality. The following images from HABS show some of the exterior details. You should definitely check out this site where the author exhaustively posted dozens of pictures of the house's mid-19th century interior architectural details.

This view shows the house with shutters, which may have been the original condition of the windows.

Thus, for now, we end this exploration of Baltimore's Anglo-Italianate architecture. The city is full of examples, some of which I will post later, but these give you a good idea of the city's characteristics. The adherence to English and Renaissance models so prominent in Baltimore's Italianate is not as staid as it sounds. The second floor bay windows, the play with the cornice, the recessed facades, all constitute the city's own interpretation of English design. Although the buildings have the elegant air of London terraces, the uniqueness of designs and the avoidance of monotony make these examples truly American and a unique collection of Italianate designs. 

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