Thursday, July 18, 2013

The New Haven Railroad Station, New Haven, CT

The New Haven Railroad Station, 1848-49 

This will be my last post for this slew of Indian Italianate designs, and this is by far the most exotic. This was formerly the State Street train station in New Haven, designed by Henry Austin in 1848-1849. It was never very popular. The low placement of the tracks, as can be seen in the architect's elevation, was a major design problem that caused the terminal to fill with smoke from the trains. In the New Haven Historical Society, a child is quoted as saying to his father on arriving in the station "Dad, is this hell?" The father replied "No, son, this is New Haven." It was converted into a market in 1874 and was eventually destroyed by a disastrous fire (after a few renovations in the 80s) in 1894.

The center of the station is clearly Italianate. A projecting central section of seven bays had arched topped windows, brackets, and a central pediment. There were six more bays to either side leading to the towers. The towers are where exoticism comes into play. The tower to the left had a typical Italianate base with tombstone windows and strong belt courses, suggested by other works like the Norton house. The roof, however, flared outward and terminated in a bizarre cupola with arched, dripping, rooflines. The whole was capped by an elaborate finial. The right hand tower was even larger; the first stages below the main cornice consisted of a tall Venetian style window. As one went past the exceptionally broad eave, there was a cruciform cupola with a general round arched silhouette that framed the clocks. Above that was an octagonal pavilion with a low peaked roof that seems to emulate the Athenian Temple of the Winds.This was topped by what appears to be a weather vane. To add to the peculiarities, the central cupola had two stepped roofs reminiscent of a pagoda in the original design (this was toned down in the final plan a bit). As a contemporary observed when defending the exuberance of the station, the station was "of more ornament and elegance than otherwise might have been." (O'Gorman, 134) The orientalism of the exterior was reflected in the Moorish style divans and furnishings of the waiting rooms.

Considering stylistic influences, one can see the influence of Indian stupas, particularly in the left hand tower, with its stages. One critic has seen the influence of Indian chaitya arches in the shape of the roofs on the towers. Others have compared the towers to minarets and the central cupola to Chinese pagodas. At the end of the day, the station was eclectic but firmly within Austin's Indian Italianate style. It was truly one of the most fantastic buildings ever constructed in this style and it is a shame to have been lost. The same playfulness seen in the Brighton Pavilion can be seen in the innovative approach to ornament and design in the New Haven station, making it both a stylistic and spiritual heir to the Anglo-Indian design it pioneered in the US.

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