Wednesday, April 13, 2016

'Alverthorpe' the Joshua F. Fisher House, Jenkintown, PA

'Alverthorpe' Jenkintown, PA. 1851
All Photos unless otherwise credited: HABS

Photo: Diary Sidney George Fisher
The Joshua Fisher house, known as Alverthorpe (frustratingly misspelled as Alvethorpe in HABS) was built in 1851 for a prominent Philadelphia merchant and general rich guy. He was well traveled (Grand Tour 1832) and gathered an impressive historical and art collection at his home. Drawings indicate Notman designed the house and the formal gardens, and it remains one of his most impressive designs. Fortunately HABS documented the house before it was unfortunately demolished in 1937. Notman went all out for this commission, choosing the pavilion plan as his base and adding a tower to the side as well as an extension wing with a gabled pavilion and a particularly fine wrought iron porch, one of the most impressive pieces of wrought iron I've seen from this period. As we expect, Notman never puts a tower where one expects. Resisting the urge to play with polygons here, Notman constructed a cube that is three stories rather than the typical two, making the house far taller than usual. This height is balanced by the service wing, which corrects the vertical with horizontal balance. The façade is they expected fieldstone with brownstone quoins and trim.
The detailing on this house is ambitious to say the least. On the principal façade, Notman has turned the first floor into a colonnade with pilasters between the triple windows on the first floor and a large semicircular portico with a full entablature and large brackets. The whole is topped with a Renaissance balustrade. The main entrance continued the glass wall of the first floor with large windows surrounding the main entrance (the first glass curtain?). While the window surrounds are simple on the second and third floors (triple windows in the center bay, single on the sides), each window has a balcony that gives it extra weight. The cornice features not one but two sets of beam brackets superimposed, making for  heavy cornice line. The tower is a sculptural masterpiece, with simple detailing on the lower floors that expands into rectangular triple windows with a heavy bracketed balcony above. The upper stage has triple arched windows with interesting brackets that curve out from the façade in a large c scroll, making it look like they almost organically grow from the masonry. Other interesting details are the porch on the right hand façade, which is an adaptation of a rustic Italian motif we will see at Fieldwood. The service wing with its gabled pavilion that has a triple arched window is especially charming, looking like a small monastery chapel. The wrought iron is amazing, as I already gushed. From the few interior views, one can see the house had an impressive amount of classical detailing. Coupled with the fine formal gardens, patios, urns, and sculptures, this house is the picture of a wealthy wonderland. All I can say is its a shame we can't enjoy this today.

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