Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Cobbled Cottages in the Greater Westcott Neighborhood

Syracuse, NY. 105 Kensington Road, built between 1908 and 1924. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018
Syracuse, NY. 1920 East Genesee Street, built between 1908 and 1924. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Syracuse, NY. 1920 East Genesee Street, built between 1908 and 1924. View showing deep set back from street. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Cobbled Cottages in the Greater Westcott Neighborhood
by Samuel D. Gruber

My colleague Bruce Harvey and I  are getting to the end our work on the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Greater Westcott Neighborhood. It is very time-consuming describing nearly 2,000 properties (primarily houses and garages). These houses mostly fall into about six or so major types, but within each type are almost endless variations - some planned and others the result of changing tastes, materials and owners' budgets of the past century.

Even the providers of plans and full house building kits recognized new owners' desire to personalize their house - or at least to build it in some way distinctive from a neighbor's.  Thus, most of the hundreds of (often quite similar) house models offered by Sears, Aladdin, Bennett Homes, Lewis Homes and other house suppliers and lumber companies almost always offered options for different window types, gable shapes, porch supports and especially siding. In the front of a Lewis Homes catalogue from 1924 it is clearly stated that  "any Lewis Home can be prepared for Brick Venner or Stucco."

Lewis Home, Homes of Character catalog, 1924. Detail form inside front cover.

The promotion of the Bennett Home's Lancaster model - pictured below - tells  buyers that:
Quiet but rich dignity is this home’s expression. The rustic stone chimney and broken ashlar porch are most attractive, though brick may be substituted without loss of beauty. The broad, low dormer and wide eaves lean a substantial appearance. The shingled exterior is in keeping with the design; but in case siding is preferred, harmony would not be destroyed. …for charm, outside and in, and for convenient roominess, the Lancaster is indeed most desirable.
"The Lancaster" House model from the Bennett Homes catalog, 1920s

Siding was mostly either clapboard or shingle in various combinations, but a smaller number of houses were built of traditional brick, or at least brick cladding, or stucco, or even rough stone and cobblestone. Its this last group - relatively rare in Syracuse - that we'll look at in this post.

Syracuse, NY. William G. Clark House, ca. 1845. this si one of three (?) early and mid-19th century cobblestone houses in Syracuse. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2012.
There is a long tradition of using rough stone and cobblestone in house construction - for structural work, not just veneer. Cobblestones were often used in Central New York construction in the 18th and early-19th century when they were an easily accessible (cheap) building material. They came ina portable size and did not need to be quarried. There are at least three examples of mid-19th century cobblestone houses surviving in Syracuse, including the William G. Clarke House at 1408 Spring Street on the Northside, built c. 1845. Another good example is on Old Stonehouse Road in Dewitt, just off Nottingham Road and there are many more in towns and villages in the region as is illustrated by Gertrude Peterich in Cobblestone Landmarks of New York State (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1978). This construction method, however, was mostly abandoned when cheap cut stone or brick was more readily available to builders

The cobblestone cottages in the Westcott area are NOT part of this tradition, which ended at least fifty years earlier. The inspiration for rustic stonework and cobblestone porches and chimneys came from elsewhere, the rustic vacation homes of the period and the Craftsman Movement.

In the late 19th-century cobblestone building was popular again as part of a rustic revival used especially for “camp” architecture – including palatial summer homes in the Adirondacks and elsewhere. But popularity also trickled into the vocabulary of “natural” elements and process championed by members of the Arts and Crafts Movement, including Gustav Stickley's Craftsman Movement as championed in his magazine The Craftsman, published in Syracuse, and as apparently practiced by a number of local architects. From the Craftsman Magazine and other sources the use of cobblestone quickly found its way to popular home catalogs.

In the Westcott neighborhood cobblestones are used for rustic effect in a small number of Craftsman-influenced bungalow and cottage type houses. Examples include 1920 East Genesee Street, 110 Kensington Place, 105 Kensington Road and 213 Westminster Place. Similar houses to these types were already published in The Craftsman by 1908. All of our Westcott examples were erected between 1908 and 1924, but at this stage we can't say exactly when. The type continued to be heavily marketed through the 1920s.

California houses with cobblestone construction  illustrated in the chapter "The Effective Use of Cobblestones as a Link Between House and Landscape," in Gustav Stickley, Craftsman Houses  (2nd edition, 1909)
California House with cobblestone construction first published in The Craftsman (November 1907). Reprinted in Gustav Stickley, Craftsman Houses  (2nd edition, 1909)
Syracuse, NY. 213 Westminster Place Built between 1908 and 1924. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Syracuse, NY. 110 Kensington Place, built between 1908 and 1924. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Already by around 1902, impressive irregular stonework was used in the distinctive Arts and Crafts inspired house at 125 Concord Place, believed to be an early work by the distinguished designer Lamont Warner who lived briefly in Syracuse and worked for Stickley.

Syracuse, NY. 125 Concord Place, attributed to Lamont Warner, 1902. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2012.
Syracuse, NY. 125 Concord Place, attributed to Lamont Warner, 1902. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2006.

Stickley (or his editors) wrote in the compendium volume Craftsman Houses(2nd edition, 1909) a section on cobblestone construction titled "The Effective Use of Cobblestones as a Link Between House and Landscape":
We have never specially advocated the use of cobblestones in the building of Craftsman houses, for as a rule we have found that the best effects from a structural point of view can be obtained by using the split stones in­stead of the smaller round cobbles. Splitting the stone brings into prominence all the inter­esting colors that are to be found in field rubble and it is astonishing what a variety and richness of coloring is revealed when the stone is split apart so that the inner markings ap­pear. Also a better structural line can be obtained when foundation and pillars are clear­ly defined instead of having somewhat the effect is very interesting. There is growing up in this country, especially on the Pacific Coast, a style of house that seems to come naturally into harmony with this sort of stone work, and there is no denying that when the big rough stones and cobbles are used with taste and discrimination, they not only give great interest to the construction, but serve to connect the building very closely with the surrounding landscape. 

The fact that we have found the best ex­amples of this natural use of boulders and cobbles in California seems to be due largely to the influence of Japanese architecture over the new building art that is developing so rapidly in the West. In these buildings the use of stone in this form is as inevitable in its fitness as the grouping of rocks in a Japan­ese garden, for on the one hand the construc­tion of the house itself is usually of a character that permits such a use of stone without danger of incongruity, and on the other hand the stone is usually employed in way that brings the entire building into the closest relationship with its environment. 

The cobblestones used for the houses of this kind are of varying sizes. To give the best effect they should be neither too small nor too large. Stones ranging from two and one half inches in diameter for the minimum size to six or seven inches in diameter for the maximum size are found to be most generally suitable. Such stones, which belong of course to this limestone variety, and are irregularly rounded, can usually be obtained with­out trouble in almost any locality where there are any stones at all, picked up from rocky pasture lane or a dry creek bottom. The tendency of builders is to select the whitest stones and the most nearly round that are obtainable. 

This, however, applies only to the regular cobble­stone construction as we know it in the East. In California the designers are much more daring, for they are fond of using large mossy boulders in connection with both brick and cobbles. The effect of this is singularly interest­ing both in color and form for the warm purplish brown of the brick contrasts delightfully with the varying tones of the boulders covered with moss and lichen, and the soft natural grays and browns of the more or less primitive wood construction that is almost invariably used in connection with cobbles gives the general effect of a structure that has almost grown up out of the ground, so perfectly does it sink into the landscape around it.
Stickley and the Craftsman Magazine were especially attracted to the work of the California architects Greene and Greene and the creative use they made of boulders and cobbles, especially in their chimney and fireplace construction. The cobblestone and freestone chimneys that we see in the Westcott houses are but modest reflections of the massive works in Pasadena, but still they are quite attractive and effective. 

Bungalow and cottage-style houses with cobblestone porch were popularized in the catalogs and magazines.Already in 1903 Sears offered an ornate - but affordable - cottage with rustic stonework in its catalogue. The Sears house still draws on the more ornate combinations of late 19th-century camp architecture, with rustic adaptations drawn from the traditional traditions of hunting lodges and ski chalets. 

The bungalow-style house with cobblestone porch was popularized in the catalogs and magazines. Three different models using cobblestone were illustrated in Bennett’s Small House Catalog of 1920.but it was The Lancaster that is closest to the Craftsman ideal and to Westcott examples.

Sears House, 1903 Catalogue.

Sear House, 1903 Catalogue.

"The Charlotte" from Bennett Homes catalog, 1920.
"The Forsyth" from Bennett Homes catalog, 1920.

"The Lancaster" House model from the Bennett Homes catalog, 1920s
Syracuse, NY. 213 Westminster Place Built between 1908 and 1924. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Syracuse, NY. 105 Kensington road, built between 1908 and 1924. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Pasadena, CA. Cole House. Greene & Greene, archs, 1906. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017.
Pasadena, CA. Cole House. Fireplace. Greene & Greene, archs, 1906. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017.
Pasadena, CA. Charles Sumner Greene House, 1901ff. Photo Sam Gruber, 2017.
Syracuse, NY. 105 Kensington Road, built between 1908 and 1924. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Syracuse, NY. 213 Westminster Place Built between 1908 and 1924. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Robust Classicism For Monumental Westcott Flats

Syracuse, NY. 716 Westcott Street. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018
Syracuse, NY. 716 Westcott Street. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018
Syracuse, NY. 716 Westcott Street. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018
Robust Classicism For Monumental Westcott Flats
by Samuel D. Gruber 

[n.b. this post is a work in progress. If I get more information on these houses I'll update and re-post. One really needs to look t deeds and city directories to get the full record of owners and residents, but that will have to wait].

Earlier this summer a query was posted on the Nextdoor Westcott Syracuse listserve about 716 Westcott Street. More recently these has been some chatter about the house on the Nostalgic Syracuse Facebook page. The address is a very recognizable rental apartment building on the west side of Westcott Street between Clarendon Street and Euclid Avenue. It is remarkable for its bright colors (recently added) and giant Ionic columns (original). The writer wondered if "in its hey day someone super wealthy and cool owned it? maybe not?"  The answer is "maybe, and maybe not."

We know from the Hopkins city maps of 1908 and 1924 that the entire west side of the 700 block of Westcott  Street was developed between those years A notice in the Post-Standard from April 15, 1910 indicates that a building permit for a dwelling to cost $4,500 was granted to James J. O'Donnell for 716. 

Atlas of the city of Syracuse New York (Philadelphia : G.M. Hopkins Co., 1908). Detail of Westminster tract with 700 block of Westcott Street on right. Only one house is built on the block. N.B.  Frank Street is now Redfield Place.
Atlas of the city of Syracuse, N.Y. and suburbs (Philadelphia : G.M. Hopkins co., 1924 Detail of Westminster tract with 700 block of Westcott
Atlas of the city of Syracuse, N.Y. and suburbs (Philadelphia : G.M. Hopkins co., 1924  716 Westcott is number 11.
This was a period of rapid expansion in the area, and a good time for architect-designed houses.. An Post-Standard article of the same day notes that:

In the East End, the Onondaga Realty Company is busy in the work of putting up new dwellings. This company finds a good demand for houses, especially on University Heights. The architects say that they are kept busy in preparing plans for a good grade of houses and that home builders are beginning to recognize the advantages of having plans made by- experts, in which the artistic effect is given as much consideration as other features, which combine to make a home comfortable and' attractive. A house designed by a practical architect, they contend, will, as a rule, bring more money than one planned by an inexperienced man. should the owner at any time wish to dispose of. ("Demand for New Houses Keeps Up, Contractors Say," Post-Standard, April 15, 1910).
We know of many architect-designed houses in the neighborhood from this time. A house designed by noted architect Albert L. Brockway at 211 Comstock was built in 1910 and is similar to 716 Westcott Street. Unfortunately, the house has now been been stripped of all it detail). It has also been pointed out the the house resembles the most expensive version of Sears kit house, the so-called Magnolia, of which we have one example built in Syracuse at 1500 James Street, probably designed and built between 1918 and 1921.

Syracuse, NY. 211 Comstock Street. Alfred Brockway, architect, 1910. Post-Standard (May 2, 1910)
Syracuse, NY. 1500 James Street. Sears House, 1918-1921. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2012
 Another reference to the address in 1916 allows a pretty secure dating for 716 Westcott Street - even without consulting the property deed.  At this time Hamilton H. wife and his new bride Katharine Cook were moving into the house after their marriage.
Mr and Mrs. Hamilton H. White have returned from their wedding journey and are at home at 716. Westcott street. (Syracuse Herald, Dec. 10, 1916).
Hamilton Howard White (1885-1959) was a member of one of Syracuse's oldest families. He was the grandson of Hamilton White (18071865) whose house faces Fayette Park and the son of Hamilton Salisbury White (1853-1899) the famed firefighter who is memorialized in a monument at the other end of Fayette Park.

So in a certain sense perhaps "someone super wealthy" lived in the house - though we don't know how wealthy young White was when he was just 31 years old. As for being "cool," all I can say is that he worked in insurance his whole life as president of Hamilton White Inc., Insurance Agency. A solid citizen, yes.  But "cool," I don't know (I'll have to ask Ham White his grandson who still lives in Syracuse). 

But the presence of young White on the 700 block of Westcott Street in 1916 is very typical of the type of resident moving into the new neighborhood. Many young families of white collar professionals found that they could afford to buy or build ample houses in a nice new neighborhood for affordable prices, and the Westcott neighborhood was linked to  the Downtown by streetcar.

The fact that 716 Westcott Street also only has a modest garage or out building also suggests that this was built more as "trolley house" than as mansion. The garage seems to be contemporary with the house. It has some of the same detailing. But compare, for example, the impressive garage built behind 317 Clarendon Street, a large Colonial Revival house designed by Justus Moak Scrafford for one family in 1912.

Syracuse, NY. 716 Westcott Street. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2012
Syracuse, NY. 716 Westcott Street. Pediment over side entrance. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018
The Westcott Street house, as impressive at it is, is really little different from dozens over other 2-family or "flats" buildings erected in the Westcott neighborhood between 1908 and 1924. Most of these buildings of apartments (flats) are easily recognizable. They usually have two doorways, and almost always have a double level of a generous front porch. The placement of windows, indicating the spaces within, are nearly identical on bottom and top floors. If there is diagonal row of windows, its probably the stairway leading to the upstairs apartment - but not all stairways have windows. A view 716 Westcott Street from the side and rear shows that the house fits this pattern. It's a simply rectangular wood-frame, clapboard-sided box  built on mass produced smooth sided cast blocks. Without its impressive classical detailing, the house would not stand out from dozens of other 2-family houses in the neighborhood. But the house does have impressive front and side columns, as well as extensive applied architectural ornament at the corners, around the windows and in the eaves. All this decoration ties the building into the many contemporary Classical Revival civic and commercial buildings of the time in Syracuse and across the country.  The main entrance facing Westcott Street also links the house to the complementary Colonial Revival style, particularly with the Colonial or Federal style elliptical fanlight over the door and the two  style rectangular sidelights. Even though all the elements are of wood and could be purchased through catalogs, the abundance of Classical and Colonial detail indicates an intentional in the design and building to make something notable and grand.

Syracuse, NY. 716 Westcott Street. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018
Some of these multi-family buildings seem grander than others, mostly be using two-story columns or piers to support the balconies. this usage also ties these buildings in to the then current trend in public buildings which were built in the Classical style, often with giant columns. The style is a new iteration of the classicism that was popular in the early 19th century and that in 1910 could still be seen in the mansions lining James Street.

Syracuse, NY. Daniel M. Edwards Mansion, James St. (demolished). Photo: OHA
A new full-bodied classicism, inspired by the Columbian exposition in Chicago in 1893 can be seen in Syracuse as early as 1898 in the Psi Upsilon Fraternity House at Syracuse University, and soon after the buldings on the SU quad and many public buildings including the Onondaga County Courthouse (1906), and Temple Concord at University and Madison streets (1910-1911).

Syracuse, NY. Psi Upsilon House. Wellington Taber, architect, 1898. Postcard
716 Westcott is one of the grandest of the new big columned classical multi-family houses, but there are and have been others. Until it was "remuddled" in 2009, 519-521 Euclid Avenue has four great Corinthian columns supporting its porches, but now these have been replaced by two levels or more modest and meeker tapered piers.

Syracuse, NY. 519-521 Euclid Avenue before changes in 2009. Architect unknown. Photo: SEUNA
Syracuse, NY. 519-521 Euclid Avenue after changes in 2009. Photo:Samuel D. Gruber 2017.
The more Common Type of Classically-Inflected Multi-Family House - With Piers, not Columns

Most of the time in the Westcott neighborhood when 2-story supports are used for front porches on multi-family houses standard square piers are used as at  733-737 Ackerman Avenue, 823-825 Ackerman Avenue, 851-853 Ackerman Ave, 247-249 Buckingham Avenue, 427 Columbus Avenue, 137-139 Cumberland Avenue., 315-317 Euclid Avenue., 851 Euclid Avenue, 919 Euclid Avenue, 1905-1907 East Genesee Street, 2319 East Genesee Street, 232-234 Fellows Avenue, 905 Lancaster Avenue, 1060-1062 Lancaster Avenue, 329 Lexington Avenue , and many more. 

This means the application of a giant order to any otherwise simple gable facade, and the immediate transformation of a mundane structure - essentially a rectangular box - into a monumental one. here are some pictures...

Syracuse, NY. 851 Euclid Avenue. Photo: Samuel Gruber.
Syracuse, NY. 733-37 Ackerman Avenue. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013
Syracuse, NY. 1905-07 East Genesee Street. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Syracuse, NY. 427 Columbus Avenue. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Syracuse, NY. 919 Euclid Ave. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013
Syracuse, NY. 137-139 Cumberland Avenue. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018
Syracuse NY. 232-234 Fellows Ave. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018

Syracuse, NY. 719 Euclid Avenue. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2012.

Syracuse, NY. 329 Lexington Avenue. Photo: Bruce Harvey 2018
Syracuse, NY. 823-825 Ackerman Avenue. Photo: Bruce Harvey 2018
Syracuse, NY. 851-853 Ackerman Avenue. Photo: Bruce Harvey 2018
Syracuse, NY. 247-249 Buckingham Avenue. Photo: Bruce Harvey 2018
Syracuse, NY. 1060-1062 Lancaster Avenue. Photo: Bruce Harvey 2018