Monday, September 17, 2012

Rediscovering Howard T. Yates (d. 1956), Architect of Early Suburbs

Rediscovering Howard T. Yates (d. 1956), Architect of Early Suburbs
by Samuel D. Gruber

The Real Estate section of yesterday's Post-Standard (Sept 16, 2012) prominently featured a beautiful Tudor-style house at 202 Scottholm Blvd, built in 1928, and now for sale. Scottholm Boulevard is one of the loveliest street in the city, and since I am giving a walking tour of the area in October, my wife and I hurried over to the open house to better explore the house. I looked for information on the recently completed survey of Scottholm by Cornell students, which led to the submission of a National Register historic district designation nomination  for the neighborhood last year (as of June 2012 the final designation was still pending on the Department of the Interior calendar). 

Syracuse, NY. 202 Scottholm Blvrd. Howard T. Yates. arch. 1927-1928.  
Photos: Samuel D. Gruber

I was disappointed to find that in the Historic District designation the architect for this house, as for most of the houses in the area, was still listed as unknown.  Surely, the many distinctive features in the house should lead us to the designer.  Fortunately, the past owners of the house have preserved the original architectural drawings as well as all the detailed, and realtors Jenn Lagraffe was able to pull these out for me and we quickly determined the the architect was Howard T. Yates.  Jenn, and fellow realtor Dan Stazzone me asked - "Who was Howard T Yates?"  - and I had to admit I had no idea!

A few hours sleuthing only turned up an Oct. 1929 ad for Stearns Sons & Dineen, Inc, of 1112 E. Fayette St., Tile, Marble and Slate Contractor, that featured their work on the house - but nothing else about its construction.  I was, however, able to discover quite a bit about a Yates, enough for me want to learn more.  In addition to designing the impressive Scottholm house for the M. L. Franklin family (of Franklin Co. Furniture) Yates was a productive - even prolific - designer of houses for  new suburban housing tracts developed around the edges of Syracuse in the late 1920s, until the market dried up in the first years of the Depression.  As far as I can tell, Yates, greatest contribution was the design of most (all?) of the houses in the Dewittshire development, located on both sides of Jamesville Road just south of East Genesee Street in Dewitt.  This work was done for the Clarke Real Estate Company.

Dewittshire is much more modest development than Scottholm, and that may explain why sales continued in the area for several years after the November 1929 Stock Market Crash.  These were simple attractive cottage-like family houses, and the area remains popular today.   Development and sales in Dewittshire began in the late 1920s before the Crash, and continued at a slower rate at least until 1933, when a Yates-designed "new English colonial home" at 107 Dunham Road was purchased by C W Clifford of the New York Telephone Company (Syracuse Herald American, April 2, 1933).   

A notice for the sale of Yates-designed house at 119 Dewittshire Road (Syracuse Herald American September 25, 1932) mentioned that 164 Dewittshire houses had already been sold.   An indication of the change in American middle-class suburban living - that would have significant consequences for post-World War II design, is that these houses were advertised as having two-car garages attached to houses.   Here we see the beginning of the new suburban home where the car and garage are no long "tool" and "toolshed," but are fully integrated as essential elements of life and home. 

Housing construction slacked off dramatically during the 1930s, but we see a revival at the end of the decade.  I used to think that construction of new suburban housing only began after World War II, when returning GIs looked for homes for their new families and the Federal government provided incentives to builders and borrowers.   The story is not that simple.  A recovery actually was already beginning at the end of the 1930s, and we can see this in a new development like a Ormsborough, on the West Side, where the Pomeroy Company apparently developed the former farmland of Mrs. Mary Higsby and Mrs. Kittie Gray, to create new housing on what is now Ormsby Drive near West Genesee and Fay Road.  The Pomeroy Organization was "the developer and exclusive sales agent of the tract. The homes are built by Patrick A. Travers, contractor, and designed by Howard T. Yates." (Syracuse Herald American, Nov 10. 1940).  When built the development was "just over the city line."   clearly, however,r development was still slow.  A quick look at "Google streetscape" shows about a half dozen attractive simple 2-story  houses of the Yates-type erected along the north side of the street.  Number 102 Ormsby Drive, purchased in 1940 by Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth J. Cross looks today almost exactly as it was pictured in the newspaper when first built.  Across the street, however, is a series of one story ranch houses, clearly built after the war.

What other work was there in Syracuse for a architect of houses once the Depression hit?  By the 1940 we find Yates engaged more in commercial architecture - designing electronics and furniture stores.  He also was apparently the architect of the Dunbar Center at 950 South Townsend Street, built in 1940 and demolished in 1964 (I'll find a picture of that).  A short articles about the dedication of the building has Yates presenting the keys to the building.  the featured speaker was Ernest Atwell, of New York, field director of the Bureau of Colored Work, National Recreation Association.  According to the Herald American (Nov 10 1940):
  "approximately 1,000 persons are expected to attend the program, marking the official opening of the new recreational and cultural center for Negroes of the city. Almus Olver, president of the board of directors of the Dunbar Association, Inc., will preside at today's program, and Mayor Holland B. Marvin will speak. A tablet in memory of Mrs. Frederick Hazard, long active in Negro welfare work, will be unveiled by her daughter, Mrs. S. Foster Hunt of Providence, R. I, and Howard T. Yates, architect, will present the keys of the building to Miss Gladys Bliss, a member of the board and chairman of the building committee."
The last building I was able to identify as Yates' is an attractive 1946 commercial building that still stands - and is used as the home of the Syracuse New Times at 1411 West Genesee Street. Designed in a jazzy modern style, the building opened with some fanfare in January 1946 as Giminski's Furniture Store.  That same year, Yates design a new household electrical appliance store for John D. Wilson, owner of the Wilson Building (where Yates had his office) and Wilson's Leading Jewelers, Inc.  The new appliance store adjoined the jewelry store.  The distinguishing feature of the store was its massive "unusual architectural feature of the I6 by 12 foot window showing completely the interior of the 150-foot-deep store..." There were no window displays since "thru the window can be seen the contents of the store, arranged-attractively against pastel backgrounds both from the low blue and peach. Fluorescent lights are set in the ceiling, which is lined with acoustiboard to deaden sound." (Syracuse Post Standard, April 14, 1946 Here was have an early version of a new kind of commercial display - the these days in the norm in shopping malls. 

The Wilson Building is now being renovated for apartments.  I don't know if anything of Yates' appliance store was still visible when work began.

Yates died in 1956.  He had a son and grandson who lived in Denver, Colorado.  He and his wife lived at 816 Livingston Ave. in the university neighborhood, and she survived him by a decade.

Let me know if you have additional information about Howard T. Yates and his buildings.  I am sure there are many more to be identified.

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