Tuesday, January 23, 2018

From Towers to Turrets to Projecting Bays: The Democratization of High Style House Design

Syracuse, NY. Loomis House ca. 1890. 623 Euclid Ave. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2012
Syracuse, NY. Levi Chapman House. 321 Westcott Street, in process of "vinylization". Photo: Samuel Gruber 2012
From Towers to Turrets to Projecting Bays: The Democratization of High Style House Design
by Samuel D. Gruber

Its been frequently documented that high-style innovations and affectations in art and architecture - but also in cuisine, fashion and etiquette - trickle from the top down, often being simplified and standardized, so that much of what we commonly mistake for vernacular design is actually highly inflected interpretation and adaptation of class trappings. Of course, it works the other way too, and often the lowest street culture can influence or even be adopted as a trend by the arbiters of high-style taste. Grafitti Art, the Blues, Rock and Roll, and Hip-Hop are examples. But so are rustic masonry and exposed timber construction in architecture and design.

We can certainly see the trickle-down side of this at work in the architecture, design and construction of houses in the Greater Westcott Neighborhood, which in its entirety provides a primer on late 19th-century and especially early-20th century Middle Class residential aspirations and achievement. A look at the continuing diminution of corner towers - so prevalent in the Queen Anne style in the last decades of the 19th-century - is a good case in point.

Syracuse, NY. Babcock-Shattuck House. Photo: PACNY 2014
In 2013 I posted about Queen Anne style houses in the Westcott Neighborhood. Just before 1900, there were still some big houses of wealthy owners that sported impressive attached corner towers. The recently-restored Babcock-Shattuck House at 2000 East Genesee Street has a round corner tower, while the Loomis House at 623 Euclid Ave (corner of Lancaster Ave), and the Levi Chapman House at 321 Westcott Street, have large attached polygonal towers. 

The Loomis House is still relatively good condition, but the Chapman House has unfortunately been recently covered with vinyl siding. Both of these houses have their towers knit into the main building fabric with the tower roofs cut into the slope of the main roof much as a dormer would be. Though thoroughly integrated, the towers still stand as strong elements of the overall composition and they are not obscured by porches. They give these houses the castle look of a baronial homestead.

After 1900 we traces of similar tower on many houses, but these get lower and flatter, and are sometimes obscured by porches. The houses at 108 Avondale and 708 and 714 South Beech Street are smaller than the Loomis and Chapman houses, but continue the form. The projecting corner tower still has its own polygonal roof.

Syracuse, NY. 108 Avondale. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2015
Syracuse, NY. 708 South Beech St. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013
Syracuse, NY. 714 South Beech St. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013
In the next shift, however. the tower has entirely morphed into a projecting polygonal bay surmounted it own prominent gable. It no longer is the corner of the house, but rather projects directly from the facade, filling about half the house width. Like the towers, the projecting bays still help to draw more light into the house by having windows facing three directions. Typical examples of this form are at 710 and 729 South Beech Street.

Syracuse, NY. 710 South Beech St. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2012

Syracuse, NY. 729 South Beech St. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2012
This form is related to another common type popular in the area from at least the early 1890s. This is a another simple variation on the Queen Anne type, but stripped down and easy to build on a small lot. The type is defined by L- or T-shaped roof, with a cross gable, and projecting front polygonal bay. The narrow bay is surmounted by a prominent gable, and this is set against and almost within a larger gable that spans the entire house width. There are several examples on South Beech,  Dell, and nearby streets, though more often the projecting bay is rectangular and not polygonal.

Syracuse, NY. 711 South Beech St. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2012
A simplification of this type does away with the extra smaller gable, and instead extends the primary gable over the bay, creating a little covered recess over the front door. An example of the this can be seen at 116 Clarke Street at the corner of Strong Ave.

Syracuse, NY. 116 Clarke St. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2012
A slightly more complex profile is created at 1007 Euclid Ave., just off Strong Ave. In this two-family "flats" type of house, the projecting bay is under the main gable, but a second gable is created over a second story porch that spans half the width of the house. The lower porch presses up against and partially obscures the projecting bay - all that is left of old corner tower.

It is only a small step  from this to a form very common in the 1920s and visible in my own house at on Clarke Street. Here the projecting bay is only built on the second story. Down below the wall is flat and totally taken over by the porch. The upper story bay does, however, get its own gable. This does provide the simple frame house a lively profile that harks back two generations to the Queen Anne style.   

Syracuse, NY 1007 Euclid Ave. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2011
Syracuse, Ny 123 Clarke Street. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016

That second story bay is very functional. It pulls in sunlight for much of  the day since it has windows facing east, south and west. Is is one of Luna's favorite spots in the house (see photo below).


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  2. Great work Sam. Seeing these wonderful houses from the vantage point of Washington DC makes me envious. The house prices here are astronomical.