Monday, April 13, 2020

Consider the Bungalow: Always a Favorite House Type

Syracuse, NY. 106 Concord Place.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Syracuse, NY. 2652 East Genesee St. Photo: Samuel Gruber
Syracuse, NY. 112 and 110 Greenwood Place. Photo: Samuel Gruber
Consider the Bungalow: Always a Favorite House Type 

by Samuel D. Gruber 

One of the local building types I am most often asked about is the bungalow. We begin to get mention of them in the local newspapers around 1910, when for example, in September bungalows are mentioned on both Maryland and Ackerman Avenues on the newly developing Eastside. One of them is listed as an "artistic six-room bungalow," a "short walk from University," for sale by local architect and developer Clarence Congdon. "It will make a delightful home for small family." It was "finished in mission," meaning the Mission or Craftsman style. I have not been able to locate this advertised house, but a similar bungalow is still standing in 1015 Ackerman Avenue.

Notice of bungalow on Ackerman Avenue, The Post-Standard (September 17, 1910).
Syracuse, NY. 1015 Ackerman Avenue, ca. 1912. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Syracuse, NY. 220 Roosevelt Avenue, ca. 1920. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Syracuse has dozens of examples of bungalows scattered throughout its neighborhoods. Unlike some West coast cities like Seattle or Los Angeles, or even Des Moine, Iowa, we do not have "bungalow neighborhoods."  Here, bungalows were mostly infill houses, or just one type of many "kit" house available to be home owners in the first decades of the 20th century.

Though they are similar, no two seem exactly alike. They are often the most modest houses on a street, but inevitably they are among the most memorable, the most charming, and sometime most beautiful. Some of our bungalows were designed by local architects such as Ward Wellington Ward and Harry Phoenix. Ward's forays into the style are best seen in the two A. Bradley Fuller houses at 215 and 225 Salt Springs Road. The origins of most, however, are still unknown.

Syracuse, NY. 215 Salt Spring Road. A. Bradley Fuller House, Ward Wellington Ward, architect, 1920. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2020.
Syracuse, NY. 225 Salt Spring Road. A. Bradley Fuller House, Ward Wellington Ward, architect, 1915. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2020.
The term bungalow is derived from Bengali, meaning a dwelling of that region of India, but American bungalows are only loosely based on the Bengali model. In the 1880s the terms was already popular in America to refer to Indian houses, and by extension, many "Eastern" exotic types. By the 1890s the form and term was trending for vacation homes for the well-to-do, as described in an July 19, 1893 article in the Syracuse Herald about the summer home of the poet and journalist Ella Wheeler Wilcox, in Connecticut, facing Long Island Sound:
The house is located on the top of some huge rocks which reach out into the sound, and is reached by a great natural stone stair case, which leads to a broad veranda surrounding the bungalow. The living room is a large, broad place running up to a gable roof, there being only one floor. It is filled with exquisite oriental curios, collected by Mr. Wilcox in his many years of travel. The entire room is skirted with cushion-covered lockers, which are used as stowaways. The sleeping apartments contain all the comforts of a city home, and meals are served in an adjoining cottage, one of tour which Mr. Wilcox has bought. The fireplace in the bungalow, Mrs. Wilcox declares, is the joy of- her life, and is built in exact reproduction of e times of our grandfathers. Under he great projecting stone mantel are niches tilled with bowie knives, pistols and old tankards, and near by are the logs ready to blaze in the cool evenings which spring up suddenly on the seashore.
These often opulent vacation homes were playgrounds of the rich, and continue a long tradition, but at the end of the Gild Age they were examples of a rejection of Victorian formality. Like the Adirondack camps, in which the type is sometimes included, they required money to build, maintain and serve, but they were intended to give the impression of simplicity - even for millionaires.

The simpler city adaptations of the bungalow which soon followed are something else altogether. They do strive to express both an informality and openness, while in a general way adapt that for the freer sensibilities of the new Progressive Age - breaking free from the both strictures of Victorian society and the inequalities of Gilded Age Capitalism. But until studies are made of who actually owned and built bungalows, we'll not know if these social and political ideals mattered much in the choice of a home. Certainly the idea of informality WAS important in the popularity of the bungalow as a vacation home and we still find variations on the type in many lake, seaside and mountain retreats and resorts.

The first notice of a bungalow in Syracuse is from 1907, when the Syracuse Herald (March 29, 1907) reports that:
Architect W. W. Taber has drawn plans for the first bungalow to be built in this city. It is to be similar to those which are in use in California and throughout, the West. It is to be built In Stolp avenue, on the Onondaga Highlands for Mrs G. C. Cheney A novel feature of the building, which is to be one story and a half in height, is the sleeping balcony. This balcony will be so protected that a person may sleep out of doors with the least possible discomfort. All of the living and bedrooms will be on the first floor and will be attractively arranged.
I have not yet identified this house, but presumably it is on Stolp Avenue near Summit Avenue. Perhaps one of my Strathmore readers will recognize the description.

The standard Bungalow is square or rectangular in plan, one-and-a-half stories high, with horizontal lines, a low pitched gable or jerkin-head (clipped gable) roof, wide roof overhangs and gable or jerkin-head roofed front porch.

A low, wide shed, gabled, or jerkin-head roof dormer is also a common feature. Sometimes a fuller second story is added, as in 307 Kirkpatrick Street on the north side, designed by local architect Harry Phoenix in 1917. Phoenix, or at least the local press, called this a bungalow. In 1923, Ward created similar long and low two-story variation in the Anna Stroher house at 700 Allen Street, and here one can see how easy it was to (literally) elevate the humble bungalow into a more dignified, arts and Crafts/Tudor style home.

Syracuse, NY. 307 Kirkpatrick St. Harry Phoenix, architect, 1917.
Syracuse, NY. 700 Allen Street, Anna Stroher House. Ward Wellington Ward, architect, 1923. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012.
Syracuse, NY. 700 Allen Street, Anna Stroher House. Ward Wellington Ward, architect, 1923. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2006.

Bungalows can be faced in brick, wood siding, or stone. The first floor is often brick or stone with wood shingles or clapboards in the gables. Another variation is a first floor sided in wood with a stuccoed upper floor. Exposed rafters and battered (tapered) porch supports are characteristic. Typical paint colors are brown, tan, terracotta, white, gray, and muted greens.

The bungalow is often considered the poor step-child of the Arts & Crafts House. Since Arts & Crafts is not a style, but a Movement, many of the promoted characteristics of an Arts & Crafts or Craftsman House turn up in the wide variety of popular bungalows built in the first decades of the 20th century, and especially in the 1920s. 

Bungalows first seem to have been built in California in the 1890s and around 1909-1910 The Bungalow Magazine was published in Los Angeles. Bungalows were also popular in Seattle, where another magazine, called just Bungalow Magazine was published from 1912 and 1918. 

An important goal of the California Arts & Crafts Movement (sometimes called the California Craftsman Movement), as for its Central New York counterpart, was to preserve simplicity and craftsmanship in architecture. This was a stated purpose of Gustav Stickley's Craftsman Magazine, first published in 1901, and Bungalow Magazine echoes these sentiments, but focused more narrowly on a single class of house, though the the Bungalow style adopted by the Magazine was influenced by other contemporary styles that were often featured in the Craftsman: Shingle, Stick, Swiss Chalet, and Spanish Colonial.Many examples of bungalow - both simple and high-end - were illustrated in the Craftsman Magazine.

This California bungalow was illustrated in the Craftsman Magazine in Nov. 1907 as an example of cobblestone architecture and reprinted in Gustav Stickley, Craftsman Houses  (2nd edition, 1909).

Syracuse, NY. 1119 Oak Street. Photo Samuel Gruber, 2019

Syracuse, NY. 165 Cambridge. Photo: Samuel Gruber, 2018.

The small but adequate Bungalow answered a growing need for low-cost housing and was popular in all parts of the country. The western version tended to be simpler, often built without a foundation, and ideal for a mild climate. In Syracuse there are many variations. In some cases the house size could be nearly doubled by extending its length into the lot, as at 165 Cambridge.

Like the related Craftsman Cottage type of small house, the bungalow type of style was early picked up lumber and building supply companies as an easy and inexpensive type of house to market by catalog, where all the components could be prefabricated, shipped and then assembled on-site for the new house. This is the way many houses in different styles - urban and rural - were manufactured, purchased and constructed in the first part of the 20th century. Developers sold lots, but buyers ordered and built their own houses.

We find many examples of bungalows in house catalogues such as the Aladdin Bennett  and Lewis catalogues. Because usually these house were built without basements, they were more suited as summer cottage or as year-round houses in places with more temperate climates then Syracuse. Not surprisingly, bungalows are very common in California. Still a number of bungalow variants were built in Syracuse, though these were often hybrids, and included more features to secure them for the weather and expand them for year-round urban living.

"The Argo" Loizeaux Classic Houses of the Twenties.

"The Winthorp" Aladdin Homes Catalogue, ca. 1920.
Just as Ward ans other architects could expand the form of the bungalow to make a more ample house, so too did "kit" house architects offer a slightly larger - and more vertical - cottage type of house, which was sometimes called a "Craftsman Cottage," or a "Bungalow Cottage."  These come in various sizes and are very common in Syracuse, such as the examples I recently wrote about on Strong Avenue.

"The Lancaster," Bennett Homes Catalogue (Ray H. Bennett Lumber Company), 1922.

This system of house design, purchase and construction was largely replaced in the post-World War II era where mass-production techniques - some developed for war-related construction - were applied to vast new housing developments where all the houses were built together by a single company, and then sold ready-made to eager buyers. 

Still, one can see that the bungalow form - both in elevation and plan - helped form the basis for the popular small ranch houses that sprang up across the country in the years immediately after World War II. Today these small houses are often called "starter homes," and for many families they were just that, small inexpensive houses bought by returning soldiers on the G.I. Bill. But many families have stayed in these houses over the decades, often expanding them outward and upwards as families grew, and our consumer culture demanded for space for stuff.

Syracuse, NY.  Simple Buungalow on Greenwood Place, ca. 1930. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2020.
Syracuse, NY. Small house on Meadowbrook Drive built after World War II, ca. 1950. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2020.
Syracuse, NY. Small house on Meadowbrook Drive built after World War II, ca. 1955. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2020.

One aspect of the early 20th-century bungalow - its smallness - has resurfaced in the 21st century in the small and tiny homes movement. Some proponents of small houses are in favor of their economy and energy efficiency and promote them as part of a ecology-minded possession-free way of life, bringing to a house the type of moral argument that has its roots in the aesthetics of the Arts & Crafts movement (honesty) and the social politics of the Progressive Era (equility) of a century earlier. Another purpose for tiny homes, as practiced here in Syracuse, in the A Tiny Home for Good organization, is to provide safe and independent space for the homeless. 

Perhaps we should bring back the bungalow!

Syracuse, NY. south Salina Street. Tiny Homes for Good. Photo: Sameul Gruber 2016.

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