Sunday, March 4, 2012

Time to Act: The Gustav Stickley House on Columbus Avenue is Rotting Away

Syracuse, NY. Gustav Stickley House. Columbus Ave. Views of water damage and other deterioration. Photos: Samuel D. Gruber Feb., 2012.

It's Time to Act: The Gustav Stickley House on Columbus Avenue is Rotting Away
by Samuel D. Gruber

A few weeks ago Dick Case wrote in the Post-Standard about two fine 19th-century houses, one of the North side and one on the West side, that have long been empty and which cry out for use and care.  To these should be added the Gustav Stickley house on the Columbus Avenue on the East side.  It is a shame on Syracuse that this famous house - critical in the history of American architecture and design - is rotting away.

A photo gallery of the building's condition. Photos: Samuel D. Gruber (Feb 2012)

The modest Queen Anne style house is less eye-catching than the others, but its place in the history of American art and culture is great.  Perhaps no other building in Syracuse, and certainly no other Syracuse house, has had such an impact on architecture, art and design in the 110 years since it was built.  The Stickley house - or at least its interior - helped jump start the Craftsman Movement, and once-dominant and still popular component of the American Arts and Crafts Movement.  Now that there seems to hope for renewal of the nearby Babcock-Shattuck house / former Jewish war Veterans' Post,  Eastsiders are eager to see the Stickley restored and made a community asset.

In the 1996 the house, then owned by antiques dealer and Stickley furniture expert David Rudd (Dalton's antiques), was sold to the Audi family, today's owner of the Stickley Audi & Co. and subsequent founders of the Stickley Museum in Fayetteville.  There were great hopes at the time for the building at the time of the purchase.  Articles in the Post-Standard quoted the Audi's commitment to maintain the house (which then was in pretty good condition).  Members of the Arts and Crafts, architectural, and local community looked forward to the inclusion of new cultural resource - perhaps of branch musuem or study Stickley study center - that would help Syracuse further claim Stickley's legacy and would also serve a beleaguered neighborhood.

Pages from Samuel Howe's article in the Craftsman illustrating the Stickley house interior
You can read the entire Craftman article here

For several years the house was kept up, though there was no public access, with no opportunity to view the still largely intact Stickley first floor interior that was first nationally noticed in vol. 3, no. 3 of the Stickley's sponsored Craftsman Magazine, when Samuel Howe published a well illustrated article "A Visit to the House of Mr. Stickley." (the entire article can be read attached to the 1984 National Register nomination).  These illustrations of Stickley's new interior helped launch the Arts and Crafts movement in American architecture and interior design.  The second floor was also intact in 1984, when then owner Norm Roth sponsored the  National Register nomination.

As late as 2004 the exterior of the house was well maintained, but several years ago the house began to be noticeable neglected.  Perhaps the decline in interest in and care for the house is tied to Alfred Audi's untimely death in 2007.  Whatever the reason, certainly deterioration of the roof, gutters, eaves, bays, porches and other features has dramatically accelerated since 2009, when I began to regularly check on the house.  Some modest repairs were made after damage was reported following the first destructive winter, but the building now looks worse now than ever.  It's a shame too, since the appearance of much of the street has improved over the past decade.  This mild winter has probably spared the structure much damage, but given the exterior appearance I can only image the increasing water damage, rot and even possible animal infestation inside.  At this point the damage is clearly reversible, but as deterioration spreads, repairs will get get more expensive all the time.

I'm not casting blame here - the Audis saved the house from dismemberment once - and the community was and is grateful to them.  But it is now time for the community to come together to save this building again - hopefully with the Audi family and Stickley Furniture company's full involvement, but if not, then through some other way.  The house is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a local protected site - but it is not being protected.  right now it is endangered, and its a woefully wasted resource of national significance.

I'll be visiting Columbus Avenue and the Stickley house on the first of four Westcott Neighborhood walking tours I'll lead this spring. I invite you to join me to view the house (outside only) and discuss its significance and fate on Sunday afternoon, March 25th.

In researching the house I've discovered, to my surprise, what seem to be previously unpublished - and presumably unknown, references to the house in articles from the Post-Standard from 1901 an 1902.

From an article about Stickley's purchase of the original house we learn the he bought it form the Rosenbloom estate and that Daniel Rosenbloom had overseen the construction.  Wellington T. Taber was the architect and detailed information about the original plan and decoration is provided - allowing us  to compare the original house what Stickley redesigned - after a fire. That fire took place Christmas eve 1901 (not 1902 as is  reported in the National Register nomination written in 1984). 
Post-Standard June 3, 1900

Mr. Stickley Buys a House,
Chair manufacturer purchases property in Columbia [sic] Ave.,
Building being completed,
Work of interior decoration under way -
Gustav Stickley of the firm of Stickley & Simonds has purchased from the estate of S. Rosenbloom the new house which is under construction at No. 416 Columbus Ave. The consideration is not made public. The house upon completion will be taken possession of by Mr. Stickley for a family residence. The building occupies a terraced lot of the regulation size  and Mr. Stickley has an option on the lots on each side of  the house, both owned the Rosenbloom estate.
The house was designed by architect Wellington T. Taber and constructed  under the personal  direction of Daniel Rosenbloom.  It has all modern equipments, including two bath rooms and a conservatory, the rooms all being large. The structure is three stories high in addition to attic.
The work of interior decoration has been commenced and the entire scheme is artistic. The spacious lower floor hall and parlor is treated in a gray brown oak and the side walls are covered with a Moravian coated material with an indefinite brocade stripe.  The dining room will be cased in gum wood with Venetian walls. The general color effect in several of the room will be gobelin blue and old orange. The parlor will be of a deep green hue with Pompeian decorations and the bedrooms will be done in delicate colors. There will be considerable work in the way of artistic ceiling decoration.  It will take several weeks to complete the decorations.
Roy Stubblebine (who spoke in Syracuse in 2007 and urged protecting the house) gives a good account of the post-fire rebuilding in his book Stickley's Craftsman Homes.  He posits that insurance payments might have contributed to the maintaining of the original houses form, though he points out that Stickley did add the impressive street front bay window and the new large Craftman style door, in addition to the all new interior decor on the first two floors.  Stubblebine does not mention what help Stickley received, though a fascinating short note in the Post-Standard of January 19, 1902 states that:
Architect Gordon A. Wright is directing the reconstruction of the Gustave Stickley house in Columbus ave. which was partly destroyed by fire Christmas eve. E. M. Allen is the contractor.
Wright is reported to have set up his architectural office in Syracuse in 1892, and taught at the new Syracuse University Architectural Department beginning at that time 1891-92.  By 1901 he was presumably established as a leading young ( 35) architect in Syracuse, though few of his buildings from this period are known.  I wonder how long the Wright-Stickley relationship lasted.  I'm intrigued to think what role Wright had in Stickley's design, and what effect Stickley's ideas had on Wright (who himself became a prolific architect of fine Syracuse homes).

Besides the architecture and design of the house, there is its close association with Gustav Stickley himself and the Stickley family.  The family lived here until 1905 when they moved to New York, but they kept an option on the house and it was re-purchased in 1913 by Stickley's daughter and son-in-law.  After bankruptcy closed Carftsman activities in 1915, Stickley moved back to the house and lived until his death in 1942 in a third floor apartment created for him.


  1. This makes me ill - such a significant piece of our local and national history. I do hope that folks begin to take notice.

  2. Hopefully some of this has been remedied by now!


  4. After seeing this article I was happy to find that the house is now being restored.

  5. Exterior has been restored!