Thursday, August 18, 2016

Going "Dutch": On the Origins of the Ubiquitous Gambrel Roof "Colonial" House

Syracuse, NY. 700 Allen Street (corner of Clarke St). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016
Syracuse, NY. 122 & 120 Concord Place. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016
Syracuse, NY. 250 Cambridge . Photo: Samuel D. Gruber
Syracuse, NY. 100 block of Fellows Ave. two versions of the gambrel roof "Dutch Colonial" house, one showing its gable to the street; the pother its shed dormer. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016

Going "Dutch": On the Origins of the Ubiquitous Gambrel Roof "Colonial" House
by Samuel D. Gruber

In my Westcott Neighborhood in Syracuse, and in many other areas of the city and inner suburbs developed in the early 20th century, one of the most notable house types is the so-called Dutch Colonial Revival House, with its distinctive gambrel roof.  I'm often asked the origins of this house type, with the interlocutor hopeful of some telling historical anecdote. Alas, the history and popularity of the form has less to do with early American history than more modern American marketing. 

There is nothing Dutch about the house and it has nothing to do with Dutch heritage. As Daniel Rieff, in his Houses from Books: Treatises, Pattern Books, and Catalogs in American Architecture, 1738-1950: A History and Guide (University Park, PA, Penn State university Press, 2000) has pointed out: "Although the house type was recognized as not found in Holland—while common enough in England —for better or for worse, this house type must be called “Dutch Colonial,” as it has been for more than ninety years."

Architects had been playing with the gambrel roof for houses since the 1880s, when they were common elements in shingle style houses. There were also some examples beginning around 1900 of the gambrel roof associated with "Colonial" elements  In 1907, the type with a long shed dormer (rather than several discrete dormers) was defined as "Dutch" and presented by architect Aymar Embury II in a house he designed for a Garden City competition. The next year he popularized the house type in an article in International Studio (August 1908), “Modern Adaptations of the Dutch Colonial,” and in 1913 he published a book, The Dutch Colonial House: Its Origin, Design, Modern Plan, and Construction (1913), which forever established both type and  name. It became  popular throughout the United States but it is possible that after Embury's designation it had a special appeal in New York State because of local (but not in Syracuse) Dutch history. 

Syracuse, NY. 122 Concord Place. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016
Dutch Colonial House as described and illustrated in Loizeaux, Classic Houses of the Twenties, "Which Style of Home?"
Design 5-A071. Robert T. Jones, ed. Small Homes of Architectural Distinction (1929).. Photo: from Rieff, p. 211

In plan, however, the house differed little from the even more common gable roof house, popularly dubbed Colonial, though in many of the Dutch designs the construction of the second floor (bedrooms) and attic were conflated. The gambrel roof - where each roof slope is broken into two jointed parts, allowed for more head room on the topmost story, in what otherwise might have been an attic.  In the larger versions, where the  house had two full stories and then a gambrel roof, the third story became more usable space - with high ceilings and more light.

In the Westcott neighborhood, the Dutch style is especially evident on the one-block long Concord Place which was mostly developed in the years between 1900 and 1914. A big house at 116 Concord has a gambrel cross-gable, and there is a similar house at 120 Concord.   At the east end of the street even Arts and Crafts architect Ward Wellington Ward adapted the Dutch style in 1910 for the main wing of the Tuck House, at 126 Concord Place, one of his early houses in the neighborhood. 

Syracuse, NY. 116 Concord Pl. (c. 1900). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016

Syracuse, NY. 120 Concord Place. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016
Syracuse, NY. 126 Concord Pl. Ward Wellington Ward, architect (1910). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016

Even in the teens, the gambrel roof was also being employed in more modest designs such as the New Eden and Tucson house models in the Aladdin Built in a Day House catalog of 1917. These houses derive from the simple gable-front "homestead" house that was come on small farms and more rural lots, but also was an easy-to-built starter home for a family of modest means living on a city street. Slightly more robust versions of these homes can be found throughout the Westcott Neighborhood, including 712 Lancaster Ave. and 115 Clarke Street. 
The New Eden Aladdin Built in a Day House Catalog, 1917
The Tucson. Aladdin Built in a Day House Catalog, 1917
Syracuse, NY. 712 Lancaster Ave.  Built after 1908. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013
Syracuse, NY 115 Clarke St. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2011

In the 1920s the Dutch Colonial design was a very popular variant of new Colonial Revival architecture, especially in the expanding urban and suburban development area where single family homes were promoted. The two-story version was favored by proponents of well-design small homes, and many examples were featured in widely circulated manuals and books of house designs during the 1920s. In the first three decades of the 20th century  the so-called Dutch design was a popular one in various building catalogues.

According to Daniel  Rieff 

Soon versions of it could be found in mail-order-house company offerings. Aladdin’s attractively designed “The Lancaster,” “a Dutch Colonial type and one of the most truly artistic Aladdin homes,” is depicted in its 1915 catalog. Perhaps reflecting its relative newness as a type, the copy notes that “The Lancaster [is] an original design from the Aladdin architects.” It immediately became a popular type. “The Verona,” a gambrel-roofed house of this type available from Sears between 1918 and 1926, was another attractive version, with a surprisingly sumptuous living room twenty-seven feet long, made all the more appealing in the 1918 catalog by the rich color plates used to illustrate it. 
...Fourteen [Dutch Colonial Homes] were included in the 1929 compendium Small Homes of Architectural Distinction: A Book of Suggested Plans Designed by The Architects' Small House Service Bureau, Inc., edited by Robert T. Jones, “technical director” of the Bureau. ...Sears offered thirteen or fourteen models of so-called Dutch Colonial houses between 1918 and 1937.
The Verona. Sears Built Modern Homes (1918 catalog), 32. Photo: From Rieff color plate IX

In The Books of A Thousand Homes (Vol. 1), compiled by Henry Atterbury Smith and first published in 1923 by the home Owners Service institute, there are many examples of Dutch Colonial designs. Vol 1 is reprinted as a Dover edition with the new title 500 Small Houses of the Twenties (Dover, 1990). 

For further reading:
Reiff, Daniel D. Houses from Books: Treatises, Pattern Books, and Catalogs in American Architecture, 1738-1950: A History and Guide (University Park, PA, Penn State University Press, 2000. 
Smeins, Linda, 1999. Building an American Identity: Pattern Book Homes & Communities (Altamira Press, 1999).

1 comment:

  1. I never comment but I love your blog, these are my fav style houses. That's for the interesting read I really enjoy your posts!