Friday, February 7, 2020

Rediscovering Syracuse Architect James D. Meehan

Syracuse, NY. 1514 Park Street. James D. Meehan, Architect, 1910. Post-Standard (Sept. 7, 1910).
Syracuse, NY. 1514 Park Street. James D. Meehan, Architect, 1910. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2012.
Syracuse, NY. 1514 Park Street. James D. Meehan, Architect, 1910. Photo:Google Streets 2020.

Rediscovering Syracuse Architect James D. Meehan
by Samuel D. Gruber

Since I became president of the Arts & Crafts Society of Central New York in 2018, I've tried to expand the inventory of Arts & Crafts influenced architecture in Syracuse and the region and to identify more of the architects and designers who were influenced by the Arts & Crafts Movement in their work. Thanks to research of Cleota Reed and others we know quite a lot about the life and work of Ward Wellington Ward, but after Ward, the list of local Arts & Crafts practitioners is very small despite the fact the Arts & Crafts-inspired houses are sprinkled in almost every city neighborhood and beyond. Last year we were able to revive knowledge of architects Harry Phoenix, G. Everett Quick, and Francis J. Worth, all of whom designed some Arts & Crafts influenced houses, including bungalows. I am happy to add James D. Meehan to the list.

Advertisement from 1910 which ran frequently that year in the Real Estate section of the Post-Standard.
Meehan was a very active architect in Syracuse from around 1910 at least through 1949. He worked in both Arts & Crafts-inspired and classical styles. At present we have little biographical information, other than occasional newspaper and architectural magazine notices, so maybe someone who reads this blog will be able to supply more. 

Meehan seems to have been very busy by 1910, when two examples of his work were illustrated in different issues of the Post-Standard, and other projects were mentioned. The illustrated notices show two different sides of the architect, and both houses still survive, though one was radically altered around 2009. Meehan advertised regularly in the newspaper, so probably the coverage of his work either was a result of the advertising, or vice-versa.

One of the 1910 houses remains much as it was when built. It's a good example of local Arts & Crafts style, with variegated roofs, a clipped gable, and a mix of materials; brick, cast block, wood and stucco. This is contemporary with similar early work of Ward Wellington Ward.

We know that many of the active Syracuse architects in the early part of the 20th century, and especially the younger generation, were academically trained, and thus were comfortable working in a number of styles. Even Ward, known for his Arts & Crafts and Tudor-inspired designs also worked in the Colonial style, and was also proficient in commercial and industrial design.

Just a week after the Post-Standard featured Meehan's Arts & Crafts design for 1514 Park Street, the paper featured another Meehan design, this one for a two-family house with a monumental classical portico supporting front porches.  In September 2018, I posted about two-family houses with "robust classicism," focusing mostly on a house on Westcott Street (See: Robust Classicism For Monumental Westcott Flats). In that post I mentioned in passing the once fine two-family home at 519-521 (formerly 511) Euclid Avenue. This has sadly been remodeled, so that the impressive front porches once supported by four columns of monumental Corinthian order are now removed and replaced by a more mundane 2-story arrangement.
Syracuse, NY. 519-521 Euclid Avenue (formerly 511). James D. Meehan, architect, 1910. Illustration from Post-Standard (Sept. 14, 1910).

Syracuse, NY. 519-521 Euclid Avenue (formerly 511). James D. Meehan, architect, 1910. Photo: SEUNA
Syracuse, NY. 519-521 Euclid Avenue (formerly 511). James D. Meehan, architect, 1910. Facade remodeled ca. 2009. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012.

The telling newspaper article of September 14, 1910 announcing the Euclid Avenue project identifies the developer, architect, and the builder. The language of the short article tells us quite a bit about the design and appeal two-family houses at this time-but how it was seemingly more prestigious if these two-family houses looked more like opulent (even pretentious) one-family homes. Each apartment was very large and well-appointed. We also learn that by 1910 white was the color for Colonial Revival design.

The house was built by Attorney Thomas Ward. James D. Meehan was the architect and Bixby & Co. were the contractors. The 1901 illustration places the house on a flat site, when in fact, there is a considerable rise from the Euclid Avenue sidewalk. Similarly the drawing shows the house with an ample driveway to a large carriage house in the rear, when in fact the house is on a narrow lot with no driveway and there is no sign of an associated rear service building.

From Post-Standard (Sept. 14, 1910):
The building will be of frame construction and will be a pretentious as the most costly one-family house, which will be the effect conveyed by the design. When completed, the exterior will be painted white in order to more fully carry out the Colonial style of architecture.
The apartments, which will be entirely separate, will each contain a large living room, parlor, dining room, kitchen, butler’s pantry, refrigerator room and three sleeping rooms and a bath. There will be massive brick fireplaces in the living rooms.

The main rooms will be finished in white enamel with mahogany stained doors. The other rooms will be finished in red oak. The floors will be of oak and birch.

The lot is 40 x 130 feet.
The classicism of the design was certainly the most popular style for public buildings at the time. We see this in the design for the Temple Society of Concord put forward by Alfred Taylor and Arnold W. Brunner, for which the cornerstone was also laid in September 1910. (That building, whose future is uncertain, was the subject of a public hearing at the Syracuse Landmarks Preservation Board on February 6, 2020).

Syracuse, NY. Presentation drawing of planned Temple Concord. The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N.Y. (Sept. 19, 1910)
Giving a "Colonial" twist was popular for houses, too. In 1910 Meehan was also responsible for an apartment house with six units on Chemung Street, and a one-family house on Danforth Street. These buildings still need to be identified and we don't know in what style they we designed.

Meehan remained an active residential and commercial architect in Syracuse at least through the 1940s. He built a warehouse on Park Street west of Hiawatha Boulevard (demolished) in 1946, and then designed the Pontiac showroom and service center known as the Illington-Bailey Building, one of the first projects built after World War II. That building was built around a series of systems used for showing off new Pontiac automobiles, but also for the safe and efficient servicing of cars. Design and construction required ingenuity because of continuing shortage of material in the post-war period. The building was later substantially altered with it's large windows reduced in size or blocked, but it still stands at South McBride and East Genesee Street. If the ground floor windows were opened the building could return to life for as retail or exhibition space. An article at the time of the building's opening reports interesting "archaeological," finds on the site, what the paper called "slave cellars," but which sound like some sort of brick and arch sub-surface storage center.

Syracuse, NY. Illington-Bailey Building, James D. Meehan, architect, 1949. Syracuse Post Standard, (January 29, 1949), Page 14
Syracuse, NY. Illington-Bailey Building, James D. Meehan, architect, 1949. Photo: Google Streetscapes 2020.
Syracuse, NY. Illington-Bailey Building, James D. Meehan, architect, 1949. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.
Syracuse, NY. Illington-Bailey Building, James D. Meehan, architect, 1949. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013.