Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Concerning "Queen Anne"

South side of the Reiley-Reeves house of AD 1911

A day spent in perfunctory on-line search, trying to learn why Roseland Terrace’s Reiley-Reeves house has been called “untutored Queen Anne” led to some surprises.  First, “Queen Anne” houses are, of course, American, but by Victoria’s death in 1901 they were no longer so popular.  For example, in Carthage, MO, the exemplary tour guide shows Queen Anne dating from the ‘80s and ‘90s of the nineteenth century.  So, indeed, in Google Images.  Rather than invest in a new book, I have ordered three more Dover reprint volumes: these have a special authority, since they are photographic copies of period books, and they usually include plans.

One must wonder whether such epithets are not fashionable merchandising devices, like the “Kate Greenaway” dresses for little girls of my childhood and “Grand Prix” attached to perfectly ordinary street and road cars.

One Dover reprint that I ordered is for wooden Victorian houses, some with arcades.  The old photo of the Reiley-Reeves house shows a darker-colored arcade.  The white stuff on all later photos of our house is unharmonious.  I can hardly go with an ice pick to find out! 

Much more puzzling is the plain clapboard south face of the house.  Of course, there might have been another house as little as six feet away, but not when the big house was built—as isolated as if on a hilltop.  For that matter, the only view of the house that looks “Queen Anne” at all is from the NE.

Going through the invaluable MacAlester book that heads my basic reading list, I noticed in the period around AD 1910 a style that typically has proportions of the Reiley-Reeves house: Richarsonian Romanesque.  Remarkably, clapboard though it is, this house has some of the quietly solid, not to say stolid, character of that style.  Why, in the San Francisco Bay Area we have somewhat Richardsonian houses faced in brown shingle (also typical of the first two decades of the twentieth century).  It seems to me that, whatever Mr. Reiley and his architect called its style, the house is true to its own decade.

It is essential to remember that if they did, perchance, fancy a Richarsonian character, there is no local stone here to build it of, and the arcade in the old photo somehow does not look like brick.

My friend jbk sent the tour booklet provided by Erv Dunham, and I thank them both.  I have no intention to master American Houses, but questions do arise.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Center of Roseland Terrace

Initially, ca. 1910-1911, the surveying and infrastructure (water and gas mains) of Roseland Terrace were underway, and only two streets (others came later) were planned double width for a planted median dividing traffic.  Even in the one oldest photo you can make out where the medians would be.  Those streets are Cherokee, named for the Cherokee roses that already grew there (see the History in the web site provided in the Introduction Post) and Park Blvid., then called Goldenrod: all the Roseland Terrace streets are named for flowers.
As you can see, nothing else was built when the Reiley-Reeves house was nearing completion.  I put it first to illustrate that fact and because it also illustrates the alterations, minimal compared with those in many towns, that the house has undergone and its radical difference from Zadok Realty's  subdivision that, after WW I, would develop so quickly.

810 Park Blvd. at Cherokee.  The Reiley-Reeves House.

The first image is a view comparable with the old photo, the second shows the almost amateurish attachment of the roof over the arcaded porch (I wonder how the main roof was drained without it), and the third shows Cherokee Street, west to S 18th Street, should anyone doubt that Roseland Terrace really does extend beyond Park.
This is a great old house, but I wouldn't call it "Queen Anne" just for having that turret!  It is ambitious and very well built (it no longer has merely a blue tarpaulin over its roof, as like so many houses after hurricane Gustave it had to have).  It had an architect to design it to the owner's wishes, but it is not so much "untutored" as independent.  Mr. Reiley wanted a town house, and he got what he wanted.  It did have a "widow's walk" top center, and its octagonal turret is no mere ornament but provides octagonal rooms on each storey.  So far I have not ventured to ask to see the interior; it is, after all, a private house.  But the intersection of Cherokee and Park really is the center of the subdivision; remember that this was before LSU moved south and before traffic made Park Blvd. seem as divisive as it is now.
Additional photos can be seen in the second Album, among the images taken on 18 and 23 January.
This first house really has nothing to do with the character of Roseland Terrace as a whole, so I have presented it by itself.  Besides, there is still a great deal I need to learn about it.

I wish to thank my friend jbk, who knows Baton Rouge well, for all his help with the Reiley house in particular.  

An Introduction to Roseland Terrace

Twenty-seven years ago I found a house that made me feel at home in a region quite different from those I knew best: coastal California, New York City, Athens (Greece).  Earlier, when I taught in Eugene, Oregon, I began noticing that ordinary churches, the wooden kind with a steeple on top (as in Grant Wood's "American Gothic") were much alike the full length of the west coast, and my colleagues at UO told me that they not only came from pattern books but were usually built from plans and specs bought by mail.  Also, where Oregon did have bungalows they were very like the ones I knew in Alameda or San Luis Obispo, CA.  Down around San Diego and Los Angeles there were already more of what was designated Mission Style.  Concrete slabs, A-frames, and (occasionally) the influence of European International Style after World War II affected even houses, but not, famously, the most influential ones.
I suppose it is unarguable that Levittown, NY, begun in 1949 (see the references at the bottom), together with the Interstate Highway system, changed American life.  I know that tracts, as we always called them, were always Siberia to me from the moment my family moved to one.  I was twelve years old, and what I valued was walking to the public library and to my own school and having concrete sidewalks for rollerskating.  It was not a large green yard that I craved.  I have never been tempted to live in even the most touted subdivision.
That first tract experience of mine was actually earlier (1946) than Levittown, but it was like it.  All the houses were so alike that we all knew where everything was in everyone else's houses, once you got beyond decorative trim.  They weren't as niggardly as Levittown's; they had a bit of overhang to the eaves, but they were (as we learned later in south-central Los Angeles) bound to become economic ghettos, as they aged uniformly and as families in the 50s grew out of them.
Somehow, Levittown itself escaped that destiny; there are associations of one-time Levittowners today.

I mention these because, though Roseland Terrace was a deliberately designed and zoned residential subdivision, buyers in the expanding economy of the 1920s bought their lots but then had built a house of their choice.  The corner lots were larger, at least to the extent of being square rather than rectangular, and larger houses were built on them.  Beginning after WW I, however, when the Humble (now Exxon-Mobil) petroleum refinery was built a bit up the river, and LSU was moved to its new campus. about 2 1/2 miles south of Roseland Terrace, the original tract was quickly filled.  Successive editions of encyclopedias show how rapidly Baton Rouge grew.  Today, where you see a slab-ranch house in Roseland Terrace, it marks the toll taken by a hurricane.  Only gradually have I come to realize how rare this midtown (really downtown) survival of a livable neighborhood is.  Houses like ours are everywhere, and ours, like everyone else's have been modified, and many of all of them were Kit houses (though none of them necessarily was: a contractor could just get the plans and specs and go to our own lumber yards).  But Roseland Terrace has had a charmed life, especially since most of it  is 4 to 6 room houses built on 50-foot-wide lots.  

So I thought I'd walk around and photograph and share it, without, of course, invading privacy.  Privacy relies on respecting other people, not on fencing!  


Here are some basic references for these posts


Virginia and Lee McAlester
A Field Guide to American Houses
NY, Knopf, 1984

Garden District Civic Association
For its history, and for the only separate account of Roseland Terrace
See also:

There are several Wikipedia articles on house types found here:  (but mostly about those in New Orleans)1999  The examples shown here have close cousins in Baton Rouge (though ours lack real basements) and are mostly of the same period.  As the article makes plain (and the editors of the Dover-Athenaeum book emphasize) Sears used the term “bungalow” very loosely—as realtors also do today.

Very brief but magisterial in its succinctness is the entry for June 12 in Kee Malefsky’s new almanac-type book, Learn Something New Every Day.  The author is the librarian for NPR.

Though Sears was not the only conveyor of pre-cut, pre-fitted houses, somehow Montgomery Ward (for example) never quite emulated Sears.  It is the Sears catalogues which are used on a number of web sites and made available in the great catalogue, Small Houses of the Twenties, one of those wonderful Dover (pre-pdf), 1991, unabridged reprints. 
From a different publisher, but more focused on design as such, there is Homes in a Box: Modern Homes from Sears Roebuck  Schiffer, Aiglen, PA, 1998.

All of these references will take you to many others.  This is not a series of blog posts on domestic architecture, nor yet on urbanism, nor any kind of a social statement (even when obvious observations are made).  It is not even a photographic essay, though initially it began as such.  It certainly is not Real Estate as such, either.  In fact, it was seeing that Drehr Place got more than its share of attention, with its slightly more ambitious houses, that I decided that Roseland Terrace was what wanted attention first; it was built first and prompted the expansions to the east and south of it.  Just studying houses, and churches, and banks, and the rest is interesting in its own right, but there is much more to America than Williamsburg, San Francisco, New Orleans, and New England (your choice of towns), to name four.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Nanki Poo and YumYum

George Eastman House, Rochester NY.  Geisha, studio composition, by Baron Reteniz von Stillfried, albumen print, c. 1875, and New Year Drill of Japanese Fire Brigage, by Kusakabe Kimbei, albumen print, c. 1890 (but by this date probably gelatin silver rather than collodion emulsion negative).

What both Gilbert and Schertzinger knew

Between these two (and many other) photos from Japan, both studio compositions, like the first, and live photos (very likely, in 1890, already gelatin silver emulsion rather than collodion, like the geisha picture), both by Europeans and by Japanese photographers, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado was produced in London in 1885.
Very probably, in designing the 1939 technicolor film, a collaboration of D’Oyly Carte and Hollywood, its director Victor Schertzinger (already well informed in all such matters) had hundreds of such 19th-century photographs, as well as the D’Oyly Carte archives, at his disposal, and certainly the designers of the original production and all its successors had used, not least when they wanted to spoof the Japan of popular Victorian imagination, all the commercially available Japan photos that people put in their albums.
Of all the commentators on the 1939 film (not to mention a couple of ludicrous comments among those provided by Amazon), only Mike Leigh understands where G&S were coming from or what was at work in making the film. On the other hand, I am sure that the Criterion Collection appreciated all the factors when they chose to include it in their invaluable list.
When c. 1952 or 1953 I first saw it at the Elmwood theater in Berkeley, CA, still a teenager, I had not yet studied the history of Photography (though I knew my grandfather’s collection of stereoscope photographs nearly by heart) or heard of, e.g., Lafcadio Hearn, and fell so in love with this film that every year when the Elmwood brought it back (the owners of the theater must have loved it as much as I did) I went to see it again. They would run it for at least a couple of weeks. None of the commentators on the new dvd saw it, as I did, when it was only about twelve to fifteen years old, when its extreme Technicolor was still fresh, and none of them had been, as I was, only five years older than the film. My ideal in Technicolor was still As Thousands Cheer (movie available from Netflix). But I could see that it was over the top (Mike Leigh noticed that bamboo trombone, and so did I), though I did not yet know the term “high camp” as such. At least I understood that Trial By Jury and The Pirates of Penzance, not to mention Patience and Pinafore, were never meant as literal, politically correct documentaries! Even American, even small-town, Little Theater and high-school productions understood that much. And no one would have thought it was, or ought to be, a bitter commentary, any more than the British sitcoms of the 1970s and 1980s were, like Are You Being Served? or earlier P. G. Wodehouse, just to name a couple. Nothing could be more affectionate. More like representing the Queen parachuting into the Olympics.

I write this in the hope that some of the millennials and baby-boomers will read it and be free once again to really enjoy Gilbert and Sullivan. W. S. Gilbert certainly deserves it, and no one on the Comedy channel today, though very funny sometimes and much to the point, especially when you agree with them, is quite as clever as Gilbert, while not even Jacques Offenbach, his contemporary and a very good composer, too, can surpass Sir Arthur Sullivan. If you want his sober side, there's The Lost Chord.  What he does with the set forms of choruses and trios and da capo arias is every bit as rich and as funny as anything in La Belle Hélène, as delightful as Jerome Kern’s using a cakewalk for “Why do I love you, why do you love me” in Showboat.
You just need to know a little, even if it’s as little as I knew when I frequented the Elmwood theater. For example (even Mike Leigh seems to have missed this important point), the Mikado’s softening into a good guy after all is utterly traditional and fun: cf. the Pasha Selim in Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio, among others. They all descend from Greco-Roman comedy via Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered, for example, and Gilbert (who had been to school, after all) knew that; it’s the final dollop to the fun of Mikado. I can’t prove that Schertzinger knew photographs like that of Kusakabe Kimbei, here above, but if you compare the crowd scenes from above in the 1939 film you’ll have to suppose that he did (by that time, like stereoscope images, they were sold, as the saying goes, on all the continents but Antarctica).
I mean, surely no one can suppose that we are the first to want to know what the whole world was like or that the internet is the only means of dissemination that has done a good job of informing people!

So you won’t be surprised that when I saw that the Criterion Collection had “my” Mikado, I just had to get it. And it didn’t disappoint. I saw a few things that I hadn’t noticed before, and their restoration of the Technicolor is up to their high standards (though it never is quite as bright as it was when new).  See for yourselves, and don't pay any attention to those whose disconnect from their whole culture is so crippling extreme that they can't understand what is right before their eyes.  Professor Lee, for example, thinks that the inauthentic Japan is an "issue".  And the lady who commented at Amazon was appalled that real Japanese hadn't been cast in the roles!  If you were Japanese, would you want to be called Nanki Poo or YumYum?