Monday, January 28, 2013

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

 Levittown  http://tigger.uic.edu/~pbhales/Levittown.html

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:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shotgun_house  (but mostly about those in New Orleans)1999
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bungalow  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.