Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"Queen Anne" resolved

In re “Queen Anne”
I don’t feel quite so stupid anymore, except that I ought to have suspected the usual bestrewing of epithets.
I knew about Queen Anne tables and chairs.  My grandfather, though not formally schooled in history of interior design, knew a California version of  “Queen Anne” and showed me the legs and feet and arms.  And of course sometimes you see the style on one or the other of the Antiques Roadshow: lovely stuff, of the nicest hard woods and of a refinement that makes it like a living thing.
And I knew fin de siècle furnishings, which it would be polite to call Italianate, found in houses, rather more than a century old now, in Oakland, CA, and San Francisco, where the architecture itself was often fanciful to the last degree.  From Edward Hopper, who had favorite ones that he painted, I knew that they also existed in what he’d call the West; his House by the Railroad is one such.  We called this sort of house, brilliantly exemplified by the Carson Mansion in Eureka, CA, “Late Victorian”—not, we made haste to explain, that Victoria was our queen, but “gilded age” wouldn’t do very well since the “robber barons” didn’t use it regularly. 
When the person who wrote up the Baton Rouge Reiley-Reeves house called it untutored Queen Anne, I was puzzled, since the house (which I admire) seemed to me to have nothing of the maniera of the “painted ladies” (to give the most elaborate ones that I knew from California our favorite nickname).  These, though, were the type of house that the McAlester Field Guide (see Basic Reading list in Post for January 28) called Queen Anne.  In the usual way of the internet (and don’t blame the Wiki, which tries to avoid such copy-and-paste), the words Queen Anne keep appearing later for our house; can they have come from any legitimate source?
How did the name given to chairs and tables of the same period as the chinoiserie of Chippendale and French Louis XV come to be given to domestic architecture (indeed the American Vernacular of Late Victorian) two centuries later and, so far as I could see, unrelated?
It may be dangerous to trust another far-western source (for I swear that in the San Francisco Bay Area I had never heard the usage), but the web site of the Seattle, WA, Queen Anne Society (http://www.qahistory.org/queen-anne-style.html), paragraph 2,  has the answer.  Using this moniker, as I suspected, is a bit of architectural merchandising, and Richard Norman Shaw was responsible for it.  Yes, it is what the McAlesters also call Free Classic (so, I may add, do Sears, Roebuck, et al.).  Note, in Wikpedia, s.v. Queen Anne, that the Australian dialect, so to speak, of QA is most like the US American.
In his Outline, Nicholas Pevsner used the façade of a “Queen Anne House” to illustrate the names of its parts.  Period.  It looks sort of “Federal” to me.  No wonder I didn’t know QA as a label for an architectural style!  I am a child of the generation that read Pevsner.  But look, s.v. Richard Norman Shaw in Wikipedia, and you will find, ‘Richard Norman Shaw's houses soon attracted the misnomer the "Queen Anne style"’.  I don’t know who said that, but the relationship seems plain.  His work is very attractive, very sound, but he was hardly a “pioneer of modern design”.  It was only a happy chance that made me suggest that using Queen Anne’s name was like our using Kate Greenaway’s, since Shaw in fact designed Kate Greenaway’s house

Anyhow, let me go back to Baton Rouge’s house on Park Boulevard at Cherokee.  First, it is too late to be like the houses of the 1880s and 1890s.  “Untutored” seems a bit impolite.  It seems to me the kind of house that a man born in New Jersey, who had made his way socio-economically on the west side of the Mississippi, over towards Lafayette, wanted as his town house in the state capitol.  And it wasn’t as if Baton Rouge or Lafayette, LA, had quite the sort of house that he may have remembered from New Jersey.  Of course, he knew what plantation houses were like, but this was for town.  The result is hard (nay, impossible) to simply label, but it is handsome and it is well built, very well built, solid after just over a century.  As my consultants up in Missouri said, it is more graceful without the added roof over the veranda, as in its first photo.  And its doorway is very elegant indeed. I don’t know whether Baton Rouge ever had more pre-WW I town houses of this size.  So much has been replaced. 

Personally, I owe to this house the education (such as it is) that I have been forced to acquire about the usage “Queen Anne”.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Gardening I found

Now that I've realized how many kinds of bungalow Roseland Terrace has, I'll take some time to decide what I think, and why.  After all, this is all new for a specialist in ancient minor arts.

Earlier this month, when I was looking at Myrtle Steet (the south boundary of this subdivision), my eye was distracted from the house by what was being grown in the front yard.  Bumpy and the size of grapefruit, these must be a citrus fruit I had known only chopped up in glacé to use in Christmas fruit cakes. Indeed, they ARE citrons; I found them in the Wikepedia.

But at the same address, but off to the left, there was something very like a banana (and there are bananas all over Baton Rouge) but GROSS, yet beautiful in its own way.  I mean, see center picture, the bunches of "fruit" (of course, they are botanically vegetables) are way over my head, and the long segmented stem looks like something used for plumbing, and at the bottom hung this oddly translucent purplish growth, with red, bright red, lining.  What is in it?  Indeed, again, Wikipedia came to the rescue; that extraordinary thing, about eight inches long, is the male flower, and this is another plant that I knew only from Whole Foods (and that only for its edible part).  It is a plantain.  I wonder whether I might grow one, too; I mean, on line it says you can cook them any way that you cook a yam.  What a glorious production of nature!

Now if you look at the plantain plant against the tree, above, you can see at left the plantain bunch and flower hanging there; how strong that plant must be.  I also found the composition of winter plants against a bright blue cold sky with cumulus clouds quite beautiful, so I had to photograph it.  I mean, that is how Louisiana is: tropical and temperate superimposed.

Then today, just hours ago, as I was entering the NS alley from Cherokee St. to Myrtle, I met a delightful gardener.  A friendly neighbor.  I suppose they all are friendly (all those I've met outdoors have been).  But she invited me into the back yard.  I saw the most delightful tiny yard imaginable, from which I attach four of the ten pictures I took .  They have a small but artfully very natural seeming fountain feature.  On the ledge separating planting from a porch are some of her works in glass, some garlic (looking as inevitable as in Greece), two kinds of hear-no, see-no, speak-no, and a number of other objects, casual but artful at the same time.  I had to wonder whether I could do as well.  Consider the color composition, less than a yard wide, of tiles, leaves, ceramic flowerpot.  Finally, enjoy the muted colors and the juxtaposed dark and white stands at the bottom.  And there is much more, all in what is I suppose about 150 square feet.  Here is a minor world created, without using any readymade combinations.  For the other images, see images nos. 178-188 in the Picasa Album;  https://picasaweb.google.com/102498681030579488308/GDNeighborhood2013STUDY

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Minimal Craftsman Bungalows

Further on the houses with the tau motif, see post for 15 March, below.
This seems to be a good type to begin with, and to agree with the trade catalogues that Sears was not too lax in calling them bungalows.  They have the proportions of small bungalows, and they have a couple of traits that are Craftsman rather than "Stick" or merely nothing in particular.
Someone else has borrowed from the library all the Gustav Stickley books (reprints, to be sure), and I'll check these details as soon as I can.  
The detail that particularly caught my eye is the discrete and structurally expressive, though actually purely decorative, T-shape motif that would represent a tenon driven through a horizontal board such as would distribute weight and thrust to prevent posts from cracking and gable ends from separating.  (That is, it derives from a member analogous to the Doric Order's abacus).  Precisely because it is so Stickley-like and so purely aesthetic, I started looking for it on every house where it might be used.

On house A it is visible on the independent pillar that supports the corner of the porch.  There might also be one at the top of the main gable.  When the rain stops, and I have finished the basic coverage, I'll go back to see.  There are two front doors, though it is not a duplex, and there are transoms above them (the wider door with side lights might be an upgrade option).  The transverse gable looks original.

The former owner, who restored house A to its present handsome condition,  informs me that he had to replace an incorrect and unsightly post; so, for a correct one, he took the design from a house on Oleander.  If that house had been a snake, it would have bit me, because it is back-to-back, across the alley, from house B; it has a suite of motifs similar to B's but the alternative porch, all the way across.  It is 2147 Oleander:
Its brackets all look original and add a variant to the repertoire, and it adds to the likelihood that the tau motif did originate (in true Craftsman, pre-WW I) as a wedge or, at any rate, as a tenon holding the parts of the "capital" together.

House B is one of the plainest of the six-room houses in Roseland Terrace.  It is also a pure hall-less double shot-gun plan.  Though the porch railings are replacements and the stair steps, it is otherwise wholly unaltered.  It, too, has two front doors with a transom over each, and its original screens, except where window AC units had been placed (the transoms, too, have their original screens).  It also still has its hexagonal tile roofing and the semicylindrical tiles over the ridge poles both on the main roof and the little porch gable.  The brackets that aesthetically relate the uprights to the gables are right out of  Craftsman bracket charts.  This house, plain as it is, and cheap as it must have been (cf. Sears model "Winona"), is all tied together—and that is the Craftsman ideal (Stickley must have liked the Doric Order just as I do).  One of the transoms is stuck, but the other one still works.

I once tried to buy House C.  It has been through several owners since, and the present ones have served it well; even one of the earlier ones did so.  When I first saw it a quarter century ago, it was a one-owner house and though it had suffered from the old age of its owners (and had extension cords for extra electrical sources in the attic!) it still had its original half-enclosed back porch in the rear and, best of all, it still had the 1920s woodwork throughout, all with its original rubbed oil and varnish.  That was why I wanted it so badly, never mind that thousands of dollars in plumbing and electricity and work on the porch, screened in for sleeping when all the children had been young but left for junk and deterioration in recent decades, would be necessary.  The house remains sound and straight, but it has lost the dark woodwork that goes with Craftsman and lost all its screens and even has its window frames painted white.  I can understand how under Cape Cod fog one might want a bright, white sort of house, but not in the semi-tropical light and heat of Louisiana.  Getting the white (or worse) paint out of the cypress is nearly impossible.  Still, every time I look at House C I wish it were mine.

An October photo, so just disregard the Halloween stuff.  This house is very like B above, but its brackets have been reduced (the one at the peak of the gable is missing).  Flipped left to right, it is like B, and its T motifs at the top of the posts that rest on pillars to l. and r. of the porch (the bushes largely hide these on B) show what B's are like; of course, they ought not to be the color of the clapboard wall.  The one door, with its transom, is just like the two on B.  They all look as if they came from the same warehouse.  Notice that the T motifs are on the sides of the posts as well as the front.  How nice the windows would look if they matched the frame of the screen door.  I have no doubt that the interior use of space is like (or was once like) that of B: it can't be much different.  With whatever modifications, the space must be six cubical spaces, 14' square and 9+' high.  Housepainters, except for those you pay almost by the foot, and to use a brush, love to convince owners that they don't really want all that pointless detail, and they really hate wooden screen frames, made to measure, and with metal screening!

And why did I suspect an overzealous housepainter for what is lacking on D, despite its elegant use of T motifs on the pillars?   Considering how delightfully the main gable bracket relates the divided attic vent to the other three brackets, will one be surprised on going back to look behind the foliage to find T motifs on the post pillars here, too?   By the way, the camelback that you see beyond the main gable probably gave the owners two more rooms.

This is a detail of the newly renovated and repainted (and at some time much lengthened, too) house to the south of the Reilly-Reeves house.  This is 822 Park Blvd.  Notice above that little American flag planted in a flower pot the applied pendant rectangles at the top of the white post.  They don't quite look like the applied T motif, almost more like outsize dentils!  
House F, at left, is actually 840 Park Blvd. (telephoto lens is not advised here!).  It is closely related to 2332 Wisteria, which is in Drehr Place (being east of S 22nd), and both have pi rather than tau on the faces of the pillars, among other similarities.

By lettering these houses, when I have some addenda to the descriptions, I can come back and add them here, at the bottom, letter by letter

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Garden District Gallery of Bungalows

"Bungalow" has meant from its beginning 'of Bengal'.  It is one of those British Empire words, whose developed denotation also was adopted by America, but much later.  As we understood it, it was a Victorian kind of house in, for example, Bangalore. and its origin was native and humbler (Wikipedia, s.v., Bungalow).   Its American usage is fairly summed up by this California Bungalow in Alexandria, Virginia.  It is no wonder that the Wikipedia Commons does not feature ours; they are just like everyone else's, whose idea of house and home was, like mine, formed in the 1930s, when they were fairly new.  Only, ours are built on brick pillars, to let air circulate and avoid rot or to mitigate minor flooding. So let me begin by posting one of ours in Baton Rouge to compare with Alexandria's.  Bungalows like these were, and are, fairly prestigious among the homes of salaried families, and typically they are very well built.
Nice bungalow on Oleander Street  Here the upstairs rooms seem to be later.
The following may serve as an introduction. Never mind that they aren't identical; the varieties are legion.  You will find many that resemble them in all the trade catalogues of the late 'teens and 'twenties of the 20th century, but it is very rare that you will find an exact match.
First, the trade catalogues (and Sears are the best published) offer plenty of options for all the types and also offer to send plans, when they will work well,  flipped left to right, and all the millwork you might like, such as side lights by doors, lights above doors, window designs, etc.  To begin with, here, you might have gables or not, and you needn't have the upstairs bedrooms.
Second, with nearly a century's wear and tear, not to mention storms, at least half the bungalows have major renovations especially on the porches.  See the very instructive two pages of comparanda of the very same house pattern in St. Genevieve, Missouri, where, as the authors say, only the first remains essentially unaltered.  That type, by the way, is the 'bungalow' that resembles a double shotgun with its main wall right down the middle, under the ridgepole, which I shall also try to treat here, in the next post.

See Virginia and Lee McAlester's Field Guide to American Houses, pp. 18-19, which indeed is the best single book and still in print, with good reason.  No matter what you do to the porch and gables, the rooms and measurements remain the same (putting a camel-back onto the rear doesn't count).  By the way, these houses are quite different from New Orleans 'shotguns'.  My only complaint with the McAlesters is their including so few of ours.

Notice that here, and quite properly, the dormer window is opened out of the main roof, and the porch is structurally separate.  This is a definite bungalow, though details of the front may have been remodeled.
With Craftman brackets at the gable, with flat paired posts rather than columns across the porch and with the posts set on solid pillars, this seems the very type of the Craftsman-inspired modest bungalow.
Here the plain posts and the railings may (or may not) be a repair; painting the railing black to match the horizontal line of the porch looks good but is not original.
It may seem a moot point, but the traditional painting of these houses is almost as fixed as the syntax of a classical Order.
With a single continuous gable roof  and the front door to one side, this may be supported right down the middle under its ridge pole.
Similarly, painting the base of the pillar a different color from its capital (to match the wall color) is perfectly understandable but abnormal.  Even the Sears catalogue was quite clear about how it intended the houses to be painted!
But this one, with plain gables (no brackets, which are decorative in any case), and a center door  probably is differently arranged inside.  Also, the continuous clapboard above the posts is certainly late.

Apart from the rows of clapboard applied directly over the little block capitals (where traditionally some sort of architrave supplies continuous visual support which also is expressed by painting it white), this house is beautifully painted.  The corners may either match the posts or match the wall.
Like many others, this one has a truncated gable but with the expected Craftsman brackets.  The detail echoing the railings at the top of the porch probably belong to its recent repairs; a lot of houses since the last three hurricanes have been "worked on".  But this one is newly repainted and very well done.

The structure that looks like a prefabricated, but cut-out, barn serves as a porte cochere for the house that has its garage far back by the alley.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Some of the Alleys

In Drehr Place.  A NS alley with bamboo
Here is the beginning of this project.  I was taking a walk going back to places where I had recorded the consequences of Hurricane Andrew, the one that destroyed much of Homestead, FL, in 1992 before crossing the Gulf of Mexico to damage Louisiana, coming north on the west side of the Mississippi.  It was my first experience of a hurricane, if only of the outer bands, and it took down many Pecan trees (to name one species) and with them power lines and left the whole Garden District without power for more than six days.  That was when I learned the minor price we pay for having no overhead power lines on the streets (for, of course, our ground water is too high for underground lines to be contemplated).  Minor because most of us cook and heat water with natural gas, and there are places to eat and to buy essentials just a couple of blocks away, on Government Street, where the franchises of large businesses have adequate backup generators.  But a major storm is likely to take down poles and blow transformers on Government Street itself, whence our own power supply comes.

In the same NS Utilities alley; here you see the power lines and a transformer for this block.
That is why we have NS alleys for electricity supply (and there you can look down a line of poles as in a Dutch landscape illustrating one-point perspective) and EW alleys for garbage collection and, nowadays, for the smaller poles for cable television.  The huge live oaks that keep us fairly cool with only a little AC also render rooftop satellite dishes hopeless.  Once, I am told, laundresses came through the EW alleys to do laundry at the stationary tubs usually installed in lean-to's by garages or in sheds.  But automatic washers had to be moved indoors, and the racial assumptions that gave most white wives laundresses, when ended, also put an end to relegating some of our neighbors to back doors.  All that was pretty well in the past before I came South.  The alleys do not issue onto the NS streets (Camellia and Park), which are slightly privileged thereby; the alleys have a T plan.  Where a street such as 20th does not cross Government Street, there is usually a second NS alley, making a I plan, for electricity.  This alley plan also (a) eliminates the necessity of driveways to get to garages, (b) enforces the prohibition of using the alleys as parallel through streets for vehicular traffic, while (c) facilitating the city's tree trimming and post-hurricane cleanups.  In Oregon I lived in neighborhoods that were fairly flat, south of the UO campus, which had alleys, but I don't recall that they were very functional, certainly not in the same way as here.  Here, now, things are a bit confused since the recycling truck demands that we wheel their cart to the front curb, and the ordinary garbage cart remains in back, on the alley.  New folks have it explained to them.  I think that our living closer together also is conducive to the continued usage of the alleys.  Fencing, on the other hand, seems to discourage remembering that the back edge of one's property is part of one's home.

Back to that lovely stand of bamboo.  Bamboo grows as easily as bananas, but it wants tending to be both dense and beautiful, so I was impressed and photographed it.  Then I noticed that the whole alley was lovely, and before the sun began to set I also had met the owners of the bamboo.  On the way home, and that evening, I considered following the example of one of our MFAs in photography, who had worked on the alleys more than a decade ago. On the whole the alleys in Drehr Place are more carefully tended, but I think that this one is in Roseland Terrace (later I placed the locations more carefully).

An exceptional alley, where several owners have made the EW alley a second view of their  homes.
I decided to learn whether all the alleys still were unobstructed.  In Roseland Terrace I found only a couple of instances where they were not, and these were in the first block S of Government Street where, as we shall see, some of the fine homes have become business premises (zoning at some point seems to have been relaxed to that extent, though, as we shall see, for the six blocks EW of Roseland Terrace and Drehr Place most of the proud homes retain their stately character, though needing a parking lot for clients (Government Street being a State highway).

The NS Utilities alley from Wisteria to Government Street
Here is the last block of the alley to Government Street, with its traffic driving past.

From the N side of Myrtle Street, looking north, we see the NS utilities alley running the full length of Roseland Terrace, past Olive, Tulip, Cherokee, Oleander, Wisteria to Government Street.
And here, six blocks to the south, is the other end of that alley.  Not all alleys are paved (when the subdivision was laid out none of the streets were, either).  Possibly, as in my hometown in California, curbs and gutters and paving came with the WPA.  There are so many things I should look up!  Even when the trees are in full leaf in the summer, you can pick out the utility lines if you know where to look, and the signs forbidding use of the alleys as thoroughfares are always present at the intersection.

I know this looks like some small town, almost bucolic, but it's only 20 city blocks from downtown, the River Road, and the Mississippi itself.  Fact is, when Roseland Terrace was being built up in the 1920s, a realtor's advertisement urged all to join in hoping that Baton Rouge might reach 50,000 population by the end of the decade.  And the Model T was not yet replaced by the Model A.  And movies were silent.  Movie crews come to us quite frequently.