Friday, April 12, 2013

"Mrs. Borck's House" Roseland Terrace's 1912 Craftsman

Best view of "Mrs. Borck's House", from the NE, showing wooden sidewalks on Camellia, at left, and Government, at right.  In the pale distance, that is surely the Reiley-Reeves house, at far left.
Cazadessus 1912 EBRLibr Baton Rouge Room

516 Camellia "Mrs Borck's House" from east.

"Mrs. Borck's House"

For about two months, after my friend dp had directed me to the Cazadessus collection of photos at the East Baton Rouge Library, to see the Reiley-Reeves house as newly completed (both the contractor’s record and the date given to the photos, in 1912), I had tried to find, after the “Boehringer”, the third rather distinctive one, “Mrs. Borck’s", which a scan of survivors facing Government St. failed to discover.  In fact, only when I went to take a picture of the beautifully restored, and gardened, pink house, no. 516,  facing Camellia Street at Government did I recognize “Mrs. Borck’s” and, with help from its owners, identify it as a true specimen of the Craftsman movement (otherwise not represented in Roseland Terrace).  For that matter, I haven’t seen real Craftsman in Drehr Place, either, not surprisingly since as a leading style it was being supplanted by 1915.  Knowing only the California masters, Greene & Greene in Pasadena and Bernard Maybeck, with his disciple Julia Morgan, in the Berkeley area, I tried to determine which representatives of Craftsman “Mrs. Borck’s House” represented.  But the domination of Chicago in this decade by the Prairie type and the small and smudgy photographs of houses in the reprints from Gustav Stickley’s The Craftsman left me far better informed than from the McAlesters alone but hardly well enough.  The beginning of searches undertaken north of Government Street and especially in Beauregard Town, both north and south of Government, for comparanda related to any of the exceptional and early houses in Roseland Terrace, showed that the Craftsman movement was not unexampled in Baton Rouge, but “Mrs. Borck’s House”, pretty surely finished by 1912, remains unequaled by the following sequence of criteria, by which “Craftsman” needs to be understood.

(1) Inspired by European, especially U.K., work, and beginning rather with art mobilier than with architecture, American architects about the same time as F. L. Wright’s Robie House (1905) forged American styles of Arts and Crafts architecture (the epithet Craftsman seems not to have been embraced in the U.K.), especially when Stickley started publishing one each month in The Craftsman.  These were indeed Handwerke, using carefully chosen, often deliberately regional or (the inverse) exotic woods, each unique and expensive.
(2) Houses uniquely designed, or at least not sold as patterns, maintaining the intellectual and artisanal principles of the great “textbook” examples.  They show that the Craftsman type of house was established and understood by thoughtful designers and customers.  Good examples often also incorporate original ideas.  The house built in 1912 for Mrs. Borck seems to me to belong to this group.  I should think that men and women (this was an important period for female architects, as Stickley’s periodical shows, even allowing that Julia Morgan was exceptional) formed as draughtsmen in the masters’ studios spread this movement, in which contemporary arts and crafts accessories looked and worked so beautifully.  Also, like good post-1950s Modern, Craftsman provided a great setting for well chosen works of art in almost any ethnic or period style.
(3) Houses that at heart might be bungalows or almost any of the traditional house forms whose fronts, usually porches, have a whole suite of Craftsman motifs.  Yes, most of these are pattern houses and many were available as kits (not that coming pre-cut prejudices anything but the likelihood of error or waste).  Are these not part of the Craftsman movement?   Those illustrated in the post for March15 all seem to date between the end of WW I and the market crash of 1929 and are located on lots that in the Garden District were purchased relatively early.  Bungalows otherwise like them usually have no obviously Craftsman traits, except that they correspond to the useful chart in the McAlester’s book (op. cit., p. 455) with respect to porch supports and non-supporting gable brackets not derived from Late Victorian.

This house in the 300 block of Royal Street in the northern part of Beauregard Town, even on the ends of the gable rafters and certainly in the 'pergola architraves' properly jointed and supporting the shallow porch, to me is Craftsman-lite, so to speak.   Its flanks, however,  are generic.
But it is not confined to the heart of Beauregard Town.
A pair of houses on the east side of East Blvd and barely a short block south of Government have the same formula, though skimpy.

And one less than a block from the original Dufrocq Elementary of 1906, on S 19th, is obviously of the same kind:

For the tau motifs, see also the fine porch at 2147 Oleander Street, added as A-prime to the Feb 10 post, above.

These three all have the "pergola architrave" but all three also have full sets of tau motifs (like two of the houses on Wisteria Street, which latter, however, do not have the paired posts supporting the 
pergola architrave. [The term 'pergola architrave' seems indefensible, but throughout the 20c pergolas were made in this way––not like the Italian ones that gave pergolas their name]
Finally, under (3), there are some very fine bungalows of Craftsman character that have none of these earmarks.  Here is my favorite, on the corner of Drehr and Wisteria.  
15 Feb 2013 At Wisteria & Drehr.  This house is on a double lot, and in 1986, when I came here, the house was gray and south of it, in the otherwise empty yard, was a playhouse almost a miniature of this one, painted to match.  People spoke of a criminal tragedy here, and for years the house seemed to be empty.  No longer.  One of the nice bungalows with a porch of paired pillars.
(4) Ordinary bungalows without a suite of Craftsman motifs that would not be as they are absent the Craftsman movement.  Examples even include three-room single shotguns that not only are non-New Orleanian (with a tall rectangular false front) but have a gable shape and roof slope of a 1920s bungalow and maybe a single pair of rather plain brackets.  I have not seen one preserved in Roseland Terrace but on the eastern edge of southern Beauregard Town, one has been nicely restored, and many in neighborhoods in transition (meaning that the lot is worth much more than the house) simply disappear, or at least their porches disappear.

The neighborhood of the last does seem to be in transition, since there is evidence that the city is busy building new and more truly habitable houses than this six-roomer, which I think is about 90 years old.

It would be foolish to say that Beauregard Town, both earlier and more varied and larger than Roseland Terrace, even including Drehr Place, will not yield another house such as “Mrs. Borck’s House”, since I have only begun to look at it in the light of what I have learned in Roseland Terrace.  Beauregard Town does have a number of houses with wrap-around porches that it is interesting to compare with Park Blvd’s “Boehringer House” of 1912, of which more later; it might even have a house like 1103 Park Blvd, my other “exceptional” choice.

Here I shall just discuss 516 Camellia, with some images of details, since “Craftsman” was not a predominant style of choice in the gulf-coast South east of Texas (and even there, and without plantation fixation, not in Galveston).
First, let us consider the evidence for the porch facing south at 516 Camellia, which in the intervening decades was substantially lost but for which primary evidence is conserved almost in situ.

Here, with the wonderful chimneys (barring different focal lengths of the old and new cameras) you see that only the south end of the house has been altered (the use of a pale color for the body of the house is well within the rules, especially since the matching cedar frames of the principal windows and the door are so perfectly within them).  I do not know what powder-post beetle, what storm or falling tree, what neglected leak compromised that porch in the half century between its building and the present owners' acquiring it.  What they preserved and showed me was the great cypress boards that once faced the four pillars, cleaned and dry safely used as wainscoting in the new room, as crisp as newly carved.  The relief is flat and consists of arrows pointing down, but as if bound (I think of flat metal) at the top, as if supporting the long pergola architrave above them.  The architrave ends in pergola (Japanese-like) shapes as on the Royal Street house above, and the gable (of this cross-gabled house) is 'supported' by Craftsman brackets.  As built, the south face was at least as "Craftsman" as the east face.  The arrow shapes do not really look like spears or like flat barn hinges; they are emphatically flat and straight sided.  They remind me of the equally flat and simplified reliefs on the front door of the Thorsen House by Greene and Greene in Berkeley (see the last post, but not all photos show the shapes very well; they look like cricket bats, but the ancestry of Mr. Thorsen was Norwegian and the house has a number of ship's-captain motifs, so they may be oars or rudders).  In the case of Mrs. Borck, we do not know if any family allusions are to be sought.  Personally, I read the big, flat arrows (of which the body is about 9 or 10 inches wide) just as they work effectively; they hold down the whole pilaster order wonderfully.
No doubt the joinery is real, since even on the cheaper houses above it is, and note the 'pergola' profile of the porch eave.  The metal capping (against end rot) is seen also on some Beauregard Town houses. 

These are not window boxes, but the row of little bracket supports to hold them visually can be seen on some Victorian antecedents.  I'm still looking for some under window-groups in Baton Rouge.

Suitably ornamented chimneys may occur on all arts and crafts houses, but, as with these, it was expected that they be specially designed.

The north wing from behind (with its slat-screened enclosure) itself has an architectural order,

of which here is a detail.

There are additional details in the album: image 331, ff. in the 2013 STUDY album.
This is enough for one post, and I still have work to do, but I thought it urgent to follow the preface post as soon as possible.
Please post comments (if you have a Google connection) or e-mail otherwise if I need to be corrected.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

True Craftsman in Baton Rouge and in Berkeley

St John's Presbyterian Church, now (justly) the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts.
Completed in 1910, and better in period photo.
I wasn't expecting true Craftsman design in Baton Rouge's Garden District.  In fact, it took me several days to realize what I was looking at, when also it dawned on me that the present owners of the house know exactly what they have.  And I haven't lived in Berkeley since the 1960s or even visited frequently (at any rate, not staying in my favorite neighborhoods).  I no longer have professors or former classmates or room-mates in my old neighborhoods, and when, in July of 2009, I wrote here of living in the 2600 block of College Avenue, between Derby and Parker,  I had to check to make sure that my darling city hadn't torn down everything.  They hadn't, and most of it is still there, indeed refurbished.
Now that even Baton Rouge is becoming aware of what distinguishes its own architecture, it is not surprising that Berkeley has finally moved heaven and earth to save not only Bernard Maybeck's work (and not only the First Church of Christ Scientist).  When I was young even Berkeley had not been so assiduous in saving residential architecture, even his and Julia Morgan's.  Now every brown shingle or related bungalow that is structurally sound and not entombed in stucco or aluminum is saved.  Even Mrs. Puerta's plain house where I had a room in 1953 is there, and so is the brown shingle box at 2308 Haste Street and the finer box on Atherton Street.  There are not quite so many brown shingles today; they cannot be seriously abused as rentals.
Now, St. John's Presbyterian, which barely escaped destruction, is only three doors from Mrs. Puerta's, and every time I walked down to get a few groceries or the like, or to catch the crosstown bus, I passed it.  I knew it and loved it before I'd even heard of Julia Morgan, but it was, I knew, the best Presbyterian church I'd ever seen (and the Presbyterians are pretty good in choosing architects).  Similarly, the Christian Science church was my favorite building, even before I knew that it was by the same architect as had designed the Palace of Fine Arts for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition.  When I learned that it was, no problem: all over Berkeley older homes and other buildings were idiosyncratic.
Arts & Crafts was not born in the San Francisco Bay Area, but after the 1906 Earthquake architects had a field day.  Berkeley even has one of the best Greene and Greene houses, the Thorsen House, now lovingly maintained and shared by the Sigma Phi Society, and lived in by male students who care for everything, who make replicas of its lost furniture (not all is lost), who show it to those who appreciate such a place.
Good as well as great Craftsman houses are honored and beloved.  I am ashamed to say that even, in time, when someone remarked to me that their house or the one, say, next to theirs was by Maybeck, or by Julia Morgan, or, unrecorded, probably by one of their associates, I just accepted the information.  I loved the houses that those of us who lived south of campus enjoyed being invited to, for some small party or for music, but it never occurred to me to study Berkeley.  For one thing, with a job and a graduate degree to tend to, and just enjoying being young, I took this place for granted, just as I took for granted that many of our professors were European—until that whole generation died and left us on our own.
I should love to discover more Craftsman houses here in Baton Rouge, but they are too early to be numerous here.  The house in the realtor's photo of 1912 with "Mrs. Borck's House" written on it seems to be one of only three preserved Roseland Terrace houses that are identifiable today (the others are the Boehringer House and the Reiley-Reeves house) and the only Craftsman one.  I might be able to identify more, but they will be smaller or plainer than these.  And downtown so much has been demolished!
To be sure, a number of the modest bungalows have brackets and porches that derive from Craftsman design, but then (it just occurred to me the other day) perhaps Sears named its woodworking tools line "Craftsman" as a deliberate evocation of the standards of workmanship that it suggests.
Becasue, of course, Arts & Crafts means Arts et Métiers, with strong suggestion of the prideful self-identification of the skilled workmen as the artisanat.  Japanese craftsmen place equal value on their skill and knowledge of it.  That is why the Arts & Crafts movements were attracted to the Japanese traditions, and most of all, perhaps, in wood and metal work.  Eugène Atget, indeed, sturdily insisted that his photography was of the artisanat.
Together with that, the California Arts & Crafts architects also had a thorough Beaux Arts training.  In this they resemble the first generation of modern painters, such as Cézanne and Matisse.  That sort of foundation affects the way an artist thinks, irrespective of his romantic bent or mysticism (and Maybeck is as near to being a mystic architect as any I know of).  To me that explains why Craftsman houses and other buildings work so satisfactorily as buildings designed in Orders.  I mean, that they have the syntax and logic (or logic used to express defiance of conventionality) that they share with Greek Orders or with High Gothic architecture, not that sometimes they use readymade Tuscan columns as supports.
I want to think more about this and try to find out if, ages ago, someone else already thought of their work in these terms.  As I said, I never thought of studying the places where I live until I thought it would be nice to try to take pictures of Roseland Terrace—and now look where it's taken me.

This is just a preface to the next Post.