Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Farmhouse is a Genre, Greek Revival a Style

See at end of this post.  This is a 1960s photo of Gov. Fuqua's house at 301 Napoleon Street.  A new photo is at the head of my post here for May 1, 2013.    This photo is in the Baton Rouge collection of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library, Ernest Gueymard Coll., ID Gue089. 
 An Inquiry into Greek Revival in houses down the River Road
I dedicate this post to Wood Grigsby, one of my oldest friends and a native to Southern LaFourche parish, for introducing me to these houses, now nearly 30 years ago, so that some of the Kodachrome shows deterioration, but we took views for the architecture, not for publicity.  I dedicate it also to an even older friend, Pershing Jung, a friend for 60 years now, who in 1990 hunted down a copy of J. Frazer Snith's White Pillars (1941) and sent it to me.
I also must thank J. Michael Desmond, John Sykes, H. Parrott Bacot, George Weaver, and Ervin Dunham for all sorts of help, though none of them knew what I intended to do here!

Another view of the house that Wood Grigsby was personally interested in.

Farther south, in St. Charles Parish as Wood recalls, we saw a much larger Creole farmhouse, yet formally like the one above; its sides are gabled, it is a single story, and it may have a dog-trot hall down the center.  One of the secondary houses at Madewood is quite similar to this one.

That brings us to the wonderful house, Madewood itself, at any rate the one that most impressed me on the day we saw half a dozen.  It is the work of Henry Howard (1818—1884), his earliest known work, since the acquisitions of Thomas Pugh himself date it in the 1840s.  Now, I wouldn't call Henry Howard "forgotten", though J. Frazer Smith, perceptive architect that he was, providing perhaps the best description and appreciation of Madewood, while he knows all the history, does not mention the architect, and the Wikipedia has no biographical entry for Howard.  It is earlier than Woodlawn (demolishd), much earlier than his Belle Grove (burned in 1952 but not before Clarence Laughlin photographed it), while Nottoway (1859) is Italianate rather than Greek Revival in style.  Plainly, Howard's style reveals his early training at the Mechanics Institute in Cork, where he was born, and his being a builder's son.  And he designed Madewood while still in his twenties.
(See Ferguson, John C. "Henry Howard."  In KnowLA, Encyclopedia of Louisiana.  Ed., David Johnson, Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 29 Jul. 2011.  Web. 23 May 2013.  The National Park Service article on Madewood itself is also excellent)
The above photographs show that Madewood is truly Greek Revival of a distinctively intense kind (comparison with Spiro Kostov, A History of Architecture, OUP, 1985, fig. 22.21a suggests that the young Howard may even have doted on Robert Adam's masterpieces).  It is unlike Louisiana plantation houses, which usually have colonnades on all four sides, a type well established by Robert Adam's own generation in the mid-18th century (see Parlange in Pointe Coupee parish, though built by a Frenchman: Kostov, fig. 24.5a).  Whatever the date of Rienzi Plantation, down by Thibodaux, with its lovely oak trees, or Vacherie's "Oak Alley" (which they called beau séjour), Kostov, fig. 24.27—two other family houses at Vacherie are St. Joseph's and Laura), Rienzi, too, has columns on all four sides.  Yet it is hardly that Madewood is any less prestigious a plantation house than they are.  It simply unites, very deftly, exceptional Greek Revival with the traditional Creole form.
Howard's urban designs in New Orleans are different, so I won't discuss them here.
Pure Greek Revival in Baton Rouge and Marietta Georgia
After heading a general essay with Governor Fuqua's house at 301 Napoleon Street in Beauregard Town, I found one house (and still only one) that is exactly like it, Colonel Brumby's of 1851 in Marietta, GA.  It is tucked away in the plates of the McAlesters' Field Guide, looking quite unlike the other Greek Revival houses there.

The Marietta house (or hall, as they call it), is available on line in an article in MariettaPatch and on several other promotional pages.  Its emphasis on geometrical clarity and on vertical alignment are just like Governor Fuqua's house, despite being Doric (Greek Doric without any column bases, too).  Now, as Erv Dunham pointed out to me, the Fuqua house does not appear on the Sanborn property-insurance maps for 1911 and earlier; they show a house of a very different shape.  On the 1916 map a house rendered as a square with six columns facing Napoleon Street and built close to the northern property line does appear and, evidently, is the Fuqua house still there today.  Now Henry Fuqua's Hardware Company has been in business since 1883.  Then, from 1916 he was also Warden of Angola Prison, where he seems to have made it the rather exceptional institution that it is even now.  He was governor, though an important and estimable one, only for the last two years of his life.  For more, see the Wikipedia, s.v., Henry L. Fuqua and references listed there.  But it is the house that concerns me here.  Erv Dunham suggests that it must have been moved to its present site, as many were.  John Sykes confirms the practice of moving houses, when everything that went into a house made it more economical than the present habit of demolition and rebuilding, and not least in Baton Rouge.  As to the date of the Fuqua house, its very striking resemblance to Colonel Brumby's of 1851 lends credence to what Gov. Fuqua's widow told John Sykes in 1954, that the house was then already a century old.  That is not a document,  of course, and I have seen it dated c. 1835.  
What, finally, is the chance that when Henry Howard went to Georgia he left his mark there, even though during the War he was working for the Confederate war effort?  
Fact is, that thinking of our visiting the River Road plantations in the early 1980s (probably 1983 or 1984), I kept thinking of seeing such pediments there.  When I went to my scanned files I found that indeed it was Madewood that had made me like the Governor's house at sight.
Of course, building in wood the houses in Marietta and Baton Rouge are lighter (and smaller, too).
What makes Greek Revival style so difficult is their working from those wonderful big books, from Thomas Jefferson's using the actually tiny Temple of Athena Nike on the SW bastion of the Athens Acropolis (or was it the not much larger Maison Carrée at Nîmes?), all laid out for him in beautiful engravings, for the Virginia Capitol, just as Robert Adam had used earlier folios of Rome and Pompeii.  One would think that Henry Howard was steeped even as a boy in such books.  His formation is in fact, I think, more Jeffersonian than of Latrobe's kind.  But I can't find pictures of houses by Latrobe.  
I forget who it was who pointed out that the history of architecture is strongly conditioned by the cost of important buildings and building projects and their involving great private wealth when they didn't in fact involve public monies.
So I have spent a lot of time speculating and trying to ground speculation in whatever else I could find. For example: what was going on in Baton Rouge just before war broke out in Europe?  Why are so many things datable c. 1912: the three most prestigious houses in Roseland Terrace (for which we have Mr. Cazadessous' photographs), the eight-story skyscrapter of Mr. Roumain on 3rd Street and his very opulent house at 201 St. Charles in Beauregard Town?  Has it anything to do with the Bayou Sara flood at St. Francisville in 1912?  Could a house be moved the 25 miles, more or less, to Baton Rouge from the Felicianas?  Well, perhaps that's too fanciful.  Was Henry Fuqua's Hardware Company profitable enough (but in 1912 he was 47, the prime of life) to enable him to move such a house from wherever it had been?

Friday, May 10, 2013

A fine bungalow of 1922 in Drehr Place

On the SW corner of Drehr and Wisteria
A bungalow is a genre, not a style
The true bungalows (by "true" meaning the ones that like those in Alexandria, VA, are called California bungalows) built when the opening of Drehr Place was still recent are uncommonly fine.  This one has an L porch at south and a nicely designed porte cochère north that are both continuous with the broad porch and both original (only an addition at the back, which reaches the NS utilities alley, is a later addition).   Its bungalow design governs all sides, not just that facing the street, bearing out what the Wikipedia article, s.v. Bungalow, says of the type (as of the Prairie House), that it does demand a lot much larger than the interior spaces of the house require, so that "Chicago bungalows" have bedrooms above in order to be crammed onto 40-foot lots (or even narrower).  Its spreading plan is true to its Bengali origin, and it is a perfect type for semi-tropical Louisiana.  After three months study, I realize that the Wikipedia article is actually the very best one.  It recognizes that a 'bungalow' is a genre, not a style, whether for its style it resorts to Craftsman brackets, or chooses to buy some "Colonial" Tuscan columns to give it perhaps a less suburban character; in adobe territory, it may even be heavily stuccoed with some "mission" traits.  On this corner lot, besides space for a garden, it has as large a footprint as most of the taller corner-lot houses in our Garden District.  So far, I haven't found another such "four-sided" bungalow here, though the blue-painted one facing it comes close.
Noteworthy is the very low gable (no need to shed snow here), which permits a full set of five sturdy brackets: permits, because they all can be anchored top and bottom, from the gable cap at the top to the center of the 3 windows, aligned with the center porch pillar.  All three pillars have brick pedestals splayed at the bottom.

The splayed profile of the brick chimney's base repeats that of the righthand porch pedestal.  The owners of this house (who, of course, as such possess the data given every time they are sent a property-tax assessment) informed me that the house was built in 1922.
A whole album of this house, 608 Drehr, is provided.

Two blocks to the east, at 2332 Wisteria is the Sanders house, already presented in the blog post of March 15.  Here the original parts of the house date from 1921.  Its splayed brick pedestals and general proportions are similar, though, besides the square brackets, emphasizing their sturdiness, its pillars (and their pi motif) are very short and the brick pedestals are taller, twice as tall as the pillars.

Blocks away, two lots south of the Reiley-Reeves house on Park Boulevard where we found the earliest Craftsman elements in Roseland Terrace, we noticed 840 Park Blvd nearly a twin to the Sanders house, with the same brick parts and splayed bases (as well as square brackets and short pillars) certainly date its design (and probably construction) also c. 1921.  I take these, tentatively, as the earliest Garden District bungalows, if the similarity of 840 Park to 2332 Wisteria is not partly due to restoration...  Or is it only the same brand of paint?

The house I added as "A-prime" at 2147 Oleander Street (see post of 10 February) combines the three-window vent in the gable with brackets that look like many early-1920s ones, but triangular (it is the square ones that as brackets are exceptional), but its roof is a little steeper and so deeper, so only three brackets are logical; the intermediate ones would not reach.  In any case, this house is a good example of assorted accoutrements.  

In its very low proportions and wide eaves, on the other hand, it is the picket-fenced house, no. 603, on the NE corner of Drehr and Wisteria, once grey, now blue (already posted in one photo on Mar. 15), directly opposite the the pale terre verte bungalow heading this post, that most truly resembles our 608 Drehr, though the blue house has neither an L shaped porch nor a porte cochère.  It is so truly a bungalow, notwithstanding.

By the way, turning the corner onto Wisteria, you see something original doubtless to many but usually enclosed now (for a kitchen toilet and shower), an open back porch.  Actually, I took the picture because I thought that Richard Diebenkorn would like to look at its composition and think about it.

Another bungalow, that same brand of blue paint (!), is up on Government Street, also less than a block away.  This has the same low, broad proportions and, this time, with an ample L porch.  I doubt that it ever had brackets.  No need to have any.  But it has the triple-window vents in the low gable.

Finally, another repetition, but here in proper context.  Again, this house is not "in an Order" or "in Neo-Colonial 'style'", merely by using pillars with capitals.  Sitting right next to the blue one, you could build it on pretty much the same foundations and would have chosen  its suitability to our climate and lifestyle for the same reasons.  I guess that both of these houses are from the early 1920s, too.
Back in the years when I taught survey courses, I made the class memorize, "A capital does not an Order make" (so that when, on a test, I asked them to draw one of the orders they would know that I meant the total design system, or syntax, of Doric, say, or Ionic.  I never ventured asking them to draw Corinthian).
To make the point, I took a slide of a brick-faced block with white trim and some readymade columns disguising its front and said that jerrybuilt branches of local banks only advertise the respectability of our Nation's Founders, and a well operated branch in a cinderblock garage might well be equally honest.

By the way, let me add that there are many various bungalows in both Roseland Terrace and Drehr Place that are all or mostly original that I have not discussed.  An example is 632 Drehr Street, which has unique brackets (but whether 'Victorian' or Japanese I do not know) in combination with columns, though it is not a very large house.  However, I know that its owners are far better qualified to write it up than I am, and here I am more concerned with quasi-Aristotelian 'categories', such as 'style' and 'Order' and 'genre' than with trying to account fully for every single house.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Talking and thinking with the dead and virtual

Communicating without the palpable touch; learning on line
06 April 2013.  301 Napoleon at Louisiana; the converging Grandpré runs diagonally behind it, and the house, which is quite a large one, has the triangular parts as its yard.  Everything ED said about it is true; it is all original (unless the door has had to be replaced).  As I finally got into BRtown, battling I-110 and the RR, and one-way streets, I came up St Joseph from Gov't and HAD to stop on beholding it.  That protected porch-balcony is the nicest use imaginable of a manly four-gable plan.  Surely a named house by a named architect: simple TYPE, unique architectural thinking

As the caption describes, I was forced to begin looking seriously at Beauregard Town starting from the East side (there was an annual street fair on the West).  I was arrested, I was stunned, by this house, which is much larger than it seems in a photograph.  Though I'll try to learn more about it, the essential fact is that it told me what it is most forcibly.  Nothing I may read about it can add more than data.  It is like coming into the presence of a great person.  It is like reading the first page of a great book; like the Sixth Fleet walking up the Acropolis in Athens and stopping open-mouthed before the Parthenon; like looking at one of J.-L. David's paintings that you thought you wouldn't like.  So, before going hunting for Craftsman here, I took this picture.
This is not the first time that my mixed experiences have come all together and acquired new life.  One of my early blog posts tried to evoke for others how Edmund de Waal's memoir brought to life my memory of walking around his family's neighborhood in Paris, my friendships with those whom I studied Asian art with, my first visit to Vienna, and much, much more.  It is what a great university has made of the life of one child who was the first in her family to pursue graduate degrees.  These riches have rescued me repeatedly from what I might have been otherwise.
Recently there have been books and many panel discussions on whether learning on line enriches or deprives the children, and older students, who use it.  Now, all my own education is pre-digital.  Not only that, most of it pre-dated both the paperback boom and the wealth of richly illustrated books (as I recently discussed).  As one waited one's turn to have library use of Helmut Bossert's Alt-Kreta for a couple of hours, no one minded having to figure out the German captions, with or without having studied the language, since no other books contained nearly so much material.  I remember an almost romantic gratitude to the State that had brought together publications from the whole wide world just for us.  I mention Bossert's compendia (there were also Alt-Syrien and Alt-Anatolien) in particular, because they weren't at all pretty, all grayscale and gritty, but if one looked hard enough one could imagine being there, and, if you had ever held a pot, you could feel what it might be like to hold a Minoan one (especially since we did have some color slides in lecture).  That was in 1953.  The question this raises is the degree to which effort and craving helped us to learn and to learn permanently.  The lecture might address a couple of hundred students (and many more in other subjects), but the professor was usually awesome in some way or another.  How else could so many of us be taught almost free of charge (there was a fee to cover administrative costs, but no tuition to pay)?  I was there.  How could I mind if sorority girls had cashmere sweater sets?  Long before I retired I began to feel that many of my students disdained riches that came too easily; they were being deprived of hurdles.  I mean only that plenty can be a mixed blessing, sometimes.  Besides, though I finished my degrees hand to mouth, I also finished with a tenure-track position awaiting me and no debt at all.  There were no student loans (the Kiwanis Club might give you money for your textbooks), and there were no credit cards at all.  Nor did you get charge accounts when you still had no job and no one to sign for you.  Of course, poverty, even relative poverty, is itself a mixed blessing.
So much for that.
The real question is what kind of subject, and what aspects of that subject, and for which students one kind of teaching or another is best.
Many students, at all levels, suffer excruciating fear at being called on in class and are often so aware of what everyone must think of them (and already feel that everyone is looking at them) that they can barely think of what is being taught.  Computer programs that afford privacy in working through a topic, with no penalty for getting no solution without several attempts, allow inward students to learn through discovery by themselves with good software.  They should also be allowed to follow tangents (tangents, of course, by definition stay in touch with the main topic!).  This is not a question of different abilities but of different personalities.  It's a Mary-and-Martha difference.  Other students learn well, especially in subjects where speed and accuracy are useful, in open competition, in a classroom full of happily waving raised hands.  Often this means, also, that the latter group are more likely to go home and use their own computers for games...  Some good teachers, similarly, are innately theatrical, but shy, quiet teachers are just as effective.  There is nothing wrong, per se, with testing, but it should take into account the assortment of personalities and mentalities.  (One of the virtues of the traditional lecture format is that each student sees and hears the lecture uniquely, no other one in the lecture hall receiving it in just the same way, and of course with the same requirement that the graded material, including tests, should address various ways of grasping and mastering the subject).
As I thought of this question these days, it seemed to me that the devices used in teaching may be less important than they seem, and students, all else being equal, can adjust to any kind, granted only good will and reasonable sufficiency.  That would mean that the way children and adolescents are raised is what matters and that teachers should be allowed to cultivate and made to learn how to share what is uniquely theirs and to examine and grade the students intelligently.  They cannot be forced to actually learn more (cramming for tests is not much retained)
For no one detests and dreads standardized tests, making them and grading them, let alone teaching "to" them, more than teachers (from Kindergarten to the Doctorate) do.  And, no, this is not a matter of being easy or hard.  Rather, the punitive element is one barrier to teaching what one has been given and wants to impart and to continue to explore and to learning what one came to university for.  One must learn to be for the next generation of students and young scholars what one's mentors have been for oneself.
Nothing is more vicious than regarding teachers (or doctors, or parsons, etc.) other than as professionals.  We might as well regard parents as if they were social workers.
And what has that to do with this series of blog posts?
In an earlier post, I mentioned getting the books required for my colleagues' courses which, generally, I couldn't even find the time to audit.  I did do Old English for most of the semester in Oregon and when I could sat in, if there was space, for Life Drawing in Louisiana.  But teaching up to 300 students at a time is not, by any means, just delivering well made lectures, and when one course was a research seminar I had to struggle to make sure that the graduate students got their full share.  Not only of attention.  In teaching a seminar one is taking it oneself and must keep learning and staying abreast with the graduate students.  There might be up to ten of us (though six is better, but some universities cancel courses with fewer than ten, even at the graduate level), and each must bring new questions and discoveries to each weekly meeting, besides getting the same share of office hours as the undergraduates.  The seminar course is the greatest privilege in teaching.  And it is where future scholars discover themselves.
So, when I had to retire at age 72, I had not been out of the educational profession, in one way or another, since I entered Grade One at age six.  To own a house outright I had taught far beyond the legal requirement (since my years in a religious order had been in education but not in the Social Security system or with a pension), and I no longer was able to sleep on trains or hike all over cities and sites as I had done before, and I had to stay in Louisiana.  But the library here had never permitted the research I had relied on in California or Greece.
So for myself I learned, too, to adapt my learning to what I had.  The nice, flat Garden District of Baton Rouge is full of bungalows that aren't even covered much in any of the books on American bungalows, and it is very close packed.  First I tried to identify all its trees and weeds, but that was really hard for me; it is not my attrait.  Houses proved to be fascinating.  Only to me?  Well, when I wrote up Archaic Greek pottery at an introductory level, people did read it.  Not thousands, but all over the world.  Whoever they are, I write up our houses for everyone else who likes them.  It is not as if this were New England or Missouri; before Standard Oil and before the university moved from downtown to its present site, Baton Rouge had not reached 20,000 population.  Unlike Natchez, for example, or Lake Providence (which existed for cotton), we have hardly anything before the 20th century and very little, really, before World War I was over.  
I cannot become a real scholar at my age in American domestic architecture, but neither can I say how much I have learned!  When I see that people even overseas are reading about our neighborhoods (and not, oh, heaven forbid, NOT from the realtors' point of view), it gives me great pleasure.  That is why, too, I have stuck with plain Picasa albums, all of them open to the Public on the Web.  Anyone, too, who wants to use my travel views for teaching, is welcome (though it would sadden me to see them commercialized).  There are many new colleges that have small libraries and hardly any collections of teaching images.  I wish, indeed, that I had more.  Google+ wants me to choose my Followers, to direct myself to whom I choose.
But such as it is, I want anyone who wishes to to follow how I tried to frame a seminar for myself, and to learn as I went—to see my vague beginnings and not mind if they, too, begin by knowing very little or nothing.  Someday almost anyone may be retired or arthritic or out of work or out of school and remember that the reason one gets an education is to be able to continue educating oneself.  Every day I find something I've talked of or thoughtlessly repeated that, in fact, I didn't really know at all.  You don't need to be pushing 80 to really enjoy learning all sorts of stuff.  And, of course, if Wikipedia makes some mistakes, we can't complain.  The famous encyclopedias contain mistakes, too.  Understanding others' mistakes, besides, is a way into understanding the minds of other persons and eras.  
By the way, when we meet other minds and learn others' knowledge from reading their books (poetry included, of course), that gives us, too, the privacy of learning on line.