Friday, December 5, 2014

News and Ideas at the Reilly-Reeves House

The Turreted House at the Corner of Park and Cherokee­

Last year, when a friend pointed out to me the singular features of this house, I was eager to learn about it.  At that time it still had a blue plastic protective sheet on part of the roof to protect it after damage due (I think) to Hurricane Gustave, and it needed a good paint job.  See the Teegee Essays blog posts from January and February of 2013. ­

Now an exemplary paint job, including details of shutters, etc., is almost complete.  I have added a new album of nine supplementary views:

Yes, it was Richard Norman Shaw who marketed the fancy houses from c. 1870 to c. 1910 as "Queen Anne".  Reading surveys of Nicholas Pevsner's generation I had been puzzled: we had endless specimens of the style that flourished about up to World War I both in California and in the Pacific Northwest to our north, where a whole neighborhood in Seattle has been called "Queen Anne".
But in the middle of the 20th century, when I was studying at Berkeley and labeling and filing 2X2 slides used in teaching there (and socializing with graduate students in both architecture and the figural arts, though never, I admit,  taking a course in 19th century American architecture), no one called these houses anything but Late Victorian (not even the occasional friends who owned one of them)—not that Victoria had been our queen, but certainly Anne hadn't.  At least some of us knew that she belonged to the generation of Jane Austen, say, and thought of Chippendale (  and the Image album, s.v. chippendale furniture) to furnish it.  I don't know how our Baton Rouge house is furnished, but I can't quite see a forest of cabriolet legs in it (there's a good page on them in Wikipedia, s.v.) or even an American version of Hepplewhite.
As so often (but why didn't I find this page last year?),  the Wikipedia comes down hard and clear on the real estate abuse of "Queen Anne": , not deigning to call the American (and other colonial) "painted ladies" (their San Francisco nickname now) by Queen Anne's name unless prefaced by "revival".
Most of the antique or pseudo-antique furniture, from which I got my first notions of furniture styles (remember: no internet, no TV shows on Great Homes or Antiques Roadshow, no Wiki, though the Britannica of 1910, s.v. Furniture, does have five plates of excellent examples) came from Grand Rapids factories as they passed through my grandfather's shop, and the furnishings of the Reilly-Reeves house, whatever their stylistic affiliations, could just as well come from that industry, already by 1912 more than two generations old, and may have been of hardwoods finer than ash.  It doesn't matter; I think houses back then were named more for their period style than for charming association with earlier queens.  In fact, the commercial use of "Queen Anne" is so entrenched for Late Victorian that is both fancy and expensive that the Wikipedia labels the houses of the end of the 18th century "English Queen Anne".
I have come round to this because a good friend sent me the Kindle edition of D. E. Stevenson's "Miss Buncle's Book", new to me and utterly delightful.  She was Scottish, born in Edinburgh in 1892, fully a generation younger than the very English E. F. Benson.  The novel in question, the first of half a dozen, appeared in 1934 just three years later than E. F. Benson's first Lucia.  Both start in a village of more limited possibilities and in the second volume move to a 'better' one, Benson's famous Tilling (which is Rye) and Stevenson's Wandlebury which may or may not be near Cambridge but does take its name from what is now a preservation Park (  That too may be coincidental, and its justly famous self-referential device of a novel written within a novel was unique, but the handling of characters and its sheer joy suggest irresistibly, to me at least, that Stevenson, who had written only one novel before this one, was practically intoxicated by Lucia.  I do recommend the Buncle books, which we owe to Kindle (the 1930s by a Scottish woman not being, perhaps, financially feasible publishing), but with the Baton Rouge promise of a blog post on the Reilly house puzzling me by being called "Queen Anne" I had to notice the two authors' descriptions of fine houses of the late 18th century, that the heroine is devoted to and the authors describe quite accurately.  Now I don't know what D. F. Stevenson actually lived in, but on line she is said to be related to Robert Louis Stevenson (not, to be sure, to an archbishop of Canterbury), and, I guess, is one of that intellectual bourgeoisie who all knew one another—and she writes that way, as Wodehouse, for example, does not, though he's just as clever as they are.  Wodehouse didn't live in a country house, such as he sent Bertie Wooster to, except sporadically.  The way one describes a house that one loves is quite different from a TV presentation of Chatsworth or Castle Howard (used to film Brideshead Revisited, and by Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor: whether a smaller house or a great one.  Now D. F. Stevenson loves the house she puts the second novel in the same way as Benson loved his Lamb House (for which I refer you to some very good photos of the house and the whole town (in Flickr:
But the point is: whoever did it (I think in the Registry of noteworthy buildings in Baton Rouge), calling the Reilly-Reeves house Queen Anne of a sort, all those writers who need copy have copied the label (usually taking pains to disclaim it) and find nothing reliable but the photos in the EBRLibrary collection and the data attributed to "the courthouse", whence we have names for a contractor and an architect (both unknown to me, but no matter: an architect was hired to realize the owner's vision) and the date, also guaranteed, it is high time we considered the house itself and not some realtor's label.  Incidentally, if one chooses to trust the memories of someone of the family but elderly, and if the building of the Gottlieb House over on Drehr really was a direct response to that on Park Boulevard, it would seem to endorse a pre-World War I dating for the Gottlieb house.  Only one interview says so, but does assert that they had the first telephones.  One thing you can trust from Antiques Roadshow is the folkloric historicity of family memories.  It is like the genealogy of the Troy Tale: there is truth in these traditions but for accurate data…  If you've read thousands of student papers 'researched' in a branch public library (to avoid going to the university library) and then boiled down to make sense to the writer…  On the other hand, until I read those two descriptions of fine houses beloved by the authors who put their principal characters in them, and found the Wikipedia article, s.v. Queen Anne Architecture:
I hadn't dared to let the house itself be its own evidence, making a stylistic statement unlike any in the handbooks or old catalogues.  But I admire the family who are proud of it, and for more than two decades I have been glad to live in its neighborhood.