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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Happy Friday readers. We have reached the end of summer and Labor Day is only days away.  One of the things that Labor reminds me of is the American Dream…. you know, the neat house with a spacious lawn and white picket fence, 2.5 children and a freshly waxed family sedan gleaming in the driveway (or at least that’s what we are told the American Dream is).  To me, nothing reminds me of this more than Post World War II suburbs, and of course, the grand-daddy of them all is Levittown. That is today’s Fantasy, and while it is nowhere near as grand as our usual Fantasies  it is probably the most achievable, which was, after all, the point of Levittown!

NY Times photo of Levittown in 1947

Levittown (the original Long Island one, as there are OTHER Levittowns in Pennsylvania and in other places) is a Post WWII suburb developed for returning GI’s by Real Estate Lawyer Abraham Levitt. He had the idea to turn 60,000 acres of flat grassland on Long Island (which he bought when the original developer defaulted on a loan in the 30s) into a planned community of 2,000 rental houses. He made this announcement in the paper in 1947 and 2 DAYS later half of the houses were already spoken for.  Obviously the demand was great and Levitt and his sons (who helped their Dad with this venture) realized they needed to find a way to speed-up this process and make it cost-effective, so they removed basements from the plans for their houses, taking a cue from houses built on slabs in the south. This was actually against building code at the time, but with the baby-boom just beginning, nobody argued. In fact, the State of New York changed the building code to make concrete slab foundations allowable, because the need for housing was so great!

The Levitt’s used pre-cut lumber and produced their own nails at a nail factory they owned.  Using these precursors to prefabricated materials, the company was soon able to raise around 30 houses a day! The incredible thing is that even 30 houses a day was not enough to keep up with the demand for housing. Those original 2,000 houses were joined by another 4,000 houses, a school (and later additional schools) and post-office to accommodate the burgeoning town.

Levittown Houses. New York Times.

In 1949, the Levitts went from building rental houses to building Ranches for SALE, and they continued this until the last one sold in 1951. Levittown became such a part of American life that spawned American culture including Rock-star Billy Joel, who grew-up in a Levitt House (and was friends with Ash’s Mom when they were young… so ya’know, that’s AWESOME).

There is TONS of information on the different Levittowns out there, but one of the bests I think is the one-and-only Levittown Historical Society which many of my dates came from. I also came across this neat blog about life in Early Levittown.

Levittown Plans from Tessellar Blog

Real Estate Ad from Early Levittown Blog

Hope you enjoyed this look at American Developments and the 1950s American Dream! Enjoy those end of summer BBQ’s and have a great Labor Day!

-Etta

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Happy Friday Readers. Sorry for the extended absence but I’m back now.  I was gone for so long because I attended a National Park Service Training event in Baltimore (and then had to catch-up at work). I had a great time and got a lot of valuable information, so I wanted to share some of what I saw and learned in Baltimore with you.  So, in honor of my recent trip, today’s Fantasy isn’t a house, but a National Treasure, which, in fact, noted Architectural Historian Vincent Scully is said to have called “the most perfect church in North America.”  Today, I give you the Baltimore Basilica, America’s first Cathedral.

Built in 1806-1821, the Basilica was designed by Benjamin Latrobe.  Latrobe is often called the Father of American Architecture, or America’s first Architect.  (Also known for the Bank of Pennsylvania,  and The Latrobe gate at the Navy Yard) In addition to Latrobe’s remarkable design work, the construction project was overseen by Bishop Carroll, head of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, who wanted a Neoclassical church (a style he considered to be “American”) to reflect the Neoclassical capitol of this budding nation at Washington, DC. Latrobe was the perfect choice for this project, as he was an admirer of Thomas Jefferson’s architectural views, a fact that is evidenced in his book, Thomas Jefferson: Architect of the Capitol.  Jeffersonian Neoclassicism is clearly reflected in the Basilica, specifically the skylights in the dome ( a design element that Jefferson insisted on for the Capitol Building). Carroll’s initial idea and Latrobe’s design eventually went on to become America’s First Cathedral, and later, a National Historic Landmark.

The Basilica underwent restoration in 2004-2006, in anticipation of the church’s bicentennial celebration.  The restoration work proposed what was called a “return to Latrobe’s vision,” which is somewhat controversial amongst Preservationists, as the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation state that, “Each property shall be recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or architectural elements from other buildings shall not be undertaken,” and ” Most properties change overtime; those changes that have acquired historic significance in their own right shall be retained and preserved.” However, since Preservation is a pretty fluid discipline and involves a lot of theory, there are also those who believe that the the Restoration was a success… Still, whatever your stance, no one can deny the fact that the Basilica is a beautiful building and an important part of American Architectural History.

Don’t believe me? See for yourself:

(Photo below from http://www.baltimorebasilica.org)

Image of an historic section drawing of the church from BaltimoreArchitecture.org

Hope you enjoyed the Baltimore Basilica. I will be adding more photos a bit later when I get them off my camera. Check back in for the update soon.

-Etta.

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Happy Friday readers!

In anticipation of the upcoming long weekend and Memorial Day holiday (or the day we honor those who died in our nation’s service, for those non-US readers), I wanted to bring you something that really symbolized the holiday and honored the sacrifice of those who fought bravely for freedom. While there are some pretty amazing monuments out there, none of them really seemed to fit the bill as they are more structure and less dwelling. Then I got to thinking about what we do to celebrate Memorial Day and I remembered that we place flags on the graves of those we honor, which led me to think about cemeteries, and one in particular: Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C.  (The cemetery is located in Arlington,  VA not  Washington D.C., even though people tend to think of it as DC,  but just go with me anyway).  I had the privilege of visiting the National Cemetery during a band trip when I was in 8th grade  (I played the Bass Clarinet which is generally awesome, just FYI). The one thing that stood out most on the tour to me was not the Memorial Amphitheater (though it was beautiful) or the Eternal Flame (which was also something to behold) or even the sacred Tomb of the Unknowns. No, it was the Mansion in the cemetery that no-one seemed to be talking about. As a budding Preservationist, I REALLY wanted to see that house.  Fast-forward a few years and I came to find out that house is Arlington House, the former home of General Robert E. Lee. (Photo Below from  The National Park Service, NPS)

The mansion was built for George Washington Parke Custis, Martha Washington’s grandson and adopted ‘son’ of George Washington, in 1802.  Custis hired English architect George Hadfield to design Arlington House, and he lived in the Greek Revival manse until his death in 1857.  The house was left to George Washington Custis’s only surviving daughter, Mary Anna Custis Lee.  Mary Anna had married Lieutenant Robert E. Lee, a young graduate of West Point, and the rest of his story is history.  Still, General Lee’s history is closely tied to Arlington House, though he never set foot on the property again after the start of the Civil War.  Shortly after the war began, Mary Anna fled from Arlington House, which was quickly occupied by the Union Army.  Three years later, in 1864, the Federal government seized the property on account of unpaid taxes. * History says that this was an intentional insult aimed at the Confederacy to ensure that their guiding General could never return home, nor forget the repercussions of the civil war *<— MYTH!  (Photo Below from NPS)

TRUTH ! —>The US government didn’t aim any kind of ‘dig’ at the Confederacy over Arlington House.  They seized it for unpaid taxes, and Robert E. and Mary Anna chose not to contest the seizure, as he was old and not entirely in good health by the end of the war.  Their eldest son did contest the seizure, though, and won Arlington House back, but he then sold it to the Federal government fair and square…   but today I find that it serves more as a quiet reminded that war effects everyone’s “home-front” if you will and that those who sacrificed their lives for their Nation, freedom and justice will never be forgotten. (Photos Below from the National Archives via  mikelynaugh.com)

Today the Arlington house is Maintained by the National Park Service and you can visit it. Good to their website here.

Have a great weekend everyone

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Hey Readers,

I know I have been woefully neglecting you, but I have a good reason I swear!  It’s  National Preservation Month  and here at work that is combined with a time heavy in reviewing Architectural Plans and preparing for our awards ceremony, then add to that the fact that a co-worker and I promised  to give a presentation to a Local Historical Commission on re-purposing disused Municipal buildings, so yeah… I might have over-extended myself just a bit.

I don’t want to leave you hanging, though, so I’m going to leave you with a couple of pictures from one of the buildings in my presentation on re-using your town’s Municipal buildings. This particular building is the Salem Jail in Salem, Massachusetts. It underwent a MASSIVE rehabilitation where it went from an unused former jail to luxury Condos and a great jail-themed restaurant called The Great Escape. Check out their website, since it gives some before photos of the jail.

Here is a before picture from the Preservation Nation Blog:

Here is a an artistic view of  the after  from the company who markets the Condos (I love the guy hanging out in the doorway!):

I will be back when things quiet down a little bit. Enjoy Preservation Month!

-Etta

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Happy Friday readers!  This week’s Fantasy will be especially poignant for all New England residents, people who love New England, people who love baseball, and people who love cheering for the underdog (mostly when the underdog wins in the end).  I’ll leave you to Ash’s tender care, because he begged me for the opportunity to write this particular post.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of Historic Fenway Park in Boston.  This afternoon, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the opening of our ballpark, doing the thing that we love to watch them do, playing out a rivalry as old as Fenway itself.  This year is even more auspicious, as it will be the first season we’ll watch a game played out in a bonafide historic ballpark that’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places!  Yes, you read that right.  Fenway was listed in the National Register just last month, thanks to the efforts of Fenway Sports Group and their associates, and the Massachusetts Historical Commission.  But what makes it so special?

Construction of Fenway Park began in September, 1911, and the 24,400-seat stadium opened seven months later.  On April 20, 1912, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Highlanders (a team you might recognize better by the name they were given a year later: the Yankees) faced off in a brand-new stadium in Boston’s Kenmore-Fenway neighborhood.  The Sox won that momentous very first home opener, and went on to win the 1912 World Series.  Fenway’s long and storied history has been played out by countless baseball legends, with seasons that brought both joy and heartache, triumph and trials.  From the Green Monster to the Red Seat, the manual scoreboard to Pesky’s Pole, Fenway has become an icon to Sox fans, the holy ground where they go to commune with the heart and soul of America’s pastime, to feel the presence of heroes past and present and maybe walk in their footsteps.  The park has seen its share of renovations over the years, but has remained largely unchanged, even the seating numbers haven’t changed much, with a capacity a little over 37,000.  It’s likely that the parks various quirks, such as its asymmetrical field (like many of the ballparks built during the ‘Golden Age’, Fenway was built on an asymmetrical lot, resulting in an asymmetrical field, measuring only 302 feet along the right field line to the foul pole) and “outdated” systems and features, prompted the former owners to announce a plan for the demolition and replacement of Fenway with a new, modern ballpark.  Due to public outcry, stalled negotiations with the City of Boston and the sale of the Red Sox to more sympathetic owners in 2001, that dreadful plan was dropped, to be replaced with ten years of preservation and renovation projects intending to keep Fenway running for at least 50 more years.

Now, the architecture!  Fenway was built in the Tapestry Brick style, which utilizes a combination of red brick and cast stone laid in decorative patterns to give the building visual interest.  Designed by Boston architect, James E. McLaughlin, the Yawkey Way facade, which you can see below, is an excellent example of the style, and shows how the brick is tilted, pushed and pulled on the facade surface, and woven into an aesthetic tapestry.

In 1933-34, the engineering firm responsible for designing the stands in 1912, Osborne Engineering of Cleveland, designed the expansion that extends toward Brookline Avenue.  Though more Gothic in its styling, the use of red brick, stone and arched windows blends it well with the older portions of the ballpark.

Before I wrap up, I’ll leave you with a view of the field.  After all, what’s a visit to a ballpark without seeing the place where the magic happens!?  There’s the Green Monster, the massive 37-foot left field wall that not only holds the scoreboard, but dashes many a home run hopeful’s hopes and dreams.

In closing, there’s Pesky’s Pole, the right field foul pole named after Red Sox legend, Johnny Pesky.  You can also pick out the Red Seat in the center field bleachers among a sea of blue.  That seat marks the longest recorded home run, a bomber that Ted Williams launched back in 1946 that went a distance of 502 feet! I hope you enjoyed your virtual tour of Fenway, but I highly recommend making a trip sometime, especially if you’re a baseball fan.  It’s awe-inspiring to step into a place where so much baseball history has taken place.  Have a great weekend!  Go Sox!

-Ash and Etta

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Happy Friday Readers, I’m back! This week’s Fantasy is a pretty great one, if I do say so myself. Today’s Fantasy is America’s oldest surviving timber frame home: the Fairbanks House in Dedham, Massachusetts.

Built between 1637 and 1641, the Fairbanks house has weathered well over 350 years and is still around for us to enjoy and study today.  Interestingly enough, we can really pinpoint the construction period for the Fairbanks house because the organization that owns the house requested a dendrochronology study to determine an exact date. For those unfamiliar with dendrochronology, it is the study of the age of a timber by counting the growth rings of the timber and comparing them to other rings formed at a known point in time.  The process is most often used to date the timbers that make up a house frame. (Photos from Wikipedia)

The house is a great example of continuous New England architecture.  Like many other venerable manses across our stony countryside, especially the ubiquitous connected farmsteads of the 19th century, it was slowly added onto over the years to become the house we see today.  The saltbox lean-to on the north side of the house was likely added later in the 17th century.  The east and west gambrel-roofed wings were added about a century later, when an extended unit of the Fairbanks family all lived there together. Both the small addition extending to the west off of the lean-to (originally built as a dairy, and later converted into the privy) and the mud room attached to the east wing were built during the 19th century. (For more information on continuous architecture, get yourself a copy of the book Little House Big House Back House Barn. Great book, you won’t regret it!)

The history of the Fairbanks house is, as you might guess, inextricably tied to the lives of the Fairbanks family.  The Fairbanks family called this place home for nearly 300 years, ending in 1904 when the last remaining descendant moved away at the age of 76.  Shortly after the house ceased its existence as a residence, the Fairbanks Family Association (a genealogical membership group made up of descendants of Jonathan and Grace Fairbanks, the family’s first immigrants to America and first owners of the house) purchased it and opened it to the public.

This intriguing link to 17th century New England is certainly an architectural treasure, but it continues to provide glimpses into the lives of its residents, as well, through the family furniture that’s found its way back home (or never left), and archaeological deposits around the grounds that continue to be studied.  It’s worth a visit to take a moment to step back in time and experience a home that’s been a part of over three centuries of history, and was the place that eight generations of a single family called home.

Hope you enjoyed this glimpse of the Countries oldest timber frame home.

-Etta

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Happy Friday readers! Today’s Friday Fantasy is actually not a structure at all, but an architect. He is a lesser-known Maine architect, but one whose work I have long enjoyed.

John Calvin Steven had a career in architecture for almost 70 years, from the time that he was 18 nearly to his death. Because his career spanned so many years, Stevens designed over 1,000 buildings throughout the State of Maine.

Photo from Wikipedia

John worked primarily in the Shingle Style and Colonial Revival styles popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  He chose the Shingle Style for his personal home, and arguably did his finest work in that medium, with examples still found along the rocky Maine coast.  Still, he did also design many Colonial Revival buildings, as that style was also very popular at the peak of his career during the early 20th century.

Originally, Stevens wanted to study at MIT but he lacked the funds for that and instead interned at the office of Portland architect, Francis H. Fassett.  Fassett raised Stevens to the level of junior partner when his firm opened a new office in Boston. While there, he met William Ralph Emerson, who greatly influenced the development of Stevens’ personal style. Stevens later returned to Portland to open his own office in 1884.  During the early years of his career, he and partner Albert Cobb published Examples of American Domestic Architecture, a book on Shingle Style in the United States, with Stevens providing the illustrations. He came to be known as one of the greatest innovators of the Shingle Style in America, earning a place alongside such well-known architectural firms as McKim, Mead & White, and Peabody & Stearns.  His designs for impressive residences in seaside resorts surely popularized John’s work, and he went on to develop a successful and prolific career.   (Illustration from Wikipedia)

Though it’s very difficult to choose among the best, most innovative example of John Calvin Stevens’ Shingle Style designs (accepting that his later Colonial Revival style residences, churches, libraries are in a different class very worthy of discussion… but I’m a fan of the Shingle Style), I feel that the house he designed for himself in 1883 clearly stands out.  Like many of his Shingle Style homes (and much like examples often seen by other firms),  the John Calvin Stevens House in Portland draws on Classical architectural elements and New World Colonial traditions, while creating a harmonious, quintessentially natural home, both inside and out.  The flow and economy of space evident in the interior allows gracious, yet simple living, while the exterior is both pleasing to the eye and humbly unassuming, much like the rugged landscape one can find all along the Maine coast, and the weathered cottages of the first settlers.

Photos from Maine Historical Society and Wikipedia

Who wouldn’t want to live there!?  I also thought I’d add some photos of Psi Upsilon House (more recently known as Quinby House) at Bowdoin College, since it’s one of Ash’s favorite John Calvin Stevens Shingle Style designs.

Photos from Bowdoin College Library Special Collections

Hope you have enjoyed this glimpse of a lesser known architect. Have a great weekend!

-Etta

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