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TGIF Readers! I feel like this is Friday #2 this week, with the holiday on Wednesday. Speaking of the 4th of July, since I am still coming down from my post-fireworks euphoria, I have decided to theme today’s Fantasy in honor of our recently passed holiday. As you may know (or may not, as I do have some foreign readers), Independence Day (often better-known as the 4th of July, for the date the holiday falls on) is an American Holiday in which the citizenry celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, by which the Founding Fathers of our nation stated that America was its own country and should be free of British rule. This act of treason led to war between Britain and the American colonies, which eventually led to the creation of the country we know today… and it all began on July 4, 1776 (granted, that’s the thumbnail sketch of the founding of the United States, as there were many acts of rebellion that led up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War, not to mention some confusion among when the Declaration was actually signed, but to avoid writing a book that’s been written several times over, I’ll leave us with the understanding that the holiday is on July 4th and we’re celebrating America).

Today, the 4th of July represents patriotism and love of country, both of which I can wholeheartedly support.  In honor of those sentiments, today’s Fantasy is tied to one of America’s most beloved Presidents: Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln was America’s 16th President, responsible for leading the Union through the Civil War, writing the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation, and he was also assassinated.  What many people don’t know about President Lincoln is that, although he loved the White House, he actually dearly loved another house in Washington, DC, more. This other  house was a seasonal retreat for Presidents.  It was (and still is) a cottage on the grounds of what was known as the Soldiers Home (Now known as the armed forces retirement home).

(Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) Photo, by way of wikipedia)

The Cottage was built in 1842 for George Washington Riggs (who later went on to found Riggs National Bank… Yeah, I’ve never heard of that bank either, but the guy had enough money to found a bank, so there you go….) in the fashionable Gothic Revival style. However, it did not remain a private home for very long, as President Lincoln had taken up residence there by the summer of 1862. It is even said he wrote preliminary drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation in the cottage. (Photo from lincolncottage.org and Armed Forces Retirement Home)

The cottage underwent a major restoration beginning in 2005, and opened to the public for the first time in 2008.  The site was declared a National Monument by President Clinton in 2000, as well as a being included in the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark.   Today is is maintained and run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. (Photo from National Geographic)

Hope you enjoyed this look at President Lincoln’s Cottage. If you are in Washington, D.C., you should check it out. If you won’t be in the D.C. area anytime soon, you can visit the Cottage Website here.

Have a great weekend!

-Etta

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Happy New Year Readers! Today’s Fantasy is about The Winchester Mystery House and new beginnings. It’s also kinda creepy, but that’s the way I roll so I hope you enjoy it.

The Winchester Mystery House (a huge Queen Anne Mansion in San Jose, California) is actually not as much of a mystery as it is the sad story of a grieving woman driven insane by an unscrupulous “spiritualist”, who preyed upon her pain and fears. It still makes for an interesting little architectural oddity, as well as presenting a great muse for Stephen King as the basis for the story of Rose Red ( a vampiric house that kept building itself even after its owner died by feeding on psychic energy). Being a Mainer, I love me my Master of Horror! Now onto some background!

Sarah Winchester was the wife of William W. Winchester (ya know, the one that made all the guns). In the early years of her life, Sarah was known as the “Belle of Hartford”, but after she married her life took a sad turn. Sarah gave birth to a daughter who died shortly after she was born, then her husband died of tuberculosis. Both deaths took a significant toll on Sarah, so her friends encouraged her to seek guidance from a medium and spiritualist (spiritualism was all the rage in the late 1800s, after all). So, Sarah went to a medium in Boston and was told that all of the misfortunes in her life were caused by spirits of the people who had died at the hands of men who wielded Winchester guns (naturally, instead of the easily explained high infant mortality rate of the time and the fact the there wasn’t a cure for tuberculosis yet). The medium told Sarah that the Winchester curse might be after her next!  However, there was an alternative to her demise…. If she went west to the setting sun and built a house for the vengeful spirits, then she would live a long life in peace. That’s exactly what she did without delay. Sarah moved to the Santa Clara Valley and purchased an unfinished farm house and began to make additions.  And more and more and more additions.  She continued building for the next 38 years without ceasing (that’s what a 20 million dollar inheritance would get you in the Victorian era), and she left behind what is know as the Winchester Mystery House today.

Why is it called the “Mystery House” you might ask? Well, other than the vast size of the mansion… which the New Englander in me cringes at, but it’s in California so heating it can’t be THAT bad right? The house also has some peculiar spirit confounding features such as staircases that end in walls and doors and windows that lead to nothing (except possibly to your death, if you weren’t careful). And if all those crazy architectural features weren’t enough, it is also said that Sarah slept in a different room every night just to further confound the spirits, lest one try to off her in her sleep.

Now for some pictures!There are some great photos of the quirkiness that is the Winchester Mystery House mine came from(from top to bottom): Wikipedia, Prairieghosts.com, Petticoatsandpistols.com and The Poison Forest.com,

This first photo gives you a good idea of what the house looks like today.

This next image gives you a sense of the overall scale of the house.

This next photo I call the “stairs to no-wheres”

Watch that first step, it’s a killer!

Hope you enjoyed Mrs. Winchesters “new beginning” and this bizarre tour of the Mystery house! For more information check out the Mystery House website. Have a good weekend!

-Etta

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Hey Readers, a co-worker of mine came across this Preservationist Gosling site on Tumbler and I just had to share it with you all.  Click here to experience the sultry ways of Ryan Gosling as he both enchants and educates you with Preservation!

I’ve added a photo and caption example below just for fun!

Hey girl, I’m really digging this sash, but it’d be more appropriate if it was a 2 over 1.

or

Hey girl, you want to re-glaze this with me? I’ve got some spare glazing points in my tool belt.

Enjoy!

-Etta

Edit: I just found out that we have the students in the HP program at U Penn to thank for this awesomeness! Thanks ladies and gents!

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Happy Friday readers. I’m feeling particularly Christmas-y this year!  In honor, today’s Friday Fantasy is the Hotel-de-glace in Quebec, Canada. It’s a hotel made entirely of ice and snow. I know this building isn’t a house, nor is it old, but the form is an old one and I think this it’s just too neat not to mention!

First built in 2001, it was the first ice hotel in North America. Due to the fluctuation of air temperatures accompanying the changing of the seasons, the ice hotel melts every spring, only to be rebuilt bigger and better the next year.  The original incarnation had 22 bedrooms when it was opened, while subsequent versions have grown each year to the present 85-bed accommodation. The hotel is built within a metal frame and takes more than 60 workers over a month and a half to build it.

The hotel not only houses guest rooms, but also has a chapel, a club (with an awesome slide) and a cafe.  The beds are made of ice, but are covered with deer skins and mattresses, with sub-zero sleeping bags to cuddle up inside when you’re ready to call it a night.  Don’t worry about sitting on a chilly commode, though.  There are separate heated bathrooms with all of the conveniences the modern traveler has come to expect located in another structure.  This grand hotel-castle is generally made up of countless arches (although it varies from season to season), and is reminiscent of the massive stone edifices of medieval Europe.

The Hotel-de-glace is a huge tourist destination for Quebec, so if you’re in the area around New Year’s, make sure you stop-by and enjoy a tour and a warm drink at this winter wonderland!

Photos below from style-designer, my motels and Wikipedia.

Well, I think this calls for some hot chocolate!

Have a great weekend!

-Etta

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It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights, it’s time to meet the Muppets on the Muppet Show tonight. This is a familiar tune to anyone who grew up in the 70s, 80s or even the early 90s. I have always been a Muppet fan, whether they’re on the Muppet Show or one of the movies I watched during my childhood. Heck, I even watched the Muppet Babies cartoon (and wondered why Scooter’s twin sis, Skeeter, was never actually made into a real live Muppet, and just what exactly was above Nanny’s striped stockings?), so it comes as no surprise that I was among the first in line to see to check out the newest in Muppet offerings (along with Ash, our dear friend Meems and her Mom).

The project was spear-headed by my new favorite leading man, Jason Segel (who I now want to be friends with… so Jason if you are reading this we should become friends! I promise that I’m not a freaky stalker… just a nerd who enjoys old buildings, Muppets, and travel). The best part of the whole thing? The movie was about Preservation! Oh man, can you imagine my geeky pleasure when I came to find that out? The Muppets reunites the whole brightly-colored gang to save their theater from an evil oil baron bent on claiming the black gold beneath the Muppets’ property? Now I don’t want to spoil this great film for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but I DID want to tell you all to go out an see it soon! Not only is it good for Preservation, but it is good for the kid in all of us.

Enjoy the show.

-Etta

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Happy Halloween readers! What is it about this holiday that makes us think of haunted mansions and abandoned homes looming on darkened television screens in commercials for Halloween stores and in made for TV movies? Is it the fact that we LIKE to be scared? After all fear releases endorphins… Or is it that as Preservationists, we love how these big “creepy” mansions  are celebrated, if sometimes for their run-down appearance, because we always see the potential and history in these homes?

It is practically a fact that haunted houses must be Second Empire in style. If you want proof, look no further than the home of the Addams family, this inflatable haunted house for your front lawn, or one of my personal favorites (and way high up there in nostalgia and cheese factor) the house from the 1980s Disney TV movie, Mr. Boogedy, or for even more of a treat, check out the “Haunted Dollhouse” that the ever amusing Bloggess has been cooking up.    By the way, the Addams family photos came from a great little site called Hooked on Houses, which you should definitely check out.

Now, this isn’t to say every haunted, or creepy house has to be  Second Empire. Take the eclectic mix of Octagon, Gothic Revival and Second Empire that makes up the Munster’s abode , or the Institutional Gothic pile from American Horror Story.  (Is anyone else obsessed with that show like me?… I love it so much, but it’s so messed up that I feel I may have been born in the wrong era… if I lived back when Queen Victoria reigned I’d probably have taken photos of all my dead relatives and made their hair into wreaths, lockets and pins.) Photos below from tvclassichits.com and iamnostalker.com

So, aside from Hollywood’s choices for iconic ‘haunted’ houses, why is it that these (to use the real estate parlance) “Victorian” homes are what we think of when we think of the macabre, ghoulish and downright creepy, and not, say, a nice mid-century ranch or cape? Death can happen in a new house just as easily as an old one. Is it the scale and massing of these houses, making the visitor feel like a doll in some giant’s dollhouse? The possibility for secret passages and rooms behind book cases, where unspeakable horrors can hide? Is it the fact that they have seen more life and seem to hold onto memories of past occupants? If you want my opinion, I think that it is all of those things, plus the fact that grand old houses with spacious drawing rooms, upper stories that go on forever and vast basements make perfect funeral homes, and that whenever you see one of these funeral homes (and you know just by looking at one that it is a funeral home) the seed of fear of death and dying way down deep in your subconscious nags at you.  Just like holding your breath when you drive by a cemetery or being afraid that if you die in your dream, then you will die soon in real life.

So whatever your plans tonight, whether they involve a ghost hunt at a haunted mansion, or staying home to dole out candy to the little goblins at the door, if you have a fright-flick marathon (like the American Horror Story marathon on FX staring at 10), make sure to really examine those big, creepy old houses, because under the chipped paint and “beware” sign there is very often an architectural gem… and maybe a ghost or two as well.

Happy Halloween!

-Etta

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Happy Friday everyone! Today’s post is from the Philadelphia leg of the recent trip Ash and I took.   While we were there, we visited West Fairmount Park, and Shofuso specifically.  Shofuso, which translates to “pine breeze villa”, is a 17th century style traditional shoin-zukuri home commissioned in 1953 for the Museum of Modern Art in New York, designed by the Japanese Modern architect (yes big M in Modern folks, as it was the style he worked in) Yoshimura Junzo (I put his name in Japanese order because I felt it was only right). The house design was based on two Buddhist guest houses in Kyoto.   The frame of the house was assembled in Nagoya in 1953, and was then disassembled and shipped to NYC, where it was reassembled in the courtyard at the MoMA.  The home was on display from 1954-1956 and was placed in storage in New Jersey until a permanent home could be found for it.  The house ended up in West Fairmount Park in 1958, on a site with connections to Japan stretching back to 1876, when there was a “Japanese bazaar” and gardens installed for the US centennial celebration.

Following a period of budget troubles for the City when the house was closed to the public, it was rehabilitated for the 1976 bicentennial and opened to the public once more. In 1982, the Friends of the Japanese House and Garden was founded to manage and maintain the site.  It is a non-profit group, set-up with a public/private funding structure between the city of Philadelphia and donations from the public dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the house and grounds.

The house itself is constructed in a traditional manner, built with a frame entirely made from wood with mortise and tenon joinery held together by bamboo pegs. It is built out of Japanese cypress, called Hinoki . Hinoki is a protected species of tree which makes up somewhere around 90-95% of the lumber within the house, including the verandas, support beams, and most interior ceilings. About 1 ton of hinoki bark makes up the roof, held together with bamboo pins and layered up to the terra nigra ridge tiles on top of queenpost-supported roof frame. This style of construction allows the roofs to act as an air-foil, reflecting the wind rather than providing resistance, which allows the house to weather storms better than most Western architecture. Interestingly, only about 100 craftsmen are alive in the world today who have learned how to build a layered hinoki bark roof, and many of them learned the skill while replacing roofs at buildings associated with temples in Japan. The photo below is a profile view of the finished roof, which  gives you an idea of exactly how thick it is.

Below is a photo of a boss that covers one of the bamboo pegs used in construction. Each peg set into a joint along the length of the wrap-around veranda is covered with a boss.  Normally this boss would have depicted the family crest of the family who lived in the home, or a flower with eight petals at a Buddhist temple.  Since this home wasn’t built for a family or a Buddhist temple, it is a flower blossom with six petals instead.

The floors in the house are covered with traditional tatami mats, woven of rush over a core of rice straw.  These mats are twice as long as they are wide, and each mat was traditionally considered to be the minimum space required for one person to live.

This guest room has a lot of interesting features. Notice the shoji screens that act as walls. Shoji screens are often thought to be made of rice paper, but that is in fact a common misconception. They are actually made of mulberry paper, and the term ‘rice paper’ in English either came from the fact that the paper was used to make containers to carry rice, or from its pale white color.  Shoji screens function much like pocket doors and act as both the interior and exterior walls of the house.  They are used to admit light and airflow without sacrificing privacy.  Sliding hinoki shutters can be closed in front of the shoji screens on the outside of the house, and these afford the house more protection from the elements. The low shelf boasting the flowers is actually one of the most important features of the room. It is a writing desk called a Shoin which is built into the wall. This desk is a very important status symbol for the owner of a house like this, as it serves as proof that the family are members of the educated elite.  It is so important that it actually lends its name to the room (shoin no ma) and the style of architecture (shoin-zukuri) of the house.

Another interesting feature of the rooms in Shofuso are the Fusuma, which are interior screens seen here. they too are made out of  the same mulberry paper as the shoji, only with many more layers, all layered over a central wooden frame. The layering allows the screen some moisture control, absorbing and releasing moisture depending on ambient humidity. These particular fusuma are not original to the house but instead date to Senju Hiroshi’s (again, named in traditional order) visit to the house in 1999. Senju is a famous contemporary artist, who came to the house looking for ideas for his next series of paintings.  His original thought was that his painting would be of trees in nature, but he came to feel that they were too static, instead taking inspiration from Shofuso’s waterfalls (seen below).  He painted 20 fusuma screens between 1999 and 2006 using acrylic paints.  The brown background color was made specifically for Shofuso, and the white was done on an incline to achieve the natural flowing effect of the waterfalls.  The screens were installed in 2007.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this insight into Japanese architecture and can visit Shofuso for yourself when it opens again in April. It truly is one of the most beautiful, tranquil places I have had the pleasure of visiting. A HUGE thanks is owed to our friends CJ and Brian. CJ for suggesting the visit and letting us use her camera and Brian for his invaluable knowledge on the house and Japanese culture, and for the great tour he gave us, as well as the vocabulary tutorial and timeline he provided me with. Any mistakes that appear are of my own lack of understanding and not his fault, as his knowledge of Japanese studies is staggering and has been an amazing asset. Also, thanks to Derek, Shofuso’s site and program manager for being so welcoming!

Make sure you come back next week for our special Halloween post! Have a great weekend!

-Etta

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