Tag Archives: Architecture

The Snow Castle

We haven’t had many snowstorms this winter, but two nights ago about a foot of snow dropped onto the streets of Salem. My first thoughts when I woke up were: how much snow did we get (and) should I run down the street and take a picture of the snow house? Classes had been cancelled the night before, so that was no concern of mine. I saw that we had quite a bit of snow, so of course I thought of the Wheatland/Pickering/Phillips house, a Classical Revival confection that I always think of as the “snow house” or the “snow castle” as it looks so beautiful when its exuberant trim is frosted with snow. I adore this house in every season, but especially in the winter. It really is my first thought when I wake up on a snowy morning.

Snow Castle 3

Snow Castle 2

Snow Castle

It was quite warm yesterday morning, and so the snow had already started to melt by the time I made it down the street (as a snow day meant an extra cup of coffee) so here are some “freshly frosted” views from a few years back, when the blue sky afforded more contrast and shadow.

Snow Castle 2011

WHite Castle 2014

My Snow Castle, which I guess we should call the Wheatland-Phillips House after its original and present owners, was designed by Salem native John Prentiss Benson (1865-1947), a brother of the well-known American Impressionist Frank Benson who became an esteemed artist himself after his retirement from architecture. I don’t possess the architectural vocabulary to describe this house so I’ll use the words of Bryant Tolles from Architecture in Salem: “a spectacular, flamboyant example of the Colonial Revival style……[in which] the architect employed a variety of Colonial Revival idioms, including the ornate cornice (with dentils and pendants in relief), the wide fluted Corinthian pilasters (reminiscent of the work of McIntire, the flat window caps, the second-story Palladian window with miniature pilasters, the broad doorway with semi-elliptical fanlight, and the overly large flat-roofed porch with Corinthian columns” in a “innovative, almost whimsical manner”. Tolles concludes that “the house gives the impression of being an original late 18th century building” even though it is in fact one of the newest houses on Chestnut Street, constructed in 1896 for Ann Maria Wheatland, the widow of Stephen Wheatland, who served as the Mayor of Salem during the Civil War. I’m not sure why Mrs. Wheatland desired such a large house, but she lived in it until her death in 1927. Despite its mass, the house has always seemed whimsical to me, and also timeless, and its allure is no doubt enhanced by its stillness as I don’t think anyone has lived there during the whole time I’ve lived on Chestnut Street. I have to resist trespassing every time I walk by this house, in every season: in summer I see myself having a gin & tonic on its left-side (deck? seems to mundane a word) and I would love to see if there is a veranda out back. I do resist, so I don’t know.

Snow Castle 1940 HABSThe House in 1940; HABS, Library of Congress.

By many accounts, John Prentiss Benson wanted to be an artist from early on, but as that trail was blazed by his brother Frank, he settled for architecture. Nevertheless, he seems to have had a successful career, with a New York City practice and several partnerships. He lived for several years in Plainfield, New Jersey where there are several John P. Benson houses: there was a tour devoted to them in 1997 titled the “Mansions of May”. None of these houses—or that designed for his other brother Henry on Hamilton Street in Salem—seems to bear any resemblance to the Wheatland-Phillips House: it’s as if he just let loose with wild abandon. Perhaps Mrs. Wheatland gave him carte blanche, or very strict instructions. Or maybe he was influenced by memories of the Benson family home on Salem Common: an exuberant Second Empire structure that was situated on what is now the parking lot of the Hawthorne Hotel.

Snow Castle Jersey Houses

Snow Castle Portsmouth Benson Family Home

Snow House WillowbankOther Benson houses, including his own, top right; the Benson family home on Salem Common and Willowbank in Kittery Point, Portsmouth Athenaeum.

After his retirement from architecture in the 1920s, Benson moved to a waterside estate in Kittery Point, Maine named Willowbank and began painting full-time until his death in 1947: he was prolific, and consequently his identity is more that of a maritime artist than an architect at present. The Portsmouth Athenaeum has his papers, and has digitized many photographs of his life and work at Willowbank, which also happens to be the birthplace of the 6th Countess of Carnarvon, Ann Catherine Tredick Wendell, who became mistress of Highclere Castle in 1922. And thus we have a very distant and indirect connection, through John Prentiss Benson, between the Snow Castle and Downton Abbey!

Snow Castle Collage

Benson Galleon Vose Galleries

Galleon, 1923 by John Prentiss Benson @Vose Galleries: I love galleons, and I’m using this one to sign off for a while as I’m off to Portugal on spring break! I’ll be back with many pictures of azulejos, no doubt.


“Salem” Houses, 20th-century Style

There are two deep rabbit holes around which I must tread very, very carefully, or hours will be lost instantly: the Biodiversity Heritage and Building Technology Heritage digital libraries housed at the Internet Archive. One leads me through a never-ending cascade of flora and fauna; the other through the built environment–or prospective built environment, I should say, as many of its sources are building plans and catalogs. Just yesterday, when it started to snow and afternoon classes were cancelled, I thought to myself, let me just pop in there and see if I can find some inspiration for interior shutter knobs, and hours later I emerged with no knobs but lots of images of “Salem houses” instead. So here they are in chronological order: you will no doubt conclude, as I did, that “Salem” style loses its meaning over the twentieth century: the last house is from 1963, and it is difficult to see how it was inspired by Salem. Well, now that I’m looking at them altogether, it’s difficult to see how Salem was inspirational at all, except perhaps for a brief spell in the 1930s. House parts stick to their Salem inspiration, as there are plenty of mid-century “colonial” mantels, doors, and windows inspired by the craftsmen of “Old Salem”, but houses seem to break free of any connection to classical Salem influences: just look at the 1949 “Sam’l McIntire”! The concept of Salem seems to retain some currency throughout the century, but what it really means in terms of design or construction is anyone’s guess.

 

Salem Houses Herbert C. Chivers 1903 (2)

Salem Houses Aladdin 1915

Salem Houses 1915 collage

Salem Houses 1929 PicMonkey Image

Salem Houses 1933 PicMonkey Image

Salem Colonial 1933

Salem Houses 1936 Sears

Salem Houses Sears 2

Sam McIntire 1949

Salem Houses 1954

Salem Houses Collier-Barnett Co._0029 1963

“Salem Cottage” from St. Louis architect Herbert Chivers’ Artistic Homes, 1903; Aladdin Houses, 1915; the first “Readi-cut” Salem model, 1915; a “bungalow with the pleasing lines of the Colonial type” in The Book of 100 Homes, 1929; the reproduction “Pequot House” was included in the Ladies Home Journal House Pattern Catalogue of 1933, the same year that “a Salem Colonial” was published in Samuel Glaser’s Designs for 60 small homes from $2,000 to $10,000 : showing how to build, buy and finance a small home; two Sears “Salem” houses from 1936 and 1940; The “Sam’l McIntire” from the Warm Morning Small Homes plan book for 1949; Bennett Homes, 1954; a Salem “rambler” from There’s a Miles Home in your Future” book from the Collier-Barnett Co., 1963.


Enquiries and Enslavement

I’m in the process of teaching myself how to create digital maps with layers of history so I can visualize different times, places, events and environments. Such maps are a great teaching tool, and I also think it would be a great way to put all of the discoveries I’ve made while blogging into a more compact form. “Spatial history” is a very big trend in historical interpretation and the digital humanities, but it’s going to take me quite some time to reach this level of presentation. I thought I’d start small with a series of maps of Salem with one layer each: how many first period houses survived in say, 1890, houses of notable women of Salem from different periods, and houses (or locations) where enslaved people lived and worked before the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts in 1783. I decided to start with the latter topic because I thought it would be manageable, but it is not: there were far more enslaved people in colonial Salem than I thought—but this makes it all the more important that we place them.

Slave Adverts White Collage

I’m still working on my “data set”, having searched through newspapers (for both “for sale” and “runaway” advertisement, vital statistics, and the amazing 1754 census at the Phillips Library in ROWLEY (yes, I’ve been there; I will report later). The latter breaks down Salem’s residents into five categories: “rateable”, males under 16, females, widows, and negroes, and according to its survey, there were 3462 people in Salem in 1754, of which 123 were African-Americans. The word “slave” is never used; only servant. There are discrepancies between this survey, the advertisements, and the vital statistics, so I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to come up with an absolutely accurate number: this might have to evolve into a collective or crowd-sourced project. I’ve identified some of the larger slave-owning families though: an analysis of their papers (most are also in the Phillips) would undoubtedly reveal more information

Slave Adverts Punchard

Slave Adverts June 13 1769 Essex Gazette

Slavery 1 collage

Slave Adverts Oct 29 1771All Essex Gazette

Enquire of the PrinterRunaway slave advertisements are very detailed; for sale notices less so. It’s almost as if people don’t want to give their names out, with some notable exceptions, like Captain David Britton, who was definitely more than personally invested in this trade. The map will require me to place the enslavers and the enslaved, but I don’t have much information on Britton: all I’ve found so far is a reference in Phyllis Whitman Hunter’s Purchasing Identity in the Atlantic World. Massachusetts Merchants, 1670-1780 to his membership in a Salem club called “The Civil Society” which met at a local inn on Tuesdays and Fridays ” for friendship and conversation”. There were club rules against cursing and unrefined behavior, but apparently not against slave-trading.

Slave Adverts Boston Evening Post July 24 1738

Slave Adverts Pompey and Horse

Slavery Waite

Slave Adverts PhelpsBoston Evening Post and Essex Gazette

Once you start researching this topic, it shapes how you look at your environment. I’m sure people in the South are used to this, but not people in New England. There were enslaved people in the House of the Seven Gables, and the very wealthy merchant Aaron Waite, whose long partnership with Jerathmiel Pierce has inspired the naming of Salem Maritime’s gift shop, enslaved at least one person, named Pompey. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s great-grandfather Jonathan Phelps, let out both his blacksmith shop and his “excellent workman” in 1773. Several enslaved men were compelled to work for their master Samuel Barnard in the Ropes Mansion, and he also loaned them out to his nephew way out in Deerfield. Richard Derby owned at least one slave, as did William Browne, Jonathan Clarke, Daniel King, Edward Kitchen, Josiah Orne, William Pynchon, and Bezaleel Toppan, and many more residents of mid-eighteenth-century Salem, both wealthy merchants and less conspicuous craftsmen. The fabulously wealthy Samuel Gardner (1712-1769), whose house was located on the corner of Essex and Crombie Streets and whose many possessions are easy to find in auction archives and museum collections, listed several enslaved men among his possessions in his will: he left his “Negro boy Titus, as a servant for life” to his “beloved wife Elizabeth”, but freed a man named Isaac, adding the provision that if Isaac was “unable to support himself, that he be supported by my sons George, Weld, and Henry, in equal shares…..so as to free the Town of Salem from any charge”.

Slavery Ropes

Samuel Gardner's Sugar Box.Samuel Gardner’s sugar box, collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


Blank Buildings

Periods and events of the past are generally identified after they are over: history is about remembrance, and imposing order and meaning on what has happened. There’s no better way to convey this essential point than to reference wars: obviously people in the midst of the Hundred Years’ War, the Thirty Years’ War, and the Seven Years’ War had no sense that these were the historic events in which they were participating or enduring! Often historical and cultural eras overlap, and that means that styles are identified well after their expression: medieval, colonial, Victorian. But there are also cultural descriptions detached from precise historical periods: Gothic and Palladian come to mind but I suppose any “revival” style could fall into this category. This long preamble is just my mind wondering how people of the future will categorize Salem’s current architectural style: in a city long identified by its architecture, how will the buildings of the early 21st century be branded? I think we are turning a corner with the latest downtown building slated for construction—a condominium development on the site of the District Courthouse on Washington Street–but I’m not sure where this turn will take us.

Blank Architecture 1 Coming Soon on Washington Street via Building Salem.

The style–or perhaps I should say form–of this rendering is familiar: similar buildings have been built in the last decade on Federal and Lafayette Streets. But what is it? I am architecturally naive, but it looks like a Prairie-esque type design on steroids, shorn of craftsmanship and charm. I’ve often heard Frank Lloyd Wright characterized as the most influential architect of the last century, both for better and for worse. All I see when I look at these buildings are the shallow or flat roofs with their overhanging eaves, sometimes slanted and sometimes straight, and their bulk. They look vaguely Italianate, vaguely “Mediterranean”, vaguely Prairie, and like they could belong anywhere and everywhere, and as more of them are built in Salem, Salem becomes less and less Salem-esque.

Blank Architecture 2

Blank Architecture 3

Blank Architecture 6

Blank Architecture 5Ten Federal and 135 Lafayette; I think this “style” started with the Ruane Judicial Center nearly a decade ago, on the far right: it is very bulky with a conspicuous overhang. The panorama of courthouses on Federal Street makes quite a statement!

My title is a double entendre: I really don’t know what this architectural style is called or what architectural era we are in so I am inviting readers to fill in the blank______, but I also think that this architecture is blank: empty, soulless, devoid of any connection to its surroundings. We could do so much better; inspiration is all around us. A building in Lynn caught my eye just as I was driving back from the airport this morning: it features some of the very details that characterize these stark buildings in Salem but is clearly a composition rather than just a composite. It has texture, ornamentation, depth, craftsmanship: its builders were obviously proud to cast their mark on it, and mark its time, as it was built to last.

Blank Architecture 7

Blank Architecture 8The Loraine Apartment Building in Lynn’s Diamond District, designed by architect Samuel Rogers.


Wooden Houses on Beacon Hill

I had two appointments in Boston yesterday, but I parked my car in a spot that was rather inconvenient to both just so I could go over the hill: Beacon Hill, one of the few neighborhoods in which all the variant architectural styles of the nineteenth century coalesce into a completely harmonious quarter. Victorian exuberance was definitely restrained–to rooflines for the most part–for the greater good, and the Federal and Greek Revival aesthetic appears to have lingered and evolved rather seamlessly into the Colonial Revival. Brick is it on Beacon Hill, so it’s the wooden houses that really stand out: I snapped a few on my way over the hill to one appointment and back to another, but I was a bit pressed for time so I certainly didn’t capture them all. I always stop at one of my favorite Beacon Hill houses, which is also the oldest house in the neighborhood: the George Middleton House at 5 Pinckney Street, built in 1786-87. Distinguished by his service in the American Revolution as well as his roles as founder of the African Benevolent Society and Grand Master of the Prince Hall African Lodge of Freemasons, George Middleton is an important figure in Boston’s African-American history, just as Beacon Hill is an important locale: the Black Heritage Trail links his house to other important historical sites such as the African Meeting House and the Abiel Smith School. The Middleton house and One Pinckney Street, just two doors down, form a perfect little corner of Beacon Hill’s earliest built history on its North Slope.

beacon hill 5

beacon hill 5a

beacon hill 5b

beacon hill middleton house hneHistoric New England

Even though wooden houses are few and far in between on Beacon Hill, there are quite a few houses in which one or more part is clapboarded: a front facade or a side wall, or some “dependent” part. My favorite example of this is the amazing John Callender House on the corner of Walnut and Mount Vernon Streets, built in 1802 as a “small house for little money” according to Allen Chamberlain’s Beacon Hill: its Ancient Pastures and Early Mansions (1925—a really great book) and the long-term home of Atlantic Monthly editor Ellery Sedgwick a century later: every source refers to its conspicuous “boarding” along Mount Vernon Street as unusual for Beacon Hill. And then there are those bay windows made of wood, some very conspicuous and not quite so-understated: Beacon Hill was home to a vibrant artistic community in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and some homeowners obviously wanted to bust out a bit.

beacon hill 6

beacon hill 6a

beacon hill 4

beacon hill 7

beacon hill walnut collage

beacon hill leon abdalian 1920s bpl

beacon hill collage 14 Walnut Street historic photographs from Historic New England, Allen Chamberlain’s Beacon Hill, MACRIS, the City of Boston’s Archives, and the Boston Public Library.


I Miss the Assembly House

I miss the Assembly House, a Georgian structure on Federal Street built as an assembly house in 1782 and transformed by Samuel McIntire into a more elaborate residence in the next decade: its proper name is the Cotting-Smith Assembly House (although it was charmingly called the “old Assembly House” after Hamilton Hall was built in 1805) and it was donated to the Essex Institute in 1965, the last building to be added to the Institute’s collection of historic houses, I believe. Of course the house still exists–I can see it at any time–but it has changed from when I first knew it: it has lost all of its trees–and its life. It is still, dark, and stark. It’s a shadow of its former self, or a ghost.

assembly house

assembly house 1926

assembly house howell-painting-1920-assembly-house mfa

assembly house cornell 8c73ca74-4027-453e-be51-e31e2437d593_size4

assembly house drawing hne bestThe Cotting-Smith Assembly House yesterday afternoon and in 1926, 1920 (in a painting by Felicie Ward Howell, collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), c. 1910 (Cornell) and an undated drawing (Historic New England).

I know, houses are not sentient beings as friends and family often tell me. But the Assembly House looks sad and it makes me sad to look at it, as I remember many happy times there in the 1990s, both before and after the Essex Institute and its houses were absorbed into the Peabody Essex Museum. I remember: teas, two baby showers, several anniversary dinners, a graduation party, a cooking class (???), coffees for candidates for local office—it seemed as if we were in there quite a lot! I remember feeling that the house was rather homey, despite its elegant interior details. I remember sitting on the back stairs talking to two friends who are no longer alive. I remember being wowed by the front staircase—with its second-floor landing and pedimented door—every time I saw it. But all these memories are from a long time ago, at least 20 years. I miss all of the Essex Institute/PEM houses, with the exception of the Ropes Mansion which was restored and reopened a few years ago. (Actually what I really miss is the Essex Institute, but that statement will always produce eye-rolls among those who believe that the Peabody Essex Museum rescued both the Institute and the Peabody Museum. This may be true–but it’s hard not to notice those dark stretches of Essex—and Federal—Streets).

assembly house hne

assembly house stairwell

assembly house hne 3

assembly house la sunday times aug 8 1926assembly house bg 1963

assembly house bg 1985Photographs of the Cotting-Smith Assembly House interior, Historic New England; Los Angeles Time, 1926; Boston Globe, 1963 and 1985.

The house where Lafayette danced in 1784 and Washington dined in 1789 and Susan Coolidge (above) came out and many other people celebrated weddings, anniversaries, and simply lived their lives was “restored, refurbished, and remembered” according to the 1985 story in the Boston Globe above but seems largely forgotten these days. It was celebrated across the country in 1926 as Salem marked its 300th anniversary, but seems likely to be overlooked as the city marks its 400th.


Reaching for McIntire

There might be a bit of fiction, or historical reach, in the narrative part of this post, but really it’s just an opportunity to show you some pictures of a newly-restored McIntire house which is available for RENT. The Butman-Waters House at 14 Cambridge Street, built in 1806-1807 by Samuel McIntire for Salem merchant (tailor, merchant, captain, colonel?) Thomas Butman, has been beautifully restored under the direction of one of Salem’s foremost residential architects, Helen Sides, and is available for rent immediately: it’s refreshed and ready and stunning, as you can see from these photographs. It features the most beautiful serpentine stairway I have ever seen.

mcintire first

mcintire re

mcintire re 2

mcintire staris re

mcintire 2

mcintire mantle detail

I told you, but you need to see more. The first, next-to-last, and last photographs are mine; while those in the middle are from the listing: which is here. The photographs speak for themselves but probably don’t convey what I can only call the humanistic proportions of the house: some architectural histories refer to the Butman-Waters house as “simple” and maybe that word is appropriate when comparing it with other McIntire houses, but it is “simply” elegant. The details make it so, but also the scale—and that staircase.

mcintire mantle re

mcintire mantle 2

mcintire detail collage

mcintire 11

mcintire second floor

mcintire third floor collage 1

mcintire 3rd view

mcintire stairThat staircase!

Every house has a story so here comes the semi-creative part, because Thomas Butman is a hard man to pin down. He was born in New Orleans, and he died in New Orleans, in the yellow fever epidemic of 1819-20, only 45 years old, along with the son and daughter from his first marriage. From at least 1803 until his death, he was in Salem. His second marriage, to Nancy Gedney Clarke, who was descended from two old Salem families, had occurred only three years before his death, and she and their infant son survived the yellow fever—actually I can’t determine whether they were even in New Orleans. Nancy and Thomas were married just two years when the beautiful house he had commissioned from Samuel McIntire a decade before had to be sold at public auction: when I patched together the succession of commercial notices Butman placed in the Salem newspapers from 1814-1818 it is clear that he was struggling, changing partners and storefront locations frequently. At first he is a tailor, and then a merchant: it’s hard to see how he could have afforded 14 Cambridge Street in the first place unless his first wife was very rich, and she’s even more mysterious than he is. Occasionally he is referred to as “Captain”, but “Colonel” or “Major” are his designations after 1811, when he and John G. Waters were named majors of the Salem Regiment which was preparing for what would eventually be called the War of 1812. Waters would eventually purchase 14 Cambridge Street: I like to imagine a kind of “band of brothers” bond which inspired to him to rescue Butman from financial distress but in reality the house was sold at public auction in 1818 and had a series of short-term owners before Waters acquired it in 1834. But it appears that while Butman was reaching for the life of a rich Salem merchant, Waters achieved it, primarily through the Zanzibar trade which reinvigorated the Salem economy in the middle of the nineteenth century. When Waters made news, it is about exotic cargos, including the two Arabian horses he brought to Salem, along with their “Arab handler”. The Waters family retained possession of 14 Cambridge Street all the way until 1962, when it was purchased by the Salem architect James Ballou and his wife Phyllis, and it remained in the Ballou family until just last year.

butman collage

14 cambridge collage1818 & 1912

And a few more views of the staircase, about which I learned an interesting fact from my friend Michael Selbst, the realtor: apparently it was reinforced by Mr. Ballou with the addition of iron rails every 10th spindle–you can see the brace if you look closely. What a great idea!

staircase

staircase 3

staircase 2

14 Cambridge Street, the Butman-Rogers House: rental listing here.


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