Tag Archives: Real Estate

Is Purity Possible?

Architectural purity, I mean: there’s no philosophical, spiritual or political rumination going on here. My house is such an assemblage of Federal, Greek Revival and eclectic Victorian styles that I often find myself craving architectural purity: it was “transitional” when it was built in 1827 and it became even more so as it was expanded and remodeled over the next century. A whole rear elbow ell of outbuildings was attached and then shorn off. Inside straightforward Federal mouldings were replaced with rounded Italianate ones; a simple staircase was replaced with one much more detailed and made of mahogany, and 1920s etched glass was inserted into the original doors. Even its “classic” exterior with flushboard facade was altered: with the customary bay window that pops out nearly everywhere in the later nineteenth century and an elaborate doorway below, and some curvy trim attached to the first-floor windows, now long disappeared. I like my house, but occasionally I think I might want to live in the perfect First Period house, the perfect Georgian house, or the perfect Greek Revival house. However, I’m just not sure any of these houses exist, and if they do, whether they are the products of recreation or preservation. More likely than either is the organic and utilitarian evolution that most houses experience which robs them of their untouched purity but enhances both their livability and their accessibility (and occasionally their charm).Arch Purity 1

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My house features a “progression” of nineteenth-century interior mouldings, but even the all-First Period William Murray House on Essex Street in Salem experienced some evolution. 

Two cases in point are some houses I am currently “realestalking”: another 1827 house which just came on the market in Salem, and a First Period house in Ipswich which I’ve had my eye on for a while. I’ve always admired the Samuel Roberts House on Winter Street, but it’s hardly “pure” with its modified entry, addition (s), and twentieth-century garage. Yet somehow it all works (I would probably sacrifice the garage for more garden, but I think those mid-century garages are protected). The Ipswich house was built in 1696 and expanded considerably in 1803; I imagine the window came a bit later.

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I am always thinking about the evolution of houses, but this particular thread started when I was researching yet another lost seventeenth-century Salem structure: the Benjamin Marston House, which was built in the later seventeenth century and demolished around 1870. Unfortunately it was not photographed before its demolition (to my knowledge, and I looked everywhere) but the ever-dependable Sidney Perley made a drawing for one of his Essex Antiquarian articles. Through his deed research, he was also able to trace the ownership of the house as well as its increasing size, and what emerges is an image of a true hybrid house, with a First-period back and a Federal front! I wish I could see this house, even in photographic form, and I imagine the streets of Salem were full of these composite structures in the nineteenth century. The Marston house was replaced with a more imposing structure that remains pretty “pure” today: the imposing Second Empire Balch-Putnam House, sometimes known as “Greymoor”.

Benjamin Marston House, Salem, Massachusetts

Salem Map 1851

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Sidney Perley’s c. 1900 illustration of the Benjamin Marston House; the location of the house (*) on Henry McIntire’s 1851 map of Salem, and the house on that site today.


Wired for “Effortless Living”

There is a well-maintained Colonial Revival house on Loring Avenue in South Salem for sale right now: it looks unassuming, but when it was built in 1924 it was famous, surpassing, very briefly, Salem’s other notable structures. This house was one of hundreds, maybe even thousands, of model “electrical homes” built across the country in the 1920s and 1930s, and people lined up outside to see just how bright their domestic futures were going to be.

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The Salem Electrical Home was actually one of the first “Modern Homes” in the Boston region, joined in the next decade by equally popular electrical homes in Needham, Reading, Jamaica Plain, Lynnfield and Marblehead. Lines were long everywhere, with the Boston Globe reporting that 150,000 people visited the Marblehead home in 1935: Women are largely attracted to the displays of electrical homes, although there is a good proportion of men among them. Kitchen appliances and the kitchen arrangement is as attractive to women as a mile of shop windows. The electrical kitchen preserves the food, cooks the meals, disp0ses of the garbage and attends to numerous of the household tasks. It really does seem to be all about the kitchen, which assumes the character of an autonomous entity, “saving” time, energy, and ultimately money (spent on all those servants no longer needed): there’s no mention of the increase in disposable income necessary to purchase all these miraculous gadgets, of course.

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Newspaper headlines about electrical homes around the country, 1920s; photographs of the Electrical Kitchen at the New York World’s Fair in 1939; Philip Atkinson’s Electricity for Everybody, 1911, New York Public Library Digital Collections.


Yellow Houses of Nahant

When I met my husband he was living in Nahant, a “land-tied island” (two actually) to the south, between Salem and Boston. It’s one of the smallest towns (if not the smallest) in Massachusetts, a single square mile in size with less than 4000 inhabitants. I spent quite a bit of time there while we were dating, and when we decided to get married there was a bit of a tussle which Salem (and I) won. I think this was the right decision for us as a couple, and certainly for his architectural practice, but I do wonder occasionally what our lives would be like if we decided to live in Nahant rather than Salem. And of course, I picked out all of my (our) potential residences during the time I spent there–something I do in pretty much every town in which I spend more than a few hours. The other day while I was driving by the causeway that leads out to “the island” I decided to revisit these houses. Nahant has some amazing coastal properties, but only one is on my list–all the others are on or just off the main road that runs through the center of the town. It was only when I returned home and looked at all the pictures that I realized all of my favorite Nahant houses are yellow.

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I always loved the Nahant Post Office…..below, “my” houses: the first one overlooks Egg Rock (which never seems to stay in the same place!) and is very difficult to photograph so you’re not really seeing its entirety or its details. The rest are easier to capture…even the long double Whitney house, once an inn and tavern, which is the oldest structure in Nahant. The last house–a Gothic Revival cottage near the library–is my very favorite: if my future husband had owned it we probably have wound up in Nahant!

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An Endicott House for Sale

There is no more venerable and ubiquitous name on the North Shore of Boston than Endicott, after John Ende(i)cott, the first (also 10th, 13th, 15th & 17th)  governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. There are Endicott streets, parks, schools, and many houses that have some sort of connection to this illustrious family, whose members married into other notable Massachusetts families to produce generations of ship captains, benefactors, and statesmen. A particularly passionate Puritan who famously desecrated the English flag because it bore the cross of St. George and persecuted Quakers and merrymakers with zealous intent, Endicott has been memorialized by Nathaniel Hawthorne as “the severest Puritan who laid the rock foundation of New England”. There are several houses in Salem still standing in which his eighteenth- and nineteenth-century descendants lived, and now one of them is for sale. Formally called the Smith-Crosby-Endicott house as it was built by Benjamin Smith and Captain Nicholas Crosby in 1788-89, 359 Essex Street was the home of Captain Samuel Endicott and his heirs for most of the nineteenth century. It’s a perfect Federal mansion, complete with a large Colonial Revival carriage house out back–way out back. I have long loved this house, and if I hadn’t just had a conversation with my husband about our need for a smaller house I might prod him to make a move. I don’t think we need eight bedrooms! I had always heard that this house had a ballroom but I don’t see one in the listing–well, I suppose we don’t really need one of those either.

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359 Essex Street Salem

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359 Essex Street in Salem today and in 1924 , from the Memoir of Samuel Endicott; William Allen Wall (1801-1885), Endicott and the Red Cross, 1851. New Bedford Whaling Museum: Gift of Flora B. Pierce, 1987.


Greek Revival Salem

I think I’ve covered just about every architectural style represented in Salem over the past few years: lots of variant Colonial houses, the very dominant Federal style, and many of the nineteenth-century styles, including Gothic Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne and Second Empire. But I haven’t featured many houses built in the so-called “National Style”:  Greek Revival, which dominated public and domestic architecture across the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. The very first house I lived in in Salem was assertively Greek Revival (built in the 1840s, the peak of the style) and my present house (built in 1827) should probably be classified as such too but it’s such a miss-mash it doesn’t really feel classical.  That’s a bit early for the Greek Revival in Salem, which held onto its Colonial and Federal styles longer, I think. For that reason, as well as the Great Salem Fire of 1914, it always seems like Salem has fewer Greek Revival structures than it should have: many of the public buildings, including the “new” City Hall, are Greek Revival, but you don’t find too many domestic structures as they would have been built in the “newer” neighborhoods along Lafayette Street, the center of the conflagration. Some of the most poignant “postcards from the Fire” show Greek Revival houses being devoured. Yet there are Greek Revival houses on nearly every street in the older sections of Salem too, signs of success in the mid-19th century city, no long a center of a global commerce, but still bustling. Two such houses, located on Winter Street, are now for sale, which prompted my long-overdue Greek Revival post.

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Walker Evans’ photograph of Salem City Hall, taken in the early 1930s when he visited Salem and shot only Greek and Gothic Revival structures–no Federal! (Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, more here) These were clearly his architectural preferences, and he captured similar structures wherever he went. Quite contrarily, Salem’s own Frank Cousins was quite condescending about the Greek Revival, probably because such structures replaced his beloved Colonial houses in downtown Salem. The now-mothballed Greek Revival courthouse on Federal Street.

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Bertram House Salem

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Winter Street Greek Revivals presently for sale:  The Captain John Bertram House at number 24, built in 1842-43 by Salem’s greatest philanthropist. The black & white MACRIS photo is from 1998 (An absolutely stunning house: check it out), and the Payson-Fettyplace House at number 16, built in 1845, which has been operating as an inn for some time. Below: more Salem Greek Revivals, by no means an exhaustive collection! A Greek Revival “cottage” on Northey Street, a recently-revived Greek Revival on Bridge, a row of Greek Revivals on Federal, a Greek Revival with many additions on Essex, and the stately Lee-Benson Mansion on Chestnut, all built in the 1840s.

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Trolley Barn Transformation

In a follow-up to a post from several months ago on the beginning of a really neat adaptive reuse project near Collins Cove in Salem, today I have photographs of the Victorian-era trolley barn that has been transformed–and reborn–as six sparkling residential units. This is a rare opportunity (in print, not in life!) for me to heap praise on my husband, who was the architect on the job, as well as his clients, who have a long and impressive record of effecting historic preservation through conversion in Salem.

Three Webster Street was built in 1887 as a trolley or “car barn” for the Lynn & Boston Electric Railway Company. Its two stories contained approximately 9,600 square feet of unfinished and open floor space, which has now been converted into six apartments, four “upside down” (with loft living space and kitchen above, and bedrooms below) and two flats. Because the building occupies nearly every inch of its lot–and there were existing bays–parking has been provided inside, which I think is both very appropriate and very neighborly! I’ve included a “before” photograph from my previous post so you can appreciate the transformation, which began with simple enclosure and construction–almost to the extent of building townhouses within the existing structure–and extended to the merger of integral industrial details with all the comforts of home.

Before: wide open spaces

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After: exterior, central hallway (with the building’s original ceiling tiles and sign along the walls), and apartments.

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Three Webster Street, Salem Massachusetts: captured just before moving day. All six residences are spoken for!


Georgians for Sale

I suppose it is time to stop obsessing about a now-roofless historic Salem house and redirect my attention to those with lovingly preserved roofs, in these cases, gambrel: all around me it seems as if Georgians are for sale. Here are three, two just around the corner from our house and one two streets over. The Salem real estate market seems very hot; I don’t expect them to last long. 40 Summer Street, which abuts our property in the back, was built in 1762 for one proverbial Salem ship captain, Thomas Eden. There are lots of great photographs of its interior in the listing, but if you want to see more, it is very prominently featured in one of my very favorite books, Samuel Chamberlain’s Salem Interiors (1950). When searching for photographs of the long-lost McIntire South Church which was situated across the street from my house, I found one which also included the Captain Eden House (then owned and occupied by the Browne family) in the Schlesinger Library at Harvard: this black and white photograph of Summer Street dates from the 1890s.

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Just a few doors down is 12 Broad Street, one of my very favorite houses in Salem. If I didn’t have a husband who wanted to go newer rather than older (why do architects always like boring bungalows?) then I would snap this house up myself. Its official plaque date is 1767 but I think that reflects a significant addition built on to a much older 17th century structure. The Neal House has seen a lot: World Wars, Civil War, Revolutionary War, French and Indian War, maybe even Witch Trials.

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105 Federal Street, on the other side of the McIntire Historic District, was built a bit after the Georgian colonial era but it certainly looks the part with its gambrel roof. It’s a charming little house, situated with its side to the street and with a sheltered courtyard garden out back. This house is now painted a very nice gray-green color, but for much of the nineteenth century it was known as the “red house”.

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