The Freestyle dominates the Fan – UPDATE

What makes our row on South Cathedral Place isn’t just the history of who built it and who lived there, but the style.  The row combines the best of the Modern French, Queen Anne and Italianate into it’s own cohesive Freestyle cluster.  The Freestyle became a pattern in itself in many instances in the Fan. Even prominent defining elements of passe architectural styles, such as the Mansard roof, were prominently incorporated into desirable house patterns through the early 1900s. Here is the excerpt from my paper on this topic:

Try summoning the Spirit of Styles Past at Shafer’s row, and we are inundated with a profusion of exotic flavors and motifs.  Is this a mishmash or an intentional blend?  The leading handbook for understanding American architecture, A Field Guide To American Houses, is helpful in instances of stylistic cohesion, but it doesn’t do us any good in identifying the fusion happening here. The Spirit of Styles Past will show us that in Richmond’s Fan District, from the late 19th century through well into the 20th century, production builders followed a new industry model of deliberate blending of style to fashion a “cohesive contradiction” in middle class house patterns.

Arguably the most prominent feature of the row is the Modern French or Second Empire mansard roofline, housing a third story on the front portion of the dwellings, a technique ideal for urban town house designs.  But, is it a surprise to see this element applied in 1889 Richmond? A Field Guide to American Houses identifies the span of popularity of this style from 1860-1880, “with late examples not uncommon in the 1880s.”[1] But here we are pushing 1890, with the replication of this element far from being finished in the Fan District of Richmond.  A near duplication of the mansard-roofed row was executed in 1895 Continue reading “The Freestyle dominates the Fan – UPDATE”

Another week over too soon: Update

The week of October 12 came and went so quickly I again didn’t get everything on my list crossed off for this project or my “real” job.  No surprise, it seems to be the pattern these days.  The following details, though, I am happy to report:

VCU Facilities Management has electronic versions of “rough” plans for the row, and has been so kind to share their files.  This will be a great addition to the project.

More importantly, Dr. Brownell and I have identified an early ancestor to the porches, found in Victorian Architecture: Two Pattern Books by A.J. Bicknell & William T. Comstock.  This book reprints the 1873 edition of Bicknell’s plans with 75 plates and Comstock’s 1881 edition with 80 plates.  A close cousin to almost every element of the porches are shown across these two books, including the “teeth” – as we were calling them – below the frieze, and as Dr. Brownell realized perhaps are actually a simplified version of lambrequins, as these plates seem to make more clear.

This presence points towards an elaboration of the Italianate element that derives from antiquated Venetian awnings, and promoted by A.J. Downing in his 1842 Victorian Cottage Residences, highlighted on page 116, and his 1850 Architecture of Country Houses, on page 316.

In reviewing all of these findings related to the ancestory of the porch design, we really began asking ourselves “Who designed this?”  If appears to be someone who has the ability to arrange forms effectively but doesn’t necessarily Continue reading “Another week over too soon: Update”