Special Presentation on Fan Architecture

Join The Fan District Association on Tuesday, February 9th at 6:30 p.m., at Fox School, for a special hour-long reprise of “The ‘Palladian Motif’ and Richmond’s Fan District,” two illustrated lectures on the surprising history of some beautiful Fan windows. These lectures were originally given as the opening session of VCU’s 17th Symposium on Architectural History last November. Charles Brownell, Professor of Art History at … Continue reading Special Presentation on Fan Architecture

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”

How Buildings Learn

During my tour of 819 South Cathedral Place with Mr. Harrow from the Virginia Baptist Mission Board, I learned that at the point that the dwellings were connected and under ownership of the Catholic Diocese, all the powering had been centralized and sourced from the basement of 819.  Mr. Harrow said that they were finalizing the separation of that along with physically disconnecting the unit from its neighbors.  This particular tidbit regarding the power went to the back of my mind until after I brought up a separate observation with Dr. Brownell about the 3rd floor dormers on this dwelling.  We know from a 1970s photo that there were no dormers at all on 819, and of course now, there are only two.

Recently while surveying the 819 roofline and cornice, it seemed strikingly obvious to me that something – dormers – used to be in the places where they appear on the other units, because there was a slight color differentiation of the slate tiles in just that area; they appeared less weathered.

Continue reading “How Buildings Learn”

The Basics

This is the very basic foundation of details known to me at this point on this handsome row of buildings.  They were constructed in 1889 and developed by prominent area resident, John C. Shafer, a close friend of Lewis Ginter.  They are modeled in the Second Empire style with striking mansard roofs.  In the 20th … Continue reading The Basics