"Wherever it had been found necessary to erect large secular edifices, they have either been entirely destitute of ornament, and belonging to no order of architecture, or slightly adorned with Grecian cornices and pilasters. Instances of this architecture appear all over the country; but we do not recollect any that are more illustrative of what we mean, than most of the College buildings at Cambridge, New England. We would cite these as very perfect specimens of no known order of architecture; vast brick barns, destitute alike of symmetry, ornament, and taste; and with all their plain and uncouth proportions, there is a sort of horrible regularity and squareness about them , which heightens their deformity. Four of these edicfces are guiltless of any attempt at elegance of architecture, and, making no pretensions. perhaps hardly deserve to be noticed. But what shall we say of the stone edifice, which insults us with its long piazza, and its wooden Ionic pilasters, and the entablature which extends part way across the front? The proportions of this wonderful building are about one hundred feet by forty or fifty; at the ends, it is three stories high, with basement rooms; the sides are partly two stories and partly three stories high, the great expanse of wall being somewhat relieved by the pilasters and entablature. The chef d'oeuvre of the whole building, however, is the piazza or portico, which runs along part of the western side or front. it is approached by a lofty flight of stone steps guarded by an iron balustrade; nine columns, from twelve to fifteen feet high, each a single block of granite, and surmounted by a Tuscan capital of soap-stone, are ranged along the front of the piazza, and support a flat roof eight inches thick, and so light and insignificant that is seems as if a breath of wind would blow it away. We doubt whether the world contains any other architectural abortion, to be compared to this."
But what really caught my eye in the statement above was this: "We would cite these as very perfect specimens of no known order of
architecture; vast brick barns, destitute alike of symmetry, ornament,
and taste; and with all their plain and uncouth proportions, there is a
sort of horrible regularity and squareness about them , which heightens
their deformity." It's as if those who criticize One Western Avenue today are channeling George Cleveland. Is One Western Avenue really that bad?
Acquired Tastes: 200 Years of Collecting for the Boston Athenaeum has opened for public viewing. On display will be numerous books, sculptures, paintings, and other items acquired by the Athenaeum over the years, many of which are rarely seen by the public. I haven't seen the show yet but will give an in depth report after I do. The Boston Athenaeum is located at 10 1/2 Beacon Street in downtown Boston, near Boston Common and the Statehouse. Admission is free and the exhibition is open Monday through Friday, 9-5:30, and on Saturday from 9-4. The exhibition will run through 13 July 2007.
I took the following pictures this morning at the James Blake House on Columbia Road in Dorchester. The Blake House is the oldest house in Boston and was constructed c. 1648. These provide a rare look into the construction methods used to build a 17th century house in the English west country style. You can see the renovation of an English house built between 1550 and 1630 here. It was built in West Sussex, which is not quite as far west as where the settlers of Dorchester came from. Still, the photos should give you some sense of how the Blake house was built.
Below is the west gable of the attic, showing the exposed 17th century wattle and daub. (Click all photos to enlarge)
And here is a close-up:
The wattle and daub was used to fill in spaces between framing timber and you can still see the 17th century plant material sticking out in places. What you can't see are the animal hairs, human, hair, and 17th century textile fragments which have also been found in it.
In this picture you can see a triangular cut in the roof sheathing, which is where an old gable window projected from the roof. The Blake House has undergone numerous alterations to bring it into line with current architectural fashions--this window was likely removed by 1800. When the Blake House was renovated and restored in 1896 after being moved about 1200 feet from its original site, some recycled wood found its way into the sheathing. Notice the wallpaper still attached to the board just under the window. The diamond pane windows are from the 1896 renovation which was done in an Arts and Crafts style. All of the leaded glass windows will be removed from the Blake House and restored. An important part of the current restoration plan is to preserve as much of the original fabric of the Blake House as possible. In cases where the original wood is badly deteriorated, new wood of the same species replaces rotted wood and epoxy is used to conserve and strengthen wood that is damaged. If this house had been built in England, the exterior would likely have looked like this picture, a classic half-timber look. The New England climate proved harsher however, which meant that the frame and wattle and daub had to be covered for durability and warmth.
From Dorchester Historical Society President Earl Taylor:
"The window of opportunity to see some spectacular 17th century framing and wattle and daub is here. Jerry Eide, preservation contractor for the restoration of the Blake
House, has removed all exterior shingles and sheathing, and unveiled
architectural details and signatures (literally in the form of historic
graffiti) on this 17th century “mansion.” Presently, the
framing is being consolidated, and before it is covered up for yet
another century, we invite you to take a look-see from the outside in."
I've been seeing a lot of searches recently about snowfall in Boston, including one a few minutes ago via boston.com from someone asking "why doesn't Boston have snow"? The person who visited my blog was surely disappointed by my lack of answers for that question. On the plus side, anyone who guessed low in the snow prediction contest is looking pretty good right about now.
This morning I watched workers use a crane to remove the capitals from the columns at the entrance to the Franklin Park Zoo. It is a sad end for an important piece of Boston's architectural history. You can see a picture of the columns here (scroll down) or read Zoo New England's press release.
Edgar Allan Poe Square, at the intersection of Broadway, Fayette, and Carver Street, Boston, 1928.
Today's City Weekly in the Boston Globe has a front page article on the lack of respect Edgar Allan Poe receives in his hometown of Boston. Bostonians obviously thought enough of Poe to name a square after him, near his birthplace--the 1928 map above shows the location. Part of the problem is that this part of Boston has been reconfigured--Carver Street has been lost, and Charles Street South has replaced it to make a straight line from Tremont Street to Charles Street. I believe what used to be the corner of Broadway and Fayette is still open space however, although no marker is in place. It would certainly be a simple matter to reinform the public of the historic name of this area of Bay Village.
Pinebank, the mansion on the banks of Jamaica Pond, will be razed within the next two weeks according to the Boston Globe. For an excellent description of the site and numerous photos visit this thread at Architectural Boston.