Pages

Monday, April 23, 2007

The League Of Nations Freakshow Deluxe

Come on in, the sepulchre's fine.

Between the period from just before the Civil War up until the"Gay Nineties," there was a bunch of what are termed exotic revivals. They were lesser known than the other Romantic Revival house styles we mentioned earlier like Greek, Italianate, and Gothic, but they were even more odd and exuberant and weird and strange and fantastic. I call them the League Of Nations Freakshow Deluxe.

Egyptian had a little flurry. The front door on the business shown at the top of the page is in Philadelphia. The style was suited mostly to public buildings, and since most of the buildings it's patterned after were tombs and toys for Tuts, it has a strange sort of funereal vibe. It had a bit of reignited interest around WW2, as well, when many public building in America integrated the motifs. Here's a VA hospital in Marion, Illinois in the style. I'm sure you've seen some Post Offices that look like this too:
Never really caught on. Hey, how about"Oriental:"

That's a store in Butte, Montana. Oriental in this instance basically encompasses anything east of Crete. It had lots of polychrome stuff and odd shapes all mish-mashed together. Sometimes the only vestiges of this sort of thing will be little touches like this reverse ogee window over this doorway in Pennsylvania. It's based on the "Onion" shaped roof of the east:

Oh heck, let's get a real onion shaped roof. Here's one from 1891, in St Louis:

They probably would have called that "Turkish" It was a mess, and became a mess of a mess in the picture. Of course you could go Swiss:


The Swiss Chalet had a big re-revival later on in the twentieth century, too, as the preferred crummy second house in the mountains. You'd find them often at the seashore, too, which is as visually disturbing as licking stamps in a sort of Imhotep's Post Office Tomb ever was.

These places could get plenty palatial. Look at this magnificent dustcatcher, Painter Frederic Church's house on the Hudson. He called it Olana:

He referred to it as "Persian," but that doesn't really do it justice. The vernacular of the period would have termed it "Moorish." It's everything thrown at the Oriental wall, and it all seemed to stick. The carpets don't fly, but they look like they ought to.

The same Architect that did a lot of the Marble Palaces for magnates in Newport, Rhode Island, Richard Morris Hunt, signed the plans, but it's really Church's doodling and tinkering writ large. The decoration is so dense as to look borderline insane to the modern eye. How would you like to eat in the dining room, made "cozy" with a fire in this fireplace:

Church was born rich, made a lot of money from his art, and still almost bankrupted himself building his house. How very American the Moorish style cottage is.

4 comments:

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Have you considered doing military housing at places like Fort Benning, GA and Fort Bragg, NC? The Army bought one plan and duplicated it dozens of times. The senior officers [O-5 and up] all had Spanish Moorish style homes. The chapel I was married in at Ft. Benning had an identical twin at Bragg.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Hunt did the initial drawings but Church replaced him with Calvert Vaux (Central Park), who is the architect of record for the house at Olana.

SippicanCottage said...

our anonymous friend appears to be correct:

During the first decade after the purchase of the land, Architect R.M. Hunt drew up plans for the "Cozy Cottage," as the Churches affectionately called their new country home. Then Church turned his attentions to the summit of the hill, and there he envisaged a French villa, according to the already-existing plans by his architect Mr. Hunt. Once he had acquired the 18-acre wooded lot at the top of the hill, he left with his new wife and their young son for an 18-month tour of Europe and the Middle East. This tour proved to be a turning point in Church's creativity and a guiding influence for the rest of his life.

Writing from the Middle East in 1868, Church mentioned that he had collected many useful ideas for his new home and praised the Arabic houses with their central courts, marble patterned pavements and flat roofs. His architect agreed: "The [Arabic] style shows what magical effects may be produced by light, recessed arcades, and . . . verandahs." From this point on, Olana became Church's compelling occupation. The ideas which he had massed n the Middle East were put down in hundreds of plans—totalling over 300—all showing meticulous control of detail. Church became his own designer, leaving his architect, Calvert Vaux, the creator of Central Park in New York City, only to assure that windows lined up, water flowed and foundations stood. When asked about his part in the planning of Olana, Church quipped: "I can say, as the good woman did about her mock turtle soup, 'I made it out of my own head.'"
Olana

SippicanCottage said...

Hey Ruth Anne- I think those are from the 1920s or 30s. I'll look around for them.