Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Time Marches On, Sorta

Reader and commenter Deb wondered aloud yesterday after reading about my Cape Cod fetish: "...I wonder if there are any authentic Cape Cods here in the Madison area?"

Well, the answer is no, I'm afraid.

Now, don't get me wrong. There are undoubtedly various revival versions of the Cape Cod style in Wisconsin, but the true Cape Cod style never even made it as far west as New York State. The first truly contemporary style I can come up with that isn't just a vernacular shelter that covered the midwest is Greek Revival. Civil War-ish.

Got me to thinking though. Here in Massachusetts, I can go right back to the medieval. Most of Europe can't find anything as old as what we've got right here. If they do, it's usually a big stone cathedral or palace. The home of a regular person, made from flammable wood, is a rare thing when you're talking just past the middle ages. Check this out:
That's the Peak House in Medfield, Mass, and it's still there. I've been in it a handful of times. I've driven past it many thousands of times. I've banged nails into the house next door, which might be even more interesting. It was the stagecoach stop on the Boston to Milford Post Road.

The Peak House is from 1680. Look at it. You can see the beginnings of a true version of American architecture there. Of course, you can picture a medieval European street there as well.

After hovel type shelters, this is the first sort of thing they built in America. It's called a linear plan. It's one room deep, two stories high (the second story is really just a loft) and the rooms are laid end to end in a linear fashion. Glass was expensive, and grew crazy expensive if you wanted big panes, hence the little leaded bits of glass for windows. Even that was a luxury.

Hey look, I've got the plans for the thing if you want to build one.
15 by 24 feet. Almost exactly twice as big as the shed I keep my mower and garden tools in. Cozy.

Anyway, the people crazy enough to brave the Atlantic Ocean, Metacomet, and Medfield mosquitoes built that little gem in the linear style, and eventually their collective children moved to Connecticut and stuck a sort of lean-to shed on the back, and extended the roofline. Et Voila! The saltbox:
Then followed all sorts of variations of two story things. And then someone, in the 1700s now, decided that a house two rooms deep, one story high, with an attic you could live in if you wanted might be just the thing. Think of it!

Hey, look, a 3/4 Cape. Lovely.

Eventually a furniture making maniac moved to Southcoast Massachusetts, and wondered what kind of house to live in. He built this thing in the swamp, and you can hear the table saw or the clicking of the keyboard if the wind's just right.


Ruth Anne Adams said...

Any significance to the red door? My folks told me that the churches with red doors still had a mortgage or something like that.

Anonymous said...

Hey, that's a Five Bay Center Chimney Full Cape with twelve over twelve true divided lites! Can't tell from the photo if there's an ell lurking behind the house.

My mother grew up in a Madison pseudo-Cape with a big picture window and only an attic. Two bedrooms and one bathroom for five kids and their parents, no ell. They were extremely happy there.

Since we're talking about houses and history, being from Madison I have to include a few words about old FL Wright.

He was not well-liked by the average Madisonian in his day for several reason. He didn't pay his bills around town, one of the worst things that a Midwesterner could do at the time. My grandmother, who is nearing 100 years of age, worked on the square in the 1920s and remembers him walking around flourishing his unusual flat hat, black cape, and cane. Madisonians back then didn't trust anyone who thought so much of themselves.
That said, Monona Terrace Convention Center, which was built after decades of opposition and controversy, is a marvelous building. It is not FLW's exact design, however.

Anonymous said...

(The above brought to you by Deb in Madison...)

SippicanCottage said...

Hi Ruth Anne- The red door is chosen to go with the color scheme. The house is actually purple with yellow trim and a red door. It's subtle. It's just gray and white and red to most folks.

I don't know about the significance of red doors. There is an obscure local tradition around here called a "mortgage button." The newel post at the bottom of the main stairwell would have a peg hole in it. When the mortgage was paid, a mortgage button would go in it. On Nantucket, they'd sometimes make it of whalebone, or scrimshaw. Neato.

I should write a story about that, huh?

Hey Deb- No ell. Little house.

I have a lifelong interest in FLW. I know all about Monona Terrace, and Taliesin, and Oak Park down in Illinois, and so forth. There are a handful of Usonian houses around there that captured my imagination when I was a teenager. He was a magnificent weirdo.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

My little hometown [population 4000] near Madison boasts two Frank Lloyd Wright homes and my mom worked for the two lawyers who each owned them [God rest their souls]. Also, there's a bank downtown designed by Wright's student, Sullivan. Also, lots of Victorian homes with lots of gingerbread.

SippicanCottage said...

Ruth Anne- That's neat.

I think you got the student thing backwards, though. Sullivan was Wright's boss. Adler and Sullivan was a very important architectural firm.

Louis Sullivan is one of the most important architects in American history. Louis Sullivan was from Boston, originally.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Sorry. I don't do architecture. Sullivan may've begun in Boston, but he did some fine work in Wisconsin.

Pastor_Jeff said...

"Magnificent weirdo" is right on both counts. I've been in the Johnson Wax building a few times -- a gigantic, open-vaulted central work space with dendriform columns and (originally) three-legged chairs at the desks.

The story goes that when Wright sat in one of his own chairs and polished the floor with his keister, it didn't take him long to figure out three legs = bad, four legs = good.

Neat, but weird.

Love the American house series. More, please.

SippicanCottage said...

Ruth Anne- Those Sullivan banks were called "jewel boxes" by architectural people. They are wonderful things. You're lucky to have gone in and out of them regularly.

Adler and Sullivan were big big big in Chicago.

Hi P Jeff-
The johnson wax place is (in)famous in architecture circles.

I've seen pics of wright demonstrating to the local building officials that those mushroom columns were safe, by having one built and then having sandbags piled on top of them to prove they wouldn't topple over. Wright was really imperious and didn't feel like he should have to show anybody anything.

He was right about it, technically, but ultimately that's a really crummy room to work in; a big, undifferentiated hive. And the roof leaked.

He had a tower made next to it for the laboratory, and he wanted to use glass tubing instead of windows. The joints between the tubes leaked like a sieve, and the rooms were like ovens if there was a cloudless day. But just like his furniture (it was all uncomfortable) Wright thought his design considerations should trump any concerns about the safety, comfort, or the bankbook of any of his clients. Most architects are like that.

I'm glad you like the architecture things. I never know what to write about.

Pastor_Jeff said...

Oh, I'm with you on Wright. Some of the earlier Prairie School homes are quite nice, but look at that office space.

In addition to the terrible physical design you mentioned, the supervisors sit in the offices on the upper terrace and look down on the lowly peons who get the three-legged chairs (They're for your posture! Sit up straight!). Even today's cube dwellers get divider panels. Wood floors + concrete pillars + no walls = constant noise, plus the boss is always leering down at you.

If not for the politeness of Midwesterners, you'd have had people going postal in that place within the month.