Friday, May 04, 2007

Lady And The Tramp's House

If it looks like Lady and the Tramp, it's Second Empire.

That's the Fickie Mansion in Davenport, Iowa. It's magnificent, ain't it? I can't find out if it's still there. There's an ominous looking strip mall behind it with a muffler place in the background. It was the fate of many such places to be too central to a well established business district for their own good. Well-to-do people used to live where they worked. Now they'd live out in the landscape and drive in every day. Iowans, let's hear it. Is it still there? Man, it's got everything a Second Empire house would have.

Mansard roof, "cresting" along the rooflines, towers, a cupola, ganged windows, window bays, bracketed windows...bracketed everything, really; patterned multicolored roof, porches.

It was essentially an urban style, but "urban" would look a lot like a village to the modern eye in many cases. From the end of the Civil War until the end of the 1880s, this was the predominant style of the Northeast and the Midwest.

It lent itself to straight-up commercial buildings, too. Here's a Second Empire building in Portland, Maine I've walked by a hundred times:

It was a dry goods store then. More or less, it still is. Retail and offices, anyway. If you went up to the third floor toilet, there were cartoons of U.S.Grant and Buffalo Bill drawn on the wall. That's double funny, as Second Empire was referred to as "General Grant Style" by a lot of people then.
They were hard to keep up. I'd work on them here and there twenty-five years ago, and all the slate roofs were gone, some replaced with painted wood sidewall shingles, or worse- asphalt tab shingles. I've even seen them vinyl and aluminum sided. Jesus wept.
It wasn't a west coast thing, much. Most of the post-bellum houses out there are Stick Style, or Italianate. They're similar in many ways. A lot of millwork--doors, windows, interior trim, brackets and so forth-- was more or less interchangeable in those styles.

The style wasn't big down south. It did make it down to Charleston, South Carolina, though; here's the Ingrahm House for one:

"Second Empire" refers to the reign of France's Napoleon III. It wasn't a revival, like Greek or Italianate or Gothic. It was considered quite modern at the time.

And here's how what was once the predominant style in a great swath of the United States for thirty years can become fairly rare in short order:

The nature of the urban landscape changed. Big old houses became apartment buildings and were cut up and run down, or the land beneath them became so valuable they were demolished to make way for much larger structures.

I bet that last place burned ten times before they gave up and built something else.


Ruth Anne Adams said...

I can hardly wait until you get to Buckminster Fuller and the geodesic dome.

Pastor_Jeff said...

We had friends at our former church who actually lived in a geodesic dome during the "back-to-the-earth" phase in the early 70s -- hippie beards, grow your own food, Foxfire book -- that sort of thing. Once people got tired of being cold, wet, dirty, and hungry the allure wore off.

I'll take a Lady and the Tramp house any day.

SippicanCottage said...

I told the story of my very own geodesic dome here

newyorker in raleigh said...

It's a nice restaurant now. (
The Dodd-Hindsale House, located at 330 Hillsborough Street in downtown Raleigh, offers one of the last reminders of the beauty and grace that once defined the western corridor from the Capitol. Its architectural style is Second Empire Victorian, a style developed in France under Napoleon III and marked by heavy ornate modification of Empire styles. The interior of the home has fourteen foot ceilings and deep bay windows.

Anonymous said...

Yes! The Ficke Mansion is still there in Davenport Iowa. It is currently owned and operated by the Delta Sigma Chi Fraternity, the first Greek letter Fraternity within the Chiropractic Profession. It is well maintained and they have worked very hard to get it added to the historic register.

SippicanCottage said...

That's great to hear, but the college kid angle is a worry to me. I grew up in Franklin, Mass, and there were dozens of really fine 19th and early 20th century structures in town, all filled with Dean Junior College kids, and almost every one has burned to the ground in my lifetime.

Anonymous said...

It's still there. I never noticed it before I read your blog, but it's actually across the street from the high school most of my friends went to. 1208 Main Street. I will definitely check it out next time I'm home. My friend said her dad lived there when he went to Ambrose. Oh and it's spelled "Ficke"

Jim said...

The Ficke Mansion:
Currently I am the House Manager of the Ficke Mansion in addition to being a member of the Delta Sigma Chi Fraternity. We are the first professional Chiropractic fraternity whose membership includes some of the most prestigious names of the Chiropractic profession. We most certainly are not a group of "college kids". We are adult students enrolled in professional graduate school and I can assure all of you that we take great pride in our home and we recognize the treasure that we have in the Ficke Mansion. The house is still in very good shape given its history. A few years ago the roof underwent an extensive replacement and was done to historical specifications maintaining the original integrity of the era in style, color, and arrangement. I would be more than happy to post some interior photos of the house and visitors are always welcome to tour the home by scheduled visits. The mansion is truly a testament to the bold, dramatic architectural styles of the 19th century and it remains one of the best existing examples of this particular style. For any further information on the mansion, feel free to contact me at

fez said...

Nice Jim, the mansion looks incredible keep it up..