Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wilbert R. Hasbrouck - A Tribute

Wilbert Hasbrouck at Glessner House, 1970s

On February 10, 2018, Chicago preservation architect Wilbert R. Hasbrouck passed away at the age of 86.  Considered one of the “founding fathers” of the preservation movement in Chicago, his projects included some of the most recognizable buildings in Chicago and the Midwest including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, Louis Sullivan’s Peoples Savings Bank in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and William Le Baron Jenney’s Manhattan Building.  As co-editor and co-publisher of the Prairie School Review with his wife Marilyn, and as author of the monumental volume The Chicago Architectural Club: Prelude to the Modern, his scholarship helped generations of architects and preservationists to understand and interpret the buildings he fought so hard to save.  In this article, we will look at his significant work in preserving Glessner House and the surrounding Prairie Avenue neighborhood.

Hasbrouck’s involvement with Glessner House began in November 1963, at a time when he was serving as chairman of the preservation committee of the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).  He learned that the current owner of the house, the Lithographic Technical Foundation, planned to move to Pittsburgh and put the house up for sale.  A meeting was arranged between Foundation executives and Hasbrouck, along with Joseph Benson (secretary of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks), and Marian Despres, wife of Alderman Leon Despres. 

Soon after the meeting, Hasbrouck prepared a report which he submitted to the AIA, stating in part, “Regardless of what final use is made of this building, I feel the AIA must take a major advisory role in its disposition.  The Glessner House is too important a structure to go the way of the Garrick.”  The reference was to Adler & Sullivan’s Garrick Theater, which had been razed in early 1961.  Hasbrouck was among a small group of preservationists, including Richard Nickel, John Vinci, Ben Weese, Tom Stauffer and Alderman Leon Despres, who had fought unsuccessfully to save what was considered one of Sullivan’s masterpieces. 

Hasbrouck and others continued to monitor the Glessner House, and when it was put up for sale in early 1965, he was quick to voice his concern over its future.  The first article about the fate of the house appeared in the Chicago Tribune on January 31, 1965.  In the article, ominously titled “Old Show Place on Prairie Avenue Haunted By Shaky Future; Now For Sale,” Hasbrouck was quoted as saying the house was “a choice piece of property” and must be adaptively reused and preserved. 

Over the next several months, Hasbrouck, and several others, worked hard to find a way to save the house and build a financially sustainable plan for its preservation.  On April 16, 1966, Hasbrouck was among 20 individuals who organized the Chicago School of Architecture Foundation with the specific goal of purchasing and maintaining Glessner House.  In December 1966, the Foundation purchased the house for $35,000 and its future was secured.  That same month, Hasbrouck was appointed president of the board, serving for four years.

In those first few years, he helped to bring additional support to the house through his connections in the architectural community, participated in planning and executing exhibitions, and overall raising the profile of the house.  In 1971, he was one of several architects selected to provide training to the first class of docents, and he continued to do so for several years.

With Glessner House secure, the Foundation turned its attention to the surrounding community and the small number of historic houses still standing on Prairie Avenue.  Concern for the neighboring houses was heightened when the company that owned three of the structures (the Kimball, Colman, and Keith houses) put them up for sale.  Although there had been some discussion with the City of Chicago regarding the creation of an historic district, nothing had been formalized, so the buildings were still vulnerable.  

Marilyn Hasbrouck in front of the Prairie Avenue Bookshop

Hasbrouck and his wife went so far as to purchase the Keith house at 1900 S. Prairie Ave. to ensure its protection until the district could be officially designated.  Having started their publication, Prairie School Review, a decade earlier, they moved its operation into the house, and Marilyn opened her Prairie Avenue Bookshop, which went on to become a leading architectural bookstore in the United States.  The Hasbroucks sold the building in 1978, once its landmark designation was assured, and the Bookshop relocated downtown.


Two views of the kitchen prior to restoration 

As a preservation architect, Hasbrouck was also involved in the first major interior restoration project at Glessner House.  In 1974, he received the contract to undertake the restoration of the kitchen wing, including the main kitchen, butler’s pantry, dry pantry, cold closet, and servants’ dining hall.  Extensive research was undertaken to determine the features that had been lost, and a detailed plan was drafted for its full restoration.  

Restored kitchen

The restored spaces gave visitors an accurate glimpse into the servants’ portion of the house during the Glessner occupancy.  Shortly after, additional documentation, including original building specifications, were obtained, verifying that the project was accurate down to the smallest detail.


 Removal of cupola, November 1977

In 1975, Hasbrouck received another commission that would have a profound effect on the surrounding historic district.  His firm was hired to move the Clarke House, Chicago’s oldest surviving structure, from its location at 4526 S. Wabash Avenue, back into the neighborhood in which it had been constructed in 1836.  The project was complex – moving a 120-ton structure nearly 3-1/2 miles, and most significantly, over the Green Line elevated tracks at 44th Street.  

Clarke House in transit at Michigan Avenue and 25th Street,
December 18, 1977

The house was successfully moved in December 1977 and following extensive restoration, opened as a house museum in 1982.

On April 16, 2016, Glessner House celebrated its 50th anniversary with a 1960s-themed celebration entitled Peace, Love, and Presentation.  The highlight of the evening was to honor five of the surviving individuals who had labored long and hard to save the house – Wilbert Hasbrouck, Ben Weese, Dirk Lohan, Wayne Benjamin, and Paul Lurie.  Each was presented with a framed certificate that included a picture of the house as it appeared in 1966, and a modern photo, showing the dramatic change from a soot-covered threatened building to a Chicago treasure, beautifully restored and accessible to visitors from around the world.  

Wilbert and Marilyn Hasbrouck with their sons John and Charlie,
at Peace, Love and Preservation, April 16, 2016

It was a fitting way to thank Wilbert Hasbrouck and the others for the profound impact they had on Glessner House and the preservation movement in Chicago.

Glessner House is very pleased to announce the creation of the Wilbert R. Hasbrouck Historic Preservation Lecture Series to both honor his years of dedicated service to the organization, and to continue to educate future audiences about the importance and impact of historic preservation on our communities.  The series will consist of an annual lecture presented by an expert in the field who will speak on some aspect of preservation – past, present, or future.  

John Vinci: Life and Landmarks
Text by Robert Sharoff, photography by William Zbaren
Northwestern University Press

The first lecture to take place this fall (date to be determined) will focus on the career of John Vinci, who worked beside Hasbrouck in saving Glessner House.  Vinci is the subject of an impressive and beautifully illustrated new book released in 2017, and he and the authors will be present for this inaugural lecture in the series.  We are deeply grateful to Paul and Margaret Lurie, long-time friends of the Hasbroucks, for providing initial funding for the first several years of the series.  Additional gifts are being sought to continue the series so that it can become a permanent fixture in our offerings to the preservation community.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Time Travelers Program Resumes for Second Year

On Tuesday March 6, 2018, Glessner House Museum launched the second year of its popular Time Travelers program.  Funded by a generous grant from the Society of Architectural Historians American Architecture and Landscape Field Trip Program, Time Travelers provides an opportunity for third grade student “detectives” from underserved neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side to explore how architecture and design impact their everyday lives.  Students were divided into three groups appropriately named Sherlock Holmes, Encyclopedia Brown, and Scooby-Doo.

The program also encourages observation and analysis of buildings and furnishings; compares late 19th- and early 20th-century life with today; and demonstrates what the students have learned through a variety of hands-on activities.  A PowerPoint presentation sent to the teacher ahead of time prepares students with background on the house and the various people connected with it, including Glessner family members, the architect Henry Hobson Richardson, and members of the live-in staff.

Students walked around the exterior of the building noting such details as building materials (granite, limestone, brick, clay tile roof tiles, etc.), placement and number of windows and doors, and thinking about why the house looked so different from others on Prairie Avenue at the time.  They looked for details including the pair of carved granite ouroboros on the fa├žade and where the architect’s monogram can be found.  The carriage drive introduced the eight servants who lived in the house, and how their living and working spaces were separated from those of the family.

A favorite room in the house was the schoolroom designed for the Glessners’ two children, George and Fanny.  Students indicated whether or not they would like to be homeschooled.  They had the opportunity here for a few hands-on activities including tapping a telegraph (just like one George kept in the room), hearing it buzz and learning how Morse code allowed George to send messages to his friends – an early form of texting as they said!  Students were also able to use stereoscopes to see 3-D images on antique stereoview cards.

Coming into the main hall, students had the opportunity to explore the many types of objects the family collected including ceramics and glass, as well as carved furniture, and textiles with a variety of patterns including dragons.  They enjoyed hearing how the Glessner grandchildren would slide down the bannister of the main staircase and try to land on the main hall carpet in the center medallion, which they referred to as the “blueberry pie.”  Many of the students quickly recognized the portrait of the “big” architect – H. H. Richardson – that the Glessners always displayed in the main hall.

In the master bedroom they saw several pieces of hand-carved furniture made the Glessners’ good friend Isaac Scott.  They asked about the fireplace and why there was coal in this fireplace, as opposed to wood in the main hall fireplace. 

The library introduced students to the Glessners’ large collection of books of which nearly 3,000 are still on the shelves today.  They learned how important learning was to the family, and how Frances Glessner held a weekly Monday Morning Reading Class for her friends in the room for over 35 years.  All agreed that the enormous partner’s desk in the middle of the room was the biggest desk they had ever seen, and there were mixed reactions to the bronze life mask and hands of Abraham Lincoln.

Upon reaching the parlor, students “found” the large Steinway piano they had seen in the PowerPoint presentation in class and marveled at the intricately detailed birds on the hand-painted canvas wallcovering.  The dining room introduced the idea of the extension table and how the room was shaped to accommodate it when fully opened.  They were able to peak inside the silver closet to see pieces that Frances Glessner made by hand, and they learned about the dinner parties where it took nearly three hours to serve and consume the eight-course meal.

The kitchen proved to be one of the most popular spaces in the house (and not just because of all the fake food).  Students were asked why the specific materials on the floor and walls were used, and what items were absent that they have in their kitchen at home.  They also enjoyed seeing the annunciator and learned how family and guests could call for a servant from anywhere in the house.  In returning to the coach house, they had the opportunity to walk through the large cold closet or icebox and see how the Glessners had a window put in there to help keep food cold in the winter.

Returning to the coach house, where the tour began, students were directed to several options for hands-on activities.  At the journaling table, they were given a series of questions, and they could record their favorite memories of the tours in writing or by drawing pictures.  A second table showed floorplans and using graph paper, the students were able to sketch out the configuration and types of rooms they would like to have in their own dream house.  

The most popular activity involved brightly-colored straws and connectors to create inventive structures. 

Before departing for the day, the students gathered on and around the curved porch in the courtyard, recreating the famous 1902 picture of Frances Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class.  A folder of materials provided further activities once back in the classroom including a word search and crossword puzzle containing terms learned during the tour, a floor plan of the house, and a Morse code message to decipher. 

An enjoyable time was had by all – students, teacher, chaperones, docents, and staff!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Glessners Venture Across the Atlantic - 1890

Photo by G. Sommer of Naples, Italy

In February of 1890, the Glessner family embarked on their first overseas journey. For the next three months the Chicago aristocrats travelled to Paris and around Italy, Frances Glessner (and occasionally her husband John) recording the details of each day’s outing in her meticulous journal. Somewhere along the way several photograph panels were purchased and made into four rather large albums depicting various European scenes. It is impossible to determine if these photographs of scenery and artwork were taken while the Glessners themselves were present, or whether the family purchased memorabilia of the sites they had seen after their excursions. It is evident however, that a large number of the photos in the albums correlate with the places and artwork the Glessners recorded seeing in the journal, specifically within the cities of Paris, Rome, Naples, and Florence.

Their trip began and ended with time spent in Paris, allowing for thorough exploration of the city and its treasures. John Glessner was immensely fond of the Louvre Museum, visiting several times during his Parisian experience. On the family’s first visit on February 24, Frances Glessner remarked “the Venus [of Milo] is larger than we had expected, & most beautiful from every view.”

Photo of the Venus de Milo at the Louvre, Paris, France

The Glessners, having always had a great appreciation for the arts, were especially impressed by the famous works of the great masters they were able to view in person. The search for artistic masterpieces continued in Rome at the Vatican Museum and Chapel and in Florence. John Glessner was particularly captivated by the Apollo Belvidere, calling it a “gem” in comparison to other great artistic feats. The works of Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian (among others) dominate portions of the photo albums and the Glessners’ fine art itinerary.

A sizable number of the photographs were captured by none other than Giorgio Sommer (1834-1914). Sommer was one of the most famous and popular European photographers in the nineteenth century, along with his partner Edmund Behles. Born in modern-day Germany, he began his photographic career in Switzerland but eventually moved to Naples in 1856 where he produced his most famous images.

Photo by G. Sommer – self-portrait with son Edmondo, 1864, Public Domain,

He became known for recording important ruins and artifacts, such as those at Pompeii and within the Vatican and National Archeological Museum at Naples. He even managed to capture the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in April 1872 but this image is not part of the Glessners’ collection.  Unfortunately, there is no record of whether or not the Glessners visited Sommer’s Naples studio, however his fame and popularity would have certainly made him recognizable among the well-to-do American travelers in Europe. 

Photo by G. Sommer of the ruins of Pompeii

About 25 of the photos (of which there are over 200 spanning the four total albums) are of the magnificent glaciers and quaint villages found along the Swiss Alps. These were likely taken by Sommer in the early years of his career, before establishing himself in Naples. While the Glessners did not travel to the Alpine region, one of their traveling companions, Violette Scharff (paid companion to their daughter Fanny), rejoined her mother in Lucerne, Switzerland after leaving the family in Paris. Letters between the two mothers detail the affection Frances Glessner held for Miss Scharff and how she must have enjoyed spending time traveling through Italy with the family. At the encouragement of her mother, Miss Scharff extended her stay with the Glessners until after sharing Easter mass with them at the Notre Dame de Paris. She was often referred to as having the superior French among the group and was an asset as well as desirable company.  Having grown quite close to the family throughout their Italian adventure, it is entirely possible that Miss Scharff selected a few of Sommer's photographs of her Swiss destination to share with the family. 

Photo by G. Sommer of Lucerne, Switzerland
The handful of snapshots of London, Bedford and Warwickshire were most likely from R. Burnham Moffat, a young attorney from Brooklyn whom the Glessners befriended during their voyage across the Atlantic (and possibly presented to Fanny Glessner on her 12th birthday celebrated in Rome).  It is also interesting to note the photograph of a sketch of the Blue Grotto of Capri, quite similar to a watercolor print of the same scene Fanny had given to her father as a birthday gift in 1885.

Frances Glessner never mentions collecting photograph panels to create an album nor does she comment on them being a gift or delivery. The accumulation of the photos is unfortunately, mostly speculation. Likely the albums grew over time and various picture collections and gifts were merged to create these four books. However, as these albums came to be assembled they certainly preserved many of the Glessner family’s fond memories of adventure and European travel.

About the Author
Cecilia Ringo is a History and Women, Gender and Sexuality double major at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. She has enjoyed being a collections intern at Glessner House Museum during the Winter of 2018 and hopes to pursue a career in preservation, archival science or museum management. She also recently returned from a study abroad program that allowed her to delight in visiting many of the Glessners’ European destinations.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Frances Glessner Lee and Erle Stanley Gardner

Erle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970), creator of that crime-solving attorney Perry Mason, was an avid admirer of Frances Glessner Lee, captain in the New Hampshire State Police, and founder of the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and of the Harvard Associates in Police Science. There is plenty of evidence to support their friendship, but little that indicates how it began.  Nevertheless, Gardner’s pen was prolific in his praise of Capt. Lee and the eighteen miniature crime scenes she designed for the purpose of training police offices to take away as much evidence as possible from the clues offered by the crime scene itself.   

The details contained in these miniature crime scenes, dubbed The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, which Capt. Lee created herself, were not only microscopic, they were baffling.  This is precisely why Gardner’s book The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom bears the following dedication: 
In the foreword of that same book, Gardner recounts how he had the unique privilege of attending one of Capt. Lee’s seminars on Homicide Investigation at Harvard. These were exclusive, invitation only classes given for policemen, and as far as records show, Gardner was the only “layman” to ever attend one.  

Gardner's membership certificate in the Harvard Associates in Police Science,
signed by Frances Glessner Lee, October 1948

Capt. Lee attended them all as well as other instructors, the best in the fields of forensics, crime detection, medicine, and criminology. Having witnessed all this, Gardner concludes that “these homicides have for the most part been conceived with a diabolical ingenuity which would give the proverbial ‘Philadelphia lawyer’ brain fog within the first few minutes.” Furthermore, Gardner announces: “I am not going to have any of Mrs. Lee’s graduates appearing in my books. Such an officer would not only solve the crime as soon as the hero could, but he just might be a hundred or so pages ahead of the procession.” [Gardner, Erle Stanley. Foreword to The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom, vii-x. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1949.]

Upon Frances Glessner Lee’s death in January 1962, Gardner was asked by the Boston Globe if he would write a sort of eulogy. This he did, as “a labor of love.” The document begins: “My friend, Captain Frances G. Lee, had a keen brain, a big heart, and an open mind.” He continues:

“Because she had an orderly mind and a logical mind, she was able to comprehend police work in a way that enabled her to make a shrewd and accurate appraisal of individual cases as well as overall planning of what was being done and an accurate estimate of what should be done.  Because she had a great big human heart, a warm understanding and the approach of a woman of highly developed maternal instincts, she not only adopted the cause of legal medicine and law enforcement as an intellectual pursuit, but she came to regard the men in the law enforcement as her “boys” and they in turn gave her a respect and affection which brought about a warm human relationship.”  (Gardner, Erle Stanley. “She Would Battle for Ideas at the Drop of a Hat.”  The Boston Sunday Globe, Feb. 4, 1962).

Parker Glass, secretary of the Harvard Department of Legal Medicine, seconded Gardner’s sentiments canonizing Mrs. Lee as “unquestionably one of the world’s most astute criminologists.” [Banner, Earl. “She Invested a Fortune in Police, Entertained Them Royally at Ritz.” The Boston Sunday Globe, Feb. 4, 1962.]

Cray Kennedy was privileged to work as an intern in the collections department at Glessner House Museum during the summer of 2017, primarily cataloging the museum's collection of Frances Glessner Lee images. Cray is studying history and is particularly interested in preservation, historical architecture, and collections. She attends the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota.           

The first-ever public exhibition of the Nutshell Studies, entitled "Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death," will open on Friday October 20, 2017 at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.   William Tyre, Executive Director and Curator of Glessner House Museum will speak about Lee's life and work at the Renwick on Saturday October 21st at 2:00pm; the event is free and open to the public.  The exhibit runs through January 28, 2018.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Society for Photographing Relics of Old London

On February 3, 1887, Frances Glessner wrote in her journal that her husband John brought home a large stack of photos of London.  These photos happened to be from a series by the Society for Photographing Relics of Old London.  Since the Glessners never visited London, the photographs, which are in the museum collection today, provided them with a picture of what the city was like pre-industrialization. 

In 1875, scholar Alfred Marks commissioned photographers Alfred and John Bool to photograph the Oxford Arms Inn in London.  The commission was an attempt to document the building before its imminent demolition.  Continuing this desire to document buildings in danger of destruction, Marks formed the Society for Photographing Relics of Old London.  Over the course of 12 years, Marks and the members of the society published 120 photographs (the majority of which were taken by photographer Henry Dixon) of buildings they deemed significant that were in danger of being torn down.  Although some of the buildings were destroyed, the complicated histories of three buildings photographed by the society prove that the passion Marks had for architectural preservation continued after the society published its last series of photos.


19: Temple Bar

This photo depicts the Temple Bar in its original location.  The location of the Baroque arch denoted one of the main entrances into London from Westminster, and held great importance throughout London’s history.  The structure photographed by the society is Christopher Wren’s 1670 design that covered the ancient road.  The gateway itself consists of many decorative elements, along with stone statues of Queen Anne of Denmark and James I on one side, and Charles I and Charles II on the other (the side from which the society’s photo was taken).  The gateway stood in this location for over 200 years, and infamously displayed the severed heads of traitors in the eighteenth century. 

Temple Bar at Theobolds Park

As London grew more industrial, the gateway became problematic, as the arch made the street under it extremely narrow.  At the publication of the descriptive letterpress in 1881, Alfred Marks noted that the Temple Bar was already demolished and replaced by a memorial.  However, Marks was unaware of the events surrounding the monument’s demise: instead of being destroyed, the gateway was taken down stone by stone and stored by the Corporation of London, where it remained for ten years.  The gateway was later purchased by Lady Meux, a woman from a wealthy family based in Theobalds Park, and she had the Bar rebuilt in her estate.  It remained there until 2004, when the Temple Bar Trust convinced the Corporation of London to fund its return to London

Temple Bar today

Since the original location still provided the same spatial issues as it did in 1880, the Bar was rebuilt in Paternoster Square in London, right outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Both the Temple Bar and its 1880 monument remain a fixture of downtown London.

Temple Bar monument


37: Charterhouse - General View

The most extensively photographed buildings in the collection are the Charterhouse Buildings.  The twelve photos of the structure document nearly all facets of the building, and Marks notes that “London has few public buildings of equal interest with the Charterhouse, in respect either of historical associations or of beauty.”  The Charterhouse was built in 1371 as a Carthusian monastery, which lasted until 1537.  It was then converted into a mansion, and housed visiting royalty including Queen Elizabeth I and James I.  In 1611, the building was purchased by businessman Thomas Sutton, who converted it once again.  This time, the building was to be a charity house and school, specializing in health treatments and schooling for those less fortunate.  The Charterhouse School moved out of the building in 1872, but the school itself still exists today. 

41: Charterhouse - Great Hall

42: Charterhouse - Great Hall

In addition to the fear of demolition that occurred around the time of the society’s photos, the building also endured World War II.  After extreme damage during the Blitz bombings of 1941, extensive renovations and repairs were undertaken in the late 1950s.  Today, the house remains an almshouse (supporting those in need of financial assistance), and also functions as a museum.

Charterhouse buildings today


Another building that the Society for Photographing Relics of Old London was especially interested in was Lambeth Palace.  The palace dates to 1262, and since then it has been the primary residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The society published three photos of this building, focusing on Morton’s Tower, Juxon’s Hall, and the Water Tower, respectively.  The history of its construction and development is extremely complex, and many aspects have been added since its original dedication.  The chapel in the church and its corresponding crypt are the only sections which remain from the thirteenth century, but many other aspects from later periods are equally impressive.  The majority of the building was constructed by architect Edward Blore in the 1830s with the goal of hiding the reminders of the English Civil War that marked the building.

73: Lambeth Palace - Gate-House

The subject of the first photo published by the society, Morton’s Tower (named after its architect), was built in 1490, and it remains in its original position to this day. 

74: Lambeth Palace - Great Hall

The second photo shows the Great Hall of Lambeth Palace, which has since been turned into a renowned library, and provides one of the site’s main attractions. 

75: Lambeth Palace - "Lollard's Tower"

Unfortunately, the subject of the third photograph, Lollard’s Tower, did not completely survive to the present.  Like the Charterhouse and many other buildings in London, Lollard’s Tower was damaged by a direct hit bombing in 1941.  The tower did not collapse and has since been reconstructed, but the original structure is incomplete. 

Lambeth Palace today

These three histories demonstrate the complications and difficulties involved in architectural preservation.  Many of the buildings photographed by the Society for Photographing Relics of Old London did not survive to the present day, but the photos ensure that the buildings are not lost in the past.  The histories of Temple Bar, the Charterhouse, and Lambeth Palace exemplify the amount of work, and, in some cases luck, necessary to preserve ancient buildings.  Despite the short life span of Alfred Marks and his society, their impact and the buildings they documented live on through their work.

Andrew Haberman is a history student at Loyola University Chicago and a collections intern at Glessner House Museum during the fall 2017 semester.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Postcards from Boston #5 - Engine Company 33

Located at 941 and 951 Boylston St. in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, two adjoining Richardsonian Romanesque buildings were originally constructed to house the local police and fire stations.  It was the first combination police and fire station in the city of Boston.   Designated landmarks by the City of Boston, the eastern building still functions as a fire house, but the western building has been extensively altered on the interior and repurposed twice since the mid-1970s.

City Architect Arthur H. Vinal designed the buildings in 1886 in the then popular style based on the work of Boston’s most celebrated architect, H. H. Richardson.  Vinal was a prolific architect who designed many buildings in the Richardsonian Romanesque style.  

Chestnut Hill Pumping Station (Photo courtesy of HAER)

His most celebrated design is the Chestnut Hill Pumping Station on Beacon Street in the Allston/Brighton neighborhood, completed in 1888.  The Pumping Station is even more of a direct homage to Richardson, reminding one of the series of libraries Richardson designed late in his career.

Police District 16 occupied the larger four story building at 951 which was noted as “the handsomest station house in America” in 1888, a year after its completion.   By the early 1900s, the police needed additional space and a small building at 955 Boylston was constructed in the Classical Revival style.  (It now houses Dillon’s Restaurant, named for a police captain who served here from 1920 until 1950).  Both buildings continued to serve their original function until 1975, when District 16 was consolidated with another nearby police district.  At that time, the four story building was completely gutted and renovated by Graham Gund Architects for use by the Institute of Contemporary Art.  Galleries and other spaces were created around a centralized staircase.  The Institute moved to larger quarters in 2007, and the building was acquired by the Boston Architectural College, which has its main building immediately to the north facing Newbury Street.  The College spent $14 million to purchase and renovate the building, which opened in 2012.  It was the first building added to its campus in 50 years.  The Newbury and Boylston buildings are connected by way of a green alley sustainability project.

The eastern building has always functioned as home to Engine Company 33 and Ladder Company 15.  It is connected to the police station by a central bay with a large opening that led to shared stable yards behind the buildings.  

Two huge arched openings on the fire station accommodated the equipment including the first ladder truck in Boston to be equipped with a three-horse hitch, and the first turntable aerial truck.  Plaques at the entrances memorialize four Boston firefighters killed in the line of duty who served out of the building:  Cornelius J. Noonan (d. 1938), Richard F. Concannon (d. 1961), Richard B. Magee (d. 1972), and Stephen F. Minehan (d. 1994). 

A tall turret at the northeast corner of the building was designed so that the heavy canvas hoses could be hung to dry.  

Classic Richardsonian Romanesque features of the buildings include numerous arches over doors and windows, carved foliate decoration, heavy rusticated stone, and clusters of engaged columns between windows.  

Fire alarm box on Boylston Street;
side of building visible at far right

Monday, August 28, 2017

Postcards from Boston #4 - First Baptist Church

Richardson’s first church design in Boston’s Back Bay is overshadowed by his monumental Trinity Church, which gave him a national reputation.  The commission for the Brattle Square Church, received in 1870, was extraordinarily important in his career, however, in that it is the first of his buildings to feature the characteristics of what became known as Richardsonian Romanesque. 

The congregation of Brattle Square Congregational Church constructed its first building in 1699, and a second was built a few years before the American Revolution.  By 1869, the Brattle Square area went into decline resulting in the congregation purchasing a prominent lot along Commonwealth Avenue in the developing Back Bay neighborhood.  H. H. Richardson was among a small number of architects asked to submit designs, possibly at the suggestion of Benjamin Crowninshield, a strong supporter of the project and father of Richardson’s Harvard classmate, Benjamin W. Crowninshield, for whom he had designed a nearby house in 1868. 

Construction began in 1871 and the building was finished in time to be dedicated just before Christmas in 1873.  The higher than expected cost of the building, combined with a financial depression in the early 1870s resulted in the congregation filing for bankruptcy in 1876.  

Six years later, it was acquired by the First Baptist Church for $100,000 which soon after engaged another architect to design a chapel at the west end of the building.  Galleries were added to the auditorium to correct acoustical issues in the original design.

The building is cruciform in shape; however, one arm is so short that the auditorium is actually T-shaped, with a huge rose window at each end of the T.  

The main axis runs parallel to Commonwealth Avenue, with entry off of Clarendon Street through an arcade consisting of three large arches composed of three different types of stone in shades of buff, cream, and red, set atop intricately carved foliate capitals.  

The floor of the entry porch is set with encaustic tiles in similar colors creating an overall harmony to the space.   

The stone used for the walls is a locally quarried Roxbury puddingstone, which works especially well for the Romanesque design, with the whole set beneath a roof of dark grey slate tiles set into decorative patterns.

The building is dominated by a massive 176-foot tower which rests on four large piers framing arched openings that form a covered carriageway.  

The tower contains multiple arched openings of various sizes and is capped by a pyramidal roof clad in red clay tiles.  

An enormous frieze near the top was designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, sculptor of the Statue of Liberty.  In was carved in situ by Italian stone carvers working from plaster models created by Bartholdi.  The four sides contain groupings of figures depicting the sacraments of baptism, communion, marriage, and death.  At each corner, angels blow through trumpets (originally gold in color), which earned the church the name “The Church of the Holy Bean Blowers.” 

Today, the church is in need of major repairs with canopies covering the sidewalks and scaffolding encasing the Bartholdi frieze.

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