Monday, June 8, 2015

Queer, Quaint, and . . . Dutch??

The construction of the Glessners’ house on Prairie Avenue received considerable attention in the Chicago newspapers.  Without a doubt, certain articles were more accurate than others, and some sought merely to sensationalize the controversial architectural features.  A good example of one of the more positive and accurate articles is found pasted in the Glessners’ scrapbook.  The newspaper in which it was published is not identified, but it appears to date to the latter part of 1887, just before the Glessners moved into their home.

A Queer House Out on the Avenue

Reaper Man Glessner’s Dutch House in the Aristocratic Precincts of Prairie Avenue

That is an odd house, surely, which the workmen are just now putting the inner and finishing touches upon at the corner of Eighteenth street and Prairie avenue, diagonally across the street from George M. Pullman’s mansion.  It is a unique house, in fact, it is the only one of the kind in America.  It is a typical Dutch house – a veritable ‘huis’ from Amsterdam – only it was designed by an American architect, built by American workmen of American materials, and stands in that hub of Chicago aristocracy and Americanism – Eighteenth and Prairie avenue.  The quaint house appears all the more quaint amid its surroundings, where all is modern and United States and almost monotonously stiff in architecture and style.  This Dutch house belongs to J. J. Glessner, the reaper man, and was designed by Richardson, the lately deceased leader of American architecture.  The illustration printed herewith gives a good idea of the general exterior appearance of the structure – the Dutch roof, the prison-like windows on the Eighteenth street side, the low stories, and the huge chimneys of granite.  The first story is only a basement, the second contains the library, dining-room, kitchen, etc. while the third is given up to bed-chambers.  At the left of the front entrance and grand staircase is a very large bed-chamber, with dressing-rooms and porcelain baths.  At the right the corner of the house is given up to the library, wherein is an old Dutch fire-place nearly as large as that in Wayne MacVeagh’s new house on Lincoln Park drive.  In the rear of the library, and just behind that quartet of cell-like windows, is the dining-room.  But these windows do not light the dining-room.  They open from a corridor which leads from the kitchen to the front part of the house.  Light for the dining-room, and for many other rooms in both stories, is taken from the court, which is one of the distinguishing features of the house, and a novelty in this country.  The problem which the architect had to solve in this house was not an easy one.  Given, a long, narrow lot – 75 x 160.  Wanted – a large, well-lighted house, with stable and yard.  See how nicely the plan suits the situation.  The stable is really in the rear end of the house, but separated from it by a solid, unbroken wall.  The court, 40 x 100, rivals in beauty the best examples to be found in the old world.  It is the yard of the mansion, completely shut out from the view of neighbors or passers-by, and is to be sodded and adorned with fountain and flowers and a neat bit of shrubbery.  Overlooking the court, at the angle of the house, is a stone porch, and a broad staircase leads from the library and dining-room to the yard.  Just back of the Dutch roof is a sort of tower, indistinctly shown in our illustration.  That is Mr. Glessner’s conservatory on the roof.

‘Tis, indeed, a quaint house.  The finishing material throughout is red oak, the ceilings of the larger rooms being heavily timbered, in Holland style, and the walls of the kitchen, laundry, stable, etc. being lined  with glazed brick.  It is a quaint house, and most people riding by give it a cursory glance and exclaim “how ugly!”  But it’s a home-like house, full of the means of comfort and content, and for his $60,000 Mr. Glessner will acquire not only the quaintest, but one of the best homes in all Chicago.

NOTES:  The numerous references to the house being of Dutch design are a unique feature of this particular article.  The mention of the house of Wayne MacVeagh on Lincoln Park drive is actually a reference to the home of Franklin MacVeagh on Lake Shore Drive – the only other house in Chicago designed by H. H. Richardson.  Richardson’s original design for the Glessner courtyard did feature a fountain and elaborate gardens; these were eliminated in later modifications, presumably due to the fact the Glessners spent their summers in New Hampshire.  The total cost of construction, including new furniture and interior decoration, was $108,713. 

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