Monday, July 17, 2017

Syracuse High Points 2: Thornden Park Water Tower (Elon P. Stewart Reservoir)

Syracuse, NY. Luna leads he way up to the Elon P. Stewart Reservoir in Thornden Park. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017
Syracuse, NY. The Elon P. Stewart Reservoir in Thornden Park, Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
Syracuse, NY. The Elon P. Stewart Reservoir in Thornden Park, Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
Syracuse High Points 2: Thornden Park Water Tower (Elon P. Stewart Reservoir)
by Samuel D. Gruber 

Ascending any of the roads of Thornden Park, or coming up the hill from Clarendon Street to Ackerman Ave., one makes for the highest point where sits a massive round tower. Or, like Luna and me yesterday, you can skip the road and just climb the very steep hill rising opposite the Thornden swimming pool.

The tower is actually the Elon P. Stewart Reservoir, which holds 2 million gallons of water and is a key part of the city's water system. It is gravity fed by Skaneateles Lake (860 feet), which is higher than Thornden (732 feet). The reservoir (or standpipe) buitl in 1925-26,  rests 372 feet above the level of Onondaga Lake.

It was originally just called the Thornden Standpipe, is now named after a former city water engineer. The steel tank, which is enclosed in a masonry building, is 77 feet across, 60 feet high, and open at the top.  When it was constructed, engineers boasted that if every house in the neighborhood flushed their toilets at the same time, there would be no drop in pressure.  don't know if there was an architect involved - even for the exterior decoration - but the superb masonry work was done by Hueber Bros., Inc. (now Hueber-Breuer).

Syracuse, NY. Elon P. Stewart Reservoir in Thornden Park, Entrance portal. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016.

The simplicity of the building - the pristine geometry of its great cylinder - is what makes the structure striking yet calming. The roots of this design go back to the Pantheon in Rome. These water reservoirs have always reminded me of the Martello Towers in Ireland, too. For more contemporary architectural use of the cylinder see the works of Louis Kahn and Mario Botta.

Rome, Italy. The Pantheon, 2nd century. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber ca 1985.
Rome, Italy. The Pantheon, etching by DuPerac, ca 1575.

https://elcafetindelas5.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/bangladeshkahn.jpg
Dhaka, Bangladesh. Bangladesh National Assembly, Louis Kahn, arch, 1982. photo: web.

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√Čvry (Essonne), France. Cathedral of the Resurrection, Mario Botta, arch., 1995 Photo:web.


In keeping with the Pantheon, this brick cylinder has a classical "front" - that is, a flat decorated portal stuck into the curved body of the building.  The main portion of this entrance  is the frieze dominated by a carved head of Neptune, god of the seas, who is surrounded by shells and tridents, his watery attributes.



Syracuse, NY. Elon P. Stewart Reservoir in Thornden Park, Entrance portal. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017











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Syracuse, NY. Elon P. Stewart Reservoir in Thornden Park, Entrance portal. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.

Syracuse's water system was first organized in 1841, using hollowed out logs to move water from spring fed reservoirs to the center of town. This technology had already been perfected in the salt industry, where hollowed logs were a regular feature to move water. By the 1880's the need for water had greatly increased as the population boomed, and a more reliable source was needed. and logs were no longer used - since most local forests had been clear cut for farmland. Iron and lead pipes became the favorite conduits of the water - no one considering the now-obvious contamination problems.

From The Leaf: A Publication of the Thornden Park Association, Syracuse, NY (March 2015), Vol 2:1:
After much debate, Skaneateles Lake was chosen as the city's new water source. Two side by side cast iron pipes were laid over a 19-mile route between the lake and Syracuse. Although laying pipe through solid rock, across ravines, and through quicksand was a difficult task, in 1894, after 5 years of construction, the pipeline was complete. City water was stored in Syracuse Reservoir  now called Woodland. In the 1920's, two “above tanks” called standpipes, were built one at Woodland and one at Thornden.
In 1992 the water tower was repaired. Exterior renovation included replacement of the  roof, repair of masonry, removal of graffiti, application of sealer to the masonry, and installation of both security lighting and a wrought iron fence around the tower to protect it from future vandalism. In 2014, $2.9 million was spent culminating in a new, 11 ton aluminum roof (pictures of it going up here; and video here). The work was needed because of severe roof deterioration and of 16 concrete columns inside the structure that support the roof.

Syracuse, NY. Elon P. Stewart Reservoir in Thornden Park, during repairs.. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014


The views west and especially north from the sprawling grassy lawn around the tower are spectacular. These photos do not do them justice. On July 4th it is traditional for neighborhood families to gather on the great lawn and watch the fireworks from the fairgrounds or the stadium to the north, as little - and not so little - children delight themselves rolling down the green hill.

Syracuse, NY. View looking north from Thornden Park water reservoir. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017

Syracuse, NY. View looking north from Thornden Park water reservoir. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017

Syracuse, NY. View looking northwest from Thornden Park water reservoir. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
Syracuse, NY. Luna at the Elon P. Stewart Reservoir in Thornden Park, Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017

[source: The Leaf: A Publication of the Thornden Park Association, Syracuse, NY (March 2015), Vol 2:1


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Syracuse High Points 1: Westminster Park

Syracuse, NY. Westminster Stairs. Luna looks at Sam and thinks "Are you crazy?" Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017
Syracuse, NY. Westminster Stairs, vw down to Euclid Ave.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017
Syracuse, NY. Westminster Park. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017
Syracuse High Points 1: Westminster Park
by Samuel D.  Gruber 

[n.b. Information in the blog post is pulled from my on-line walking tour of this neighborhood, to explore more of the area see Westcott's England.] 


Syracuse has many parks, big and small. Many of these - especially of the small ones - are often in out of the way places, and are sometimes found on left over land. A number of parks include high places, often the summits of drumlins, which were not always desirable for building. Or, these spots might already have been singled out and sometimes privately developed for recreation in the 19th century as popular destinations because they offered expansive vistas and salubrious breezes. This summer (my dog) Luna and I will be a exploring many of these high places - and we hope to report back.

Sometimes, as in the case of Westminster Park, summits and other green spaces were left open in the center of larger building tracts as a way of attracting nearby residential development. This was the case of  Westminster Park, a former sheep pasture, that was deeded for a park by the original Westminster Tract developers in 1890. The 4.784 acre park sits at the end of Westminster Avenue atop a 655-foot drumlin and offers superb vies of Syracuse and Onondaga Lake – better when the foliage is not full. It is now connected to Euclid Avenue by steps which were added later.

From 1890 to 1910 the city did little to improve the property except to develop Westminster Avenue and a sidewalk around the top of the drumlin. In 1890, ambitious plans were promoted for the erection of a rustic Gothic style resort hotel at the highest point – where the park is now. Like so many plans in Syracuse – these went nowhere. Still, these are telling about how this part of the city was perceived at the end of the 19th century.

Syracuse, NY. View looking west from Westminster Park to University Hill andbeyond. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2012.

An article in the Syracuse Daily Standard (February 26, 1891) speculated on future plans:
  
    On the Highest Peak A Large Rustic Hotel to the Built on the Top of Lookout Park A Resort for Pleasure-Seekers in Summer – Plans of Real Estate Agents for Next Season
The real estate market is quiet just at present and the agent finds little more to do than to sit in his office, smoke cigars, and plan for the future. A talk with real estate dealers will disclose that these plans for the future are being made on a gigantic scale. It is a prevailing impression among real estate men that the boom a [sic] their particular line in the spring will be something enormous. Each, of course, claims that the greater boom will be in the direction of his particular tract. While there is no doubt but that considerable will be done in all directions, judging from the present outlook, the boom will open strongest in the eastern and southern portion of the city. The tracts lying in this direction are the Easterly tract, the Westminster tract, the Hillsdale tract and the University homestead tract.
A scheme which has been maturing during the winter and which in all probability will be carried out in the spring is to erect a pleasure resort on the Westminster tract, a park of about six acres. It was laid out by the owner of the tract for a park. The trees and shrubs making the shading of the park have already been set out. The park is situated on the summit of the highest portion of the tract, which is the highest hill in tho vicinity of Syracuse. From the park, which will be called Westminster park, a view can be gained of the entire city of Syracuse, of Onondaga lake, and Oneida lake, which can be easily seen on a clear day. Drives and walks have been laid out in the park and these will be nicely graded and paved, with asphalt. The main drive will be the termination of Westminster avenue. The drive terminates on a large round plateau upon the very summit of the hill. It is at this point that the scheme takes form. Upon the eastern side of this plateau it is proposed to erect a large rustic hotel which will attract thousands from the city during the warm summer months who desire fresh air and delightful scenery. The plans for the hotel have not yet been definitely made, but this much is known, it will be built in similitude of a log structure and will be Gothic in architecture. The consolidated railroad have made preparations to lay their tracks within about 200 feet of the proposed building and access to it may thus be gained when the road is in full operation. Electricity will be the motive power of the road and it is estimated that it will not take to exceed 20 minutes to reach the resort from the center of the city.”
Twenty years later, people were still waiting for park improvements. The Syracuse Journal reported on Oct. 22, 1910 that “Superintendent Campbell said to-day (sic) that the people of the seventeenth ward were entitled to have the park improved, as the people of that land pay a large portion of the city’s tax, with their residences being very valuable,” the article read.
Syracuse, NY. Westminster Stairs, vw down to Euclid Ave.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017
Syracuse, NY. Westminster Stairs, vw up to Westminster Park.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017
Syracuse, NY. Westminster Stairs, Bricks in their original arrangement paving the ramp sections.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017

In the years that followed, the staircase and connecting tramp sections from Euclid Avenue to Westminster Park was constructed, trees were planted and a gazebo (now gone) was built to host the families traveling by trolley to enjoy the view.

Syracuse, NY. Westminster Park. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017

Syracuse, NY. Westminster Park. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017
The well maintained a regularly mowed green oval in the center of park resembles a traditional bowling green - a place for lawn bowling (similar to the Italian bocce). I wonder if bowling has ever been played here?  There are similar ovals atop other city summits. I'll have to check with the Parks Department and see if there is interest in an outdoor bowling league - or at least a one day affair.

I've written about other parks on this blog.Click here for more on Thornden Park, and here for Fayette Park.





Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Little Known Reminder of World War I: The Split Rock Explosion Monument


Syracuse, NY. Oakwood Cemetery. Monument to the Victims of the Split Rock Explosion. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016
Syracuse, NY. Billings Park, Monument to
Soldiers of Thirty Eighth Infantry United States Army (World War I). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2011

A Little Known Reminder of World War I: The Split Rock Explosion Monument
by Samuel D. Gruber


I've written about many public monuments on this blog, especially war monuments, such as the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument at Clinton Square and The Hiker at Billings Park.  But one of the most unexpected war monuments in Central New York and probably among the least known is the striking memorial erected to the victims of the terrible Split Rock Explosion of 1918 and located in Oakwood Cemetery. Since we are in the midst of commemoration of the centennial of American entry into World War I, let's take a look.

The elegant stone monument is a large high thin slab flanked by two low stone urns, and it sits on the edge of Oakwood's raised section B, originally part of Morningside Cemetery, not far from Comstock Ave.  It is in distinct contrast to traditional war monuments with their heroic statues of fighting men, such as the one in Billing Park to the Soldiers of Thirty Eighth Infantry United States Army, shown above). Although the dead remembered here were victims of the World War I effort, their deaths came far from combat, and thus their remembrance is largely outside the mainstream of World War commemoration. the explosion is more often mentioned in the context of catastrophic industrial accidents then in lists of casualties of war.

The Semet-Solvay Company manufactured explosives during World War I, for which work they purchased an abandoned quarry called Split Rock in the western hills of Syracuse, where they began producing TNT on site in 1915. On July 2nd, 1918 a mixing motor in the main TNT building overheated and ignited nearly three tons of explosives. The building was destroyed, fifty people were killed, and dozens  injured.  From my reading it is not clear to me how many died in the explosion and how many fighting the fire.

The Semet-Solvay Company erected this monument which mentions those who "voluntarily gave their lives" fighting the fire. It seems, based on a newspaper article, that fifteen victims must be buried here.

Syracuse, NY. Oakwood Cemetery. Monument to the Victims of the Split Rock Explosion. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
Syracuse, NY. Oakwood Cemetery. Monument to the Victims of the Split Rock Explosion. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
Syracuse, NY. Oakwood Cemetery. Monument to the Victims of the Split Rock Explosion. Inscription on front (east) side. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
The main inscription on the monument reads:

In memory of those workers in munitions during the War for Civilization who voluntarily gave their lives in fighting fire at Split Rock July 2, 1918. This monument is erected by the Semet-Solvay Co.

Syracuse, NY. Oakwood Cemetery. Monument to the Victims of the Split Rock Explosion. Inscription on south side. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
Syracuse, NY. Oakwood Cemetery. Monument to the Victims of the Split Rock Explosion. Inscription on north side. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
On the sides of the monument are lists of names of victims, but on the back of the monument is inscribed:

"These - the unidentified dead - are buried here"

Then fifteen names are listed - is it that the remains could not be separated and identified? 
These are probably the fifteen mentioned in the newspaper article of August 6, 1918, since Protestant, Catholic and Jewish clergy officiated - and the names listed suggest victims of all three faiths.

Syracuse, NY. Oakwood Cemetery. Monument to the Victims of the Split Rock Explosion. Inscription on back (north) side. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017
Syracuse, NY. Oakwood Cemetery. Monument to the Victims of the Split Rock Explosion. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017

Next time you are in Oakwood, go pay your respects.












Sunday, June 25, 2017

Morgan Dunne House on Allen Street, Designed by Ward Wellington Ward, to be Listed on National Register of Historic Places.

Syracuse, NY, Dunne Residence. Ward Wellington Ward, architect, 1914.
View from the Northeast.
Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016

Syracuse, NY, Dunne Residence. Ward Wellington Ward, architect, 1914.
View from the Southeast.
Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016


Morgan Dunne House on Allen Street, Designed by Ward Wellington Ward, to be Listed on National Register of Historic Places.
by Samuel D. Gruber

I am happy to report that the Morgan Duune House at 464 Allen Street in Syracuse's Westcott Neighborhood, passed muster at the June 15th meeting of the New York State Board for Historic Preservation and will soon be listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.  The Dunne House designation is added to the existing  Multiple Property Designation "Architecture of Ward Wellington Ward in Syracuse, NY 1908-1932," created in the 1990s.

The house is presently covered with unsightly yellow aluminum siding, but examination indicates that much of the original siding is intact underneath.  Similarly, the interior of the house is remarkably intact, including its original tile fireplace. Original drawings for the houses exist at the Onondaga Historical Association and will allow restoration to its original appearance.

The full nomination form, which I drafted on behalf of the building owner, can be read here. I would like to thank Ward expert Cleota Reed for her help, and SHPO's Virginia Bartos for review and editing of the text.

 
Syracuse, NY, Dunne Residence. Ward Wellington Ward, architect, 1914.
Rear (west) facade.
Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016
Syracuse, NY, Dunne Residence. Ward Wellington Ward, architect, 1914.
Remains of original kitchen porch and trellis.
Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016
Quoting from the nomination summary:
The Morgan A. Dunne Residence is a 2-1/2 story single family Arts & Crafts style residence on the west side of the 400 block of Allen Street, an important residential street on the eastside of Syracuse in the Westcott Neighborhood. The house is located between Harvard Place and East Genesee Street, closer to East Genesee. In recent decades parts of the original exterior have been covered in yellow aluminum siding, but test examination shows that much or most of the original angled clapboard siding remains intact, and that the original exterior appearance can be restored. All the windows, one exterior door, and most of interior doors are original; a portion of decorative porch parapet wall over the entrance remains, the original trellis survives on the small back porch adjacent to the kitchen, and its highly likely that many more features are intact beneath the siding. The front porch and the entrance porch are intact, though some elements have been covered or removed. The missing elements are well documented in original architectural drawings preserved at the Onondaga Historical Association, and can be replicated and replaced.
Inside, the house preserves most of its original plan and features, including floors, steps, windows, doors, fireplace, closets, built-in storage areas and some hardware...
Typical of Ward's houses, even the more modest ones like this early example, is the inclusion of a distinctive fireplace and hearth decorated with Moravian tiles. In her earlier research on Ward, Cleota Reed found the receipts for the ordering and purchase of these tiles. Again, from the NR nomination:
"In the living room, toward the center of the house, is an inglenook with a Moravian (Mercer) tile fireplace beneath a wooden mantle. The hearth area in front of the fireplace is also paved with tile. Twelve decorative tiles on the face of the fireplace are in the Byzantine style in animal and vegetal designs. All of the tiles used are in simple geometric shapes. Records at the Moravian Pottery Works in Doylestown, Pennsylvania list all of the tiles ordered and their total price ($22.91). The facing employs “150 little bricks, brown, buff, plain, 2 ½” as well as green slip and tan stain cuts, blue half rounds and miters, green slip cubes and other tiles.The entire hearth and fireplace is original and has never been painted or otherwise changed."

Syracuse, NY, Dunne Residence. Ward Wellington Ward, architect, 1914.  Living room, view of fireplace. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016
Syracuse, NY, Dunne Residence. Ward Wellington Ward, architect, 1914.  Fireplace. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016
Syracuse, NY, Dunne Residence. Ward Wellington Ward, architect, 1914.  Fireplace detail. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016
There are still many opportunities to add Ward-design houses to the National Register. to date, only about half of the known Ward houses in the city of Syracuse - let alone in surround localities - have been nominated. At present, a similar effort is in progress for his Rochester houses. Beyond the documentation and designation of Ward's architecture is the need to more fully document the scores of other distinctive Arts & Crafts movement houses in Syracuse and to educate and encourage their private owners to maintain their original form and features. I would like to see both the Preservation association of Central New York and the Arts & Crafts Society of Central New York re-engage in this effort and step up to the challenge. After great enthusiasm for these houses in the 1970s through 1990s, in many cases a new generation needs to be re-educated about their design, function, beauty and preservation.

Each time a Wad wellington Ward House changes hands there is the very real prospect it wil lbe seriously altered by the new owner - but there is also the opportunity - as in the case of Morgan Dunne house - that it will be restored.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Oldest Houses on Madison Street Demolished

Syracuse, NY. 1029 and 1037 Madison Street. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
Syracuse, NY. 1029 and 1037 Madison Street, after demolitions. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016
Oldest Houses on Madison Street Demolished 
by Samuel D. Gruber

The two oldest houses on Madison Street on the Syracuse's Eastside, were recently demolished by their new owner without much notice or any comment.  The houses were tired-looking, but not derelict in anyway.  They have been income earning rentals for decades.
This block is also noteworthy for the Herbert Walker House (1911) at the corner with Walnut Ave. 

The removal of these houses continues the transformation of Madison Street from a street of private houses, to one to houses turned into (mostly student) rentals, and thence into larger apartment complexes and more surface parking. This is all part of the surging real estate and building boom on University Hill, where the expansion of University populations and the willingness of students (or their families) to pay to top dollar prices has made housing on The Hill more lucrative than ever.  

We'll be seeing more and more student apartment buildings - often five stories or more - in the next few years. One of these just went up on University Ave. between Madison Street and East Genesee, right across the from where the new Ronald McDonald House was built a few years ago. The last time a big wave of development swept this area was a century ago when the 900 block of Madison St. and some adjacent areas were rebuilt with Temple Concord (1911), the Sherbrooke Apartments (1914), the Madison School (1917), the Chaumont Apts (1928), the Washington Arms Apts (1928) and other buildings were erected - all before the Great Depression of the 1930s.
 
Syracuse, NY. 1029 and 1037 Madison Street. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2011
   
My guess is that the two wood-frame Italianate houses were probably built some time between late 1860s through the early 1880s. I have not done detailed deed work to determine their actual date, but cube-shaped Italianate houses of this type either in wood or more expansive brick, often with expansions on the rear, were once common throughout the city. They survive most in areas where development pressures have been limited. Today they are gone from the downtown, and now with the removal of the houses on Madison, they are about gone from the Eastside, too. The largest number of similar houses can be found north of the former Eire Canal, in what is now the greater  Hawley-Green in the many area, and then further on the Northside on the many blocks of the old First Ward, near Washington Square.
Syracuse, NY. similar houses on the 1400 block of Spring Street (Northside). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012

I have an office at Temple Concord on Madison Street and have walked and biked this block of Madison Street for years, all the while watching changes. When the owner of these house died recently, and then her estate sold her rental properties, I suspected that these structures were doomed to be replaced be something bigger and shinier - like the expansion of an old house at 116 Comstock Avenue right next door. That project in 2012, undertaken by William A. Osuchowski and his family real estate/rental firm OPR Property Management, changed a two-and-half story Queen Anne corner lot house into an three-and-a half story apartment building that covers twice the ground. The new structure - which is quite attractive in a new-old sort of way - incorporates some of the old structure (see photos),and  now has at least seven or eight units, some of which have three bedrooms and rent for over $2,000 per month. 

Syracuse, NY. 116 Comstock Ave. before transformation. Photo: Google
Syracuse, NY. 116 Comstock Ave. during transformation. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012
Syracuse, NY. 116 Comstock Ave. during transformation. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012
Syracuse, NY. 116 Comstock Ave. after transformation. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

 Syracuse, NY. 1000 block of Madison Street showing two demolished houses next to bulk of 116 Comstock. Photo: Google
The now-demolished houses were, I believe, purchased by Osuchowski, who in January 2015 filed to have the three properties joined as one. That means the site of the two house may be developed, or they may be used for more surface parking, but I assume the former, since why would any buyer give the existing rental income? One can see from google maps how much surface parking has already been added to the 1100 block of Madison. This is a hillside site and the problem of water runoff needs to be considered. Certainly, this type of development if not done properly undermines any local gains of Onondaga County's Save the Rain program.

This type of transformation is inevitable in a neighborhood where there is such demand. Except for the Walnut Park area - which is a National Register Historic District and ideally should be locally protected -  most of the Hill has lost its historic integrity. The earlier appearance and atmosphere of the area cannot be saved or re-established. We can and should, however, have some design guidelines and design overview to with the goal that the neighborhood begin created today will have aesthetic and quality-of-life values in the future, as well as economic value in the short term. It would be good to see zoning, planning and design guidelines for the area applied not in a reactive piece-by-piece manner, but in a pro-active and more comprehensive way.

Perhaps the new ReZone Syracuse effort can address this? We also need to be attentive that the transformation of the 1000 and 1100 block of Madison Street does not spill over without serious review onto the 1200 block of Madison, which forms the northern boundary of Thornden Park, and beyond. Already on that block and further east the "remuddling" of many fine old houses has stripped the neighborhood of much of its visual stimulation.

I hope that whatever replaces the 19th-century Italianate houses on Madison Street can also last a century and look as good, and the money invested creates local jobs; and that income from the project gets reinvested in Syracuse as much as possible.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Going "Dutch": On the Origins of the Ubiquitous Gambrel Roof "Colonial" House

Syracuse, NY. 700 Allen Street (corner of Clarke St). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016
Syracuse, NY. 122 & 120 Concord Place. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016
Syracuse, NY. 250 Cambridge . Photo: Samuel D. Gruber
Syracuse, NY. 100 block of Fellows Ave. two versions of the gambrel roof "Dutch Colonial" house, one showing its gable to the street; the pother its shed dormer. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016

Going "Dutch": On the Origins of the Ubiquitous Gambrel Roof "Colonial" House
by Samuel D. Gruber

In my Westcott Neighborhood in Syracuse, and in many other areas of the city and inner suburbs developed in the early 20th century, one of the most notable house types is the so-called Dutch Colonial Revival House, with its distinctive gambrel roof.  I'm often asked the origins of this house type, with the interlocutor hopeful of some telling historical anecdote. Alas, the history and popularity of the form has less to do with early American history than more modern American marketing. 

There is nothing Dutch about the house and it has nothing to do with Dutch heritage. As Daniel Rieff, in his Houses from Books: Treatises, Pattern Books, and Catalogs in American Architecture, 1738-1950: A History and Guide (University Park, PA, Penn State university Press, 2000) has pointed out: "Although the house type was recognized as not found in Holland—while common enough in England —for better or for worse, this house type must be called “Dutch Colonial,” as it has been for more than ninety years."

Architects had been playing with the gambrel roof for houses since the 1880s, when they were common elements in shingle style houses. There were also some examples beginning around 1900 of the gambrel roof associated with "Colonial" elements  In 1907, however the type with a long shed dormer (rather than several discrete dormers) by the architect defined and presented by architect Aymar Embury II in a house he designed for a Garden City competition. The next year he popularized the house type in an article in International Studio (August 1908), “Modern Adaptations of the Dutch Colonial,” and in 1913 he published a book, The Dutch Colonial House: Its Origin, Design, Modern Plan, and Construction (1913), which forever established both type and  name. It became  popular throughout the United States but it is possible that after Embury's designation it had a special appeal in New York State because of local (but not in Syracuse) Dutch history. 


Syracuse, NY. 122 Concord Place. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016
Dutch Colonial House as described and illustrated in Loizeaux, Classic Houses of the Twenties, "Which Style of Home?"
Design 5-A071. Robert T. Jones, ed. Small Homes of Architectural Distinction (1929).. Photo: from Rieff, p. 211

In plan, however, the house differed little from the even more common gable roof house, popularly dubbed Colonial, though in many of the Dutch designs the construction of the second floor (bedrooms) and attic were conflated. The gambrel roof - where each roof slope is broken into two jointed parts, allowed for more head room on the topmost story, in what otherwise might have been an attic.  In the larger versions, where the  house had two full stories and then a gambrel roof, the third story became more usable space - with high ceilings and more light.

In the Westcott neighborhood,the Dutch style is especially evident on the one-block long Concord Place which was mostly developed in the years between 1900 and 1914. A big house at 116 Concord has a gambrel cross-gable, and there is a similar house at 120 Concord.   At the east end of the street even Arts and Crafts architect Ward Wellington Ward adapted the Dutch style in 1910 for the main wing of the Tuck House, at 126 Concord Place, one of his early houses in the neighborhood. 



Syracuse, NY. 116 Concord Pl. (c. 1900). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016

Syracuse, NY. 120 Concord Place. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016
Syracuse, NY. 126 Concord Pl. Ward Wellington Ward, architect (1910). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016

Even in the teens, the gambrel roof was also being employed in more modest designs such as the New Eden and Tucson house models in the Aladdin Built in a Day House catalog of 1917. These houses derive from the simple gable-front "homestead" house that was come on small farms and more rural lots, but also was an easy-to-built starter home for a family of modest means living on a city street. Slightly more robust versions of these homes can be found throughout the Westcott Neighborhood, including 712 Lancaster Ave. and 115 Clarke Street. 
The New Eden Aladdin Built in a Day House Catalog, 1917
The Tucson. Aladdin Built in a Day House Catalog, 1917
 
Syracuse, NY. 712 Lancaster Ave.  Built after 1908. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013
Syracuse, NY 115 Clarke St. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2011

In the 1920s the Dutch Colonial design was a very popular variant of new Colonial Revival architecture, especially in the expanding urban and suburban development area where single family homes were promoted. The two-story version was favored by proponents of well-design small homes, and many examples were featured in widely circulated manuals and books of house designs during the 1920s. In the first three decades of the 20th century, the so-called Dutch design was a popular one in various building catalogues.

According to Daniel  Rieff 

Soon versions of it could be found in mail-order-house company offerings. Aladdin’s attractively designed “The Lancaster,” “a Dutch Colonial type and one of the most truly artistic Aladdin homes,” is depicted in its 1915 catalog. Perhaps reflecting its relative newness as a type, the copy notes that “The Lancaster [is] an original design from the Aladdin architects.” It immediately became a popular type. “The Verona,” a gambrel-roofed house of this type available from Sears between 1918 and 1926, was another attractive version, with a surprisingly sumptuous living room twenty-seven feet long, made all the more appealing in the 1918 catalog by the rich color plates used to illustrate it. 
...Fourteen [Dutch Colonial Homes] were included in the 1929 compendium Small Homes of Architectural Distinction: A Book of Suggested Plans Designed by The Architects' Small House Service Bureau, Inc., edited by Robert T. Jones, “technical director” of the Bureau. ...Sears offered thirteen or fourteen models of so-called Dutch Colonial houses between 1918 and 1937.
The Verona. Sears Built Modern Homes (1918 catalog), 32. Photo: From Rieff color plate IX

In The Books of A Thousand Homes (Vol. 1), compiled by Henry Atterbury Smith and first published in 1923 by the home Owners Service institute, there are many examples of Dutch Colonial designs. Vol 1 is reprinted as a Dover edition with the new title 500 Small Houses of the Twenties (Dover, 1990). 

For further reading:
Reiff, Daniel D. Houses from Books: Treatises, Pattern Books, and Catalogs in American Architecture, 1738-1950: A History and Guide (University Park, PA, Penn State University Press, 2000. 
 
Smeins, Linda, 1999. Building an American Identity: Pattern Book Homes & Communities (Altamira Press, 1999).