“Roslyn” (P.T. Watt Mansion). 1896. Marietta and N. President Ave.
Archive for the ‘John Hausladen’ Category
Willis G. Hale
To understand the career of C. Emlen Urban, we must first examine the life and career of Willis Hale, for whom Urban worked in the mid-1880s (c.1884-1886), according to To Build Strong and Substantial. While Urban apprenticed with Scranton architect E.L. Walter in the early 1880s, very little information can be found on Mr. Walter. However, Hale was a prolific designer and amassed a large portfolio of projects during a career that spanned from the early 1870s until his death in 1907.
An examination of Hale’s work during the time of Urban’s service to him as a draftsman reveals a close adherence to contemporaneously popular styles, which were likely palatable to his clients. There is no doubt that Hale’s work influenced Urban, especially in Urban’s early career. Take, for example, Hale’s Home for the Incurables in Philadelphia, designed in 1880. While this building’s design and construction preceded Urban’s time at Hale’s firm, Urban’s Southern Market in Lancaster bears a more than coincidental similarity.
Hale’s work gradually evolved by the 1890s into a lighter, more refined, and less whimsical designs, as exemplified by these 1891 house he designed for the Philadelphia developer William Weightman (a loyal client). These rowhouses in West Philadelphia share similar “Cheateauesque” elements with Urban’s 1894-1896 houses on West Chestnut Street. By the late 1890s, Hale himself had succumbed to the emerging classical revivalism—if in ornament only—with the house designed Edward Thomas Davis at 38th and Ludlow Streets in Philadelphia and built in 1897 (the property has since been demolished). An examination of Hale’s and Urban’s work confirms that both experienced a career transition from Ruskinian Victorian to classicism, culminating in the mid-1890s.
Finally, in a departure from the Hale/Urban connection, I would like to touch on a recurring element in Ruskinian architectural thought that appears quite prominently on Urban’s Wagner’s Café, designed in 1891: The column capital.
Shown here is a sketch by John Ruskin entitled “Byzantine capitals, convex group” from his book The Stone of Venice (1853) alongside the column capital on Charlie Wagner’s Café. The similarities are glaring.
Ruskin’s Dissection of the Gothic:
Like many of his late-19th century contemporaries, Urban was influenced (consciously or not) by the ideas of John Ruskin (1819-1900). Ruskin was a strong proponent of the Gothic style of architecture, and his writings deeply influenced the Gothic Revival movement and Victorian-era architects on both sides of the Atlantic. Ruskin saw intellectual honesty and ideological agreement in the Gothic and identified six fundamental elements that expressed in the nature of Gothic in his book, The Stones of Venice, written in 1853. These elements are: (1) Savageness; (2) Changefulness; (3) Naturalism; (4) Grotesqueness; (5) Rigidity; and, (6) Redundance.
Ruskin identified savageness as a quality of the architecture that originated in northern Europe, as opposed to the classical architecture originating in southern and Eastern Europe. ‘Savageness’ meant a rude, wild, and rough quality that owed much to the characteristics of the people from which the Gothic sprang, as well as the climate and tribal societies in which people in the North lived. For Ruskin, savageness also implied deference to the worker (the craftsman) to which Gothic owed its element of “revolutionary ornament”; its imperfections in detail and design were preferable to Ruskin and meant that the worker was, literally, “free”. A society in which the worker was “free” was desirable to Ruskin because he believed that it allowed for the worker to have a sense of dignity and self-worth. “No architecture can be truly noble which is not imperfect,” Ruskin writes.
The second element of the Gothic, according to Ruskin, is changefulness. Ruskin believed that the Gothic best embodied this element because “great art…consists in its saying new and different things.” Ruskin identifies the pointed arch as an embodiment of this changefulness because it was not “merely a bold variation from the round, but it admitted of millions of variations of itself.” Third, Ruskin defined the naturalist quality as an element of the Gothic because it sought—in form and detail—to depict nature in its most rugged and severe state. Fourth, Ruskin identifies the grotesque element of the Gothic: fantastic and ludicrous and sublime in character. The fifth element, rigidity, refers to the structural system of the Gothic, and its activeness, depiction of tension, and expression of energy. Finally, redundance defined the Gothic as a style that essentially ‘wore its style on its sleeve’: its accumulation of ornament reflected the wealth of labor from which it was conceived.
In the mid-1880s, C. Emlen Urban worked as a draftsman in the firm of Philadelphia architect Willis G. Hale (1848-1907), who himself worked in the firm of Samuel Sloan in the 1860s. According to
Michael J. Lewis, “Hale’s genius was to take … essentially identical rowhouses, with their mass-produced industrial parts and lathe-turned woodwork, and to make them distinctive.” To a great extent, Hale labored in the shadow of his contemporary, Frank Furness, but never quiet managed to achieve the originality or innovative quality of Furness’s designs. Hale was a Ruskinian architect in the fact the he strongly embraced the contemporary Victorian design language of his era. Urban, unsurprisingly, would do the same.
Urban’s career, however, served as a bridge between the 19th and 20thcenturies, and his buildings reflected a broader movement away from the Ruskinian tradition and towards thethe classical Beaux Arts tradition. This transition occurred roughly between 1891 and 1898. While Charlie Wagner’s Café of 1891-1892 was pure Ruskin, Urban’s Lancaster Municipal Building of 1891 was his first Beaux Arts structure. To Build Strong and Substantial refers to it was “Venetian Renaissance”. It was hardly, however, invocative of the decaying Venetian Gothic that Ruskin so admired.
Urban would again return over the next few years to the Ruskinian tradition, designing the
Rathfon Houses in a Romanesque Revival Style (1892-1894) and Roslyn (Peter T. Watt Residence in 1896. Perhaps, however, Roslyn was Urban’s last truly Ruskinian Victorian Building.
In 1895 and 1898, respectively, Urban would design Jennie Potts’s Store and the Davidson Building in a style I would describe as “transitional”. However, by 1898-1899, with his designs for the Watt & Shand store and the Wharton School, Urban’s metamorphosis to the Beaux Arts was complete.
He would not return to medieval revivalism for buildings other than churches again until the eclectic revivalism (such as Tudor) of the 1920s.
Utilitas: Wagner’s Café was clearly built to house a commercial establishment. Its utilitas, for example, is mostly clearly expressed by the inset corner placement of the entrance. The purpose of this was to allow for ease of access—or at least to make the entrance to the building visible from the streets on both sides. Originally, this building housed a tavern on the first floor and rooms for rent on the upper floors. The different purposes of the stories are expressed on the façade via the large “belt” that surrounds the façade between the first and second stories. An cursory examination of the first floor reveals that this building was designed in the divisive method of ordering spaces.
Firmitas: As a late-nineteenth century Lancaster building, Wagner’s Café utilized brick because it was immediately available, commonplace, and (likely) fashionable. Brick also is the structural composition of this building. Romanesque arches that flank the corner entrance are not just visually enticing and historicizing but also structural. Generally, though, this building follows the trabeated model of structure. Because of the brick construction, openings for windows are relatively narrow compared to wall length and the building is limited in height (intentionally or not) to three stories. A notable exception to the brick structure is the iron post that supports the upper floors over the corner that has been cut away for the entrance.
Venustas: In many ways, Wagner’s Café is very much a historicizing building, stylistically. It borrows its arches from Rome, but its overall vibe strongly echoes medieval vernacular architecture. Definitively, Wagner’s Café combines elements of the Victorian Romanesque Revival and Queen Anne styles. In one way, the Café is predominately picturesque. The asymmetrical plan suggests a level of informality, while the severity in its proportion and verticality hint a slight air of formality—at least formality brought on only by the sublime, much like a Gothic cathedral. The feeling of the “sublime” arises particularly at the cut-away corner entrance: one feels quite disturbed—but at the same time, awed—in approaching the cutaway space that supports two stories plus a tower over it. The tower itself visually emphasizes this structural feat. There is a measure of “heaviness” to the façade of this building that is probably the result of what we know about its construction and the materials used.
25, 31 – This building is the home of the Hager Brothers Department Store and is labeled as such on the 1912 and the 1929 maps. It was constructed between 1891 and 1912. On the 1891 map, another large building with a similar—but not identical–footprint is labeled simply as a “dry goods store”. The post-1891 replacement building is labeled on the 1929 map as a “steel frame building of ordinary construction” and would date from at least 1912. This building is five stories tall and extends the depth of the block all the way to W. Grant St. This building stands today with a mostly unaltered King St. façade (one of only two buildings on the block today that stood before 1929) and houses several businesses on the lower stories, collectively named The Shops at Hager.
~ Hager Building:
This building dates from circa 1910 and demonstrates how far C. Emlen Urban had come from his earlier, late 19th century designs (for example, his circa 1895 Jennie Potts’s Building). The Hager building is a classic early 20th century commercial building designed in the Beaux Arts style. Similar to the W.W. Griest building and other urban American commercial buildings including those designed by Louis Sullivan, the Hager building articulates on its façade the various functions of its different levels. For example, the first storey is exaggerated, open (glass walls), and inviting for consumers. This is where the main, public level of a commercial enterprise would be located. The second through fourth stories are articulated as office space—the kind of places mid-level managers might toil away on a 9 to 5 shift. Finally, the “head” of the building—the fifth floor—could be the location of an auditorium, a restaurant, storage, executive offices, etc. In general, this building shares a similar composition as the human body with a foot, a torso, and a head.
The formality of the building is expressed through its symmetry, stone construction (over a steel frame), its Beaux Arts detailing (evocative of the grandest building of Europe, particularly Paris), and its overall classicism, which is suggestive of commerce, enterprise, and stability. These are essential concepts that the building communicates. Nevertheless, the Hager building is very much a “decorated shed.”
33, 35, 37 – In 1929, this building was the Hotel St. George. In 1912, it was the Hotel Realty. On the 1891 and 1886 maps, it is labeled, along with 39 West King St. as the “Cooper House”. Between 1891 and 1912, the building had an addition to its rear. It is four stories high. It no longer stands today; in its place, there is now a parking lot.
39 – In 1886 and 1891, this three-storey building appears to be an auxiliary building to the Cooper House the existed next door during this time period. It appears that a new building was constructed on this lot between 1891 and 1912. In 1912 and 1929, it does not appear to be affiliated with the subsequent hotels that occupied 33 to 37 W. King St. Between 1912 and 1929, the newer building appears to have gained a rear addition. This building no longer stands today. The lot it stood in is now used as a parking lot.
41 – The 1886 map shows a three storey building at this location. On the 1891 map, the same building is labeled as “crockery”—a place that would specialize in the sale of dishware and china. Between 1891 and 1912 the building underwent a rear addition. A larger building was built on the lot between 1912 and 1929 that was three stories high. This building is labeled as a furniture store on the 1929 map.
43, 45, 47, 49 – This building is one of two on this block that currently stands today and was built between 1891 and 1912 to replace an earlier structure. Its first floor is currently occupied by Jason’s Clothing and Menswear. On the 1886 map, a tobacco shop and a photo studio occupied an earlier structure on the lot.
~ Jennie Potts’s Store: This c.1895 C. Emlen Urban building has an overall eclecticism that makes it, in a way, slightly less formal than a full-on Beaux Arts building but not entirely picturesque. This is probably indicative of the era in which it was designed and constructed: classical revivalism post-Columbian Exposition hadn’t entirely caught on, but the picturesque medievalism of the Victorian era was definitely waning. Notably, this building carries some Renaissance flavor, particularly in the cornice design, the window capitals, and in the small “porthole” windows. Like many buildings, it is decidedly a “decorated shed”—albeit one with detailing that is not particularly easy to define. Perhaps, this building—in a historical architectural context—could best be described as transitional.
51 – This building is the Hotel Manhattan on the 1929 map. It is three stories high and is conjoined with an “auto repairing” shop to its rear. On the 1886, 1891, and 1912 maps, this building was instead labeled the Sorrel Horse Hotel. Adjacent to the rear of the 45 and 43 W. King Street was a hitching shed. On the 1929 map, this shed has become an automobile garage.
53, 55 – These buildings on the 1929 and 1912 map were side-by-side twin buildings and each was 2 ½ stories high. On the 1886 and 1891 maps, a different building with a different footprint occupies this lot. It was labeled as a “barber [shop]”. These buildings are no longer standing. Currently, a one storey, late-twentieth century building occupies this lot, which houses a dollar store, along with an Art Deco building that houses A&W Jewelry.
Post-1929 buildings on the west end of the block:
~ A&W Jewelry: This is a very interesting and bizarre little building. Immediately, it appears to be Art Deco. This is because of the “stepped” (3 “levels”) wall surrounding the corner entrance (if you look closely, you can see it) and its façade, which is covered in large (possibly ceramic) tiles. It is a “decorated shed”, but not a particularly decorated one at that. However, the color scheme is eye-catching but not particularly “beautiful”. If anything, this building is modern in construction and style. It was conceived as—and almost certainly always has been—a commercial building.
~ 99¢ Store: This mid-to-late 20th century building is the simplest and most generic expression of modern commercial architecture. In a way, it is a building without architecture or Venustas. It is wholly focused on its Utilitas; it is a building that houses a commercial enterprise and exists solely to further the enterprise at the lowest cost possible for the greatest net benefit to the enterprise.