Sunday, August 3, 2014

There are going to be loose ends - Part 2

This is Part Two of a two-part blog. Click HERE to read Part One.

Attempting to attribute the design of a structure to an architect with no building citation from its time of construction can be a difficult endeavor. Even with substantial corroborating evidence, there is always a hint of doubt. An excellent example of ongoing research where I have been trying to identify the architect of a home is the William Flinn Residence. 
William Flinn Residence, Pittsburgh, PA, ca 1896. Image from Utica Heater Company advertisement published in Architectural Forum, November, 1921.
While compiling research on Silsbee's work in the Pittsburgh parks, I came across an image of a home of one of the men involved in park construction, William Flinn. I had seen the home before but the previous image I had didn't capture my interest the way that this one, in an advertisement for an upstate New York heater company, did.

Flinn was an interesting character. He was a senator and a contractor and along with Christopher Magee, he was a political boss in Pittsburgh. Magee was the cousin of the Director of Public Works, Edward Bigelow and eventual benefactor of the Pittsburgh Zoo. Flinn made donations to that same venture. Both Flinn and Magee also held ownership of all the streetcars in Pittsburgh. In 1896, at the same time the zoo was being planned, Flinn built a palatial Classical Revival home for his family at the entry to Highland Park.
View of entry to Highland Park from the Detroit Publishing Company Collection held by the Library of Congress. The Flinn home can be seen to the right of the large entry gateway to the park.
Flinn's choice of location for his home may seem like an aesthetically fortunate one; situating his grand estate adjacent to a beautiful park setting. It was also a shrewd business move. Flinn had amassed a large amount of land along Highland Avenue. Beginning in 1895, Pittsburgh undertook an unprecedented expenditure of funds to improve its two major parks, Schenley Park and Highland Park. Chicago architect, J. L. Silsbee, was hired to provide a master plan including new bridges, entrance gateways, refectories, boathouse, observatory and a zoo. Highland Park was chosen to have the parks most popular attraction, the Highland Park Zoo. The primary means for residents to reach the park was by the street cars and by the main thoroughfare approaching the park, Highland Avenue. As such, a large amount of money for public improvements was spent on this street and on the park entrance. Flinn took advantage of this opportunity. Is it also possible that Flinn was so impressed with Silsbee's proposed architecture for the parks that he hired him to design a home near one of the main park entrances?
William Flinn's Residence (upper left) compared with other Silsbee-designed structures including the West Virginia Building at the World's Columbian Exposition (upper right), the William Hammond Residence (lower left) and the John Fyffe Residence (lower right).
Physical evidence that Silsbee was involved with the design for Flinn seems very strong, particularly when compared with other Silsbee structures designed in the same Classical Revival style. The planning of Flinn's home with a strict symmetry and extensive verandas bears a remarkable resemblance to the West Virginia Building that Silsbee designed four years earlier for the World's Columbian Exposition. This same planning method was used on a more modest scale in Silsbee's plan for John Fyffe's home, built that same year. The corner pilasters on the Flinn home mimic those on the West Virginia Building and on the William Hammond Residence.
Image of Residence of William Flinn from the American Contractor, March 7, 1908, A. M. Sillsby, architect.
One piece of evidence that confuses my search for an architect of Flinn's home is the first image I ever saw of it. Years ago, friend and historian Martin Wachadlo forwarded me an image from the American Contractor. Always on the lookout for interesting research finds, Martin came across an image of a home by an architect named "A. M. Sillsby" of Chicago. I had it in a file and didn't think much of it until I came across new images of Flinn's home year's later. I decided to dig a bit more and discovered a problem: there never was an A. M. Sillsby of Chicago. Actually, subsequent research fails to find an A. M. Sillsby, architect in any city. The only architect with a similar name in Chicago is J. L. Silsbee. Is this a bad misspelling or is there an "A. M. Sillsby" out there that has not been discovered?

A final coincidence that seems to point back to Joseph Silsbee as architect for Flinn's home is a commission that Silsbee receives in 1905. That year he is hired by Flinn's brother in law, George Darr, to design a home at Belle Haven, an exclusive residential section along the Long Island Sound, in Greenwich, Connecticut. Darr's home, a large Georgian estate, was nothing like Flinn's but given the time of its construction and its location, this isn't a surprise.
George Darr Residnece, Greenwich, Connecticut (1905), J. L. Silsbee, architect.
From the numerous newspaper articles that have come to light, it is clear that Silsbee did much more work in the city of Pittsburgh than a zoo building. His earliest works were unrealized proposals for Phipp's Conservatory in 1892 and he continued a relationship with key individuals in that city up to his work on the Pittsburgh zoo, completed in 1898. Given this fact and the circumstances surrounding the interpersonal connections between Silsbee clients and Flinn, it is highly plausible that he was involved with the design of Flinn's home.


Saturday, August 2, 2014

There are going to be loose ends - Part 1

The goal of compiling a "complete" list of works for an architect that closed his final office just over a hundred years ago and left no papers behind is a lofty one. The chore of completing such a task is compounded, in the case of my work with J. L. Silsbee, by the fact that he had three offices in three different cities. 

Since no office records exist, identifying works is done through hours of research of newspapers, architectural journals, and other published sources from the time when Silsbee was practicing. For my purposes, I typically pair that research with physical evidence of the building. This can be done in person if the building is standing or by relying on photographic evidence if the building is demolished. Typically, if the building appears to have been designed by Silsbee because of its physical characteristics and I am able to find a citation in an archival resource, I can, with some authority, record the building as being designed by him.

Much of my work was built upon similar work previously done by Donald Pulfer, Martin Wachadlo and Susan Karr Sorrell who cataloged much of Silsbee's work from the Syracuse, Buffalo and Chicago offices respectively. With the development of the internet came advances in archival research and availability of resources. As such, a massive amount of additional information has come to light since previous lists of SIlsbee's work was done.

Still, there are many gaps in the research and pieces of partial information that leads to a certain level of incompleteness in the research. Often times I have a building citation but can't find enough information to locate the building. Other times, I locate a building in a citation and find that it looks nothing like a work that Silsbee might have designed. On the other side of the coin, I've come across many buildings that appear to have been designed by Silsbee and there is substantial circumstantial evidence that points to his authorship but I can't be certain that he designed it because there is no contemporary written source. These sort of research gaps have caused me to critically examine previously published materials on the subject. If they are occurring with my work, then they likely occurred with previous studies. One case where a work might be called into question is the  "Edward Butler Home".
"Edward Butler Home" (ca 1886), Linwood Avenue, Buffalo, NY. Architect Unknown
"The Edward Butler Home" was published as such in the remarkable 1981 guide book, Buffalo Architecture: A Guide. The guide also lists Silsbee & Marling as the architects. There is one problem with this assertion. Despite a massive amount of research that has been done about the homes on this beautiful street, no citation has been found that can link Silsbee or Marling to its design. It seems that the home was attributed, largely based on physical evidence. This argument of authorship is best laid out in Austin Fox's essay on the subject from the Buffalo Spree from 1986. My friend and Buffalo historian, Martin Wachadlo was the first to question Fox's assertions. Though Fox presents some persuasive evidence, the lack of a building citation causes me to side with Martin. There are several citations for this site that seem to point not only to a different architect but also a different initial owner of the structure. Upon closer inspection of the home, it also seems to be lacking many plan and layout features that would have been present in Silsbee's work during this period. With the lack of these identifying features, coupled with the lack of connections with any possible client or owner, I would likely not include this home in the final catalog I prepare.

A more complicated situation exists when I've actual discovered a citation but then the physical evidence doesn't completely back it up. This is the case with the Offices for Jacob Amos & Sons. Several years ago, while browsing online newspapers, I found a citation that Silsbee was designing offices for the mill establishment in Syracuse.  
Citation noting the new Jacob Amos & Sons' Offices from the Syracuse Standard, March 6, 1883.
Silsbee's involvement in the project makes complete sense. He designed the company's warehouse building a block away a few years earlier. He also designed the home of company head, Charles Amos. He had a long-standing relationship with Charles and the company so it seemed to be a logical choice as architect for the offices. What is great is that the office building still stands on the edge of downtown Syracuse and when you compare the appearance with the building citation, it seems to match up.
Jacob Amos & Sons Company Offices, Syracuse NY, 1885 attributed to J. L. Silsbee, architect. 
There are two minor problems though. The first one is that the building is not overtly Silsbee-like. It is an attractive building and it has many features that I would typically attribute to Silsbee but it doesn't have any single defining feature or motif that I would assert that only Silsbee would use. The second problem is a bit more glaring. The building has a date on it that doesn't work neatly into Silsbee's history in Syracuse. 
Stone tablet in the gable of the Jacob Amos & Sons Company Offices noting the construction date, "1885".
By 1884, Joseph Silsbee and his family had permanently moved from Syracuse to Chicago and in 1885, he dissolved his partnership in Syracuse with architect Ellis G. Hall. The construction of the office building for Jacob Amos & Sons occurred after Silsbee left the city of Syracuse. 
Citation noting that the Amos Offices were in the process of construction from the Syracuse Standard, July 17, 1885.
This fact alone doesn't prove that Silsbee did not design the present structure. Actually, it the designs could have easily been completed in 1883, when the first citation was published and construction put off until 1885, with Ellis Hall or another local architect overseeing construction to Silsbee's plans. It also was constructed by John Moore, the same contractor that completed several other SIlsbee structures and a Silsbee client himself. In this case, I will probably include the building in the final catalog but it is not without reservation due to the gap in design and construction dates.

This is Part One of a Two-part blog. Click HERE to read Part Two. 



Sunday, June 22, 2014

Homes for Egbert and Malcolm Jamieson

By the mid-1880's it was becoming more and more common for Chicago's upper class to abandon the idea of living in a large stone or brick mansion along a fashionable urban boulevard for an alternate frame home in a more rural-looking setting. The homes that J. L. Silsbee was designing for suburban areas at Buena Park and Edgewater, with their seemingly informal planning and artful combination of English cottage and Colonial elements made the architect particularly popular with clients seeking out homes with a more pastoral appearance.               
Postcard from John Chuckman Collection: West on Stratford Pl. near Lake Michigan, Chicago, IL (1913)
It is in this context that the first homes on Stratford Place (at that time called Newport Avenue) were constructed. One of the earliest of these was a Dutch Colonial home for Judge Egbert Jamieson. Jamieson's home was soon followed by the construction of a shingle style home under the direction of Adler & Sullivan for George Harvey. It was built on a lot directly to the west of Jamieson's home. A year after Egbert Jamieson's home was completed, Silsbee was at work on a home for Egbert's brother, Malcom Jamieson. Malcom's home was an English cottage-styled structure and built just east of the judge's residence. The three homes set the tone and appearance of the street for the next couple of decades. A postcard from 1913 captures what thes three homes looked like. Malcom Jamieson's home is in the foreground, Judge Jamieson's is next and the Harvey home is just beyond that. All of these homes are now gone and a history of the street is captured in the blog: Lake View Historical Chronicles.

The initial connection between Silsbee and the Jamieson family is not known but given the dual comissions, it can be assumed that he was somewhat close with at least Judge Jamieson but perhaps with both of the brothers. The Jamiesons were Vermont natives who came to Wisconson and then Chicago at young ages. Malcom was a banker and had his own firm, Morse, Jamieson & Co. Judge Jamieson started out as a typesetter and then lawyer. He was appointed to the Superior Court of Cook County in 1886 and served there four years. After stepping down from the court, he became legal council for the North and West Chicago Street Railway Companies. He also served on the Lincoln Park Comission. Silsbee did work for the street railway companies and was one of the favored architects by the Comission while Jamieson was on it.    
Judge Egbert Jamieson (1840-1912)
Judge Jamieson's home is not unique for Silsbee's work in this period and it is one of four known Dutch Colonial homes that he designed in 1888. There are a handful of unique features of in this particular design though. One is the incorporation of two discrete, almost complete, circle-rooms in the design. One is part of the sweeping front porch that stretches completely across the front of the home and wraps around the east side. From here you would have had a remarkable view of the lake, that was only a block away. Another circular room was situated on the northeast corner of the home and served as the judge's library.
Egbert Jamieson's home in 1892 from publication, Chicago and Its Resources Twenty Years After 1871-1891
Completed a year earlier, the Arthur Orr Residence, still standing in Evanston, IL, has many similar elements. A massive rubble-stone base, clapboard and shingle exterior and massive round porches. All of these elements seem to be neatly organized beneath a sweeping gambrel roof. The roof surface faces the street and has a generally horizontal expression along that facade.
Arthur Orr Residence (1887-88), J. L. Silsbee, architect
Silsbee's design approach a couple years later, for Malcolm's home, is quite different. The long sweeping porch that extends across the front in the judge's home is still present here but in this home, at least from what you can discern by the piece that you can see in the postcard image, the roofline is much more varied and the overall organization and massing more complex. It too has a massive stone base but instead of favoring Colonial detailing, the details on the home are articulated in an English Gothic style. Incidentally, stone mason, John Monaghan, was responsible for the complex stone work on both Jamieson homes, the Orr home, as well as Silsbee's Lincoln Park Conservatory.  
Detail of Malcolm Jamieson Residence from John Chuckman postcard.
The Jamieson homes seem to evidence how Silsbee was at the forefront of residential design in this period and how he influenced residential design executing some of the earliest shingle style and Colonial homes along the shore, north of Chicago. In many ways, these early structures set the tone for structures that followed the few years after. The development of Stratford Place mirrors development that was occurring a block south, on Hawthorn Place and with buildings by Sullivan, Root, Maher, and others, the two streets have a rich history of architectural patronage, particularly in how they exhibit how each firm was executing homes in the shingle style. It is during this period that Silsbee also completed his Herman Hettler residence on that street on Hawthorn Place. As as architects, Silsbee in particular, they had obviously tapped into a particular desires of affluent clientele for a particular kind of home; one with a decidedly horizontal and weighty expression and one that was constructed with an eye to using wood construction in an inventive manner.
Herman Hettler Residence on Hawthorn Place (1892), J. L. Silsbee, architect
The number of Silsbee works in this area is evidence of how he was influencing the appearance of these suburban-looking dwellings. His work on similar designs for a large number of homes in nearby Buena Park and in the Edgewater suburb shows how popular his brand of shingle style dwelling was at the time. Silsbee's influence on the residential character of these early neighborhoods also comes from the fact that some of the architects that were executing works, were once in Silsbee's office. Sullivan's office had just taken on Frank Lloyd Wright and George Elmslie when design on the Harvey home was starting. A more profound influence can be seen in George Maher's work. Maher's Albert Towers home, commissioned in 1893, was constructed directly across the street from Malcolm Jamieson's home on Stratford. Maher was in Silsbee's office when Judge Jamieson's and Arthur Orr's homes were planned. He would have experienced, first-hand, the design of homes like these. It is no a surprise that Maher executes a design that, with its massive stone base, huge rounded porch and large gambrel roof, provides precisely the same domestic impression as Silsbee's work in the area.          

Albert Towers Residence (1893-94), G. W. Maher, architect