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Table of Contents & Main Body

  1. 1. South Cathedral Place, Richmond, Virginia (1889): Up From the Ashes Jessica Marie Bankston A Research Project Prepared Under the Direction of Dr. Charles Brownell In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for ARTH 502 Historic Preservation and Architectural History Department of Art History Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond, Virginia November 2009
  2. 2. Table of Contents South Cathedral Place, Richmond, Virginia (1889): Up From the Ashes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Illustrations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37 Appendix A -- Building History and Architectural Catalogue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41 Appendix B -- Chronological Events Catalogue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54 Appendix C -- Possible Architects and Builder-Contractors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60 Appendix D -- Fan Freestyle Architectural Patterns . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63 Appendix E -- Matching and Adapted Porch Styles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69 Appendix F -- 811-819 South Cathedral Place Floor Plans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77
  3. 3. 1 I endeavour in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it! --Charles Dickens, December, 18431 What would Charles Dickens say about the brick row of houses at South Cathedral Place? Perhaps he would summon the ghosts of place and time to unveil the importance of these buildings. Why were they built, and by whom? What happened here over the years? A number of spirits could answer these questions. But like Ebenezer Scrooge’s well-known night, we will be visited by three to take us back and reveal the circumstances, trends, and individuals that brought the row to be. The first visitor, the Spirit of Neighborhoods Past, will take us on a tour of the site where our row now stands, and bring to life events from its acquisition by the developer, to it’s place in the Monroe Park neighborhood heyday of the early 1900s. We will understand why the row was built and what it was for. Second, we will be visited by the Spirit of Styles Past, who will reveal how this row was put together, from the overall exterior assemblage to the interior vernacular elements. Thirdly, we will summon the Spirit of Builders Past who reveal the clues left behind for us to interpret. For ease of reference, throughout the course of this work, the row of focus at 811-819 South Cathedral Place (formerly Floyd Avenue) may occasionally be referred to as “Shafer’s row.” PART I: The Spirit of Neighborhoods Past Prior to the Civil War, the area where Shafer’s row stands became known as Sydney and was mostly rural landscape spotted by a few pastoral residences. One of the most notable was the four-acre estate of John C. Shafer (fig.1), the old Mansfield Watkin’s house, built in 1817, and located on the north line of Park Avenue and extending north of Franklin Street. Shafer sensed the promise of future development in this area, and began to buy up neighboring parcels of land as they became 1 Preface to A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.
  4. 4. 2 available.2 As destiny unfolded, on March 2, 1858 Shafer acquired the land on which the row would sprout thirty years later, from Richard D. Mitchell. During the recovery years following the Civil War, the land -- then part of Henrico county -- remained undeveloped, until after several failed attempts, the City of Richmond successfully annexed the Sydney vicinity in 1867. City councilman Colonel Albert Ordway at the time lobbied heavily for a new park at the location of the existing Monroe Square fairgrounds, which had been cleared for a field hospital during the war. In 1869, a $1,000 appropriation allowed for the planting of trees throughout the square, to “…revive the original vision of an ornamental green space that would attract fashionable residential development.”3 With this public amenity taking shape and the growing availability of public transportation, and water and sewer lines, the area became increasingly more attractive to residents and developers. Through the 1870s and 1880s Richmond experienced a new period of commercial and financial progress, which resulted in the construction of many fine houses along Franklin Street, and Park, Grove and Floyd Avenues, fulfilling the original vision for the area. At this point, Shafer was in a good position to profit from selling the many acres he held (fig. 2), including the land destined for Lewis Ginter’s famed residence. Between 1887 and 1889, he sold several parcels to building contractors including Gilbert J. Hunt and Trexler and Elmore, however, Shafer held on to the parcel that would be home to our row, and developed the project as residential investment properties to lease. This is John C. Shafer’s only known residential venture, while others included commercial buildings, such as the Shafer Building on Main Street (fig. 3). The buildings were in the course of construction by July 1889,4 and ready for occupants within a few months. During the last quarter of the 19th century, the few blocks stretching west of Monroe Park were recognized as the “desirable west end,” just as Short Pump is called today. We see a familiar pattern of residents to the new row who resemble many occupants of modern day west end Richmond; young, 2 Carneal, 55. 3 Clinger, 11. 4 Mutual Assurance Society Policies
  5. 5. 3 successful professionals seeking new, upscale developments. All, except for the Parrishes at 819, moved from easterly downtown residences on Grace or Franklin Streets.5 These first residents of the row became patrons in the idyllic and exuberant resplendence of suburban Richmond life at the turn of the century. It is this period that is buoyantly illustrated in David Clinger’s The Ghosts and Glories of Monroe Park: The park during the day was popular with nurses and their well-attired wards, who were joined later in the day by older promenaders. On the porch of the park house, the band of the Richmond Light Infantry Blues played weekly summer-evening concerts […] Richmond’s James Branch Cabell, the distinguished novelist, wrote that “in no part of Richmond were mammies infrequent, but it was in Monroe Park that you noted them in full panoply. To every bench there would be two or three mammies; alongside most of the benches sprawled a baby carriage…none dared to assail the authority of the mammies of Richmond within the borders of their several kingdoms….”6 For the first fifteen years, the residents of Shafer’s row enjoyed a view across the street to the triangular lot fostering the Toler flower garden and greenhouse on land that was leased from Bishop Keane of the Catholic Church. On June 4, 1903, the residents of the Monroe Park area observed the beginning of a significant change in the landscape when the cornerstone for the future Cathedral of the Sacred Heart was laid on that lot. This event cemented the distinctive character of the neighborhood, and made it a special place to live. The planned, picturesque vicinity, specifically the Cathedral and Monroe Park, was quite prestigious, and just as structural architecture attracted attention via newspapers, letters and diaries, monumental or landscape design was also cause for celebration because “Americans often looked to their cultural output as an index of their productivity and well-being.”7 Accordingly, this setting was depicted through a number of postcards at the time (fig. 4). Through this tour we have revived the spirit of a man who helped shape the development of the 5 Chataigne’s Directory of Richmond, 1889. 6 Clinger, 20. 7 Handlin, 39.
  6. 6. 4 lower Fan in late 19th century, and that the spirit of the neighborhood was once alive and rich in this picturesque, close-knit community. Children of all ages enjoyed the park or played throughout the alleys and yards; residents anticipated who they might see strolling from block to block as evenings fell, and Shafer’s row was erected to offer a few rising Richmonders a place in this blossoming scene. PART II: The Spirit of Style Past Try summoning the Spirit of Styles Past at Shafer’s row, and we are inundated with a profusion of exotic flavors and motifs. Is this a mishmash or an intentional blend? The leading handbook for understanding American architecture, A Field Guide To American Houses, is helpful in instances of stylistic cohesion, but it doesn’t do us any good in identifying the fusion happening here. The Spirit of Styles Past will show us that in Richmond’s Fan District, from the late 19th century through well into the 20th century, production builders followed a new industry model of deliberate blending of style to fashion a “cohesive contradiction” in middle class house patterns. Arguably the most prominent feature of the row is the Modern French or Second Empire mansard roofline, housing a third story on the front portion of the dwellings, a technique ideal for urban town house designs. But, is it a surprise to see this element applied in 1889 Richmond? A Field Guide to American Houses identifies the span of popularity of this style from 1860-1880, “with late examples not uncommon in the 1880s.”8 But here we are pushing 1890, with the replication of this element far from being finished in the Fan District of Richmond. A near duplication of the mansard-roofed row was executed in 1895 by an unknown architect at 1206-1210 Park Avenue, using a side hall plan with a three story canted bay, but with a rock faced coursed ashlar stone façade, and side stone porch with round stone columns and stylized capitals (fig. 5). In fact, as Fan area production builders developed westerly lots over the next few decades, the mansard roof is applied in the majority of instances, but often in only a half or three-quarters third story. The answer to our question of timely placement is given by architectural innovators such as 8 McAlester and McAlester, 242.
  7. 7. 5 William T. Comstock, when in 1881 he acknowledged the French style as having “been supplanted by our present modified Gothic, which appears as ‘Queen Anne,’ ‘Elizabethan,’ ‘Jacobean,’ or ‘Colonial’…[and] while bearing many characteristics of their prototypes, do not adhere strictly to any of them. Thus, in what is known as the Queen Anne (of the present day) is frequently introduced classic features, and the same is true of the other styles.”9 Elements were being used in conjunction with other -- sometimes classical -- stylistic features to create a “free style.” The architectural communities’ call for a blend of styles, and “cohesive contradiction” continued, and was even recommended, as detailed in American Vernacular: In 1889 the National Architect’s Union in Philadelphia recommended “a model of convenience and good arrangement” on the interior, while retaining an “irregular exterior” with “a pleasing effect upon the eye.” In one submittal for an inexpensive dwelling, the magazine described the design as combining “convenience, good taste, and economy,” as well as a “neat dressy exterior.”10 We observe the intent of this approach in Shafer’s row: Italianate ornamental cornice, plus Second Empire mansard roof, plus Queen Anne porch or Neoclassical portico, plus ornamental iron cresting, equals a mixture of architectural ingredients. This technique was refined as the Fan continued to develop, so that eventually we see a variety of ingredients repeated across patterns, including one offering a concave towered mansard roof, plus neoclassic Ionic porch, plus aesthetic divided light windows and iron cresting, sprouting as late as 1910 (see Appendix D). In the case of Shafer’s row, this model of “cohesive contradiction” was executed on a structural row house plan that spread in the European world over the course of 500 years. A deep, narrow plan usually accommodating two principal rooms was a design intended to maximize space in dense urban towns, and evolved in the Middle Ages.11 By the 17th century, its application was common in city centers such as London, and planners had mastered required adaptations to varying widths and depths (fig. 6). 9 Bicknell and Comstock, Preface, Modern Architectural Designs and Details, n.p. 10 Gottfried and Jennings, 19. 11 Cooper, 149.
  8. 8. 6 Accordingly, as settlements in the colonies grew into bustling townships, Americans turned to an established concept to address their needs. Some might reason that the second-most prominent and noticed element of Shafer’s Row is the exquisite wood porches on three of the five dwellings covering the entries (see Appendix E – 811, 813 and 817 S. Cathedral Place). There are several ingredients that compose the porch design: porch posts, rail & baluster, three varieties of brackets, including post face brackets, drop and running trim (also called cornice drapery or capping), and an upper frieze of spandrels (fig. 7). The posts are very symmetrical in design: the body displays a notched center followed by a grouping of three incised rings around the circumference at axis points equidistant from the centered notch, followed by two more sets of two incised rings as the circumference tapers, a convex extrusion at the narrow-most point of the circumference, from which the post flares out again slightly, and ends with three cushiony convex “rings.” The “capital” and “base” of the post are also fairly symmetrical, although more square in design, and feature a popular incised floral detail at all visible sides above and below the cushiony rings on the post body. The distinguishing design of the porch lies below the fascia in the combination of the brackets, drop and running trim, and spandrels. The square grid design of the brackets is the most identifiable feature, and is flanked by simple arched brackets and a series of drops. In between this design lies the equally distinguishable edge of running trim flanked by the same drops, popularized in the period’s pattern books (fig. 8), and observable in various forms around Richmond. The choice and origin of this particular element became evident to Dr. Brownell and I after some time of observation, leading us back to the mid 19th century tastemaker A.J. Downing, and his book Architecture of Country Houses. Here we found several detailed elevations of a balcony window treatment on “A Villa in the Italian Style” (fig. 9) designed by the eminent New York architect Richard Upjohn.12 This canopy exhibits a kindred hanging motif that can be traced back to Venetian décor, and the use of lambrequins that hang down from the edge of window treatments (fig. 10). 12 Downing, 317.
  9. 9. 7 This overall design could have its origins from an 1881 elevation shown in the upper left corner of Plate 8 of William T. Comstock’s Modern Architectural Designs and Details (fig. 11), and although it exhibits very minor variances, it conveys an early ancestor to the post and baluster combination. The combination of elements and origins previously described suggest an Italianate design foundation with geometric detailing, perhaps meant to echo Moorish ornamentation soon to be seen elsewhere in the home. Although the entry treatment is normally an important feature in identifying overall architectural style; here the porch is more importantly a significant part of the industrial vernacular. Porches and woodwork were at the time advertised in catalogs and generally selected as a whole just as one would select the hardware or staircase newels. In nearly every pattern book consulted for porch design, a close cousin to the design at Shafer’s row was found, although never in a matching configuration. Where did this design come from? Two reasons explain why a full pattern book or catalogue match has not been found. First, as production and application of millwork increased in the latter 19th century, mills would ship or deliver industrially-produced pieces “knocked down” to lumber yards across the country, and they would in turn arrive on the site unassembled.13 The carpenter on site would be endowed with piecing together the wood parts to create an aesthetically pleasing composition, likely guided by a pattern book or builder’s guide on hand. An introduction to A.J. Bicknell’s Victorian Village Builder offers that “…with the prefabrication of ornament, architecture became increasingly an art of assemblage,”14 to which the skill of the era’s tradesman transformed him to a true artisan, as well as transforming the end result of the product supplied. But, more likely in the case of Shafer’s Row, heavy woodworking machinery became accessible in larger cities and trade centers, where inexpensive Victorian detailing was produced and distributed via the railroad system to local lumber yards. Suddenly supplied with pre-cut detailing from 13 Hull, 2. 14 Goeldner, n.p.
  10. 10. 8 distant mills, “many builders simply grafted pieces of this newly available trim onto the traditional folk house forms familiar to local carpenters.”15 Secondly, Shafer’s Row was built during a transitional period of exterior millwork go-to sources. Builders and homebuyers were selecting their designs from a combination of imitation, and architectural guides and house pattern books established since the early 19th century (Downing, Bicknell and Comstock reigning in the latter years of the century), as well as from a number of architectural and building journals. With this variety of reference tools, local manufacturers and suppliers depended more on their production skills to replicate the designs. The design at Shafer’s row was almost certainly selected from a Richmond wood supplier’s catalogue that has since been lost. Presumably, local wood workers may have offered a combination of universal stock items available at the time, combined with more complex designs not found in universal guides. This combination of offerings is observed in surviving early catalogues from Richmond woodworkers J.J. Montague and Thomas E. Stagg. Also circulating since 1871 were editions of W.L. Churchill’s Universal Moulding Book, offering the manufacturers an almost how-to guide with the “latest styles of mouldings and architectural designs of exterior and interior finish in great variety, giving full size of moulding, and their exact measurement in inches on each moulding.”16 In 1887, the Wholesale Sash, Door and Blind Manufacturer’s Association was formed with the objective to standardize the industry and institute grading rules,17 and within just a few years partnered with the existing New Universal Moulding Book revised edition, to include official pricing, standardized style numbers and again, exact measurements in a widely circulating catalogue. This most likely occurred after construction on Shafer’s Row was underway, or perhaps even after completion. An 1891 edition of The New Universal Moulding Book was published, perhaps being the first to exist under association with the new manufacturer’s organization. As residential development in Richmond moved into the 1890s and 1900s, the standardized exterior millwork of the 1891 catalogue and later editions are more easily observable (fig. 12), and would explain why many homes with porches built in 1889 and earlier had a “non-standardized” design. 15 McAlester and McAlester, 310. 16 The New Universal Moulding Book, n.p. 17 Hull, xiii.
  11. 11. 9 Just as the well-to-do of Richmond would often approach an architect for the commission of a new home and stipulate “I want a house like that one,” tract developers or even buyers may see one element of the home, in this case the all-important front porch, and request a reproduction of an existing design around town. This explains the same porch design popping up around Richmond (see Appendix E), but upon closer inspection exhibiting small variations in detail or components that indicate the likelihood of being produced by different manufacturers or suppliers. Selection by imitation also explains the complete absence of the design in either of the surviving Richmond millwork manufacturer catalogues. A final ingredient to the exterior assemblage is truly a ghost; frothy iron cresting originally adorned the mansard and porch rooflines of Shafer’s row. Although in the 1870s and 1880s mansard roofs and iron cresting were a typical combination, pattern books suggest this ornamentation for a number of styles, even one labeled as “gothic.”18 At some point after the 1960s this classic Victorian trimming was ripped from the heads of these buildings, but evidence surfaced confirming its existence (fig. 13). On the interior, the four easterly houses in the row retain original bronze hardware on the sliding doors between the front two parlors. All but one house has had the hardware painted over in white. In 815 South Cathedral Place, the bronze escutcheons still exhibit the beautiful craftsmanship and finish.  After carefully removing the pulls and lockset, the manufacturer turned out to be the Norwalk Lock Company (fig. 14). Norwalk was one of the top hardware manufacturers, located in the Connecticut area as expected along with even more well-known companies such as Russell & Erwin of New Britain, Connecticut, and Nashua of Nashua, New Hampshire. Their manufacturing complex was built in the mid 1800s and was one of the first steam-powered factories in America.19 Segal Lock & Hardware Company acquired a controlling interest in the Norwalk Lock Company in 1929 according to an August 21 New York Times article of the same year.20  Segal is still in business today. 18 Bicknell, Plate 7. 19 Khasru, n.p. 20 "Segal Lock plans issue”
  12. 12. 10 An illustration from an 1880 design book depicting an interlacing geometric pattern terminating in a lotus flower design (fig. 15), as shown on the Norwalk locks, tells us that this motif is of Moorish decent. Additionally, articles appeared in 1889 editions of The American Architect and Building News highlighting “The Lotus in Ancient Art,” indicating the popularity of this stylistic element (fig. 16). It is no surprise to find it worked in here, on our diversely-styled row. There is no way to know which selection came first: the porch or the lockset, but perhaps the echoing cubes, circles and semicircles evident in both of these vernacular elements made both a ready choice for Shafer’s row. We’ve seen various styles emerge in different ingredients, but in our last vernacular stop we’ll see one ingredient appear in a variety of styles. Across the five houses in the row, there exists at least four unique styles of chimneypieces and fireplace outfits. In several houses there survives once marbleized slate chimneypieces with simplistic carved detailing that has been painted white. On some of these pieces also survives cast iron surrounds depicting a lively scene meant to show the function of the element, in this case to give warmth (See Appendix A – fig. A6). At either base are campfires, torches at each corner, and a radiating sun on top. While the wealthy showcased highly sought-after firebacks such as Vedder’s “Sun god” in their homes, the fashion percolated down into more attainable products for the middle class. Most likely these surrounds also featured some kind of detailed fireback, as found in several instances where the surround was not present. These firebacks depicted either a repeating fleur de lys pattern, or a neoclassical torch, scroll and laurel wreath motif. Where fireplaces survive and there is not a slate chimneypiece painted white, there are three stone fireplaces in 811 South Cathedral Place, most likely original and delicately marbleized with sections of contrasting inlay (See Appendix A – fig. A4). Breaking from the stone examples, in other locations throughout the row are varying wood chimneypieces returning to classical motifs, including supportive pilasters with Ionic and Doric orders, garland, and accompanying Roman tile surrounds (See Appendix A – fig. A10). By looking at many stylistic bloodlines that converge at Shafer’s row, the Spirit of Styles Past has reminded us that American architecture -- as well as the American cultural fabric as a whole – is
  13. 13. 11 recognized as “unity born of heterogeneity,”21 and nowhere was this any more embraced in one given style of architecture than in the Freestyle Victorian design. PART III: The Spirit of Builders Past Many men shaped the development of the lower Fan, but in summoning the spirits of speculative builders, initially all we may hear are crickets. Let us consider a few clues and see if a single spirit of builders past will step forward. In consulting the section on Fan builders in Richmond’s Fan District, a photograph of the south side of the 900 block of Floyd Avenue shows the rows of town houses that once stood in place of VCU’s Student Commons. More interestingly, the photo reveals that several of the houses on that row showcased the same handsome porches as Shafer’s row (fig. 17). The Sitterding House at 901 Floyd Avenue, still standing on the corner, and was built by Gilbert J. Hunt as his personal residence and home office. Hunt, one of the Fan’s preeminent builders, had purchased some land from Shafer, and a close review of the deed grantor records at city hall revealed over $60,000 in business transactions between the two (fig. 18), including the entire southeastern corner of the 900 block of Floyd Avenue where Hunt lived, meaning Hunt had surely used that porch on his homes. Interestingly, there were some additional product matches between Hunt’s residence and Shafer’s row, including corner blocks and staircase newels (fig. 19). These could be coincidence simply due to popularity. But another design feature matched that was a little less than coincidental: the chimneys (fig. 20). These corbelled chimneys feature three courses of stretchers stepped down to an inset or channel on the main facades, and two courses of stretchers stepped up to a row of an alternating flush and recessed rowlock course near the opening. Try looking for more examples of this particular design surviving in the Fan, and you’ll encounter quite a challenge. But, was there any further way to compare Shafer’s row to the ghosts of Hunt’s buildings? After piecing back together the original 800 block of Park Avenue, I was able to determine that two houses that stood at 810 and 812 Park Avenue were erected on parcels that were originally Shafer’s and sold to Hunt 21 Scott and Lee, v.
  14. 14. 12 in 1888. But the most interesting aspect of these two houses is evidence in old photos that suggest their style: a strikingly close match to the style of the rowhouses at 811-819 South Cathedral Place (fig. 21)! When compared side by side, we have the following matching elements: a typical side hall town house plan, a mansard roof adorned with iron cresting, dormers in the third story roof on all façades, a three story front façade bay window projection, the wood and brick combination modillion cornice line, as well as the unique wood side porch design with slate roof (evident on 810 Park Avenue in a 1956 photo; the porch on 812 Park Avenue must have been removed by 1956, according to photographic evidence). The dissimilarities that exist include an almost bell-cast mansard roof on the Park Avenue plan versus a straight mansard on Floyd, and what appears to be hammered granite lintels versus our smooth lintels for Shafer’s row. These variances could be explained by Hunt’s architectural and drafting abilities, and freedom to experiment with different elements. If we ask “who done it?” regarding the construction of Shafer’s row, and consider that between a number of matching or similar design and vernacular elements as well as the nature of the business relationship between Shafer and Gilbert Hunt, it is very likely that Hunt is the man responsible (fig. 22). Tonight we have raised his ghost, but his spirit has lived on in the Fan. CONCLUSION Through this research we have spoken to three spirits of a row that has stood out among numerous others in the Fan, leaving an impression upon many, including Richmond’s Fan District author Drew Carneal to note the row several times in his work as “handsome” and “striking,” local artist Carmen Bendersky to depict three of the buildings in the row in a oil on canvas piece titled “Cathedral Row” (fig. 23) because “of their architecture and vibrant color,” and most notably, leading the preeminent Catholic Diocese of Richmond to acquire the row’s dwellings one by one for their administrative offices over the course of 50 years. The spirits have shown us that Shafer’s row was erected to offer select professional Richmonders a desirable address in a sought-after neighborhood, that it was assembled with a diverse mixture of stylistic elements to create a pleasing mixture of architectural ingredients, and that with the clues left behind, Gilbert J. Hunt was likely commissioned as the builder-architect for the project. Most
  15. 15. 13 importantly, the spirits have shown us a lively, colorful row of houses, in one of the most vibrant parts of Richmond. They’ve made us happy, and taught us most importantly, that these spirits aren’t dead; they’re up from the ashes, and with us here still.