Monday, August 21, 2017

Postcards from Boston #3 - Trinity Church Rectory

Three years after the completion of Trinity Church, H. H. Richardson was invited back by the congregation to design a rectory for Rev. Phillips Brooks.  Located just over a block to the north of the church on a corner lot at 233 Clarendon Street, the building shows Richardson’s mastery of a monochromatic palette to achieve a sophisticated and elegant design.

Richardson received the commission in April 1879 and the building was completed the following year.   The exterior is clad in a locally made hard red brick with trim of Longmeadow brownstone.  A balanced, asymmetrical façade is centered by the most commanding feature of the house – a low sprung arch surrounding a deeply recessed entry porch.  

Decorative stonework set within the arch over the door and three-part windows features Richardson’s trademark eight-petaled flower set amidst bands of triangles and simple geometric leaves.  

Foliate designs enliven the base of the arch, its inner perimeter, and the stair newel, while a band of double dentil trim surrounds the outer edge of the arch. 

The pitched roof features a forward-facing gable at each end and two dormers of different sizes in between, each with a different window configuration.  Of particular note is the finely laid brickwork set at 45 degree angles creating subtle triangular panels along the sides of the gables.  Bricks are laid in soldier courses at the level of the second floor windowsills, and a band of brickwork creating a checkerboard pattern is set between courses of brownstone framing the transoms of the first floor windows.  The second floor is dominated by three large panels of cut brick, in floral and foliate designs. 

The irregular arrangement of the windows reflects the interior configuration of the house.  One of the most prominent spaces was Brooks’ library, which was featured in Artistic Houses: Being a series of interior views of a number of the most beautiful and celebrated homes in the United States published in 1883-1884.  

The room was located at the south end of the first floor with the brick and stone fireplace placed in an alcove set within a projecting bay. 

After the death of Rev. Brooks in 1893, the building was enlarged by Richardson’s successor firm, Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, which added the present third floor.  Their design closely mimics the second floor below (without the decorative brick panels), and Richardson’s top floor was rebuilt above according to his original design.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Postcards from Boston #2 - Trinity Church

H. H. Richardson’s design for Trinity Church on Boston’s Copley Square firmly established him as the most important architect in this country, and also made him the first to be recognized and respected abroad.  This distinction was reinforced when his fellow architects selected Trinity Church to head the list of the ten best buildings in the United States in 1885.  A century later, it was the only building from the original list to be included in a similar survey sponsored by the American Institute of Architects.  More recently, Geoffrey Baer included the building in his PBS documentary “Ten Buildings That Changed America.”

Richardson received the commission through a competition in the spring of 1872, of which he was one of six architects invited to submit.  By the time construction began on the building itself in 1874, Richardson had moved his home and office to Brookline, so that he could closely supervise the building.  He would remain in Brookline for the remainder of his life, resulting in the largest concentration of his work being located in Boston and surrounding towns.

One of four piers supporting the tower

Work began in 1873 when 4,500 wooden piers were driven into the ground to support the enormous weight of the building.  Four huge piers in the sanctuary support the weight of the tower, and sit upon granite pyramids underground, measuring forty feet wide by twenty feet tall.  This massive engineering feat was essential, given that the site sat in the middle of the Back Bay, a former swampy area that had been filled in over the preceding fifteen years.  

Parish House

The overall plan of the building is in the shape of a Greek cross, with the Parish House extending to the northeast, reflecting the original irregularly shaped plot of land.

The exterior comprises four different types of local granite and is trimmed with Longmeadow brownstone.  Richly carved ornament is set amidst walls featuring Richardson’s trademark polychrome stone work, including checkboard and zigzag patterns on the front façade, and eight-petaled flowers on the apse.  

Inspiration for the overall design includes the French Romanesque which Richardson studied extensively during his years at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in the early 1860s.  His refinement of the style led to what later became known as Richardsonian Romanesque and characterized the buildings in the later years of his career.  The cathedral at Salamanca, Spain served as a model for the large tower. 

In 1876, at Richardson’s request, the congregation hired John La Farge to complete the interior decoration.  As noted by Keith Morgan in his Buildings of Boston, “(La Farge), assisted by Augustus St. Gaudens and a team of American artists, produced the most extensive scheme of figurative and architectural painted ornament of any American building up to that time, influencing the emergency of mural decoration in American public buildings.”

The interior features an exceptionally open auditorium for Rev. Phillips Brooks, a Harvard classmate of Richardson, considered one of the finest preachers of the late 19th century.  A marble bust by Daniel Chester French dominates the baptistry, and was completed in 1897.  It commemorates Brooks’ 22 years as rector of Trinity Church, and his two years as Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts, in which position he served until his death in 1893.

Christ in Majesty (detail)

The church features a dazzling collection of American and European stained glass windows.  Five are by La Farge, including the Christ in Majesty window set into three lancets over the main entrance, and his New Jerusalem window in the north transept.  

The New Jerusalem (detail)

That area features a series of windows by Sir Edward Burne-Jones for Morris & Co., who also designed the window, David’s Charge to Solomon, located in the baptistry.  

David's Charge to Solomon

William Morris as the head of Goliath (detail from upper right of window)

A humorous note is that Burne-Jones incorporated Morris’ image in the window, as the severed head of Goliath being held in the right hand of David.  Other English windows include a series of seven surrounding the chancel by Clayton & Bell of London and several by Henry Holiday, also of London, including Three Scenes in St. Paul’s Life, shown below.

Three Scenes in St. Paul's Life

The building was consecrated in February 1877 with the total cost of the site and building at $635,000.  In 1897, Richardson’s successors, Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, added the richly carved west porch, combining Richardson’s general scheme and the design of St. Trophime, a Romanesque church in Arles, France.  The firm returned to add the massive sculptural pulpit in 1914.  Architects Maginnis and Walsh extensively remodeled the apse in 1937-1938 to reflect the shift toward a more ceremonial form of worship.



A major restoration and expansion was begun in 2003, and continues to this day, with significant work on the exterior being undertaken during 2017. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Postcards from Boston #1 - First Spiritual Temple

During the first week of August 2017, nearly two dozen docents, staff, and supporters of Glessner House Museum journeyed to Boston, Massachusetts to explore the work of H. H. Richardson and his contemporaries.  Over the next few months, we will be bringing our readers a series of "postcards" from Boston highlighting some of the buildings we saw - some well known, some less so.  

We begin our series with the First Spiritual Temple located at 26 Exeter Street.  

The building was designed by the architectural firm of Hartwell & Richardson in 1884 and was completed the following year.  Hartwell & Richardson was a Boston-based architectural firm founded in 1881 by Henry Walker Hartwell and William Cummings Richardson (no relation to H. H. Richardson).  The firm was prolific through the late 19th century, designing numerous churches and municipal buildings in its early years, and many residences later on.  Their most significant commission is generally regarded to be Osgood Hill, the Moses T. Stevens estate in North Andover, Maryland, completed in 1886.  

Osgood Hill and First Spiritual Temple both owe much to H. H. Richardson, and demonstrate the enormous impact he had on other architects of the period.

The First Spiritual Temple, a classic example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style, was the first house of worship built in the United States for the Spiritualists, who popularized the idea that the living could commune with the dead.  The movement originated in New York and gained popularity in the mid- to late-19th century and included the use of mediums, seances, the Ouija board, and other ways of connecting with the dearly departed.  The popularity of Spiritualism declined in the early 20th century and for seventy years the Temple operated as the 900-seat Exeter Street Theater.  After years housing various commercial enterprises, it was converted into the Kingsley Montessori School, which currently occupies the structure.

Classic features of the building which show the influence of Richardson include the rusticated stone in two contrasting colors, the tall dormers rising up from the wall surface below, clustered columns around window groupings, polychromatic stone work in checkerboard and leaf patterns on the front facade, and of course, the extensive use of the arch.  

Looking at the building as a whole, it is composed of a simple large box richly ornamented to give it an imposing presence on its corner site.  

The name "First Spiritual Temple" is set into the stone above the entry arch, amidst richly carved foliate decoration.  Immediately below, two medallions depict the words Religion and Science atop a globe sitting over a cross, and a triangular arrangement of the words Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity with a downward flying bird at the top point, and six-pointed stars at the lower points.  (Another six-pointed star sits over the side entrance on Newbury Street).  

Above the Temple name to either side, ghostly faces are carved into the stone, another indication of the original purpose of the building.

Today, passers-by continue to note the impressive architecture, but few are aware of the other-worldly movement that led to its construction in the 1880s.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sulgrave Manor - Ancestral Home of George Washington

In March 1917, John Glessner received an invitation to help fund the restoration and preservation of Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of George Washington in Sulgrave, Northhamptonshire, England.  Although there is no evidence that Glessner did make the requested donation, other members of his family later did.  In this article, we will explore the history of the site, the efforts to preserve it in the first decades of the 20th century, and its status today.

Sulgrave Manor was constructed in 1540 by Lawrence Washington, the five times great-grandfather of George Washington.  The entrance porch was completed soon after Queen Elizabeth I ascended to the throne in 1558, and her coat of arms and initials were fashioned in plaster work upon its gable. 

Just above the door is the Washington family’s coat of arms carved in stone.  Known as the “mullets and bars” with three stars over two stripes, it is widely believed to have served as the inspiration for the American flag. 

The house, constructed of a local limestone, was occupied by Lawrence Washington, his wife, and their eleven children.  As was typical for Tudor houses, the center of the house was the Great Hall, which still looks much as it did in its day, furnished with authentic furnishings of the Tudor period.  The complex included courtyards, walled gardens, grass paddocks, and various outbuildings including a barn, brew house, buttery, and shop. 

Descendants of Lawrence Washington continued to occupy the house until 1659, when they immigrated to America.  By 1700, when John Hodges added a north wing, the western portion of the house (to the left of the entrance porch) had already been destroyed. 

In 1914, the manor was acquired by the British American Peace Committee, which had been formed to celebrate the centennial of the end of the War of 1812, finalized with the 1814 Treaty of Ghent.  An article in the Chicago Tribune entitled “Rejoice in 100 Years of Peace” recounted details of the presentation of the house to the committee on July 25, 1914:

“The first formal ceremony in honor of the one hundred years of peace between the English speaking nations occurred here today when Sulgrave Manor, the home of the family of George Washington, purchased for $42,500 subscribed in Great Britain, was handed over to members of the centenary committee as a gift to the American people.

“This quaint village was in holiday attire in honor of the occasion.  The visiting party consisted of the American ambassador, Walter Hines Page, the Duke of Teck, Lord Shaw, Shirley Benn, member of the house of commons; H. S. Perris, secretary of the committee; Harry Brittain, secretary of the Pilgrims’ society, and Arthur Branscombe, author of the history of the Washington family.  They were greeted by the mayor and other officials of the municipality, in their official robes, after which school children sang the national anthems of both the United States and Great Britain.

“The party then proceeded in motor cars to the manor, where, at the ancient doorway, the Duke of Teck handed the keys to Ambassador Page, and thence to the ancient church, where Washington’s ancestors are buried.”

The timing of the ceremony is of note, in particular because it was commemorating a long period of peace.  Just ten days later, Great Britain declared war on Germany, and the country was thrust into the horrors of World War I.  This necessarily delayed the planned restoration of the house, but by 1917, invitations were sent out soliciting donations of $250 each from 200 individuals to complete the needed work.

The committee included such prominent individuals as statesman Robert Bacon, historian and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, philanthropist William K. Vanderbilt, and Charles W. Eliot.  Eliot has served as the president of Harvard University from 1869 until 1909, and was a close friend of the Glessners.  Presumably John Glessner received his invitation because of this connection.

The fundraising effort was put on hold when the United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917.  A second solicitation letter was sent out in December 1919, this time with an added appeal from King George V and the Prince of Wales inserted.  The request had been altered to asking 50 individuals for $1,000 each.

Once the funds were secured, the house and grounds were restored under the supervision of the imminent English architect and landscape designer Sir Reginald Blomfield.  Work included the rebuilding of the west wing, which had been destroyed in the 17th century; the new wing included the Director’s quarters, and restored the symmetrical appearance of the façade.  (One can’t help but notice that the symmetrical façade, set beneath a broad sloping roof, bears a similarity in overall massing to Glessner House; see image below).  The house was officially opened to the public in 1921, with the flags of Great Britain and the United States both displayed.

In 1924, the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America raised $112,000 from 35,000 subscribers to endow the Manor and grounds in perpetuity.  It is highly likely that Frances Glessner was among the subscribers, as she became a member of the Dames in 1921.  Funds for further restoration were raised between 1926 and 1931, and Alice Hamlin Glessner, the Glessners’ daughter-in-law and an active member of the New Hampshire Society of the Dames, was among the funders for that project.


The property is administered presently by the Sulgrave Manor Trust.  By the early 2000s however, the property had fallen into disrepair.  In 2014, Sulgrave Manor was listed on the World Monuments Fund Watch List “to call attention to the need for increased resources and to promote the development of creative management strategies to ensure the long-term survival of the property.” 

The bicentennial of the Treaty of Ghent was celebrated at the site in 2014, and a comprehensive strategic plan was funded by the Estate of Paul Mellon.  Recent restoration projects have been funded by the Colonial Dames and the Daughters of the American Revolution.  To read more about the site today visit:
World Monuments Fund
Sulgrave Manor

Modern images of Sulgrave Manor courtesy of the World Monuments Fund.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

50th Anniversary Gala Celebration

December 14, 1966 was an extremely significant date in the history of Glessner House Museum.  It was on that date that the deed for the house was filed for record with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds, officially transferring the house to the newly formed Chicago School of Architecture Foundation, and thus securing the future of H. H. Richardson’s masterpiece of urban residential design.

Chris Multhauf, Zurich Esposito, Honorary Gala Chair Dirk Lohan,
Catherine Lohan, Kevin Havens, Lynn Osmond

On December 14, 2016, exactly 50 years later, nearly 200 people gathered at the Chicago Club for a special gala celebration to mark that anniversary by honoring our past, celebrating our future, and setting the stage for our next 50 years.  A number of individuals involved with the house in its early years were present, including four of our founders – Wayne Benjamin, Wilbert Hasbrouck, Dirk Lohan, and Ben Weese.  

Susan and Wayne Benjamin

Early docents, staff, and board members renewed acquaintances and shared their memories of why Glessner House Museum is important to them.  The event netted $70,000 – twice the amount that was needed to purchase the house in 1966!

Gala co-chairs Cynthia and Ben Weese

The gala was underwritten by a generous grant from The Richard H. Driehaus Charitable Lead Trust.  Dirk Lohan served as Honorary Gala Chair, and Ben and Cynthia Weese were Gala Co-Chairs. 

Steve and Marilyn Scott
Elliott and Jane Otis
Allan and Angela Vagner

At 6:30pm, Executive Director and Curator William Tyre welcomed everyone and noted the significance of the occasion, acknowledging special guests including our founders, and several members of the Glessner family who had traveled from Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Glessner family: Joyce Carter, Jacob Carter, Harry Carter,
Liz Carter, Stuart Clifford

Four individuals were honored with awards featuring a handcrafted replica of a portion of the wrought iron grille on the front door – one of the most iconic design features of the house.

Jessica Caffery accepting award from Bonnie McDonald

The first award was presented to Toni Preckwinkle by board member Bonnie McDonald, president of Landmarks Illinois.  McDonald noted how Preckwinkle had been mentored early in her career by Leon Despres, long time alderman, known as the “liberal conscience of Chicago” during his two decades on the City Council.  Despres and his wife Marian were two of the individuals who provided funding to purchase Glessner House in 1966.  Preckwinkle was in Boston at a conference, but recorded her acceptance noting that Despres shared a valuable piece of information with her, “There is no end to the good you can do as long as you don’t care who gets the credit.”  The award was accepted on her behalf by Jessica Caffery, Director of Real Estate Management for Cook County, who noted Preckwinkle’s commitment to the preservation and adaptive reuse of the old Cook County Hospital building.

Jack Tribbia accepting award from John Waters

The second award went to Jack Tribbia, and was presented by board member John Waters, an architect with the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.   Jack Tribbia is the President of the Restoration Division of Berglund Construction and has been involved in the preservation and restoration of many of the most important buildings in the Chicagoland area ranging from the Museum of Science and Industry to the Shedd Aquarium, and from the Sullivan Center to Farnsworth House.  Jack served as a board member at Glessner from 2005 until 2011, and has remained active since that time, providing valuable consultation and advice on a variety of building projects. 

Ald. Pat Dowell accepting award from Mary Kay Marquisos

Pat Dowell, Alderman of the Third Ward, received the next award, presented by board member Mary Kay Marquisos, former Senior Director of Communications with the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority.  Marquisos noted how Dowell has been a strong voice for community-based development, constituent engagement, and transparency.  Dowell has been an advocate for historic preservation and has landmarked more than half a dozen buildings and districts in her ward.  Mostly recently she was deeply involved in the massive $132 million restoration of the Rosenwald Court Apartments at Michigan Avenue and 47th Street. 

Bob Irving accepting award from Pauline Saliga

The Lifetime Service Award was presented to Bob Irving by board member Pauline Saliga, Executive Director of the Society of Architectural Historians.  Irving, a retired Professor of Humanities at the Illinois Institute of Technology, joined the first docent class at Glessner House in the spring of 1971 and was one of 33 to complete the rigorous training course that June, being trained to give tours of Glessner House and a walking tour of Chicago School buildings downtown.  In the early 1980s, he developed a new walking tour called the “Riverwalk” which evolved into the now world-famous CAF River Cruise, one of the top tourist attractions in the city.  Irving has served continuously as a docent at Glessner House for 45 years, his encyclopedic knowledge and quick wit making him a visitor favorite for decades.

Board president Barbara Gordon

Following the presentation, board president Barbara Gordon provided the closing remarks, noting how it is the individuals who have been involved with the museum during its first 50 years that have kept the site engaging and relevant.  She noted:

“As we look ahead to our next fifty years and beyond, we are not content to merely rest on our laurels.  At a time when many historic house museums struggle, the opportunities for Glessner House Museum are greater now than ever before.  Dedicated board, staff, docents, and supporters will help us envision and guarantee a bright future through new initiatives that will broaden our audience and create a self-sustaining and relevant organization well into the 21st century.  We encourage all of you to join us in the exciting work that lies ahead, as we ensure that the legacy entrusted to our care continues to grow and thrive in the years to come.”

Judith and Dick Spurgin
Barbara Badger and Robert Kudder

All attendees received a copy of the just published 50 Moments: Highlights From the First Fifty Years of Glessner House Museum 1966-2016 authored by William Tyre.  The book is now available in the museum store.

The gala was a fitting way to close the celebration of our 50th anniversary, as well as launch the first day of our next 50 years!

All images by Tim Walters Photography

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