What Style Is It? Mid-to-Late19th Century
Greenwich Village, the East Village and NoHo offer a vast array of architectural styles that span their long histories. Through this series “What Style Is It?” we will explore the architecture of our area and look at the various architectural styles and their features. So far we have looked at the Federal style, Greek Revival and some mid-19th century styles including Gothic Revival, Italianate and Anglo Italianate.
Today we will look at additional mid-to-late 19th century styles including Second Empire, Neo-Grec and Romanesque Revival.
Closely related to the Italianate style, the Second Empire style was popular in the United States during the 1860’s and 1870’s. It was inspired by mid-19th century Paris and the classicism of the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Its most characteristic feature is the mansard roof, usually clad in slate, with a molded cornice above and below dormer windows. Below the roof, the style is similar in its decorative elements to those seen in Italianate, such as brackets at the eaves and heavily articulated window and door surrounds. This style lent itself particularly well to the urban townhouse and other densely packed buildings, since the mansard roof afforded an upper floor behind the steep roof line, making the house seem less massive compared with other styles, but maintaining the same interior space.
There are a number of striking examples in our neighborhoods of this style. The First Ukranian Assembly of God at 9 East 7th Street is a grand example of the style. Constructed entirely in stone, it was heralded as one of the first fire-proof structures of its day. Designed by architect Carl Pfeiffer in 1867, it was originally constructed for the Metropolitan Savings Bank. It features a bold classical vocabulary seen in the rusticated stone base, projecting quoins, engaged Corinthian columns and entablatures above the windows. At the mansard roof there are a series of dormers with segmental arches.
Another good example is 3 Bond Street, at the Bowery. Part of the NoHo Historic District, it was built in 1879 and designed by Stephen Decatur Hatch. This building served as the factory for the American Waltham Watch company and was constructed in a combination of brick and cast iron. The classical vocabulary is expressed through the stone ornament and in the pilasters at the cast iron at the second story. A square tower is set at the corner, another common feature of the Second Empire style.
Another interesting example of the style can be found at 39 and 41 Commerce Street in the Greenwich Village Historic District. These two houses were built in 1831-32 in the Federal style for Peter Huyler, a milkman. Later, in the early 1870’s, architect D.T. Atwood added the mansard roof for owner George Huyler. The slate at the roof as well as the hipped roof dormers are still intact.
By the 1870’s, what had once been seen as elegant were now was viewed as vulgar, and styles such as Second Empire and Italianate were out. By that time, tastes turned to architecture that was more simple and pure and not as ornate. Neo-Grec was one style which fit this bill. It too emanated from the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, and at first glance appears very similar to the preceding styles. However the ornament, still seen at the cornice and window and door surrounds, took on a rectangularity and precision thought to be expressive of an increasingly mechanized and industrial society. Incised ornament is a telltale of this style, especially seen in “Neo-Grec fluting,” which are long, parallel, narrow channels. As the name implies, elements from Greek architecture are also featured as part of the ornament such as columns (frequently engaged), pilasters, dentils, entablatures and pediments.
There are some great examples in our area. Several are in cast iron, and its easy to see how well this style lends itself to that medium. In NoHo, 622-626 Broadway was built between 1880-82, and its cast iron facade features fluted cast iron columns, arched fenestration at the sixth story, and a bracketed cornice with a swag decorated frieze. In the South Village, archetypal examples of Neo-Grec cornices can be seen atop the pair of stone tenements at 104 and 106 West Houston Street, designed in 1881 by William Waring. Stylized single and paired incised brackets support pediments that are capped by acroteria. One of the most elegant Neo-Grec tenements in the area are the pair of red brick buildings at 55 and 55½ Downing Street, pre-law tenements designed in 1876.
The Romanesque Revival style was popularized in this country by architect Henry Hobson Richardson. The second American to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, he returned to the US after the Civil War, and during the 1870’s developed his very personal style which drew on eleventh century Romanesque buildings primarily of southern France and Spain. Features include asymentrical massing, building materials of varying colors and textures, and exuberant ornament. The most identifiable feature in this style is the round arch at windows and doors.
While this style was never as popular with tenements as Queen Anne and Renaissance Revival (stay tuned for future posts), 50 Carmine Street (1896) in the South Village is an excellent example of the Romanesque Revival style applied to an Old Law tenement. This tenement has a yellow brick facade ornamented with contrasting, rough-textured, red sandstone beltcourses and trim around the rectangular and round-arch windows. In the East Village 100 East 7th Street (c. 1893) features a rough stone course at the top story and above first story, round-arched windows with terra-cotta pediments and moldings on the top story, and ornamented, engaged terra-cotta piers on top story. In the NoHo district there are many examples of the style applied to a large buildings for which it was particularly well suited. 376-380 Lafayette Street, also known as the Schermerhorn Building, is an individual NYC landmark in addition to being in the NoHo district. It was built in 1888-89 and designed by Henry Hardenbergh. It features multi-story arched window bays, carved ornamentation, and an ornate bracketed cornice.
Next in our series, we will look at styles which proliferated at the end of the 19th century and at the turn-of-the-century.