Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Halls of Academe

Ontario Hall 1902
flanking conical roofed engaged towers and gabled pavilions
If you occasionally drop in on my ponderings about old houses, and happened to read my recent post about the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, and ventured further to click on the link to the Queen's Heritage would know that further nattering on about the heritage buildings at that worthy school is inevitable. (Incidentally, I found one name associated with the study, that of Larry Turner. I wonder/hope if it was the same Larry Turner whose books on heritage architecture I have enjoyed on many occasions.)

three-storey towers flank the main entrance
Recently, friend Brenda and I braved a bracing north wind as we wandered up University Avenue for some pretty decent Thai food at the John Deutsch University Centre. Ivy-covered stone buildings abounded (and what ivy it was too, looking like tapestries of gold, red, bronze and green). The only intrusion on the setting, imho, was the fast busy two lane street - with a performance of thoroughly modern road rage to counterbalance all that stone dignity. A cobbled small road with limited vehicle access would have helped maintain all that augustness.

So the stiff with cold shutter-fingers itched, and I managed to capture a few of the Uni's lovely old stone structures...and with the Heritage Study to assist, I can introduce you, if you wish.
impressive three bay entrance, curving stone walls,twin staircases

This rough limestone pile would be downright intimidating if it weren't for the fall colours. Of course, intimidating was the effect the first Romanesque builders were looking for when they built fortified houses to keep out the barbarian hordes in those boisterous early medieval days.

round-headed windows within engaged columns

The only improvement I could suggest to all this austere beauty? Wind back the clock and enjoy the elm trees which originally stood in front of it, along University Avenue.

1966 Elm Trees - Vintage Kingston FB album

The Problem with Palladio

Town Hall (1863)
Those blog visitors with more architectural background than I were likely laughing up their sleeves at my attempts to untangle several academic publications produced by the National Historic Parks and Sites Branch in the 1980's, in a December 2013 post.
later cupola (1874)

Not being an academic (perhaps a disclaimer is warranted, for those visitors who might think I know what I'm talking about?) I have no idea how these monographs are viewed in the architectural history world.

I spent a good while over Nathalie Clerk's scholarly work Palladian Style in Canadian Architecture recently, and captured what I could in a post. So now I'm going to play around with some buildings that through design and function are Palladian in inspiration, although with later Neoclassical or other vernacular complications.

James Allen dwelling/store (c.1840)
Perth Ontario has all the ingredients for a public architecture largely Palladian. Palladian style in Canada, Clerc explains,  is represented mostly in civic and religious architecture of the late c.18 and early c.19.

I was thinking about Perth's early days, back in July. Perth was settled under government direction (the Jurisdiction of the Quartermaster General's Department - feel like I should salute!) The first settlers were Scottish emigrants (stonemasons among them to be sure) who stayed in barracks in Brockville the winter of 1815-16, and discharged British soldiers. In March of 1816 a central supply depot was established, and by October the settlement had 1500 inhabitants - loyal to the crown and a buffer against hostile American incursion into the country(info courtesy of an OHT plaque downtown.)

So, I muse. Architecture commisioned by British military establishment, built by skilful masons just arrived from Scotland - bound to be some Palladian influences in their civic buildings and the residences of important citizens.

So I offer these imposing structures for your enjoyment (well, mine anyway). The town hall started life without the Gibbs style cupola - so it cut an imposing no-nonsense figure with its projecting central section topped with a pediment.

Roderick Matheson House (1840)
 Katherine Ashenberg (Going to Town,1996) points out "self-confident Scottish touches" in the James Allen building - the stonemasons' unique take on the centre frontispiece. Usually projecting, the centrepiece recedes in the 1840 building, leaving the side wings to project.

The prominent string courses, and forthright window surrounds and quoins - and the centre pediment (broken) with roundel all say Palladian, with a brogue.
Pedimented Brooke and Gray's Emporium (1846)

And that's the last you'll hear about Palladian architecture from me. Unless of course, I might find the occasional 'Georgian' style house attractive. In which case, I can only quote from a real authority, John Blumenson . In Ontario Architecture (1990), he begins his chapter on Georgian style thus: "While Georgian refers to the sovereign rule of the Georges, in architectural terms Georgian generally refers to the continuation of the English Renaissance and Palladian Classicism as practised both in England and the colonies during the eighteenth century."

So it continues. The beat goes on.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Too young to care...

Alwington 1954 (Panoramio)

To young to care...1959 and a building rich in history and architectural significance disappears from my life, before I even knew it. Reading Kingston history the past couple of days, and browsing images, I have fallen in love with the story - and the architecture - of Alwington House. Alwington stood on important King Street west, just a bit east of the penitentiary.
Alwington 1954 (Panoramio)
 The venerable Margaret Angus in The Old Stones of Kingston explains that Alwington's importance lay in the fact that "it was perhaps the most important single dwelling in Kingston and because its story belongs not to Kingston alone but to the whole country."

Alwington was Government House, built in 1834 for Charles William Grant, and leased to the government in 1841. Alwington was the most important house in the new country, in the years from 1841 (the year of union of Upper and Lower Canada) until 1844, while Kingston was the capital city and Lord Sydenham, Governor General, resided there. "Much of the basic structure of Canadian government was mapped out [here]" continues Angus.
Alwington - Street side - 1954 (Panoramio)

Lord Sydenham died of gangrene, after a fall from his horse, said to have been startled by a pile of building rubble outside Hale's Cottages, in September 1841. Kingston died as capital in 1844, when the seat of government for the newly united country moved to Montreal.

I have posted some photos found in online searches. I admit to being reluctant to do so; although ownership/copyright is said to be a factor, most of these photos are well over fifty years old, and as such I believe they are public domain. I attempted to contact one of the sites with no success.
Government Alwington House 1832

So, this is Alwington. Lost when I was 12, and hadn't travelled as far as Kingston yet.

Today, an enclave of pretty boring suburban homes lays claim to the property. The only dignify left (imho) is the look out to the lake - but even that is exclusive - private property. Look but don't touch.

Willowbank, Niagara on the Lake (1834)

I can only console myself with the memories of high style Classic Revival structures which I have been able to visit, wander about, and fall in love with.
Victoria College, Cobourg (1832)

Barnum House, Grafton (1817)

Day Tripper - Bellevue House

Bellevue House in Kingston is the cover girl for the Parks Canada book Architecture of the Picturesque in Canada (Janet Wright, 1984), and I cannot think of a better candidate. For Bellevue House, built in 1838-40 features the Italian or Tuscan Villa style, a picturesque classical alternative to the Gothic Revival of the day. I've read that it was one of the first in Canada by some  accounts; it was certainly ridiculed at the time.

John Blumenson lists the characteristics of the style: asymmetrical roofline, L-shape with tall campanile at the junction, irregular massing, grouped windows, presence of a portico and arcade or loggia, cantilevered eaves, stucco surface the better to observe the play of light and shadow, French doors, and "an exotic flair."

It's such a happy house;  festive pennants from the roof cornices recall for me our visit to the town square of medieval Sienna, festooned for Il Palio, the ancient annual horse-race held in the centre of town. (We didn't see the race, I would have been too worried for the horses). Medieval Sienna? Rightfully so, as the ancient and romantic and picturesque is what the Tuscan Villa style was committed to recreating, in the early days of the c.19.

The sun and shadow play on the white painted stucco over limestone walls. The Juliette balcony with its ski-jump roof, the tower with its boastful finial, the balconettes, the deck reached via French windows, the verandah, the gardens, the orchard all just say Joy. Each time I visit I feel transported somehow.

Bellevue was built by Charles Hales, a well-known Kingston grocer who also built Hales' Cottages, still standing on King Street. Bellevue is one of a number of country estates (a mile from town in the day) to which wealthy merchants were migrating in the 1830-1860 period. Some still stand. Formerly storeowners would have lived in some luxury above their stores.

Ironically, Bellevue was not such a happy house for one of its tenants. Young lawyer and Kingston member of Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, John A. Macdonald and his invalid wife Isabella resided in the house from August 1848 to September 1849. The house sat on 9 acres in the country, with a vista over the gentle slope down to the lake, and considered a fine bracing locale for the ailing Isabella. It also provided a gracious lifestyle at a slightly reduced operating expense, as the young lawyer, though successful, experienced constant cash flow problems. Tragedy struck - shortly after they moved in, their only son died.

Bellevue's beautifully recreated interior is interpreted in that impeccable NHS manner. Bellevue staff and interpretive panels explain the design choices made by the residents of the mid-1800's thus:"Classical antiquity was seen as the height of sophistication and a time of learning and moral behaviour, and as a result, much copied by the Victorians". Our hosts point out Greek and Roman design features such as columns for chair legs, decorative scroll and acanthus leaf patterns on furniture.
guest room says "aren't we grand?"

trunk belonged to Sir John A.

The bedroom of Sir John A. Macdonald. What worries kept him awake in this beautifully appointed room with the wonderful stove)? An invalid wife, financial responsibility for his widowed mother and sister, legal problems to muddle over for his clients. And his problems were just beginning!

It's a miracle that the gardens at Bellevue have been retained, considering they are in the most desirable section of the city. No modern infill - good on you NHS Canada (my tax dollars happily at work). A grassy orchard, back garden with pergola and massive trees, a kitchen garden for wandering in.

So - on this wintry November day, make a note to yourself. Come the first sunny warm June day, retreat to Bellevue NHS.
Bellevue was built on 9 acres

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Summerhill, Winterhill

Summerhill...another of the three original buildings of Queen's University, sits grandly on a south-facing hill, with a park in front. Summerhill was built at a fascinating time in Kingston's history - spending time there is a portal to the heady early days of the United Canadas, when Kingston was capital and the future was limitless.

The Queen's Heritage study explains that Summerhill has been much altered but recently renovated, with "many fine features from each stage of development." At the time of the study, the east wing of Summerhill was still the Principal's official residence.

Summerhill is a two-storey Kingston limestone villa with "American Federal influences" - I would have said  Palladian country house form, with Neoclassical refinements? - consisting of a central wing with two flanking wings. Wide dignified stairways approach the centre verandah from three directions; a one-storey portico provides shelter and haughty reserve (this is not a 'set a spell' sort of porch). To either side are matching splendid curved two-storey porches embracing the curving stone walls, with beautiful doorways below - elliptical fanlight, sidelights with curvilinear design, reeded pilasters and moulded entablature. Such presence: columns, balustrades, a massive central chimney, the fine state of repair and the size and dignity of the place, take my breath away, summer or winter.
chilly students rush by Summerhill

The OHT plaque on the lawn explains the house history. Summerhill was built in 1839 by Anglican Archdeacon George Okill Stuart (hence the name of the street passing in front of KGH, which now looms large across the park). The house was called 'Okill's Folly' or the Archdeacon's Great Castle.

Margaret Angus, in The Old Stones of Kingston, provides a little more of the back-story. She suggests the archdeacon may have overreached himself when he built this place on Lot 24 west of Kingston, on the best part of his inheritance, 200 acres of the 4000 his father, UEL and regimental chaplain accumulated as crown grant in the area.

It's likely that Stuart had inherited the conviction that he was part of a local elite, and that his home must be a reflection of his class - a state of affairs that the ruling elite was confident would take root in the colony (irritants like William Lyon Mackenzie notwithstanding). Unfortunately, it was a bit overbudget, and then there was that damp basement.

The province's first parliament met in the hospital facing Summerhill (another story); Stuart offered Summerhill as parliamentarians' lodgings, and retreated to his warm dry home in town. After that, government offices ('42-43) inhabited the building, then a school, and  finally Stuart managed to sell Summerhill to Queen's College for its first (and only) permanent  building, in 1853.

1863 -building crowding in at left is the old Medical Building (1858)
This 1868 photo, which I found in Vintage Kingston's outstanding Facebook albums shows the early wide roof parapet, and the flanking wings as pavilions joined to the central block via colonnaded corridors. This is very much the Palladian villa form/c.18 British country house style that  I have been studying of late.
1880's - the enlarged 1867 wings
With our Past Before Us, by Jennifer McKendry, Kingston's other go-to architectural historian features the same photo, and confirms the British Palladian influences at play. 

The photo also shows the formal gardens in front (an important part of any gentleman's country villa) and what looks like garden or even ungroomed area in the foreground. That would fit with some of the comments I read in the History chapter of the Queen's heritage study, which provides even more background, and reminds us that in the day, grand houses could stand cheek by jowl with undeveloped and unbeautiful squalor. I will explore Stuartsville, and some of its remaining structures in another post.
Thanks again to the amazing Vintage Kingston website for this hand-coloured 1908 view of Summerhill. Quarter-round one-storey porches have been added along the curving walls to either side of the front portico.

In 2010 the east wing of Summerhill was renamed Summerhill/Benidickson House to honour a former Chancellor. These days the Archdeacon's folly houses the Office of the Vice President of Advancement, the Department of Alumni Relations and Department of Development - which when I read closely, sounds like fund-raising. Millions of dollars of it. Things were simpler then, but money was always an issue at Summerhill.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Prison Diaries

 Coverdale's 1836/40 North Gate, seen from Cedarhedge stairs 
I had a most pleasant day in a Kingston landmark with its own fair share of unpleasant memories, on a balmy day last September. I established the green and pleasant grounds of Canada's Penitentiary museum as my base, and wandered around on a purely architectural tour of the facility.

Denis and I had once toured the museum displays, and although the place is beautifully curated, I found Victorian 'reform theories' a bit disturbing. So this visit, I kept my eyes firmly directed toward the architectural features of the splendid location, the North Gate of the Penitentiary complex and the Warden's house, Cedarhedge, facing it across King Street - talk about two different worlds.

Jennifer McKendry, in her scholarly work With our Past Before Us (UofT Press 1995), writes at length about the Provincial Penitentiary, Canada's oldest reformatory institution. Several inherently contradictory theories ("security, salubrity and reformation") and the inevitable bureaucratic and financial complexities resulted in the facility (now a National Historic Site) being completed over a 35 year span, from 1834-1871, largely by inmate labour.

Despite its classically inspired style, it's a pretty grim place. Not by accident does the word penitentiary come from the same root as penitent!

There were tours of the recently closed prison in October and November 2013. Missed them.

c.1900 - thanks to Vintage Kingston FB

 By 1873, the Warden and his family had moved from their apartment within the prison walls and were comfortably established at Cedarhedge across the road, an Italianate mansion built entirely by convict labour, of fine pale Kingston limestone with Ohio sandstone accents. The home was called Cedarhedge for the cedars lining the drive, its expansive terraced walled garden filled with orchards and vineyards, greenhouses and a conservatory, tended by prisoner-gardeners.

two solitudes - the prison seen from Cedarhedge garden
courtesy Vintage Kingston FB
Cedarhedge now houses the museum; curator Dave St. Onge (tidying the porch in the photo above) was incredibly welcoming and informative, full of stories about prison and house, the fine exterior and interior details of Cedarhedge, the gardens (pointing out the photo angle toward the lake) - and the story of the decorative bench in the garden.

The maple leaf for Canada, and the
rose, shamrock & thistle for England, Ireland and Scotland
The woodwork in the house is particularly fine. One can imagine that the most talented prisoners would be inclined to produce detailed designs requiring loads of time, in order to beautify the house - and gain a few more hours outside the walls.

prisoner-made concrete/stone bench

Plan a visit; they won't insist that you stay.