Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, June 4, 2011


This is not one of her best photos. But then again, she is not looking her best right now. As we left a favourite downtown Kingston bookstore one day last week, I caught site of her distinctive roofline, and asked Denny to stop us for a photo.

To my dismay, she was boarded up. I am hopeful that the covered windows and doors are merely screens hiding the complete sympathetic restoration going on inside, prior to a clever adaptive re-use of the building. I don't have contacts in Kingston to whom I can address my alarm. I will do some searching of their historical society website to see if I can find 'articles pertaining'.

Oh pardon me. How rude. Let me present to you 'the Old Kingston Post Office'(1856-59). Its architectural inspiration is British Classical style (hence the symmetry and formality) blended with Italian Renaissance palazzo features. The palazzo flair gives it that "have a second look" quality, to my mind. Like the medieval (fortified) palaces in the warring Italian city states of the 1500's, the building has a tall massive fortress-like ground floor, with rusticated stone voussoirs above sturdy round-headed arches (the original palazzos had carriage-ways leading to internal courtyards), and more refined upper storeys. Typical of palazzos, the decoration is more refined as the building rises; in palazzos it's frequently regularized windows topped with alternating triangular and Florentine pediments, and string courses separating the first and second level.

The old Post Office, despite its modest two storeys compensates with impressive rectangular second storey windows with architrave surround and cornice supported by console brackets. The roof is topped with Renaissance inspired rooftop sculptures, moving it just a bit away from the prim British aloofness of many Kingston civic buildings in stone.

So, when I am in Kingston, I shall be watching this space closely. I have confidence that she will prevail, given that in 1971 the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada designated the Post office as being of national significance.

PS The photo on the right is a small hotel we stayed at in Verona on our trip to Italy in 1995. Looks like it may have started life as a palazzo (or somebody in a more recent century liked the style).

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