Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Friday, February 22, 2013

To the Trains

As we leave the great hall of the ticket area in Union Station, and descend to the rumbling departures netherworld , the decor changes from classical to more Art Deco inspired. I suspect this has a great deal to do with the span of years during which this temple to travel was under construction.
The suitability of the streamlining imagery to the world of travel would have been irresistible by the 1920's.

This image conjures up the age of industrial iron and glass...reminiscent of loud and smoky, damp and draughty Victorian train stations. The picturesque handiwork of moisture on limestone walls and the elegantly sculptured vine moulding above the arched window with metal quatrefoil mullions compensates.

A last look back at the great hall's opulence underlines the difference in mood.

Wonderful  light...

Straight-forward stylized lettering. Steerhead motif? Thistles on the console.

A vaguely Egyptian motif in a side hall off the ramp down to the departure level.  No other stylistic cousins in the place. I wonder what the story was here? A project for an apprentice?

Angels in the Details

Don't expect to get a ticket for this spot today

The academic Beaux-arts architectural style taught at the Ecole des Beax-Arts in Paris influenced building in North America from 1860 to 1920.

Beaux-arts was nothing if not flashy. As if the guys (gals?) who learned their trade at the Ecole threw everything they'd ever learned at important civic buildings like banks (look for trade-mark cut-off corner entrances), train stations and post offices. And this at a time when Frank Lloyd Wright was trying to float some very different ideas!
serene walls of Missouri stone

Classical element this is. Classical purity this is not. Classical restraint. Hardly.

 All that being said, gotta love what those Beaux-Arts folks did with Union Station.

Art nouveau fluidity - speaks to the station's long gestation

The decorative elements seem to evolve from classically-based ingredients like columns and capitals, to more fluid carving and cast work in sections of the building. I haven't seen anything written about this, but I wonder if the long period over which the station was being built (it began in 1914, opened 13 years later) corresponded to changing styles - from Beaux-Arts to Art Nouveau to Art Deco (which I'll show in the final - I promise- post about my afternoon at Union Station).

curvaceous cast iron spandrel detail

agraffe to you too

Who knew? Who looked?

As I observed in an earlier post about the astonishing Union Station, most folks miss the best features of the place, in the stampede to catch a GO train. This place was built to impress. Works for me.

Opened in 1927 by visiting royalty, Edward, Prince of Wales, this structure was a long time a-building. It was  originally planned as the terminal for both the Grand Trunk and  Canadian Pacific railway companies (imagine all the planning deliberations going on in that pre-fax, pre-email, pre-con call era), but during the long wait, Grand Trunk went bankrupt (and Downton Abbey fans know what that meant) and CP carried on alone.
four-storey barrel-vaulted windows

Union Station is the largest and most opulent train station ever built in Canada...a true temple to travel in the days  of porters, trunks, fine dining aboard with proper dress for dinner, and docile children.

The intrados of the massive barrel-vaulted windows is reminiscent of the awe-inspiring coffered dome ceiling of the Pantheon, and has the same effect...on me, anyway. The folks lining up to take photos in front of the (incongruous) 'Return of the Walking Dead' display...not so much. Or the splendid group in the wedding party, taking photos (truly).

notice the rosettes in the window
barrel-vault ceiling coffers
 I would love to be alone in this place - no muffled echoing squawks from the public address system, no crowds streaming by, no fast food aromas.
vault ceiling of  Gustavino tiles

It was built in the Beaux Arts style, a style emerging from an architecture school in Paris called (not surprisingly) Ecole des Beaux Arts. The style is characterized by all the right classical elements (arches and barrel vaults, columns, capitals, dentil and egg and dart mouldings), but supersized. Not for the Beaux Arts designer the cool simplicity and restraint of Classical architecture, but a stylish mash-up of Renaissance, Baroque and Classical styles, writ large; monumental columns, colonnades, balustrades, and decorative elements. For the sports-minded, the Hockey Hall of Fame is a brilliant example (should anyone be looking).

And should you read and see more, check out Shannon Kyle's architecture site, Ontario Architecture.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Travel is so Broadening

Our grandma Pierce was very fond of Sinclair Lewis
short stories. I thought of her last week, when I had the opportunity to spend an hour in Union Station, paying attention, not to the people (fascinating) or the VIA schedule (on-time), but to the astounding architecture of the place. Architecture which, in the course of 10,000 travellers making their way through this space, gets the attention it deserves only rarely.

Our grandmother who always wanted to be a lady would have had few opportunities to leave the farm, with 4 little kids and no end of work to which she must have felt was a bit beneath her. Her sister recalls Ola considering herself quite a lady, an unforgiveable affectation on a poor Prince Edward county farm around the turn of the last century.

Ola outside Belleville train station

Grandmother finally got her chance to travel. In the late 40's she visited Toronto, alone, to attend the wedding of her daughter, who had gone to the big city and made a good match. Grandma lived vicariously through her only girl-child. The daughter who gave her the chance to get to the city, just that once.

"They can say what they want to. Some people claim that reading books is the greatest cultural influence, and still others maintain that you can get the most in the quickest split-second time by listening to lectures but what I always say it, 'there is nothing more broadening than travel'".

From Travel is So Broadening in 'The Man Who Knew Coolidge', Sinclair Lewis (1928)

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Flash of Pretty Ankle

Recently I wrote about Picton's rowlock bond houses, and mentioned one that had caught my eye as I drove past down the 'town hill' paying careful attention to the tricky intersections at top and bottom. Despite my focus, I was distracted by a flash of something intriguing and beautiful, but meant to be covered.

What I noticed was this bit of rowlock bond brickwork on the side elevation of a partly demolished house - it had been concealed by a peak-roofed wing, one of several add-ons over the years of looking for more space within, until man or the elements changed the building's north wall.

It might be a stretch to call this flirtatious, but for an old-house sleuth it does tantalize -  and invite further inspection.
common bond brick covers an exposed wall
or the rectangular addition

In my ankle-high boots I braved the calf-deep snowplow wake and the heavily drifted lawn of deep snow covering...what? Not weak old boards covering deep pits, or rusty nails, I hoped, as I peered inside the openings.

  I remember this building at the corner of Mortimer Street, from my childhood. I seem to recall that the southern addition's neatly squared off corner entrance led to a plumbing supply store. Could it once have been a corner grocery, when this hill beside the harbour was lined with working folks' rooming houses? Its heavy cornice, woodframed windows and a banded brick chimney on the main house suggest its age - how I'd love to know its long story.

Today the building marks the entrance to a spiffy waterside condo complex, and scarcely gets a glance as residents zoom down Mortimer Street to their parking spot and home. I wonder if we'll even wonder 'what used to stand here' when it is, inevitably, demolished. Or will Picton's pride in its rowlock dwellings give it a chance?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Row row row

Welsh House, Ferguson at Mary
This is the Welsh/Hodgson House built c. 1857 in Picton Ontario. It sits at the corner of Ferguson and Mary Streets, a house often overlooked due to the grand (and recently expanded) Queen Anne style mansion on the corner opposite.

But this house is unique. It is built in a brick laying style called 'rowlock bond'.  In early building (as opposed to today's which is most often brick veneer)  bricks were usually laid in one of two bonds - common, or the more costly and impressive Flemish bond.

Common bond was laid in rows - 6 or 7 rows of stretchers (the long side), then a row of headers (you got it, the end bit), reaching back to attach to whatever is behind...guess that's why we talk about 'bond'. Flemish bond is the alternating placement of headers and stretchers within each row. It took more time, so was more costly (although with wages as they were, the difference wouldn't seem prohibitive to us today). Often Flemish bond is on the important front of a building (because the Victorians were all about appearances - who does that make you think of?) and common bond on the sides and back.

So...back to rowlock bond, which is what I'm on about today.

Rowlock bond consisted of laying the brick on its narrow edge, perhaps to make the bricks 'go further'. Stretchers and headers still alternated. Rowlock bond characterizes early brick building only - the later bricks with frogs, or indents, wouldn't have been suitable (although I have seen a photo of one in Baysville).

So the bricks look...bigger. Rowlock always makes me think of those 'second teeth' that kids grow before the size of their face catches up...big teeth.

rowlock bond
The Picton rowlock bond houses are attributed to Robert Welsh Jr. and his mason relatives. If you want to know more about rowlock bond, consult 'The Settler's Dream' or 'Building with Wood' (etc.) by John Rempel, my building bible.

Or you could wait til summer 2013 when Orland French's new book Wind Water Barley and Wine is released. A number of us have contributed from our unique perspectives. Orland's let me ramble on a bit about early building in Prince Edward County.

In 1984, Cruikshank and Stokes stated that there were 10 rowlock bond houses still left in Picton...some in hiding under stucco or other cladding. Picton was a hotbed of rowlock bond building, although there are scattered examples in the province. One, in Port Britain, has a sweet Picton connection.

My camera and I really must get to the old town one day soon, when the sun is out and the temperature bearable. Last time I looked, there was a plain little house on the town hill, with some cladding torn off, prior to what I expected was demolition - for there be condos. But work appeared stalled...perhaps it was a nasty surprise for a developer or a delight for an old house nut, for peering out from beneath the siding was what appeared, to a distracted driver heading downhill rapidly, to be rowlock bond.