Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Suddenly Last Summerhill


I've visited this lovely spot in Kingston many times, and wrote about it here 6 years ago. Some of the photos I borrowed for that post have disappeared, as it turns out, so it's time to retell the story. But I did a pretty good job on that post, so I encourage you to have a look.

This is Summerhill, the oldest building on the Queen's University campus, a graceful Neoclassical villa built as home for George Okill Stuart, Anglican Arch-deacon, in 1839. Remarkably old. Changed over time, but in recent years, much restored and nicely maintained. 

The image at right is from an interpretive panel installed since my last visit. Summerhill's pure Palladian form, (here's one now) a central block with flanking pavilions and linking colonnaded porches, is evident in this 1858 drawing.

Folks must have felt fortunate indeed when in 1854, the home was acquired by the still new and struggling Queen's College, established in 1848 by Royal Charter issued by Queen Victoria. Queen's was the work of the Presbyterians of Upper Canada, desirous of a College for the education of Presbyterian ministers.

 The College had begun in a wood frame house on the edge of town, with 2 profs and 13 students. Despite the classy new digs, the college continued to struggle financially, and suffered growing pains as it strove to establish identity and direction.

The interpretive panels go on to explain the challenges, and principals who made a difference. I won't. For me, the visit was about taking in the beauty of the place and the day.

Do drop by yourself, and swot up.

So, can you spot the changes? I'm just going to let you do the thinking, and revisit my warm early fall day euphoria now. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Where's Waldron?

Well, thank goodness for Dr. Jennifer McKendry. I've mentioned Kingston's well-known and much-published architectural historian in a number of posts over my love affair with her city. 

Today, I appreciate her even more, as she is THE ONLY source I could locate which references a most unique and wonderful structure in that city,  the Waldron Tower. Built in 1968, this building, originally a student nurses' residence, and now a co-ed residence for Queen's students, is easily underestimated, amid the Collegiate Gothic buildings of the campus, the early incomparable Summerhill, and the homes of the well to do along King Street.  

 There are student videos posted on the Queens residence services site, showing off the utilitarian concrete interiors, and the windows - as soon as I had drawn his attention to the building, my design engineer husband noticed that the design provides each of them with a view of Lake Ontario, just across the street.

The marriage of the stepped brick tower with the textured stone and curving concrete elements of the one-storey wing - likely the student common area at one time? - is appealing. I couldn't stop looking and shooting.

Curving, smooth, undecorated surfaces of the reverse arch portico contrast with the rough stone walling.  The rotunda is supported by an external skeleton of concrete spines, separating long narrow windows. 

It's a bland beige brick tower at first glance, but with such caprice, embracing all that was iconoclastic in the International Style, everywhere one looks. McKendry includes a brief but laudatory comment: "the city building that most successfully shows the potential for beauty in the International Style." She mentions the curved lines and broken cornice. 

More and more curves in concrete.

Look up, look way up. McKendry suggests this very tall building looks light because of the broken cornice and curved lines.

Incidentally, the book where I finally found some architectural mention of Waldron Tower is Modern Architecture in Kingston - A survey of 20th century buildings, self-published, 2014, by Jennifer McKendry.

Notice the tiny square porthole like windows  on the slightly concave end wall?

Sorry if this post trails out a bit. As undisciplined as I was while taking photos, I have been even more profligate at sharing them. And as I have complained before, "new" Blogger does not allow portrait oriented photos to be moved into a comfy side by side arrangement. And that's an improvement how?

The datestone - 1968. I had to sneak up what looked like a private drive, behind the wonderful Katherine Bermingham Macklem house which now houses a hospital department, to find it. Unmistakeable. The whole building a celebration of what I knew to be its era.

In closing. A Streetview link, if you fancy a wander yourself. 

Or is it just me...?

During my dear husband's final autumn in 2020, we spent many hours in Kingston while he received attention at the fine hospital. I spent hours amidst the city's changing foliage, wandering Kingston streets within a half-hour or so of KGH. One reason is the biological imperative. As non-patients were forbidden access to the comforts of the hospital, due to the exigencies of the pandemic, one was forced to seek relief  either at the top of City Park, or the extreme west end of Breakwater Park, a heart-healthy 20 to 25 minutes away. There was an evil genius at work. Upon arriving at one biffy, signs often directed the sufferer to the other, maintenance being promised. Nevertheless, there was always plenty to see (a needed distraction) on the quest. And this house along King Street never fails to delight me. I tried several times  one day to capture the classical calm, the brilliant foliage, and the shadow, all of which put me in mind of one of Lauren Harris' early Toronto houses. Sadly, trees on either side prevented me getting what I wanted (the theme of the walk.) Streetview did a rather better job, actually, from the intersection, safer in a vehicle than on foot. But really, is not the genius in the light? 

If I may, a couple of Harris houses to make the point.