Thursday, January 24, 2008

They're Stick

After I wrote yesterday that I sometimes refer to the little cottages that Mowry built as "Eastlake Cottages" I started thinking more and more about what the proper term is for the style. Well, actually, I started to think about this earlier than that. It started when I was working on the write-up for the National Register. So yesterday as I was writing, I started to call the first house an "Eastlake Cottage" and I thought to myself, I’m pretty sure that's not right.

I wanted to reference some of Mowry's earlier houses and how they lead up to his finest creation and the pinnacle of his career: The Petch House. My working theory is that he was so thrilled with how The Petch House came out that he died of joy on the front lawn as soon as the last nail was driven in. That is why I couldn't find any Mowry houses in the Green Book after 1896. Like I said, it’s a working theory, and it may not make it in to the National Register write-up.

Several days before this, I posted a picture of one of Mowry's houses on a site and asked the simple question: What style is it. The first thing that came back was Italianate. The Italianate style was wildly popular from like 1840 through the 1870s. It was not a bad guess, but the house just didn't seem to really have all of the necessary parts to make it an Italianate. Because it was so popular, for so many years, I think the term “Italianate” has become this catch-all phrase for any house that is built before 1890, doesn't epitomize a particular style, and can still be considered a Victorian House.

A small brief debate ensued and finally it was decided the proper name for the style was “Stick Town House”. That sounds right to me. The term comes out of the definitive work on architecture in America: Virginia and Lee McAlester's “A Field Guide to American Houses”. If the name of the style is in that book it might as well have come from the mouth of God. That’s just the way it is.

I did a quick search on-line for “Stick Town House” and found a good newspaper article from Alameda. It’s brief and very well written, and has some nice pictures. If you don’t read it, I thought this one paragraph sort of vindicated me a bit, so naturally I had to post it. For once, I wasn’t completely wrong when I’m making stuff up.

Some refer to the Stick style as the Eastlake style. But other than lending his spindles, sunbursts, flowers, comets and other fanciful designs to both the Stick and Queen Anne styles, Eastlake had little to do with these architectural styles, however.

Ok, so I guess all that really does is confirm that I wasn't the only one who was wrong. Still, its something...

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