The Rise Of The Colonial Revival Style
Dr. Dan L. Morrill
|These are the two homes of
Charlotte Mayor Frank R. McNinch. Different aren't they? Why did
the Mayor feel compelled to move? These two houses represent a
fundamental change that occurred in American architecture in the
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries -- the rejection of
Queen Anne Victorianism and the embracing of Colonial
Revivalism. That's the Liddell-McNinch House on North Church St.
on the left and the
Frank R. McNinch House on Sharon Lane on the right.
Everywhere today you will see the products of
architects who fake their materials in order to simulate the charm of
craftsmanship. Houses two years old look like two hundred years. . ..
The public likes their scenic effect. There is a sort of refuge in it,
as dreams are a refuge from reality. . .. This trend in architecture
has so completely captured our domestic work, that. . .such homes. . .
have become little theatres.
Professor H. Vandervoort Walsh, Columbia University
This article attempts to explain the rise of
Colonial Revivalism in Charlotte and to set forth the consequences
of that phenomenon in terms of appreciation of less revivalist motifs
Modernism. Overwhelmingly conservative, Charlotte's business elite
favors revivalist styles of architecture, especially Colonial
Revivalism. This is evidenced by the design of the Cornwell Family Life
Center that Myers Park Baptist Church will build on the Bland-McAden
House site on Selwyn Avenue. The Family Life Center is Colonial Revival
to its core. The architecture of the building is familiar, safe,
traditional, and pleasant. It stirs no deep emotions. It breaks no new
intellectual ground. Indeed, this writer finds it a bit boring. The
destruction of the
Bland-McAden House by Myers Park Baptist Church on July 17, 2000,
raised little public outcry, even from the neighbors. In this writer's
opinion, this meager reaction was partly due to the fact that the great
majority of Charlotte's affluent citizens have little regard for the
Craftsman style of architecture or for any other design that does
not seek to mimic the past.
|The Bland-McAden House exhibits
distinctive characteristic of the Craftsman style. Note the broad,
overhanging eaves, the exposed rafters, and the large, shed-roofed
front porch. Many Charlotteans think houses like this are ugly.
||The Cornwell Family
Center is a purposeful replication of concepts of beauty that date
from the Renaissance. Designers such as Andreas Palladio and Sir
Christopher Wren were among its champions. Note the pedimented
In his 1984 essay on the history of architecture in
Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Dr. Thomas W. Hanchett asserts that by the 1920s
the homes and offices of elite Charlotteans "reflected this increased
interest in tradition over innovation, in social correctness rather than
risk-taking." Many examples of Charlotte's penchant for Colonial
Revivalism come readily to mind.
Lynnwood, the local home of philanthropist and industrialist James
B. Duke, was completed in 1922. The
Howard Madison Wade House, designed by nationally-known architect
Charles Barton Keen, was started in 1928 and finished in 1930. The
Alexander James House on Cherokee Road in Eastover looks like the
centerpiece of a baronial estate. It was completed in 1929.
|Lynnwood or the James B.
Duke Mansion (1922). Architect: C. C. Hook.
Madison Wade House (1930). Architect: Charles Barton Keen.
|Architect Martin E. Boyer, Jr.
designed this Eastover home in 1929. Note the large gable roof with
end chimneys, the oculus lunette in the front pediment, the dormers,
and the central entrance with an arched fanlight above. It
essentially follows the same design philosophy as that found in the
Gautier-Gilchrist House in Dilworth.
The man who introduced Colonial Revivalism into
Charlotte-Mecklenburg's built or man-made environment was
Charles Christian Hook (1870-1938). Hook was a native of Wheeling,
West Virginia and graduate of Washington College, now Washington
University, in St. Louis. He came to Charlotte in 1890 to teach
mechanical drawing in the Charlotte public schools. In May 1891, Edward
Dilworth Latta's Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company or Four C's
began selling lots in the
streetcar suburb of
Dilworth, and Hook began designing homes for wealthy suburbanites.
It was not long before he established himself as an architect.
|Charles Christian Hook as a young
Among Hook's earliest houses was the
Mallonee-Jones House at 400 East Kingston Avenue. Completed in 1894,
it is an unambiguous example of the
Queen Anne style. The mechanical lathe and the scroll saw made it
possible for architects to adorn buildings with lavish decorations in
wood. That's what the Queen Anne style was all about. It was a
testimonial to modernity and made little reference to the past..
Asymmetry and ornate wooden ornamentation or filigree were its
fundamental characteristics. Just three years later, in 1897, Hook
completed his design for the
Gautier-Gilchrist House at 320 East Park Avenue. It is definitively
Colonial Revival. It is symmetrical. Dormers penetrate a gable roof
that surmounts the rectangular massing of the house. The fenestration
is regularly punctuated. Modillions decorate the eaves, not lavishly
ornamented bargeboards as one commonly finds in Victorian homes.
Gautier-Gilchrist House (1897)
| The contrast between these
two houses designed by the same architect within a three
year period is striking. In the case of the Mallonee-Jones
House, Hook was following accepted concepts of Victorian
design. The Gautier-Gilchrist House, on the other hand,
shows that Hook was abandoning the Queen Anne style in favor
of Colonial Revivalism.
| Hook was following a national
trend when fashioning structures like the Gautier-Gilchrist House.
Spurred on by such prominent architectural firms as McKim, Mead and
White, Colonial Revivalism was sweeping the country in the 1890s.
"Colonial houses, with their white or brick red exteriors, their
symmetry, and their symbolic ties to our supposedly plain, honest
forebears, were the perfect antidote to Victorian opulence," writes
Hanchett. In September 1894, a local newspaper announced that Hook's
design for the J. Frank Wilkes House (no longer standing) on East
Morehead St. would adhere to the following principles:
"genuine 'ye olden time' house. . .after the style of the typical
Southern home, with four large columns, two full stories high,
surmounted by a classic pediment. Mr. Hook. . will make the plans
after the true classic style of architecture, which at one time
predominated in the South and is being revived. The most striking
feature of the house will be its simplicity of design and convenience
of arrangement. The so-called 'filigree' ornamentation will not be a
consideration, and only the true design will be carried out and thus
give Charlotte another new style. . . ."
Hook "pointed the city in the new national architectural
direction," says Hanchett. Such Hook-designed houses as the
Villalonga-Alexander House, the
Walter Brem House, and the
William Henry Belk House had the symmetrical massing and simple hip
or gable roof shapes that are characteristic of Colonial Revivalism.
|Villalonga-Alexander House (1901)
||Walter Brem House (1903)
||William Henry Belk House (1925)
Hook also rejected Victorian ornamentation in
commercial and public buildings. The oldest extant non-residential
structure in Charlotte that C. C. Hook designed is the
Seaboard Air Line Railroad Passenger Station. There is nothing
Victorian about it. It is instructive to compare the Seaboard Station
with architect Frank Milburn's Spanish Mission style Southern Railroad
Station that stood on West Trade St.
|Seaboard Air Line Railroad
Passenger Station (1896) This is the oldest C. C. Hook designed non
-residential building still standing in Charlotte. It is truly a
remarkable design for its day. A simple hip roof, regularly
punctuated fenestration, and a general lack of ornamentation mark
this building as essentially classical in form.
Southern Railroad Station was almost ten years younger than the
Seaboard Station. Its design philosophy appears less "up-to-date"
than that used in the Seaboard Station. That because it was not
Colonial Revival. It emulated the look of a Spanish Mission. On a
visit to Charlotte President Wilson reportedly once asked if the
building was fireproof. When the answer was "yes," the President
allegedly said, "That's a pity." The building was demolished in
the early 1960s.
| The emergence and enduring
popularity of the Colonial Revival style have added grace and beauty
to Charlotte-Mecklenburg's built or man-made environment.
Neighborhoods like Dilworth,
Myers Park, and
Eastover bear dramatic testimony to this truth. Also, just as
with any other type of architecture, Colonial Revivalism should be
appreciated as a distinctive phase in the evolution of the building
arts. But, at least in this writer's opinion, the public's
affection for designs that draw their inspiration from America's
grand homes of the 18th century has made the job of the historic
preservationists more difficult in Charlotte and elsewhere.
Not a few people
believe that preservationists should only be concerned about saving
aesthetically pleasing buildings and that anything other than
traditional designs are ugly and dispensable. This writer remembers
talking several years ago with a woman about the wisdom of
preserving mill houses. She was dumbfounded. "Why," she asked,
"should we try to preserve an ugly thing like that?"
|A lot of people reject the
spending of money on restoring mill houses. This one stands on
Mercury Street in
||Imagine what some
people thought when they saw this
shotgun house being hauled up McDowell St. on its way to be
| Another difficulty arising
from a love of Colonial Revivalism is a lack of appreciation or
outright rejection of Modern architecture. This aversion sometimes
produces what preservationists derisively call "facadamies," the
remaking of the outer walls of buildings to make them look more
traditional. The most obvious local example of this technique is
what happened to the Charlotte Public Library on North Tryon
Street. Designed by
A. G. Odell, Jr. in the 1950s, the building was noted as an
especially sensitive example of Modernism. That is true no more.
The library has been expanded and done over to make it look like it
was built "a long time ago."
|Odell designed the Charlotte
Library to be open to sunlight. He also was determined to save
two large trees.
||Here is the
building after it was "improved." The walls have been bricked
up. The colors are more subdued. Do you like it better?