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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
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
such as 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
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
|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
|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
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
||Walter Brem House (1903)
||William Henry Belk House
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
|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
||Frank Milburn's 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.
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,
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
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 North
||Imagine what some
people thought when they saw this shotgun house
being hauled up McDowell St. on its way to be restored?
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
||Here is the
building after it was "improved." The walls have been bricked
up. The colors are more subdued. Do you like it