Jack and Jessica Meyer – father-daughter owners of  White Chimneys in Gap (Lancaster County), PA – joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss their property’s history and their business. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • The Meyers’ realization of their historic preservation values through the purchase and renovation of White Chimneys over the past 15 years
  • The 300 years of history – including the estate’s direct connection to our founding fathers and famous historic figures such as the Marquis de Lafayette – of White Chimneys
  • Restoration and renovation experiences and tips from the homeowners’ perspective, including historic discoveries made along the way
  • Services utilized for restoration and ongoing maintenance, including details on the air purification system (particularly in light of COVID-19) 
  • How curious visitors planted the seed for their wedding venue and other business
  • Unique options and services offered to brides and grooms – including co-creating a signature cocktail with ingredients from the estate’s own gardens
  • Their business focus on sustainability, to support the history and future of the estate (which is on the National Register of Historic Places and under a historic preservation easement)
  • Challenges of owning a historic home and business, including that maintenance work is never done!

 

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Listen to the end of the podcast to learn more about the HVAC businessShoemaker Heating and Cooling – responsible for the custom ductwork and air filtration system installed at White Chimneys. Mr. Shoemaker can be reached via the link above, at 610-314-7278, or at [email protected]

If considering a wedding or other service at White Chimneys during these uncertain times, listen to their description of adjustments in the podcast or visit their COVID discussion here.

Choosing a contractor with the right mix of skills and experience to work on your historical building can be a daunting experience.  Especially considering the potential for permanent damage to the historical fabric of your building, you need to select a contractor who: is well-versed in historical products and materials; can identify and replicate the traditional trade approaches and techniques that create your building’s unique characteristics; understands the modern review, permitting, and approval process for historical buildings with applicable government agencies, historical boards, and commissions; and values preservation of our built history as much as you do.

Many of you have likely had work completed on your historical home or building. Consequently, many of you have also likely felt the impact of labor shortages in the construction industry. This article focuses on the skilled labor shortages and how they affect your project. The skilled labor shortage in the trades has been a major concern for over a decade, particularly since the global financial crisis of 2008. In March 2019, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) described the shortage – based on a survey of its members – like this: 

“More than four out of five builders expect to face serious challenges regarding the cost and availability of labor in 2019 … Just 13% of builders cited labor issues as an important concern in 2011, with the rate steadily rising over the ensuing years and peaking at 82% in each of the last three years (2017–2019).” [NAHBNow]

The number of shortages vary based on skill-specific trades, but broad shortages are higher in recent years. This presents a conundrum to leaders in the construction industry, but also to you, the homeowners. We have attempted to outline the breadth of the issues as well as possible solutions and strategies to cope, both from a societal stand-point and an individual homeowner perspective.

If you aren’t interested in how we got here, specific action items for hiring a contractor and dealing with the labor shortage are here

 

 

________________________________________________________________________

WHY IS THERE A SHORTAGE OF SKILLED LABOR?

We already know that there is a shortage of skilled labor in the construction industry. The question is: How did we get here?

  • Historical contributions. Clayton DeKorne provides a detailed overview of some of the likely factors that contributed to the shortage. For example, he noted that in early America, especially prior to the Revolution, the predominant view of skilled laborers in the construction field was a venerable one, and these craftsman enjoyed involvement in a cooperative community of workers, as well as esteem by and support from society at large. A prime example of this, as noted by DeKorne, is The Carpenter’s Company, the oldest trade guild in America. It held its first meetings in Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia, right among major centers for government and business. The building and the guild both hosted and provided for government and business in substantial ways. As time passed, the predominant views in America about construction and skilled labor culminated in Charles Ham’s book, Mind and Hand, which viewed industrial arts as a necessary precursor to children’s moral and intellectual development, rather than simply vocational training. DeKorne reports that another characteristic of these historical time periods was that traditional craftsman often passed skills on to their children, maintaining and ensuring traditional skills through the generations. However, as innovations in technology emerged, including “retail product manufacturing,” the need for skilled craftsman declined as the press for manufacturing workers increased. This included the children and youth who previously learned trades alongside their parents. But by 1917, child labor was increasingly frowned upon. The Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 was a federal law passed with the intention of education reform, triggered in large part by concerns related to ethical issues and lack of safety for children in the workforce. DeKorne notes this Act, while beneficial in limiting child labor, was a driving force behind the fall of vocational education in America. Although this bill provided significant federal funding to educational avenues, including vocational education, it set into motion policies and practices that eventually resulted in a distinct separation between college-prep and vocational education, the educational tracks we see to this day. The unforeseen and possibly unintended consequences of this have been a class or social divide, or at least a perception of one, that is still present.

 

  • Recent issues. McKinsey and Company wrote an article that reports that there was a 70% decrease in new housing projects from 2009-2011, resulting in many in the construction industry leaving the workforce, following the 2008 recession. In the years since, the demand for skilled laborers in the construction industry has significantly increased as construction needs have increased. However, workers are not filling those gaps.  DeKorne and homeadvisor.com conclude that a large part of the growing shortage is because of younger generations’ negative perceptions of the industry, including deeply-held beliefs that trade skills are associated with a lower or under-served-class of people. They have held onto the belief that a 4-year degree or college is more respectable, per the standards developed by the educational system throughout most of the twentieth century (noted earlier), and schools have phased out vocational programs and encouraged students to focus on college, perpetuating the idea that it is somehow better. This also reduces students’ exposure to the construction field as a potential option. Many of these people are more interested in innovative, technological careers. These problems are compounded by aging workers retiring from the field. 

 

HOW CAN WE ADDRESS THE SHORTAGE?

There are several things that experts suggest that leaders and professionals in the educational, vocational, and construction fields do, as well as suggestions for homeowners like you.

  • For professionals. Homeadvisor.com proposes that professionals make the most of the maker movement and foster people’s interest by offering alternatives to a 4-year-degree, harness their motivation to be entrepreneurs (since many surveyed indicate owning a business is a big motivator, and create mentorships and apprenticeships.  They also recommend labor automation, hiring temps, using overtime with current staff, and expanding hours of staff availability.

 

  • For homeowners. If you read most of this article prior to this section, or if you’re already abreast of the issues of labor shortage in the industry, you might be feeling discouraged as to any possible immediate solutions. However, we have compiled a list of things that you can do as a homeowner to navigate this issue, from our experience and that of other sources (Homeadvisor.com, thisoldhouse.com, Jon Gorey at realestate.boston.com, Marni Jameson of The Mercury News, and The National Trust for Historic Preservation).   
    • SCHEDULE IN ADVANCE – call before problems happen so you are more likely to get things addressed when they are problematic. This also builds rapport with contractors and laborers.  
      • HAVE A MAINTENANCE PLAN – find examples and ideas here
      • BE FLEXIBLE – Due to uncontrollable aspects of the current circumstances, it’s best to accept them as they are and be flexible with them. You can do this by allowing more time for projects to be completed, considering simplifying your projects, or moving your own schedule around to match that of contractors’ schedules. Also remember that subcontractors often prefer to work with general contractors or well-known companies, so they may not consider small home projects to be a priority. Consider contacting someone you have an existing relationship with for smaller projects, or a handyman service that specializes in smaller projects.
      • BE AWARE OF COST – The reality is that this shortage will impact the cost of your project. As the demand for highly skilled workers increases (especially for workers who have specialized skills in restoration/preservation rather than general remodeling) and the supply of highly skilled workers decreases, the demand on these contractors and workers also increases (usually beyond capacity) which will drive up the costs. 
      • HAVE A LIST OF PROS – Create a list of people with whom you build relationships. If they know you are a reliable customer, you are more likely to find them to be reliable professionals. They may be more likely to be flexible with you compared to unfamiliar, possibly demanding customers. 
      • DEFER TO A NATIONAL ASSOCIATION – NAHB and the National Association for the Remodeling Industry have pro-finder tools that will help you discover professionals in your area. Ensure that the contractors have experience in historical restoration and/or preservation.
      • DO YOUR OWN BACKGROUND CHECKS – High demand in a limited labor market is a breeding ground for less-than-satisfactory work from certain contractors, who may take advantage of the situation and be less reliable because they feel they have the freedom to do so. Also, many contractors are desperate for subcontractors and no longer requiring screenings, allowing this to fall to the homeowner. Make sure they are a licensed contractor, ask for proof of insurance, call references, and check out websites like court records to make sure no suits or complaints are filed against them. Particularly, make sure they do not have numerous claims against them regarding workmanship or breach of contract.
      • DON’T SETTLE – Although this checklist may seem daunting, don’t settle for sub-par work or possibly unsavory workers, despite all of the seeming barriers. 

IN SUMMARY: 

Unfortunately, even choosing a reputable contractor is not always the solution you would assume it would be and much onus is put on the homeowner or property owner as a result. Recently, I saw a job posting for a large, well-established contractor advertising 3 positions: construction site manager, field superintendent, and entry-level field assistant. The fact that they have the 3 levels of position available does not surprise me. What shocked me was the fact that they were advertising that they do NOT complete or require drug screens or background checks. I can tell from personal experience  that the number of applicants dramatically decreases when you add those qualifiers to the help-wanted ad. This concerns me not only from a safety standpoint, but also from a customer service angle. Someone who is abusing drugs will not be reliable (drug abuse is a huge problem in the construction industry). Just having a body show up is not the same as someone who is there to work (not to mention the liability implications). I am not opposed to second chances in regard to background checks; depending on the circumstances I would consider hiring someone with a blemish on their record, but I would want to know about it and evaluate it from a risk-assessment standpoint. As some contractors are lowering their standards to hire workers, don’t be afraid to ask questions about the labor force and the type of screening that is completed. 

In addition, you can hire for speed, cost, or quality choosing 2 of the 3 priorities, but the 3 cannot be accomplished on the same project. One question we are often asked is: what is the best way to find a reliable skilled contractor who won’t be too expensive? My answer is: It is hard to find an inexpensive skilled carpenter because the cost of labor goes up as skills are learned, and you are paying for the knowledge that has been previously acquired so they are not making expensive mistakes on your property. As a strategy, I would look at what work is unskilled/semi-skilled (it typically follows the 80/20 rule for window restoration, for example). With minimal training, you can either self-perform or pay a college student to do the unskilled work, bringing the skilled carpenter in for the repair work without having to pay a high hourly rate for the unskilled portion of the project. 

Ultimately, there is a lot required of you as a homeowner to find the right contractor and skilled laborers, but it will be worth it in the end.

PART 2 OF THIS SERIES of working on your old home explores replacement in-kind. Replacement in-kind refers to replicating the original in all respects except improved condition, when absolute preservation is not possible. This is a follow-up to Part 1’s general information about maintaining your home’s historical relevance and period style. Regarding replacement, it is easy to think that if the look of a historical building is maintained, as well as the types of materials used, then the building has been successfully preserved. But preservation is not just about preserving how something looks, it is primarily focused on preserving how something is, so that it remains as original as possible for future generations. 

Photo of Keperling Preservation Services’ completed work on the Harris Mansion porch in 2014, which necessitated some replacement in-kind. 

As important as it is to preserve how our historical buildings actually are, inevitably replacements will need to be made when features are so deteriorated that stabilization, conservation, or restoration are simply not viable options. In these instances, the National Park Service’s Standards for Preservation and Guidelines for Preserving Historic Buildings allow for “replacement in-kind” (replicating the original feature in all respects, except improved condition) if there are surviving features that can be used as prototypes. The Standards & Guidelines also notes that, “The replacement materials need to match the old both physically and visually, i.e., wood with wood, etc. Thus… substitute materials are not appropriate in … preservation.”

Using similarly styled or patterned ceramic tile to replace a terracotta tile, using a different wood when replacing cabinetry, removing wallpaper in favor of uncovering the plaster walls, using shingles that are of a different dimension, are all changes that can easily be made in ways that are in keeping with your building’s period of significance. Yet doing so can be confusing to anyone researching historical architecture by suggesting these features (or aspects of them) were there during the building’s period of significance when, in reality, they weren’t.

Further, removing these features permanently alters your building’s historical fabric, sometimes irretrievably. Original wallpaper that is often destroyed during the removal process can’t usually be replaced with in-kind period wallpaper. Replacing one species of wood with another sometimes can’t be undone if the original species of wood is not readily available, or is priced so exorbitantly that it is not financially feasible for your project. In order to avoid significant, and sometimes irreparable, damage to your building, consider replacing only the deteriorated or missing parts of your building’s features, use materials that match the old in design, color, and texture (both physically and visually), and document the original material and the replacement process and materials used extensively for future reference and research.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I have documentation of all former replacements, including documentation of the original features?
  • Have I had my buildings evaluated by a qualified contractor to identify any inappropriate replacement materials or approaches?
  • Do I document all replacements I do, including written and photographic documentation, noting the materials, details, and tooling on both the original and the replacement?
  • Are there any parts of my building’s original features that are deteriorated or missing and need replacement?
  • Is it possible to just replace the deteriorated parts instead of replacing the whole feature?
  • Have I checked with a qualified contractor to see if remediation is needed for any not-in-kind replacements previously performed on my building?

Next week: PART 3 OF THIS SERIES focuses on using a good design.

PART 1 OF THIS SERIES of working on your old home explores options for property owners to save the home’s historically relevant aspects specific to when and how it was built, versus mixing time periods and styles. Maintaining your home’s historical relevance necessitates preservation and restoration tactics that honor the home’s appropriate time period. If too much of the historic fabric is lost (e.g., removed or replaced), the methods and materials that make a historical building special are also lost. At a certain point so much may be lost that the property becomes “just” an old building.


Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash

There is over 400 years of architectural history in the United States, including a diversity of styles as rich as the diversity of our people. Early Colonial architecture still intact today displays magnificent examples of the Spanish and English influences prevalent when European settlers first immigrated here. Revolution period buildings demonstrate the forging of a new nation with Federalist and Jeffersonian features. Homes and buildings from the mid 1800’s through the early 1900’s capture the two “moments” in American time that define the experience of our culture’s Revival Period and Gilded Age.

Every historical building has a period of significance that determined how that building was constructed and the features it would have that, together, define its architectural importance. Maintaining your historical building in keeping with the period of significance that defined it as an important piece of our built history, is essential to its historical integrity. Mixing and matching period styles can permanently alter your building to the point of historical insignificance

Historical materials, and the craftsmanship used when working with those materials, are easily damaged by modern renovation attempts – even when your intention is focused on preserving your building’s features. For example, using a power sander while restoring original wood that was hand-planed will result in woodwork that can never again reveal the same character as the original woodwork did. Painting wood flooring in a house from a period when a wooden floor would never have been painted is something typically considered reversible, but isn’t always if the wrong paint is chosen or when the removal of the paint causes significant damage to the original flooring. Original porches (and other projections), building footprints and materials, period layouts and unique features can all be altered to the point of no return while adding living space meant to bring a historical building in line with more modern functional style (i.e., failed reconstruction attempts). Removing original wallpaper, or installing wallpaper on a house from a period when wallpaper wasn’t used, isn’t just affecting the aesthetic integrity of a historical house – it can permanently damage the original plaster walls behind it.

If your ultimate goal is to maintain the historical integrity of your property’s time period, focus on preservation (focuses on the maintenance and repair of existing historic materials and retention of a property’s form as it has evolved over time), restoration (depicts a property at a particular period of time in its history, while removing evidence of other periods), or even reconstruction (re-creates vanished or non-surviving portions of a property for interpretive purposes) if possible or necessary. Essentially, avoid making changes that may try to make it appear older, newer, or fancier than what it really is. Even small, subtle changes can permanently damage the integrity of your building. The National Park Service details these options further in terms of standards and guidelines for treatment of historic properties (https://www.nps.gov/tps/standards/four-treatments/treatment-restoration.htm).

Ask yourself:

  • Do I know my building’s period of significance?
  • Do I know the architectural features common during my building’s period of significance?
  • Have any of the architectural features original to my building been altered, removed, or renovated?
  • Has the interior layout of my building been changed?
  • Have I checked with a qualified contractor to see if any changes to my building that I want to make are incompatible with my building’s architectural integrity, or can it be done in a more compatible way? Consider professional help given the potential for such a project to overwhelm you (see our helpful tips on hiring a qualified contractor https://practicalpreservationservices.com/hiring-the-right-contractor/). The qualified contractor will best be able to navigate the National Park Service standards and guidelines referred to above.

Next week: PART 2 OF THIS SERIES focuses on replacement in-kind.

 

Typically, on homes built in the mid-1800’s until the early 1900’s, the most unexpected maintenance problem deals with the internal gutter system. This is because the problem is hidden until the failure has begun. However, regular inspection and maintenance can catch the problem before it is too late, and damage is done.

First, I bet you are wondering, “what is an internal gutter system?” What we call internal gutter systems are also known as “Yankee Gutters,” or built-in, sunken, box or integral gutters. These drainage systems have been used on houses from the 1700’s through the early 1900’s, though they are most commonly found on buildings from the Victorian period. Typically, they are incorporated into the cornice along the roof line, on a porch, or bay window. The usual construction is a wood trough lined with metal. Because of the cornice trim covering the gutter, problems with the metal lining (typically the first problem – allowing water into the structural framing and eventually the trim) remains unseen until damage is spotted from the water infiltration.

Signs your system is not functioning properly include: peeling paint, moist wood, damage to the masonry (at the roof level), and plaster damage on the interior of the house (at the bay window). Unfortunately, once these symptoms are presented, there is often damage to the structural walls or ceiling, not to mention the decorative moldings of the cornice, making the repair a restoration project (replacement to match the original) rather than a preservation project (maintenance) – an expensive proposition.

One way to minimize the cost is to make sure the gutter is regularly inspected and the solder joints in the metal are properly maintained. These inspections can be done semi-annually when the gutters are cleaned of leaves and other debris.

PRO TIP: Never use roofing tar to seal the joints (rather than soldering the metal seams). This will trap the water into the wood, causing the same problems you are trying to prevent.

Some people roof over the internal gutter system and use external gutters for their water management – this is an option for saving money, but it does change the original appearance of the building by covering the decorative cornice. Further, this solution does not address the damage to the structural systems. Often, unenlightened homeowners will wrap the problem in vinyl or aluminum using the “I can’t see it, so it’s not a problem” approach to maintenance. Of course, this causes larger problems and sometimes results in losing the entire front porch.

If you have external gutters, you should regularly inspect them (semi-annually) to ensure that they are doing their job keeping water out of the house and moving it away from the foundation. If replacement becomes necessary, be sure you replace them with half-round gutters and round or rectangular downspout styles appropriate for historic buildings. NEVER replace them with K-style or corrugated downspouts.

This article is a part of a series from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s excellent field guide on the architectural styles found in Pennsylvania.  In it, they’ve assigned key periods of development – from the Colonial period in the 18th Century to the Modern Movements of the 29th Century.  This article focuses on an overview of the Traditional/Vernacular style in Pennsylvania from 1638 through 1950

PA Architecture Colonial Revival Style 1880 – 1960

Identifiable Features

1.  Columned porch or portico
2.  Front door sidelights
3.  pedimented door, windows or dormers
4.  Broken pediment over front door
5.  Pilasters
6.  Symmetrical Facade
7.  Double-hung windows, often multi-paned
8.  Bay windows or paired or triple windows
9.  Wood shutters often with incised patterns
10.  Decorative pendants
11.  Side gabled or hipped roofs
12.  Cornice with dentils or modillions

Colonial

One of the most frequently produced and enduring popular styles in America is the Colonial Revival style.  It can be seen in a seemingly endless variety of forms throughout the state and the country and still continues to influence residential architecture today.  Basically, the Colonial Revival style was an effort to look back to the Federal and Georgian architecture of America ’s founding period for design inspiration.  Less commonly, the Post-Medieval English and Dutch Colonial house forms were an influence on the Colonial Revival style.  This enthusiasm to explore the architecture of America ’s founding period was generated in part by the Philadelphia Centennial of 1876 celebrating the country’s 100th birthday.  This trend was further promoted by the Columbian Exposition of 1893, held in Chicago .

Like most revival efforts, the Colonial Revival style did not generally produce true copies of earlier styles.  Although, in the early years of the 20 th century (1915-1935) there was a real interest in studying and duplicating Georgian period architecture.  Generally, the Colonial Revival style took certain design elements—front façade symmetry, front entrance fanlights and sidelights, pedimented doorways, porches and dormers—and applied them to larger scale buildings.  These colonial era details could be combined in a great variety of ways, creating many subtypes within this style.  In the 1940s and 1950s a more simplified version of the  Colonial Revival style became popular for homes, usually featuring a two story building, a side-gabled or hipped roof, classically inspired door surrounds and windows, shutters and dormers.  Less common are examples of the Dutch Colonial Revival which are distinguished by a gambrel roof, and sometimes a shallow pent roof over the first floor.  Likewise, there are fewer examples of the Colonial Revival style with a second story overhang inspired by the form of Post Medieval English buildings.

The Colonial Revival style was also popular for public buildings, applying common achitectural details of the style to a larger form.  Colonial Revival public buildings include government offices, post offices, libraries, banks, schools and churches.

This article is a part of a series from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s excellent field guide on the architectural styles found in Pennsylvania.  In it, they’ve assigned key periods of development – from the Colonial period in the 18th Century to the Modern Movements of the 29th Century.  This article focuses on an overview of the Traditional/Vernacular style in Pennsylvania from 1638 through 1950

PA Architecture Sullivanesque Style 1890 – 1930

 

Identifiable Features

1.  Intricately patterned, wide decorative cornice
2.  Vertical bands of windows
3.  Terra cotta or plaster panels with sculptural ornamentation
4.  Flat roof with deep projecting eaves
5.  Tall (6 stories or more) building
6.  Porthole windows at cornice level
7.  Large round or Syrian (Ogee) arch at entry
8.  Curvilinear and entwined decorative pattern – Celtic influenced
9.  Buildings have three distinct parts: top, middle and bottom

Sullivanesque

The Sullivanesque style was created by Louis Sullivan  (1856-1924), a prominent turn of the century  architect. Sullivan was educated at MIT and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and worked for premier Philadelphia architect Frank Furness, before moving to Chicago.    The Sullivanesque style developed in response to the  emergence of tall, steel-frame skyscrapers in the 1890s.  This new building type presented a new design challenge.  Sullivan’s approach was to use ornament and design to delineate a tall building into three distinct parts, an entry level with prominent window and door openings, a mid section with bands of windows with vertical piers, and a top with a highly decorative cornice, often featuring round porthole windows.  Sullivan applied classical design principals to these early skyscrapers.  His tripartite design was distinctive and elegant and shows the influence of the concurrent Art Noveau movement in the decorative panels using geometric forms, curving lines and Celtic inspired entwined patterns.  This elaborate form of ornamentation marks a building as Sullivanesque more so than any other feature.

While several of Sullivan’s early works were constructed in Philadelphia between 1849 and 1860, many of his best-known works are located in the Midwest.  Sullivan worked with and influenced many other significant American architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright,George Grant Elmslie, and William Gray Purcell.  The Sullivanesque style is an urban style, primarily  seen in large cities or regional centers.

 

 

 

This article is a part of a series from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s excellent field guide on the architectural styles found in Pennsylvania.  In it, they’ve assigned key periods of development – from the Colonial period in the 18th Century to the Modern Movements of the 29th Century.  This article focuses on an overview of the Traditional/Vernacular style in Pennsylvania from 1638 through 1950

PA Architecture Renaissance Revival Style 1890 – 1930

Identifiable Features

1.  Low-pitched hipped or flat roof
2.  Symmetrical facade
3.  Masonry construction
4.  Impressive size and scale
5.  Round arch entrance and windows
6.  Classical details: columns, pilasters
7.  Roof line parapet or balustrade
8.  Arcaded and rusticated ground level

Italian

The Italian Renaissance Revival style developed at the very end of the Victorian period of architecture. Like the Romanesque styles and other later classically-inspired styles, the Italian Renaissance Revival style looked to Italy and the ancient world for inspiration. This style developed in direct contrast to the medieval form and appearance of other popular styles of the time, the Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, and Shingle styles. This style and the earlier Italianate style both were modeled on the 16th century buildings of the Italian Renaissance. However, Italian Renaissance Revival style buildings are much closer stylistically to the original form than the Italianate style. This added authenticity was due to greater familiarity with the original buildings—via photographs versus pattern books—and advances in masonry veneering techniques that developed in the early 20th century.

The most predominant feature of this style is its imposing scale and formal design incorporating classical details such as columns and round arches and balustrades. This style can take several distinct forms, but all variations are almost always of masonry (usually stone) construction. One version of the style features a large rectangular building, usually three or more stories in height, topped by a flat roof with a crowning balustrade. Another common feature for this flat roof version of the Italian Renaissance Revival style is a rusticated stone first floor with upper floors having a smooth finish. Porch arcades and porticos are often seen in this  version as well. The other most common form of this style features a hipped roof, often of clay tiles, with broadly overhanging, bracketed eaves. This variation bears some resemblance to the Spanish Colonial Revival style (also known as the Mission style) which was popular in the same period. While having a similar form and tiled roof, the Spanish Colonial Revival style lacks the classical details like columns, pilasters and pedimented windows.

The Italian Renaissance Revival style was first popularized on the East Coast by architects such as McKim, Mead & White as early as the 1880s. This elegant style is seen mostly in up-scale, architect-designed buildings, such as mansions or public buildings. While many examples of this style can be found in Pennsylvania, it is most common in city settings. The 1920s-era State Office complex (North and South Office Buildings, Finance Building, and Forum Building), adjacent to the Beaux Arts State Capitol building in Harrisburg, is of this style.

 

This article is a part of a series from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s excellent field guide on the architectural styles found in Pennsylvania.  In it, they’ve assigned key periods of development – from the Colonial period in the 18th Century to the Modern Movements of the 29th Century.  This article focuses on an overview of the Traditional/Vernacular style in Pennsylvania from 1638 through 1950

PA Architecture High Victorian Gothic Style 1860 – 1890

Identifiable Features

1.  Linear decorative polychrome bands of brick or stone
2.  Masonry construction
3.  Stone quoins
4.  Pointed arch (Gothic) windows and doorways
5.  Steeply gabled roofs, often with cross gables
6.  Ornamental pressed brick and terra cotta tiles
7.  Patterned brick chimneys
8.  Corbelled brickwork
9.  Turret with conical roof

high

 

The High  Victorian Gothic style is similar to the earlier Gothic Revival style, but is a more heavier, more substantial version of the style.  The High Victorian Gothic style was used mostly for large scale public buildings like schools, churches, or government offices, but was sometimes chosen for mansions or homes of substantial size.   Always executed in brick or stone, High Victorian Gothic buildings  are distinguished by the use of polychrome bands of decorative masonry.   Stone quoins, pressed brick,  and terra cotta panels  were commonly used.  Windows and doors were accented with brick or stone trim, often in contrasting colors.   The Gothic pointed arch may be present  at windows, entrances, and decorative dormers and cross gables.  Round turrets with corbelled brickwork and conical roofs are common to this style as well.

The High Victorian Gothic style developed in England in  around the mid point of the 19 th century. English architect John Ruskin, author of “The Seven Lamps of Architecture” (1849)  was a major proponent of the style, finding “constructural coloration” superior to superficially applied color.  Initially, this style was inspired by  English medieval architecture, but later it drew from medieval French and German building traditions as well.  The High Victorian Gothic style did not fully emerge in the United States until after the Civil War.  Since this style was most often employed for high-style public buildings or mansions, it was essentially an urban building type.  It was often used for the design of schools and libraries.  One of Pennsylvania ’s best examples of this style  is the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia , designed by Frank Furness in 1876.

This article is a part of a series from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s excellent field guide on the architectural styles found in Pennsylvania.  In it, they’ve assigned key periods of development – from the Colonial period in the 18th Century to the Modern Movements of the 29th Century.  This article focuses on an overview of the Traditional/Vernacular style in Pennsylvania from 1638 through 1950

PA Architecture Exotic Revival Style 1830 – 1850, 1920 – 1930

Identifiable Features

Egyptian Revival Style
1.  Massive columns resembling bundles of sticks
2.  Vulture & sun disk symbol
3.  Rolled (cavetto) cornice
4.  Window enframements that narrow upward

Moorish or Oriental Revival Style
1.  Ogee (pointed) arch
2.  Complex and intricate details with a Middle Eastern or Oriental theme
3.  Recessed porches
4.  Onion dome or minaret
5.  Mosaic tile trim

Swiss Chalet Revival Style
1.  Front facing projecting gable with wooden cut out trim
2.  Second floor porch with cut out balustrade and trim
3.  Patterned stickwork on exterior walls
4.  Low pitched roof with wide overhanging eaves

exotica

 

 

 

The Exotic Revival style actually encompasses several different styles, all somewhat rare, but so distinctive in design that they are worthy of mention. There are two periods of popularity associated with the Exotic Revival style, an earlier mid-19th century one when the style was first introduced and a subsequent period in the early 20th century when the style was reintroduced and revived again.   Buildings from the later period especially of the Exotic Revival style are often of grand size and scale and public use, such as churches, banks, theaters and government offices.

The Egyptian Revival style is simply the addition of Egyptian inspired columns and decorative motifs to buildings that are similar to the Greek Revival or Italianate styles in form. Scholarly interest in the archaeological discoveries of ancient Egypt early in the 19th century led to the development of Egyptian-themed buildings. The style attempted to recreate the appearance of Egyptian temples, especially with the use of massive columns that resemble sheaves of sticks tied at the top and bottom. Details refer to ancient Egyptian symbols—the phoenix, the sphinx, and the vulture and sun disk. This style was most often applied to public buildings, banks, prisons, courthouses, offices, and cemetery structures. This style was often chosen for buildings representing eternity and the afterlife. The Egyptian Revival Style flourished yet again for public buildings (especially movie theaters) from 1920 to 1930, often utilizing poured concrete as a building material. The 1835 Philadelphia County Prison (demolished in 1968) was one of the first Egyptian Revival buildings in the U.S., of imposing stone design by architect Thomas Ulrich Walter. Most surviving examples of the Egyptian Revival style are theaters, cemetery mausoleums and entry buildings, and banks.  The entrance gate to the Pottsville Cemetery with its massive columns and use of symbolic funereal decorative details is an excellent example of the Egyptian Revival style.

Another variation of the Exotic Revival is the Moorish or Oriental Revival style. This style, evocative of the Middle East or Far East, is notable for its ogee or pointed arch which appears at windows, and porches. Trim is delicate and ornate, sometimes with a lacey pattern. Some Moorish or Oriental Revival buildings have recessed porches or Turkish onion domes. The style was inspired in the late 18th and early 19th century by the increasing trade and contact with the Far East. The stylized and traditional architecture of this region appeared exotic and romantic. Like the Egyptian Revival, the Oriental Revival became popular again in the 1920s and 1930s.  While employing different decorative details and massing, the YMCA Building and Zembo Mosque in Harrisburg  are both examples of the Moorish Revival style. Chuches reflecting the Eastern European cultural tradion often are designed with gilded Moorish style onion domes. While that is a distinctive Moorish Revival style feature, it may be the only element of that style present in the overall design.

The Swiss Chalet Revival Style is another variation of the Exotic Revival style. Examples of this style appeared in the pattern books of Andrew Jackson Downing, which promoted other Romantic styles. Buildings of this style emulate the appearance of Swiss chalets, with a protruding front facing gable. A distinctive element is the second floor porch or balcony with flat cut out balustrade and trim. Sometimes stickwork or half timbering appears on the wall surfaces as well. The style also has a low-pitched roof with wide overhanging eaves supported by with brackets. This style was considered appropriate for rustic or mountainous settings, but it appears, sometimes in a more vernacular form, in varied settings throughout the state.  Few examples of the Swiss Chalet Revival variation of the Exotic style have been identified in Pennsylvania.

All three variations of the Exotic Revival style are relatively rare in Pennsylvania, but are easily identifiable due to their distinctive details.