by Doug Sinclair
text and drawings © 1988 & 2009 unless where otherwise noted
Originally presented at "H. H. Richardson in Albany," a Society of Architectural Historians symposium
dedicated to the memory of Margaret Henderson Floyd
One of the least known works to have come from the office of architect Henry Hobson Richardson is the house built in 1883 for Grange Sard, Jr., in Albany, New York. Very little has been written about the house, which is one of only two urban houses by this architect still standing much in its original form.(1) The only major, critical appraisal of the house is given by Henry-Russell Hitchcock in the 1936 publication The Architecture of H. H. Richardson and His Times.(2) Hitchcock's study assesses the architect's work within the critical framework of Richardson's freedom in any given commission to integrate building function and style. As the Sard commission imposed various limitations, Hitchcock portrays the house as a design failure. Broader considerations and corrected misstatements reveal a different building - not a great architectural achievement, but one that uniquely represents the influences on and problems inherent in designing urban dwellings and a project that has a solid place in the body of work from Richardson's office.
Born in 1843, Grange Sard, Jr., was a lifelong resident of Albany, New York. His father was a draper and tailor who worked in downtown Albany and lived with his family on State Street just above the first New York State Capitol.(3) Grange, Jr., attended the Albany Academy and the Albany Classical Institute, two of the best schools in the city. At seventeen he was hired to work for stove-makers Rathbone & Company. His aptitude for the business is apparent in that he was offered a partnership in the firm eight years later. In 1873 the company was renamed Rathbone, Sard & Company. The factory operated in one of the largest industrial plants in Albany and by 1886 had an annual output of about 75,000 stoves. Sard presided over the company in later years and was succeeded by his son Russell Ellis Sard. The younger Sard oversaw the company's transition to making electric "Acorn" stoves and ranges in the early twentieth century. The business, which was likely the oldest of its kind in the country, closed in 1930.
Grange Sard, Jr., was a very active in Albany's prominent social and mercantile circles. In his lifetime he was president of the National Stove Makers Association, the Trust Companies Association (New York State), the Union Trust Company, the Albany Home Building Company, the Fort Orange Club and the Albany Country Club; Vice President of the Albany Savings Bank; trustee of Emmanuel Baptist Church, the Albany Institute and Historical & Art Society, the Dudley Observatory and the Albany Cemetery Association. He was chairman of the Non-Partisan Committee of Fifty, whose investigations led to the prosecution of election frauds. As one of the Committee of Thirteen he investigated fraud in public money expenditures by the City and County of Albany in the 1880s. Of particular interest to Sard was his seventeen-year membership on the board of commissioners of Washington Park. Sard was married to Caroline Wolverton of Albany in 1870, and they raised four children. In later years Mr. and Mrs. Sard summered in Southampton, Long Island and Dark Harbor, Maine. Grange Sard, Jr., died in 1924.(4)
The house in which the Sard family lived between 1883 and 1924 is located at 397 State Street. It has a brownstone facade arranged with a gabled bay to the left, an entry in the center, and a polygonal, turret-fronted bay to the right.
The entire facade is divided by a string course between the first and second floors. The stonework is laid in horizontal courses, which are mostly of irregular widths on the first floor and generally alternate between wide and narrow above the string course. The second floor windows are set in the rough-face of the walls. The frames are very narrow beside the windows, but rise above to create the appearance of a lintel.
An entry porch is composed of a broad, segmental arch over a bowed-parapet balcony and an arched access to the stairwell. A skinny gargoyle in a rectangular panel forms one end of a swath of cross-hatched stone across the top of the entry porch. Another creature bites an end of the stairwell arch, which is surmounted by a Gothic pinnacle. Two carved boar's heads are impaled on the upper branches of the pinnacle, and the likenesses of Mr. and Mrs. Sard occur on two branches below.(5) Two horizontal bands of gray granite run through the cross-hatching over the porch.
drawing of the Sard House and dragon by Doug Sinclair
1. The other house is that built in 1885-87 for J. J. Glessner in Chicago, Illinois.
2. Henry-Russell Hitchcock, The Architecture of H. H. Richardson and His Times (hereafter referred to as AHHR), (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1936)
3. Hoffman's Albany Directory & City Register (Albany: L. G. Hoffman, 1843); The Albany Directory, (Albany: Adams, Sampson & Company, 1858)
4. Frederick S. Hills, ed., New York State Men, (Albany: The Argus Company, 1906); George R. Howell and Jonathan Tenney, Bicentennial History of Albany: History of the County of Albany, New York, from 1609 to 1886, (New York: W. W. Munsell, 1886)
5. This claim is based on the resemblance between photographs of Grange Sard, Jr., and the carved male face.
6. AHHR, pp. 248-52, 261