aaaNegotiating ideas related to urban house-building had a notable precedent in Richardson's office. Francis Higginson and his business partner Charles Whittier commissioned Richardson and Charles McKim respectively to design adjacent, attached townhouses in Boston. An early proposal for the Higginson House shows a facade primarily of random ashlar and nearly devoid of derivative ornamentation.
The house as built is Late Gothic, with a facade of brick and dressed stone that bears little resemblence to Richardson's work elsewhere. Next to it, McKim's office created a comparable street front, enough so that it seems hard to imagine that the modifications for the Higginson design were not influenced by it. The house was built in the summer of 1882 while Richardson was visiting Europe, leaving his staff with even broader design responsibilities. The supervisor of the project was Alexander W. Longfellow, who knew McKim both professionally and personally and showed a predilection for French architectural detail in his sketchbooks. That design changes were made for the Higginson House is a given, and it is apparent that Longfellow made them.(11.5)
the Higginson House as built
Longfellow was also given supervision of the Sard House, which he first mentions in correspondence in March 1882. The development of the Higginson and Sard designs, therefore, overlapped. The earliest known proposal for the Sard House is largely Queen Anne in style and, like the final design of the Higginson House, diverges stylisticly from Richardson's larger and more important commissions enough to indicate that this was Longfellow's work.(11) The brick and stone scheme was likely taken from
Trinity Church Rectory, Boston
Richardson's Trinity Rectory (1879-81) in Boston, MA. A gable with mousetooth brickwork, stone lintels, bands of checkerboard brick, decorated downspouts and leaded glass can be found in the Sard proposal and at the rectory. However, the Boston work occupied a wide lot, which allowed Richardson's office to excersize a broader hand in massing the structure. The large, Syrian arch and recessed entry were a Richardson hallmark. Sard's building site offered little room for creative massing.
aaaWhen and in what sequence the various changes in the Sard house design occurred isn't known, but another proposal is a loose sketch of the house from an angle showing the same composition in brick as the first-mentioned scheme, but with the entry altered.(12)
The concept of a combined porch and balcony in stone with open archways and a bowed parapet is presented here.(13) Balconies with such arches and parapets were indicated in one of the proposals for Richardson's free-standing Oliver Ames House (1880) in Boston. In this relatively quick sketch, was this Richardson pushing Longfellow in a different direction? The broad arch and stonework were more in keeping with Richardson's recent work.
With several other drawings showing slight modifications to the entry area,(14) these two proposals are the only known exterior drawings of the Sard house to originate from Richardson's office. It has been proposed that the design was largely a result of Richardson being in Europe, but action on building the house is only known to have occurred in 1883. The Albany City tax assessment roll for 1883 is the first year the house appears, and the only year it is described as "in progress." The Albany City Directory for 1884 lists the Sards as living at 397 State Street. There would seem to have been enough time after Richardson returned from Europe for his own input for the Sard project, even if only to recommend the changes to the entry. Another change to the design brought it to its appearance as built, with a facade of stone. While this may have been at Richardson's dictate, it may alternatively have been Sard's. By 1882 Albanians knew the Richardsonian style first-hand. Richardson's Albany City Hall (1881-83) was the most distinctive, having polychrome, rough-faced stone and bold, semicircular arches.
Portions of the New York State Capitol by Richardson and the Madison Avenue Reformed Church also bore characteristic elements by 1883.(15)
aaaTwo urban house projects in Richardson's office being designed, in part, simultaneously were brought to opposite conclusions. Longfellow may have leaned toward a derivative brick and stone scheme for Sard based on his solutions for Higginson. Richardson, whose intentions for Higginson might have been represented in the stone proposal, may have brought Longfellow back to stone for Sard, with the dramatic inclusion of depth in the entry used at Trinity Rectory and the Ames House.
aaaThe Sard house as built has the same facade massing as shown in the first proposal. The gently picturesque layout of the wall worked comfortably with the urban parkside site and the surrounding building fabric, but not compatible with the ruggedness of random, quarry-faced ashlar. The types of stonework eventually chosen for the Albany house appear to have been novel. The stone was laid in horizontal courses with a continuous drip molding, perhaps to balance the strong verticals of the massing. Some of the courses alternate between wide and narrow. Hitchcock called the stone poor and flat and the overall facade dry and over-refined.
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11. drawings courtesy of the Houghton Library, Harvard University.
14. located at Houghton Library.
15. The Madison Avenue Reformed (Dutch) Church was designed by Joseph Lyman Silsbee of Syracuse and built in 1879-81. The first known "Richardsonian Romanesque" building in Albany, it was destroyed by fire in the early twentieth century.