February 11, 2010 | Completed around 1820, Davenport House, located in the historic port city of Savannah, evinces the post-Revolutionary American taste for contemporary European design. Isaiah Davenport, a master carpenter by trade, looked to the classicizing mode that had become prevalent in residential architecture throughout England and Europe when he constructed Davenport House for his growing family. Today, visitors can experience the excitement of the period by visiting this southern treasure, which is one of many homes to be explored in Savannah's downtown historic district.
After being saved from the wrecking ball in 1955, Davenport House's sophisticated exterior cast iron work and interior charms—including imported marble fireplace mantels and elaborate ornamental plasterwork—were all restored to their past glory. The restoration was the inaugural undertaking of the Historic Savannah Foundation, and the project precipitated a slew of preservation and restoration efforts throughout the city. Thanks to the hard work of the foundation's seven founding mothers—who raised $22,500 for Davenport House in 1954, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places—over three hundred buildings were saved.
December 3, 2009 | Fenway Court, the former home of Isabella Stewart Gardner, gives added meaning to the notion of a house museum. Built in the style of a fifteenth-century Venetian palace, it was conceived as both a residence and a museum. With the help of many great advisers, Gardner amassed-and later, meticulously arranged-a superlative collection of fine and decorative arts, architecture, and rare books and manuscripts, in what is today one of the most important tributes to the Italian Renaissance on American soil. Sited on the Fenway—part of Boston's "Emerald Necklace" of parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted—Gardner's museum was an important intellectual and artistic center in its day, and for visitors today provides a unique view of those who inspired, decorated, and enlivened the homes of America's Gilded Age.
November 12, 2009 | Located on sixty acres in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Fonthill, the home of Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930), one of the leaders of the American arts and crafts movement, stands as a testament to handcrafted goods, replete with relics dutifully gathered by Mercer in the wake of the industrial revolution.
Mercer, a Bucks County native, graduated from Harvard in 1879. After receiving a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, he turned to archaeology, serving as the curator of American and pre-historic archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania Museum from 1894 to 1897. Recognizing the need to preserve the daily material culture of preindustrial America, he began collecting "above ground" archaeological artifacts such as hand tools and horse-drawn vehicles. The arts and crafts movement, already underway in Great Britain, inspired him to create his now world-famous line of architectural tiles at the Moravian Pottery and Tiles Works, which have been in production since 1899.
Between 1908 and 1912 Mercer built Fonthill by hand with the assistance of a small group of laborers using the poured concrete method of construction, which he for its plasticity and fire-resistant properties. Refining the technique—developed in Paris in the 1850s—while building his Moravian Pottery in 1910, his mastery of the process was confirmed in 1916 when he erected the Mercer Museum, a six-story castle with a central atrium built to house his collection of almost 30,000 artifacts. All three structures, which comprise Mercer Mile, can be visited today.
The labyrinthine interior of Fonthill consists of forty-four rooms, including ten bathrooms, five bedrooms, at least thirty-two stairwells, eighteen fireplaces, and twenty-one chimneys and air vents-the whole illuminated with natural light supplied by over two hundred windows. Mercer also incorporated many modern conveniences, such as an intercom system, two dumbwaiters, an Otis elevator, and steam heat.
Without a doubt, the highlight of Fonthill is its most permanent of permanent collections: Mercer's tiles, including creations from his Moravian Pottery as well tiles he collected, which range from ancient to contemporary and are bountifully incorporated into the walls, ceilings, and floors of the ad-hoc mansion. To keep things organized, tile labels are inlaid directly into the concrete walls. Especially fanciful is the room dedicated to the voyage of Christopher Columbus—a fascination for Mercer—that includes narrative tiles of seafaring vessels and native inhabitants. A portion of Mercer's collection of prints and engravings collected from around the world is scattered throughout the house, along with built-in bookshelves that hold over 6,000 volumes, and arched wood-plank doors—all adding storybook charm to Mercer's masterpiece.
October 22, 2009 | Pittock Mansion, a French Renaissance revival style house situated 1,000 feet above downtown Portland, Oregon, was built between 1909 and1914 for newspaper owner Henry Lewis Pittock and his philanthropist wife, Georgina Martin Burton Pittock. The 16,000- square-foot mansion, located on over forty-six acres of parkland, features forty-four period rooms that incorporate original furnishings into a restored interior. Visitors to Pittock Mansion encounter a pastiche that encapsulates both the story of a prominent Portland family and the history of the city they helped to build.
Henry Pittock was born in London in 1834, but as a child his family moved to Pittsburgh. After studying at the University of Western Pennsylvania, he traversed the Oregon Trail and arrived in Portland in 1853. Two months later he secured a post as a typesetter at the weekly Oregonian newspaper. In 1860 Pittock married fifteen-year-old Georgiana, herself a pioneer hailing from Missouri, and in the same year gained ownership of The Oregonian. During the next sixty-five years, Henry transformed the publication into a leading news daily while simultaneously investing in real estate, banking, sheep ranching, gold and silver mining, shipping, and the pulp and paper industry.
Thirty-nine years into their marriage, the Pittocks hired local architect Edward T. Foulkes (1874-1967) to design for them a grand estate suitable for their eight children and eighteen grandchildren. A graduate of Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and L'École des Beaux-Arts, Foulkes had designed a number of commercial and public buildings, but the Pittock house was among his first residential commissions.
October 1, 2009 | The onset of crisp autumn air can only mean one thing: apple season is finally here, making it a great time to head to the Piedmont region of Virginia, where dozens of varieties of apples are ripe for the picking. And while you're there, why not take in a helping of Virginia's history? You can do both on Carters Mountain in Charlottesville, home to the Carter Mountain Orchard, Jefferson's Monticello, and Ash Lawn-Highland, the 535-acre farm estate of fifth US president, James Monroe.
Situated just two miles from Monticello, Ash Lawn-Highland was built between 1793 and 1799 on a site personally selected by Thomas Jefferson for his dear friend and colleague Monroe. The Monroe family lived on the estate for twenty years until financial troubles forced them to sell; while there, they continuously added to the house and grounds, constantly referring to it as their "castle cabin." The typical farmhouse extends into a hillside in order to keep the lower-level stone kitchen cool during warm Virginia summers.
In the 1880s, subsequent owners added a two-story Victorian wing to a portion of the house that had been damaged by fire around 1840. Jay Winston Johns, a preservation enthusiast from Pittsburgh, purchased the property in 1930, and opened it to the public. The College of William and Mary-Monroe's alma mater-has been maintaining the property since Johns's death in 1974.
[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi» View All