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Friday, June 21, 2019

Saratoga Stately

From the Vault Dept.: Thirty years ago, the Saratoga-area newspapers went into puff-mode overdrive with pieces about the city and its racetrack during the summer, and I contributed a few of those pieces. The one below was part of an improbable photo spread – improbable because nothing dims the charm of a house portrait more than black-and-white newsprint, Garry Brown’s photographic prowess notwithstanding. You can find current views of the properties mentioned on Google Maps Street View. I note that all of the addresses given in the piece (and the original captions, which I didn’t write but which I reproduce here) omit the “north” in what should be North Broadway; I have no idea why this happened.


UNTIL FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT demonstrated that you could remove walls and even hide the front door and still have a good-looking house, American architecture featured a continual reinterpretation of things European.

QUEEN ANNE: The Kilmer House, 722 Broadway,
was built in 1887 and is a fine example of the Queen Anne
style with its many varied features – turrets and gables,
spindles and bands, wood, terra cotta, stained glass,
and differing kinds of roof. Photo by Garry Brown.
Old houses in Saratoga Springs offer an amazing array of styles, reflecting the changing tastes of an affluent turn-of-the-century town that was lucky enough to suffer a financial decline during the recent decades when similar cities razed such buildings.

One of the pleasures of a day or two in the city is the chance to perform old-house detective work and identify the styles that were once so fashionable. In the realm of Victorian design, this city offers an example of just about every notable style – and these examples have even rated a mile's worth of North Broadway houses to gain National Register of Historic Places recognition.

Two architects who contributed heavily to Saratoga's 19th century look of opulence were R. Newton Brezee and Samuel Gifford Slocum, both of whom were born in New York State and maintained Saratoga offices.

Brezee was self-taught, a carpenter turned architect who practiced in the city for over 40 years. He is responsible for many of the large houses on Union and North Broadway, as well as several structures on Saratoga's east side. Most his work was in the Queen Anne style.

GRECIAN ORIGINS – One of the oldes houses
on Saratoga’s street of mansions, 581 Broadway,
is also an example of the Greek Revival
style of architecture with its columns
and gabled pediment. Photo by Garry Brown.
A jack-of-all-trades, Slocum advertised as a painter, furniture designer and wood carver as well as working as an architect and teacher. Another proponent of the Queen Anne style, he left his mark with private and public buildings.

The Queen Anne style was popular between 1876 and 1900, and featured a non-symmetrical composition, with a free use of shapes and a variety of textures. Look for a profusion of gables and turrets, with highly-decorative spindles and bands. Siding is often a mixture of items. It was inspired by the English exhibit at the U.S. Centennial Exposition.

For a textbook example, look at the Kilmer House at 722 Broadway, built in 1887. It boasts a combination of all the elements – wood, terra cotta, stained glass, a variety of roof styles, a large porch – that contributed to the style.

Slocum's Queen Anne design for E.T. Brackett at 605 Broadway (now the home of Quad Graphics) was erected in 1885; a Brezee Queen Anne stands nearby at 628 Broadway.

These houses now nestle among other examples of what were once regarded as radically different stylings. Antiquity has imposed a measure of seeming homogeneity, but these are the architectural styles to look for:

VICTORIAN REACTION – An early example of Colonial Revival
architecture, a reaction against the ornate Victorian style,
can be seen at 655 Broadway. Its design re-uses elements of the
Georgian and Federal eras. Photo by Garry Brown.
Greek Revival (1815-1840): Clean lines based on a Grecian temple, with columns and capitals and a gabled pediment. Vertical windows usually feature six-over-six lights. One of the oldest houses on Broadway (at 581) is also one of the later examples of this style, and boasted a shocking color: white. Many of the houses at Franklin Square, currently under renovation, also follow this styling.

Mansard (1860-1885): Named for the roof line, widening the top floor and accenting it with dormers. Slate often decorates the steep roof slope. And look for a lot of decorative touches. Also known as Second Empire or General Grant. A common style for row houses in the city, an ornate example is at 630 Broadway.

VERNACULAR ITALIAN – This brick house at
649 Broadway with its columns, large porch
and windows is a good example of the
Italian style, popular for about two decades,
from 1865 to 1885. Photo by Garry Brown.
Italian Villa (1835-1885): Like the Queen Anne styling, but squarer, featuring low-pitched roofs. Windows are tall, often rounded at the tops. Intended to look like an Italian country house. An American craze for anything Italian touched this off, also sparking the two following styles. A villa with a Queen Anne roof is at 719 Broadway. It was built in 1871, although the roof may have been an afterthought.

Vernacular Italian (1865-1885): The villa again, this time reinterpreted by the builder. Projecting bay windows are characteristic, as is a wide porch with large columns. The cornice craze continues here. An example in brick is at 649 Broadway.

Colonial Revival (1885- ): A reaction against the ornate Victorian styles by reusing those of earlier Georgian and Federal eras. The Victorian look comes through, however, in its boxiness. Symmetrical facade with a gabled roof; often a columned porch. An early version (1890s) was built at 655 Broadway; in 1922, architect Alfred Hopkins built one for then-mayor H.E. Pettee at 595 Broadway.

ITALIAN VILLA – This Italian villa with a Queen Anne
roof at 719 Broadway was built in 1871 and reflects
the American craze at the time for anything Italian.
In fact, the roof may have been an afterthought.
Photo by Garry Brown.
The star of Saratoga houses is undoubtedly the Batcheller mansion on Circular Street, a French Renaissance styling with a Mansard roof built in the 1870s. It has gone through the usual ups and downs of an old house, including a close brush with the wrecker's ball, but now endures proudly.

For the more imaginative detectives, a treasure of Italianate Mansion style may lurk smack in the middle of town. In 1889, Franklin W. Smith built a replica of the House of Pansa (buried in 79 in Pompeii) on Broadway after 19 trips to Italy. The lavish structure was intended as part of a project to recreate many early Italian mansions, but Smith ran out of money and the house was closed in 1907. It went from being a Masonic hall to a Jewish community center and was bricked over in the 1940s. Its massively-bracketed cornice continues to peer over an inscrutable wall of brick; we can only speculate what lies beneath.

– Schenectady Daily Gazette, 12 August 1989

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