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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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