Welcome to the Architectural Observer!

The Architectural Observer rarely looks at “important” buildings; the focus is upon overlooked ones.  Some will be antique survivors which have come through time surprisingly intact.  Many will be old buildings which have been altered without regard to their stylistic integrity while others will be new construction which never had any stylistic integrity to begin with.

The decline of architectural integrity is just one more facet of the prolific and ongoing devolution of our culture.  The Architectural Observer calls it like it is!  Are there more important and pressing issues facing us now?  Yes, but everyone needs a distraction from those other issues once in a while.  And besides, this is relevant and much more fun!

There are three kinds of distractions here:

OBSERVATIONS  highlights the lowlights of our built environment – and observes occasional architectural details which might otherwise be overlooked.

PLAN BOOK AND KIT HOUSES examines structures built from mail order plans or actual kits.

DRAG QUEEN ARCHITECTURE showcases buildings built in one style but which are trying to pass themselves off as a different style.

Let’s face it; we built better buildings in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries than we do now.  Let’s take a cue from the past and start to remember how buildings are supposed to look and function.  Thanks for joining me – please use the contact form for polite inquiry or to gripe at me.

Before and…………..After!

Before and…………..After!

When houses in a neighborhood are built by the same developer (and at roughly the same time), they tend to look a lot alike.  Some developers will make an effort to introduce a little variety, either by changing exterior colors or materials, or sometimes by using several different designs and alternating them.  That was the… Continue Reading

Brick Queen Anne Transformed into Mock Tudor

Brick Queen Anne Transformed into Mock Tudor

  At first glance this house in Council Bluffs, Iowa, appears to be a Tudor Revival from the 1920’s or 30’s   Closer inspection reveals that the house began as an 1880’s Queen Anne.  Sorry about the photo quality… these images were taken from a real estate listing found on zillow.com.  Listing information indicates that… Continue Reading

Architectural Integrity and the Lustron

Architectural Integrity and the Lustron

A building which retains its architectural integrity is one which has been maintained as it was built and intended to be.  When buildings are altered through remodeling or the installation of “maintenance -free” windows or siding, integrity is compromised.  Such compromise is increasingly commonplace.  On rare occasions, both wood and masonry buildings can be altered… Continue Reading

Unconventional Window Alterations – Part 2

Unconventional Window Alterations – Part 2

It’s always exciting to discover a new type of architectural depravity (hat tip to Seth!) which I had not previously encountered.  Such discoveries typically involve the loss of architectural integrity which is not exciting, but I’m getting used to it… it’s now the new normal. The first thing I noticed about this house was that… Continue Reading

Backdating Wall Cabinets

Backdating Wall Cabinets

Why would anyone update when it’s just as easy to backdate?  After all, there’s not much appealing design out there these days; design from the early 20th century is almost always a sure bet to be more interesting than whatever has been marketed for the past 40 years.  Recently a friend acquired some cabinetry which had… Continue Reading

Mixed Messages:  Replacement Doors at Odds With Their Context

Mixed Messages: Replacement Doors at Odds With Their Context

We’ve all seen them.  And with the proliferation of both Big Box home “improvement” stores and infomercials posing as television programs about restoration, renovation and design, we’ll continue to see even more of them:  entry doors which are stylistically inappropriate for the house that surrounds them.  Numerous examples follow:            … Continue Reading

The “Rodessa” by Sears?

The “Rodessa” by Sears?

I recently ran across a house in McDonald, Kansas, which looked oddly familiar.  Pretty sure I’d seen this facade before… maybe a Sears kit house?  So I took a photo.  After some digging, I found what I was looking for.  To me, the house at first appeared to be an astonishingly intact example of the… Continue Reading

Update!

Update!

Despite the handsome Queene Anne window sash depicted, this post is not about windows.  I just wanted to let everyone know that my internet access will be sporadic over the next few weeks as I am finally able to get an ISP for the new house (finding a reliable provider in the middle of nowhere… Continue Reading

Fun with Tile

Fun with Tile

The tile work enlivening the entry of a telephone company office built in the 1960’s is just as energetic now as it was then… and right back in style, too!               Continue Reading

A Stylectomy in Progress

A Stylectomy in Progress

No, stylectomy  is not a word, but it should be, because this house has had its style excised from it. More frequently than I would like, I run across houses which have been brutalized from the perspective of architectural integrity.  Today I ran across this house and was saddened to see that it appeared to… Continue Reading

Carved in Stone:  Halloween Edition

Carved in Stone: Halloween Edition

Beautiful masonry is not restricted just to buildings; our cemeteries are filled with it.  Due to my geographic location, we can only travel back in time as far as the 1870’s today.  It was very cold and windy this morning on the High Plains; the atmosphere was perfect to inspect old headstones.  It’s impossible to… Continue Reading

Construction Details of Two Outbuildings c. 1920

Construction Details of Two Outbuildings c. 1920

On Halloween the Architectural Observer will visit a cemetery to examine the architectural qualities of grave markers, but today let’s take a closer look at the kind of vernacular buildings commonly built on farms in the early 20th century.  The first structure was used over the years as both a milk house and a wash… Continue Reading

Random Observations – Part 11

Random Observations – Part 11

Central Kansas is actually quite interesting if you are willing to stray from Interstate 70 for a few miles.  Most people don’t, so I’ll show you a little bit of what they’re missing.  A few more scenes from the road less traveled!                           Continue Reading

Abandoned Rural Structures

Abandoned Rural Structures

The formerly common structures which once characterized the Great Plains and other rural areas have been disappearing for decades.  The erosion is now accelerating at a mind-boggling pace.  Take a look before they’re gone forever:                         Continue Reading

A Visit to the Garden of Eden – Part 2: Interior

A Visit to the Garden of Eden – Part 2: Interior

While not as exuberantly weird as the exterior, the interior of  S. P. Dinsmoor’s house is still a bit quirky.  The most memorable bit of quirkiness is the woodwork – especially that of the main floor.  Comprised of stock moldings and scraps, much of the woodwork looks sort of normal at first glance, but under… Continue Reading

A Visit to the Garden of Eden – Part 1:  Exterior

A Visit to the Garden of Eden – Part 1: Exterior

The Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas, is not your average historic house museum.  It is considerably more surreal than that.  And much more memorable.  Built by Civil War veteran S. P. Dinsmoor, the house itself was completed in 1907; the sculptures were a work-in-progress until 1928.  Dinsmoor’s “Cabin Home” was built of native limestone… Continue Reading

Unconventional Window Alterations – Part 1

Unconventional Window Alterations – Part 1

An early 20th century commercial building, though modest, still retained its original wood double-hung windows until recently.  Built in 1917, the Commercial Style structure is typical of many storefronts of its era.  The large double-hung windows, an integral part of the style, had been relieved of an obtrusive air conditioner and repainted in a manner… Continue Reading

Stabilization w/ Passive Solar Bonus

Stabilization w/ Passive Solar Bonus

Historic preservationists understand the term “stabilization” to mean putting the brakes on further decay of historic structures by making them watertight, structurally braced, and resistant to animals, vegetation and vandals.  Also known as “mothballing”, stabilization measures are taken to protect a vulnerable building until restoration and utilization of them can occur in the future. In… Continue Reading

Restored Balustrades on a Sears Westly

Restored Balustrades on a Sears Westly

The “Westly”, a popular kit house by Sears, was offered throughout the ‘teens and 1920’s.  Its overtly Craftsman porch supports and balustrade make it memorable and easily recognizable.  The following Westly, built in Holdrege, Nebraska, had lost its original balustrades at some point as seen in an image from 2013, (second image below). Earlier this… Continue Reading

The Backside of the J-6!

The Backside of the J-6!

Last weekend I happened by a J-6 house by the Harris Brothers and it occurred to me that we previously had only see the front and side of the house in period  material and contemporary photos. What does the back of one of these look like?  Will the back match the floor plan? Here is… Continue Reading

Warehousing People

Warehousing People

When Louis Sullivan coined the term “form follows function” in 1896 he could not have been thinking of these recently constructed “senior apartments” – though the structure aptly illustrates his observation. The form of this building makes abundantly clear its function: the warehousing of elderly people.   Looking more like monthly storage units than a retirement… Continue Reading

Late Italianate False Front

Late Italianate False Front

This wood structure probably dates to around 1900 – making it a late example of both the Italianate style and false-front buildings.  Located in Lebanon, Kansas, a town at the geographic center of the 48 contiguous states, the original and present uses of the building were not immediately obvious.  But I did like the building’s… Continue Reading

Bungalow Poses as Log Cabin

Bungalow Poses as Log Cabin

What obviously started out as a Craftsman style bungalow in the ‘teens or 1920’s now has now donned the apparel of a log cabin.  Or something meant to convey the impression of a log cabin. Rounded wood siding is presumably intended to look like logs.  The masonry porch piers survive unmolested and stand as testament… Continue Reading

3 Random Utilitarian Buildings and Other Roadside Scenes

3 Random Utilitarian Buildings and Other Roadside Scenes

Last weekend I ventured across Highway 36 in Kansas for the state’s 11th annual “Treasure Hunt”, a state-long flea market.  I was hoping to get lots of interesting photos of architecture along the way, but few opportunities were to be found.  I did, however, capture the following images which struck me as noteworthy at the… Continue Reading

An Interesting Craftsman Bungalow

An Interesting Craftsman Bungalow

This house captured my attention for several reasons.  First, it bears a striking resemblance (in reverse) to the Aladdin “Plaza” and Harris Homes’ plan No. N-1026.  Secondly, its elaborate mortise-and-tenon porch supports are both fun and chamfered.  The balustrade is similarly playful (cut-outs alternate between circle and diamond shapes).  Lastly, the house outwardly appears to… Continue Reading

The Evolution of the Winona by Sears

The Evolution of the Winona by Sears

There are numerous frustrating obstacles to those who research houses with kit or plan book origins.  One is that on occasion the various competitors would not only rename or renumber their assorted offerings over the years, but redesign the floor plans as well.  And it doesn’t help that these same competitors routinely copied each other’s… Continue Reading

Greek Revival Surprise

Greek Revival Surprise

Kansas was not heavily populated when it achieved statehood in 1861 – at roughly the same that the Greek Revival style fell from favor in all but the most rural areas of the nation.  So it’s not a surprise that the few examples of the style found in the state tend to be in the… Continue Reading

Frederick L. Ackerman’s Plan No. 198

Frederick L. Ackerman’s Plan No. 198

I’ve been fascinated by house plan books and catalogs for as long as I can remember and “The Books of a Thousand Homes” is particularly riveting.  Published in 1923 by an entity calling itself The Home Owners Service Institute, the book contained five hundred house plans.  Working blueprints for each design could be ordered through… Continue Reading

Harris Home No. N-1026, “The Plaza” by Aladdin or ???

Harris Home No. N-1026, “The Plaza” by Aladdin or ???

A 1923 Harris Brothers Company catalog includes an attractive Craftsman style house with a rather lackluster name:   No. N-1026.  The house was offered with clapboard or shingled siding, and a reversed floor plan as an option.   The Aladdin Company sold a nearly identical kit house called “The Plaza” as early as 1917… does anyone… Continue Reading

A Garlinghouse Design Plus the Sears Argyle and Hollywood

A Garlinghouse Design Plus the Sears Argyle and Hollywood

For well over a century, the Garlinghouse Company has been publishing house plans. While I’m especially partial to their mid-20th century designs, the older ones also have merit.  Below is plan number 1067 from the 1920’s… the house shown in the second photo was built in 1927 and remains largely intact today:     The… Continue Reading

Radical Excision of the Soul

Radical Excision of the Soul

  Today I cried.  On the floor.  Gut-wrenching sobs.  Fifty-six years old and I’m crying like a baby. No words can begin to describe the cutting pain felt.  No words exist to describe the sense of loss.  My partner and I feel bewildered and our efforts discarded. We feel empty.  And numb.   It is… Continue Reading

Mid-Century Church Buildings

Mid-Century Church Buildings

Here are a few interesting church buildings from the mid-20th century which have not been completely altered beyond recognition.  They’re rather tame for many locations, but here in flyover country they undoubtedly pushed the envelope when first built.                   Continue Reading

Unfortunate Porch Enclosures

Unfortunate Porch Enclosures

Some porch enclosures are surprisingly successful, but most are not.  When done in a manner that does not acknowledge the prevailing style of the rest of the house, or in a way that emphasizes mass over void, such enclosures can have not only a deadening effect on the facade, but a loss of architectural integrity… Continue Reading

Subtle Changes

Subtle Changes

The following two photos show how very subtle changes to the exterior of a house result in larger perceptual changes. In the first photo, a 1960’s-vintage ranch house is shown in near original, though slightly worn, condition. The second photo shows the house in mid-transformation.  The alterations, though subtle, have taken years off the perceived… Continue Reading

Useless Shutters

Useless Shutters

Plastic louvered blinds, more commonly known as “shutters”, were attached to this 1960’s ranch style house in a presumed effort to beautify it. Even if hinged and operable, none of the four shutters on the front of this house would cover or protect anything.  The tall shutters flanking the bay window are too far from… Continue Reading

Upside Down Fanlight

Upside Down Fanlight

Nothing surprises me anymore, really.  There is literally no end to the weird things people will do to houses and other structures. This house has suffered numerous indignities including the installation of asbestos siding and the later removal of a window from the center gable.   The replacement window is not only under-scaled and stylistically… Continue Reading

Extreme Makeover c. 1972 “Reimagined” in 2017

Extreme Makeover c. 1972 “Reimagined” in 2017

History does repeat itself, does it not?  This hapless house has had a hellacious history.  After being stripped of its true identity in the early 70’s and given a quasi-Colonial/Second Empire identity, this tragic structure has now been “reimagined” in a manner utterly void of any stylistic influence at all (save the few surviving remnants… Continue Reading

Barn Facade Facelift

Barn Facade Facelift

When an early 20th century barn was converted to a milk house for a growing dairy operation in the 1960’s, its front lost one window and gained two doorways to accommodate cattle.  While functional, the modest bit of architectural style the barn had possessed was slightly eroded. A half century later, the barn is converted… Continue Reading

Stripping Paint Easily from 1960’s Paneling

Stripping Paint Easily from 1960’s Paneling

A vintage 1960’s kitchen had remained in top-notch, original, condition until a few years ago when the house was sold to new owners.  Sadly, they removed period 1960’s lighting and painted over wood paneling and some cabinetry.  New nondescript lighting so typical of imported stuff purchased at Big Box retailers further undermined the kitchen’s former… Continue Reading

Backdating Interior Trim

Backdating Interior Trim

A small Craftsman style bungalow built around 1915 received an addition to the rear of the house about 50 years later.  During the process of the 1960’s renovation, a doorway in the living room was widened.  At the same time, the wall was covered in wood paneling and the new opening cased in the thin… Continue Reading

Stylized Crenellation

Stylized Crenellation

This 1920’s-era Commercial style building combining retail with living space above, as well as an adjacent gas station, would be easily forgettable if not for the exuberant zig-zag profile of its unusually crenellated parapet wall.  While still intact above the living quarters, the crenellation above the former gas station section has been modified in an… Continue Reading

Vintage Drag

Vintage Drag

Not all stylistic makeovers are of recent origin – homeowners have had a penchant for remodeling for as long as there have been houses.  Here are a few “Before and After” transformations taken from vintage decorating magazines and a promotional brochure for stucco:                        … Continue Reading

Varied Maintenance c. 1900

Varied Maintenance c. 1900

While recently unpacking boxes of stuff, I was struck by the number of antique photos I have which show buildings or houses which are in disrepair or in need of paint.  Another demonstrates that even during the Victorian era, some people struggled with painting houses in an attractive, coordinated manner… the problem is certainly not… Continue Reading

Obliterating History

Obliterating History

Insensitivity toward the artistic compositions known as building facades has been going on, well, pretty much forever.  Clearly many people do not value buildings rendered in brick, stone, etc.,  in the same way they do an artistic composition rendered in oil on a canvas. Few, for example, would buy an artwork and then commission another artist to add… Continue Reading

Full Frontal Garage

Full Frontal Garage

Some houses – especially newer ones – appear to be more garage than house.  In the early 20th century when cars were still coming of age, they were stored away in a garage at the back of the lot just as horses and carriages had been in prior decades.  Garages were understood to be secondary to… Continue Reading

Painting the House c. 1915

Painting the House c. 1915

Everyone who reveres historic buildings understands the importance of maintenance.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of people today who do not revere our historic buildings and who do not think that they are especially important.  A century ago the concept of actual maintenance was promoted in the public schools.  Today advertising promotes the concept of “maintenance-free” products such… Continue Reading

Answered Questions

Answered Questions

The following photograph is one side of a stereo pair dating to the 1870’s.  I’ve had the stereoview for many years and had often wondered about it.  What became of the house?  Who built it?  Is it still standing?  I had to know.  Fortunately, someone had penciled “Gen. Gridley’s house” and “Grove St.” on the… Continue Reading

Former Italianate Feigns Colonial Past

Former Italianate Feigns Colonial Past

Looking like something out of a post-war subdivision, this ostensibly Colonial Revival four-plex would have gotten away with its charade if it hadn’t been for those meddling architectural sleuths that happened upon it!  Located just a block away from the gloriously monolithic historic preservation endeavor known as the Cross House, the facade looks a bit newer… Continue Reading

Neo-Mediterranean Makeover of Former Queen Anne

Neo-Mediterranean Makeover of Former Queen Anne

Dating to the 1970’s, this remodeling of a former Queen Anne style house into a Neo-Mediterranean showplace is strangely captivating some 40-odd-years later. The original c. 1900 Queen Anne feautured clapboard siding and boxed eaves which were arched and shingled in the gables for interest.  At some point – possibly in the 1920’s – the clapboard siding… Continue Reading

A Beaux Arts Building: To Hell and Back

A Beaux Arts Building: To Hell and Back

The building depicted in the following photos has undergone many changes since 1907 when it was constructed as a bank and fraternal lodge.  The first photo, a black and white image, shows the building when new.  Stylistically, the masonry building shows a strong Beaux Arts influence despite its lack of exact symmetry.  In form, the… Continue Reading

From Good to Bad to Contrived

From Good to Bad to Contrived

When I first photographed this small commercial building I was smitten with its Brutalist / Modernist vibe – not something one expects to find in an obscure corner of “flyover country”.   I loved the concrete, oddball windows and corner emphasis.  I knew it was much too interesting to survive unmolested, so I took this photo to document it.  The second… Continue Reading

A Visit to Edina, Missouri

A Visit to Edina, Missouri

Edina, Missouri, is one of those very rare towns that still retains a lot of its past and yet has not been gentrified into contrived quaintness.  It’s loaded with surprisingly intact commercial storefronts facing the town square.  Which is itself rather interesting as Edina has not just one town square, but two!  And the two… Continue Reading

A House in the Spanish Eclectic Style

A House in the Spanish Eclectic Style

While found throughout the country, the Spanish Eclectic style was most popular in the Southwest and in Florida.  Many examples were built between the 1910’s and the 1930’s.  The style is frequently confused with the preceding Mission style and the roughly contemporaneous Italian Renaissance style – primarily because all three styles typically feature roofs of… Continue Reading

Erasing Character

Erasing Character

With the proliferation of television programs devoted to house renovation (designed to sell products and stimulate the economy – not to instill a passion for history and actual cultural preservation) it’s not surprising that many formerly styled houses end up resembling currently popular trends in new construction which lack specific styling. Too often renovation projects involving styled… Continue Reading

Bruce Goff’s Hyde House

Bruce Goff’s Hyde House

Commissioned in 1965 by Lawrence Hyde, this house designed by Bruce Goff is located in suburban Kansas City. Because the house remains a private residence, I took photos only of the front which could be seen from the street.  I’m fairly certain that the other elevations would be just as interesting! As in many other Goff… Continue Reading

The Exotic Revival Style

The Exotic Revival Style

While many are familiar with the most popular “romantic” architectural styles of the 19th century (Gothic Revival, Greek Revival, Octagon and Italianate), fewer are familiar with the Exotic Revival.  In their essential and definitive “A Field Guide to American Architecture“, authors Virginia and Lee McAlester describe three “subunits” of the style:  Egyptian, Oriental, and Swiss… Continue Reading

Transparent Siding!

Transparent Siding!

In an interesting experiment, a decrepit barn is getting an unusual update.  It was desired to immediately utilize the building as a workshop and storage, but the numerous holes, cracks, and missing chunks of wood siding made it drafty and vulnerable to moisture.  However, the numerous perforations created an interesting effect and character from the… Continue Reading

Salvaging Gable Ornaments

Salvaging Gable Ornaments

Gable ornaments are most commonly associated with the Queen Anne and Folk Victorian architectural styles.  Widely available in the late 19th and early 20th centuries at lumber yards or through mail-order catalogs, these ornaments still add interest to historic houses across the country.  The catalog pages below show just a few variants possible.  The following… Continue Reading

Decaying 1920’s Adobe Construction

Decaying 1920’s Adobe Construction

An abandoned homestead which dates to the 1890’s was apparently updated in the 1920’s with adobe construction.  These updates, despite their advanced deterioration, are quite fascinating. Adobe construction on the property consists of a small one-room structure of unknown purpose, a porch balustrade, and a garage or storage building.  The mortar used to hold the adobe blocks together has… Continue Reading

Removing a Fireplace Mantel and Tile Surround

Removing a Fireplace Mantel and Tile Surround

Recently I had the opportunity to assist in the removal of an early 20th-century mantelpiece from a vacant farmhouse awaiting demolition.  The mantelpiece and other woodwork and windows are to be installed in a new house currently under construction on the same farm. It was a surprisingly simple process, though not all mantels of the… Continue Reading

Inside a Wrightian Usonian House

Inside a Wrightian Usonian House

Built in 1962 in Polo, Illinois, this recently restored Wrightian Usonian house was designed by Verne Lars Solberg who studied under Bruce Goff at the University of Oklahoma in 1949.  It is quite beautiful and the restoration was done very well.  All photos below were taken from vernelarssolberg.com where even more photos and information about this… Continue Reading

Auction Action

Auction Action

This morning I went to a consignment auction which had a few items of architectural / aesthetic interest.  With 8 rings selling simultaneously, and something of interest in each one, it was hard to be in the right place at the right time for the purpose of bidding.  Mostly it was a fun way to… Continue Reading

Sculptured Glass Block

Sculptured Glass Block

Today I happened upon a building which was delightfully peppered with sculptured glass block.  I haven’t seen much of this stuff outside of Chicagoland where it was popular in the 1960’s, so I did some digging online.  Soon I was rewarded with A Chicago Sojourn – an absolute must for anyone who loves the architecture of… Continue Reading

Radford Designs and a Gordon-Van Tine Kit House

Radford Designs and a Gordon-Van Tine Kit House

Most people have heard of Sears catalog and kit houses, which were popular in the early 20th century, but many are unaware of the numerous other businesses which sold essentially the same product.   These competing businesses routinely adapted each other’s work or simply flat out stole from each other.  Many designs were reversed, perhaps in an… Continue Reading

A Trip to 135-Year-Old Lord’s Hardware

A Trip to 135-Year-Old Lord’s Hardware

How many businesses can you think of that have been in continuous operation for 135 years in the same location?  Probably not many.  Lord’s Hardware has been operating continuously since 1882 in downtown Indianola, Nebraska.  If you need some obscure widget and don’t have time to wait for fulfillment from Amazon, there’s a good chance that Lord’s… Continue Reading

Mid-century Modern Door

Mid-century Modern Door

This door graces a mid-20th century ranch house in Southwestern Nebraska.  I had to photograph it when I saw a “For Sale” sign in the yard and determined that no one was actually living in the house.  An unfortunate storm door could not completely obscure the whimsical circle-motif glazing.  I’d be willing to bet that the… Continue Reading

Yesteryear’s Update

Yesteryear’s Update

People have been remodeling buildings ever since they started building them.  Here is a structure which was began as a two story brick office building sometime in the 1920’s. In the late 1940’s or early 1950’s it was modernized and given an extra floor in the process.  None of this is evident from the sleek modernist facade,… Continue Reading

Superficial Bracketing

Superficial Bracketing

The two houses shown below have each been augmented with brackets.  Both houses date to somewhere around 1910 and are vernacular examples of the foursquare form.  Neither house is specifically styled, but each has characteristics common to both Colonial Revival and Prairie houses; both styles were popular when these houses were built.  Neither house was intended to have… Continue Reading

Interesting Exterior Stair Enclosures

Interesting Exterior Stair Enclosures

Many commercial buildings have (or once had) exterior stairwells or staircases.  Most need some type of enclosure.  Solutions have changed over the years; here are three different sets of stairs – each is an interesting survivor:   Sleek 60’s Aluminum       Iron Stairwell – 2nd quarter of the 20th century        … Continue Reading

Windowless Facade w/ Recessed Entry

Windowless Facade w/ Recessed Entry

This minimalist facade is both playful and sophisticated.  Probably dating to the mid-1960’s, the building it graces serves as the offices of a CPA.  Not all business can do away with a glass front, but for those that can, this is a fun and memorable way to make an impression.  The name of the business… Continue Reading

Exterior Lighting c. 1970

Exterior Lighting c. 1970

What’s not to love about super-sized exterior light fixtures mounted at a jaunty angle?  These three globe lights illuminate a bench adjacent to the entrance of a bank building:         Continue Reading

A Visit to the Koester House

A Visit to the Koester House

The majority of house museums scattered throughout the country rely heavily upon conjecture and the acquisition of period pieces to recreate the past.  The Gothic Revival style Koester house is delightfully different, and doesn’t feel overly curated or over-restored.  It feels believable. Completed in 1876, the house depicts life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and… Continue Reading

Lustron Houses

Lustron Houses

Lustrons pop up when you least expect them.  I hadn’t run across any in a long time and then, BAM, two in one day!  Both have had alterations and differing levels of maintenance.  If you’re not familiar with Lustron houses, here is a bit of history on them courtesy of the Old House Web.  The… Continue Reading

Miscellaneous Craftsman Style Houses

Miscellaneous Craftsman Style Houses

Many communities dotting the Great Plains initially grew and flourished in the early 20th century – roughly the same time period which saw the Arts and Crafts movement blossom.  Therefore, its not surprising that the Craftsman style was quite popular in these growing towns. Readily identifiable characteristics of the style include typically low-pitched gable roofs… Continue Reading

Converted to Garages…

Converted to Garages…

Underutilized and undervalued properties are frequently prone to conversions which compromise their architectural integrity.  Here are just two examples of structures which have been converted to uses quite different from their original functions.   First, a former single-family house:       Our second conversion was probably built as a bank.  Its corner location and entry are typical… Continue Reading

Neglected 70’s Dome Home

Neglected 70’s Dome Home

Standing out in sharp contrast to its more conventional neighbors, this vintage dome home appears to have been vacant for an extended period of time.  It’s sad to see “the home of the future” look so decrepit.  Buckminster Fuller, American inventor, teacher, architect, author and designer, popularized the geodesic dome for residential and other purposes.… Continue Reading

A Very Small One Room Schoolhouse

A Very Small One Room Schoolhouse

Described on an historical marker as one of the smallest schoolhouses in Nebraska, this late 19th-century frame structure measures just 14 by 16 feet.  Simple structures like this, purely utilitarian and void of architectural styling, are easy to overlook and discount.  However, they tell us much more about our history than the type of historic… Continue Reading

A Craftsman in Drag

A Craftsman in Drag

Such irony!  The Craftsman style of architecture – and the Arts and Crafts movement in general – came about as a rejection of the fussy and superficially decorative styles which dominated the last half of the 19th century.  Craftsman dwellings sought to achieve ornamentation honestly; components such as rafters, square posts and brackets with structural… Continue Reading

Bruce Goff’s Freeman House

Bruce Goff’s Freeman House

Built in 1959 in Joplin, Missouri, this house designed by Bruce Goff was recently on the market, allowing me to grab the following photos from Realtor.com.   The house, designed for L. A. Freeman, boasts an impressively intact interior.  The exterior has had easily reversible alterations made to it.   Goff’s use of glass cullet in and around… Continue Reading

What Style Is It?

What Style Is It?

The house below was recently enlarged and re-styled to the extent that the original house is hardly perceptible.  Originally a one-story house of modest construction and vernacular styling, the house today serves as a showcase for various effects which can be created with synthetic stucco finishes.  The first photo below shows the side of the… Continue Reading

Details

Details

It’s been said that “the devil is in the details”.  If true, this newly constructed house may be a poster child for the expression.  Aside from the chartreuse paint, this house looks a lot like other newly constucted homes. Even from the street there are a few inconsistencies visible – more are apparent closer up.… Continue Reading

Brick Veneers as a Facelift

Brick Veneers as a Facelift

While not as popular as vinyl siding, the use of brick veneers to provide an easier-to-maintain exterior (or simply to alter the look of a house) is still fairly common.  Usually a few tell-tale clues remain to reveal that the house began as one clad in wood. The following houses were all built with wood siding… Continue Reading

Repurposing c. 1980

Repurposing c. 1980

The first thing that I noticed about this late 20th-century church, aside from the odd proportions, was that its stained glass windows were much older than the structure itself.  Closer inspection revealed that the windows had been reworked, presumably for incorporation into the existing church building.  What had become of the old building?  A little research online… Continue Reading

Undercover Garage

Undercover Garage

Posing as wood construction, this garage is actually built of brick.  A recent cladding of clapboard siding gives the illusion of a frame structure, though the brick around the door and side windows was left visible:   Continue Reading

Building – Half Off!

Building – Half Off!

At first glance, this brick commercial building looks a bit awkward.  Closer inspection reveals that it is only half of of building; the left hand side was once the center (or near-center) of the structure.   The right hand side has a vertical band of ornamentation which one would expect to be mirrored on the… Continue Reading

Miscellaneous Aging Metal Buildings

Miscellaneous Aging Metal Buildings

Metal has been a popular siding choice for workhorse-type structures for well over a century – here are just four examples from one small farming community.  These buildings, while not generally appreciated from an aesthetic point of view, do shape the perceived character of many small towns by virtue of their sheer ubiquity.  Without them,… Continue Reading

Miscellaneous Details c. 1910

Miscellaneous Details c. 1910

The following details were observed on a building dating to the early 20th century which is the recipient of casual maintenance.  The double doors originally led to a fraternal lodge on the second floor.               Continue Reading

Not Every House Has a Style!

Not Every House Has a Style!

Frequently I run across houses which defy simple description in terms of architectural style. After the clunky massing, the first thing one notices about this house is the top-heavy appearance.  This is largely due to the fact that the dormer windows are much larger than the first story windows (rather than slightly smaller as is conventional for… Continue Reading

Fun with Brick

Fun with Brick

Masons – and architects – used to be a lot less inhibited than they are today!  I recently ran across this building in southwestern Nebraska and was impressed with the playful masonry.  The windows on the main facade are replacements; they were likely factory sash originally like those seen on the side of the building.… Continue Reading

Miscellaneous Houses

Miscellaneous Houses

I had planned to go on a road trip yesterday to digitally capture more architecture, but the weather was not cooperative, and today it is too cold.  Therefore, I am putting together some miscellaneous images I had previously taken.  They all have something of interest to share…               Continue Reading

More Mid-Century Design

More Mid-Century Design

Some towns seem to have a glut of mid-20th century architecture.  Here are a few buildings – or parts of them – which exhibit design characteristic of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.  Just because.                     Continue Reading

Prairie Plus

Prairie Plus

Loaded with unusual detailing, this interesting interpretation of the Prairie Style dates to around 1910 and is located in southwestern Nebraska.  Horizontality is emphasized through the use of contrasting wall cladding – the first story is clapboard while the second story is shingled.  Horizontality is further emphasized by the banding of each of these materials; shingles alternate… Continue Reading

High Style on the High Plains

High Style on the High Plains

This radio station in northwestern Kansas is a delightful example of mid-century modernism – and helps to explain both its original appeal and current popularity.  It’s quirky!  It’s fun!  Of course, this building might not have been so attractive had the radio station’s call letters been less uniform.  Remarkably unchanged on the exterior, this building is… Continue Reading

Utilitarian Courthouse Grounds

Utilitarian Courthouse Grounds

This county courthouse, built 1906-1907, is a late example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style and one of the most architecturally noteworthy structures in its community.  While many county courthouses which are located in small towns are situated either on a downtown square or on a prominent corner, this particular courthouse seems almost shunned – it sits… Continue Reading

A Crass Alteration

A Crass Alteration

It used to be that you could always count on banks to maintain their facilities with the utmost care.  They’re a lot like most funeral homes in that regard; they typically look groomed and manicured and maintained.  So I was kind of surprised to see this rather crude intrusion of an ATM on what had been… Continue Reading

Hidden in Plain Sight

Hidden in Plain Sight

At first glance, this mid-20th century storefront seems to be just that; mid-20th century.  A look above the metal canopy shows a Victorian storefront of limestone which has been painted.  The replacement windows are not very compatible with the surrounding historic masonry. A look through the plate glass of the display windows reveals the original… Continue Reading

Random Observations – Part 2

Random Observations – Part 2

I had the opportunity to take my camera out for a spin this Thanksgiving weekend… the mood was not at all surreal as it had been last week.  I found lots of interesting buildings; they haven’t all been torn down yet.  Thanks for joining me!                 Continue Reading

A Tale of Two Jails

A Tale of Two Jails

What a difference 48 years can make – especially in terms of style or fashion.  The photos below demonstrate not just a change in stylistic preferences, but also in jail design.  Already out of fashion when completed in 1907, this crenelated example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style served as both a county jail and the sheriff’s… Continue Reading

Soft Brick Graffiti

Soft Brick Graffiti

The soft brick used to construct the back wall of an 1890’s commercial building has provided the perfect medium for generations of young graffiti artists to leave their mark.  It may not be as colorful or loud as the work of spray paint artists, but is still interesting.  Here are three different views of the… Continue Reading

Nuisance Abatement or Mediocrity Assured?

Nuisance Abatement or Mediocrity Assured?

The practice known as “nuisance abatement” – using municipal codes to justify the destruction of neglected or abandoned properties – continues to take a toll on overlooked resources across the country.  The process can be especially devastating to small towns which are already struggling economically.  For many such towns, aging architecture may be their biggest potential draw; few small… Continue Reading

A Century of Modifications

A Century of Modifications

When I ran across a commemorative plate in a second hand store recently, I noticed that it showed two versions of the same church building.  I found a third, and more recent, version in a photograph online.  The three images nicely show the evolution of a simple structure over the course of a century.  The contemporary… Continue Reading

Random Observations in a Small Town

Random Observations in a Small Town

It’s Sunday morning in a small Midwestern town; the mood is slightly surreal.  The few people who are out are gathered at an auction house; a cluster of vehicles surrounds it.  Loudspeakers along the main street fill the air with a woman’s voice intoning a church sermon.  A couple seated in plastic chairs along the sidewalk smoke cigarettes.  The… Continue Reading

Mothballed Storefronts

Mothballed Storefronts

It’s a common sight in small-town America – vacant or underutilized storefronts lining the heart of town.  Declining populations and a struggling economy have both taken their toll and it shows. How communities deal with these growing vacancies varies from place to place.  The most forward-thinking communities will “mothball” buildings until their utility can be harnessed again.… Continue Reading

Mid-Century Modern Door Hardware

Mid-Century Modern Door Hardware

Every once in a while I run across an interesting example of well-designed door hardware from the mid-20th century.  There used to be more, of course, but our culture’s obsession with making everything new again has relegated a lot of it to the landfill or salvage shops well before its utility had been exhausted. Today… Continue Reading

Replacement Siding: Before and After

Replacement Siding: Before and After

I’ve yet to see a replacement siding installation which was without at least some undesirable side effects.  The house shown below fared far better than most do when subjected to a “maintenance-free” (ha!) future; the homeowner and/or the installer saved the cornice brackets on this Italianate house rather than scrapping them.  By wrapping the paired… Continue Reading

Houston in Microcosm:  3 Intersections Over the Course of Time

Houston in Microcosm: 3 Intersections Over the Course of Time

Houston, Texas, is a fascinating place.  Famous for its casual zoning laws, the city has an insatiable appetite for redevelopment and reinvents itself at a seemingly constant pace.   In scenes that have been repeated time and again for more than a half century, quiet residential corners radically transform over the course of a few years.  In a typical… Continue Reading

In Memoriam:  Trees

In Memoriam: Trees

Architecture and the landscape it inhabits will forever be intertwined.  While new construction often rises in a barren landscape, historic structures generally have become more integrated with their natural surroundings.  Trees are especially crucial to this integration; they have a special relationship with the structures they grace and shade.  The former church building in the… Continue Reading

Real Craftsman Turned into Fake, Television-Inspired, Craftsman

Real Craftsman Turned into Fake, Television-Inspired, Craftsman

Looking like something straight out of a television program about house flipping, this former authentic Craftsman-style house has been reduced to a caricature of itself as the following “before” and “after” photos illustrate. In the “before” photo (image courtesy Google Street View) the house was essentially intact.  The only real changes it had suffered were replacement… Continue Reading

Extreme Makeover c. 1972

Extreme Makeover c. 1972

Some remodelings are more exhaustive than others.  This structure, for example, was re-imagined somewhere in the past, likely the early 1970’s.  The then-popular mansard roof was used as a device to completely conceal the second story while stucco, diamond-paned windows, broken pediments, and decorative  blinds were paired with it to create a look which defy any… Continue Reading

The Porch as a Style Setter

The Porch as a Style Setter

Old houses have long been subject to changing architectual trends and fashion. Since its beginning, the United States has been a place of change and experimentation; the fact is just one reason why we have not done so well at preserving our architectural history as have other nations. Our readiness to embrace the next trend has long taken… Continue Reading

An Ozark Giraffe …  in Nebraska

An Ozark Giraffe … in Nebraska

Indigenous to the Ozark region of Missouri and Arkansas, the stone veneers known as “Ozark Giraffe” are a highly memorable vernacular construction technique.   Examples of structures clad in this manner are also commonly found in adjacent areas of Oklahoma and extreme southeastern Kansas.  Believed to have been used as early as the 1910’s, the technique flourished… Continue Reading

Identity Crisis

Identity Crisis

Although this house is clearly struggling with its identity, it’s quite obvious that the house was originally styled in the Craftsman manner; it probably dates to around 1915.  Surviving original defining details include the projecting eaves with exposed rafter tails, triangular knee braces, and brick porch piers with squat battered columns.  Alterations to the facade include… Continue Reading

The Road to Hell:  Paved with Good Intentions

The Road to Hell: Paved with Good Intentions

A common justification for building anew (as opposed to renovating an existing building) is the claim that the client can get “exactly what is wanted” or that new construction will be a “fresh start” – a chance to “do things right”.  Of course, this only works if both the client and the designer/architect involved are capable of imagining and creating good design.… Continue Reading

A Tudor in Drag

A Tudor in Drag

This house was built as a modest example of Tudor Revival, probably in the late 1920’s or early 1930’s.  If it weren’t for the few surviving identifying characteristics typical of the style (projecting gabled brick entry with arched door and first story diamond-paned sash) it would be impossible to tell that the house had ever… Continue Reading

Row Houses on the Prairie

Row Houses on the Prairie

One doesn’t expect to see Victorian-era row houses anywhere in Kansas, but especially not in the less-populated western half.  There just wasn’t much need for a dense, urban, housing type on the wide-open prairie.  Imagine my surprise when, 15 or 20 years ago, I ran across an intact row of identical attached houses in the town of Stockton.… Continue Reading

Swallowed Alive

Swallowed Alive

The passage of time manifests itself differently on some buildings than on others.  This place really intrigues me and, because it’s still standing, there is still hope.  One of Stockton, Kansas’ most architecturally significant early houses, this Second Empire diamond-in-the-very-rough has endured a lot throughout its lifespan.  Dating to the 1870’s or early 1880’s, this native limestone… Continue Reading

Fake History Removed!

Fake History Removed!

I’m so used to seeing real history destroyed or covered up that it kind of shocks me when I see the reverse happen.  This stone storefront is a good example.  When I first noticed this building in Hays, Kansas, I was puzzled by the clapboard fake front (complete with fake shuttered windows) and wondered why… Continue Reading

Pretty in Pink

Pretty in Pink

Every once in a while I run across one of those increasingly rare houses which still maintains a true-to-the-period or original paint scheme.  When I do, I have to photograph it because I know that at some point in the future that particular look will not be valued.  Such was the case with this delightfully… Continue Reading

Self-defeating Quoins

Self-defeating Quoins

The insanity never ends…  these fake quoins go one step further than most in demonstrating their superficiality.  Originally a wood-frame house of conventional construction, this place was given a makeover in an effort to elevate its common origins, including a slathering of synthetic stucco (at least on the front portion). These particular quoins were most… Continue Reading

Super-size my McHistory!

Super-size my McHistory!

While it’s fair to say that there is more awareness and appreciation of historic styles than there was forty years ago, it’s also fair to say that there is room for improvement – especially where issues of scale, proportion, details and historic accuracy are concerned.  Much like the window discussed here yesterday, some new buildings – those which are ostensibly designed… Continue Reading

Revisiting Virtually

Revisiting Virtually

I’ve been digging through a lot of old photographs recently and became curious about what had happened to some of the places I had photographed years ago.  This photo, for example, was taken in downtown Cherokee, Iowa about ten years ago.  At the time I was struck by the overwhelming and smothering blandness of the… Continue Reading

Preservation Dilemma

Preservation Dilemma

Sometimes the choices made in historic preservation efforts aren’t always clear-cut.  Increasingly, there is debate over what is worthy of preservation and what is not.  Many years ago I photographed this vibrant 1960’s-vintage metal facade which spanned across two adjacent storefronts in Hays, Kansas.  At the time, I admired it for its classic aqua panels,… Continue Reading

Trying Too Hard

Trying Too Hard

Sometimes people get it wrong in their eagerness to “get it right”.  This small addition to a late Victorian-era house is a good example.  Whoever designed the addition (which is made of wood) clearly wanted to “respect” the original brick house by emulating window details. What was not considered, however, was that the arched wood… Continue Reading

Wishful Thinking

Wishful Thinking

Here is a house which is a nominal example of Drag Queen Architecture.  Aside from the decorative flourishes atop two windows, the only alterations to the character of this house were made with color.  As a Colonial Revival style house – likely built in the 1920’s – this house was intended to have a rather… Continue Reading

Scary Mansard Roofs

Scary Mansard Roofs

In keeping with today’s Halloween theme, here are a few “mansard” roofs which should be enough to make even the most hardened Trick-or-Treater think twice before knocking:         The following mansard-like roofs were grafted onto commercial structures rather than houses, but that doesn’t make them any less scary!  Sorry about the poor image… Continue Reading

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

While every day can be architecturally frightening at the Architectural Observer, it seems fitting to commemorate our very first Halloween with some appropriate imagery:             Continue Reading

Counterfeit Quoins

Counterfeit Quoins

Architectural illiteracy is increasingly evident – sometimes to the point of the absurd.  Take quoins for example.  Quoins are the big corner blocks you see on old brick and stone buildings.   Their purpose is structural, not decorative, though they typically are shaped to be attractive. Quoins in masonry construction serve to strengthen corners and… Continue Reading

Vinyl Siding

Vinyl Siding

Regarding exterior maintenance, many homeowners are convinced that “vinyl is final!” despite the fact that there is no such thing as a maintenance-free exterior.  They all need upkeep.  Regardless, vinyl siding remains a popular option for many.  Personally, I only have a problem with it as a replacement siding for historic buildings.  I think it… Continue Reading

Shattered Dreams

Shattered Dreams

Prior to deciding to tackle the Tragic Tri-level, I was searching in earnest for the perfect small town to relocate to.  You know; perfect.  Perfect as in a small town with lots of intact historic architecture which was still affordable.  The kind of town with lots of character but not blighted by gentrification and misguided… Continue Reading

Porch Enclosure

Porch Enclosure

Enclosed porches are rarely done well – especially when the porch is on the front of a house. This example has all the domestic warmth of a retail establishment. The brick columns which originally framed an open porch have lost their intended dominance; they have been painted into oblivion and upstaged by four multi-paned doors… Continue Reading

What a Drag!

What a Drag!

For whatever reason, lots of old houses and buildings have been “re-styled” to suit their owner’s aesthetic preferences – often resulting in awkward appearances that are as cringe-worthy as drag queens competing on Amateur Night.  One of the most common types of house to fall victim to such architectural indifference is the Arts and Crafts… Continue Reading

Shutters or Shudders???

Shutters or Shudders???

Shutters (and blinds which are erroneously, but commonly, called shutters) are very misunderstood. Long ago, they were practical and functional. Hanging from hinges on each side of a window or door, they could be closed to cover the opening for protection from weather or unwanted visitors.   Since the mid-20th century, they have devolved into… Continue Reading

School Daze

School Daze

Public school buildings frequently fall victim to unfortunate alterations – often in the name of energy conservation or ease of maintenance. This one is no exception.  This building has been significantly altered twice since its initial construction, probably sometime in the 1920’s.  The first alteration took place in the mid-20th century when the original wood windows… Continue Reading