When a vernacular farmhouse on the High Plains of western Kansas was abandoned in favor of a sleek new ranch-style house in the mid 1950's, it was emptied and forgotten about. It had received minimal (if any) maintenance in the following sixty-odd years and is today...read more
This past weekend I attended an annual consignment auction hosted by the Lions Clubs. As usual, there were a few things of architectural or design interest. I didn't buy anything this year because the few things I wanted to bid on were not going to be offered until...read more
The exterior of this c. 1880 twin house in Philadelphia's Germantown neighborhood does little to suggest the surprisingly intact mid-century makeover found inside. Late 1960's aesthetic preferences popular with the masses abound: Fake masonry, fake paneling, fake...read more
Offered between 1913 and 1918, the Sears Hawthorne was a somewhat ungainly-looking Craftsman style bungalow which was not a huge seller. It was essentially the one-and-a-half story version of the Sears Avondale which was far more popular with kit house buyers and...read more
One of hundreds of house designs published by the Radford Architectural Company of Chicago in the early twentieth century, Design No. 1131 is an eclectic composition in that it combines Colonial Revival, Queen Anne and Shingle style influences. This example in...read more
Today we'll look at two different types of alterations which can negatively impact how we perceive a structure. Sadly, the following examples are fairly tame... there are countless others which are far worse. The first category, Indifference, will highlight houses...read more
Have you ever thought that some older buildings seem to be oddly proportioned -- perhaps a bit top-heavy? Often there is nothing wrong with their proportions; the problem may instead be with our modern perception of what a building's exterior should look like (and how...read more
Door hardware, like other architectural details, can often help to guestimate the age of the house when its history is unknown. However, this method is only reliable when it is known with certainty that the hardware in question is original to the house. Hardware, like...read more
One of architect Charles Haertling's many fascinating contributions to the city of Boulder, Colorado, is currently on the market allowing a peek inside this interesting house. Known for their frequent mix of modernism and organic architecture, his designs are highly...read more
As you last remember, I haven't mentioned the greenhouse project for a while. Not since the end of April! Progress has been painfully slow, which is depressing. Work at the project house, bad weather and renovation fatigue (among numerous other distractions) have...read more
I first admired this house in the late 1990's when the photo above was taken; the house seemed well-maintained and the exterior paint was crisp and sharp... the colors were perfect for a two-story Craftsman. I wondered at the time if the colors weren't like those that...read more
Winter weather has not helped one bit in getting things done at the project house. Accessed by a mile-long dirt drive which turns to impassable muck when wet, the house has been getting sporadic attention lately. Melting snow has created some ugly messes. While the...read more
The impact original window sash can have in an historic building in terms of enhancing and maintaining architectural integrity is enormous yet frequently undervalued. In addition to the shape and size of the window openings themselves,...read more
OK, I'll admit it; the house we're about to look at was never a great piece of architecture. But it did have its own character which was reflective of the mid-century suburban neighborhood in which it was built. My issue with the house is not that it was remodeled,...read more
While Abilene, Kansas, has long been noted for its many fine Victorian-era houses and colorful early cow-town history, not much (if any) attention has been given to the plan book and manufactured kit origins of some of the town's houses. The town is primarily known,...read more
Robert W. Shoppell was one of many successful plan book publishers in the late nineteenth century. Surviving houses built from the mail-order plans he sold through his New York-based Co-operative Building Plan Association can be found throughout the country. In...read more
When I was in my teens I was given a small book by my parents who understood my passion for nineteenth century buildings. Published around 1900 or so by the Red Oak Commercial Club (which I'm guessing was something akin to the Chamber of Commerce) the book, simply...read more
In addition to its popular J-6 kit house, the Harris Brothers Company of Chicago offered a slightly larger version which it called the J-16. This upgraded version was two feet wider and two feet longer. I recently ran across this example of the house on Zillow -...read more
Double Feature! Today we'll look at two structures which are recent recipients of altered fenestration... Recipient # 1 After a period of stagnation, work appears to have restarted on the second re-interpretation of a former church building in a nearby town. The...read more
There are pros and cons to just about everything in life. Like living in the middle of nowhere, for example. For the most part it's great; it's beautiful, one has lots of elbow room, the crime rate is low, etc. On the other hand, there is a downside. Isolation...read more
Who doesn't love a good time capsule? This one, built in 1952 in Gladewater, Texas, has been on Zillow for about 10 days and is already generating lots of interest online; I ran across it when a reader shared it on the always mesmerizing Old House Dreams. While not...read more
Dominated by large steel windows filled with green slag glass, this Masonic Temple in Oberlin, Kansas, was built in 1931. The buff brick facade is elaborated with glazed terra cotta ornament which enhances the Art Deco styling of the building. Although the ground...read more
It had been at least seven years since Jim first told friends of ours that he would straighten up their leaning barn. Unusual for its "T" shape, the antique barn was showing its age. Every passing year made the already obvious lean all the more evident. Every storm...read more
It's been over two weeks since I posted about a big old abandoned farmhouse that is destined to be demolished. Jim and I have been salvaging interior woodwork, doors and windows for use in a future project. The first floor has been salvaged, and we're working on the...read more
Admirers of the work of Louis Curtiss don't normally associate the architect with the Colonial Revival, yet this house in Kansas City is an interesting example of the style and it demonstrates the architect's versatility. Despite the outwardly staid impression of the...read more
It's that time of year again; a time when haunted houses bask in fleeting celebrity and a time when the horrific gains new prominence. Speaking of horrific, get a load of these formerly normal structures which have received creepy alterations... and have a happy...read more
Marketed as a "model bungalow of the California type," house plan No. 1000 was a big seller for the Harris Brothers Company of Chicago. Its popularity is evidenced by the fact that the façade graced the cover of the kit house manufacturer's 1918 catalog of homes....read more
Long abandoned, this c. 1905 Folk Victorian farmhouse has unusually nice detailing for its geographic location, even if those details aren't all stylistically consistent! Though re-sided in the mid-twentieth century, enough of the siding has fallen off to reveal the...read more
When is a Bruce Goff house not a Bruce Goff house? When the architect and his protégé client have a dispute. Such is the case with the semi-circular "Round House" in Dallas, Texas. Built over a course of nearly six years beginning in 1957 by importer Eddie Parker...read more
The "pyramidal house" seen here is a vernacular example of a popular national house form (single story, square plan with four rooms and a pyramidal roof). Similar houses were built throughout the nation from roughly 1890 to 1930. Their practical form made them a...read more
Likely built in the 1920's, this former Craftsman style bungalow had been given a stylish makeover in the mid-twentieth century in a presumed effort to make the house look more like a contemporary ranch style. While the jaunty lines of the carport were at odds with...read more
Lots has been going on at the project house; most of it not very photogenic or interesting. But things are starting to get more interesting. We'll take a look at the owner's choice of exterior paint color and peek inside the ongoing work in the kitchen... ...read more
Last weekend I had the pleasure of taking in the 12th annual Highway 36 "Treasure Hunt", a three-day flea market which stretches across the northernmost tier of Kansas counties. While I didn't traverse the entire state, I did tackle much of the western half, and...read more
Our nation's insatiable appetite for keeping up with fashion and embracing the next new trend has long taken an extensive toll on the integrity of its historic buildings. The 1950's, 60's and 70's were witness to countless building facade makeovers for the sake of...read more
"Every year, the National Park Service tells millions of visitors to Grand Canyon National Park that Mary Colter (1869-1958) designed landmark structures there. Two movies, two plays, two biographies, and countless magazine and newspaper articles have lauded...read more
Today's observations were made in north-central Kansas, an area distinguished by structures built of native limestone. The region is known locally as "post rock country" because of the numerous stone fence posts created by early settlers. The use of stone for both...read more
A product of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the city park of Hill City, Kansas, remains as a beautiful and functional example of numerous similar projects scattered around the country. Built in the WPA Rustic style, the structures found here incorporate...read more
Just back from a road trip! Today, a collection of miscellaneous structures and details stretching from southwest Nebraska to central Kansas. There's no particular theme; all just have something of interest: ...read more
Houses built of sod were once plentiful across the Great Plains where trees were scarce. Built of blocks of earth cut from the ground, the later and more refined versions also incorporated many purchased materials such as windows, doors and dimensioned lumber for the...read more
Last September I posted about a senior storage facility er, "senior apartments" which I found to be disturbing for several reasons. I recently ran across a similar project which gives the bleak and utilitarian exterior an additional synthetic twist: ...read more
Hidden behind a luxurious growth of privacy hedges and various plants, the house evokes an air of ancient, dignified, mystery and intrigue - an atmosphere rarely experienced in this corner of southwestern Nebraska. A break in the hedge for the walkway reveals what...read more
House-flipping has been popular for a long while - and the trend has been made even more popular by television. Not all flips are created equal, however! Since I haven't been able to take any road trips lately, I decided to sift through Zillow and find some flips to...read more
In Part One I had just crammed the knotted end of the sash cord into the hole in the side of the sash. Now the sash can go back into its jamb:read more
Old houses which retain their original wood windows are fortunate; with a little TLC these windows can stay functional and outlast any vinyl product on the market today. Replacing frayed or broken window sash cord is not very difficult, but it does sometimes require...read more
It's no wonder that the Chicago House Wrecking Company changed its name to "Harris Brothers" after it started selling kit houses; the name just doesn't conjure up a sense of permanence! Beginning as a salvage operation in 1893, Chicago House Wrecking later began...read more
As you last remember, Bunkhouse Jim had just screened the porch. Its ornament, combining both Queen Anne and Italianate elements, stopped at the corners of the facade. Jim wanted to continue that motif into a cornice on each gable end. The following images will...read more
Among the numerous imaginative architects who practiced in Kansas City, Missouri, in the early twentieth century was Mary Rockwell Hook. Her style was reflective of her travels and education; the substantial houses she designed have contributed to the enduring...read more
In the previous post, we looked at the remains of an early twentieth century farm house. Today we'll take a look at the role that concrete played on this farm: a barn, stock tank and cistern - all made from it. Bonus feature: a windmill tower made of scrap metal!...read more
Ruined structures have long been a favorite subject for artists because of their frequent poignant beauty. While the term "ruin" typically conjures up images of ancient stone structures crumbling in lush landscapes beneath invasive trees and vines, a similar - but...read more
Recently I ran across this example of a Sears "Maytown" on Zillow. Currently on the market at 410 D Street in Central City, Nebraska, the house is easily recognized by its signature corner turret. First marketed as Sears Modern Home No. 167, the design was immensely...read more
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 four 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.
PROJECTS follows the progress on a variety of design-related endeavors.
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.