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 first step in renovation of the project house has been cleaning out a century of accumulation and unwanted "updates". Among the updates to be forever banished were cellulose ceiling tiles and fibrous "wood grained" wall paneling. For whatever reason, the...read more
Readers of this blog are already familiar with the value of architectural integrity - especially where historic buildings are concerned. In a neighborhood of stylistically varied houses it is possible for a few of them to be compromised without visually ruining an...read more
This perky house with Queen Anne gables (photo below) in Danville, Virginia, may be protecting a long-hidden secret. Recently featured on the fabulous Old House Dreams, the exterior of the house has been rehabilitated by the nonprofit Danville Rehabilitation and...read more
Archways in plaster walls - without a traditional wood casing surrounding them - became highly fashionable in the 1920's and remained popular with builders into the 1950's. They are most likely to be found in Tudor Revivals and Spanish Eclectic houses of the period,...read more
As if there weren't enough things around here that need attention, I unexpectedly found myself involved in a new project: the renovation of someone else's house. It's an early twentieth-century house which has been empty for a long time. It will be a sensitive...read more
Antique mechanical contraptions have long intrigued me, and the Daisy Automatic Weather Strip for Doors does not disappoint! Discovered by Jim while recently exploring a long-vacant farmhouse, the device is still in operating condition after 101 years! A deteriorated...read more
Built sometime around 1940 by its original occupant, a man who was innovative and interested in modern design, this house in Salina, Kansas, does not look much like its neighbors. After nearly 80 years it still has a futuristic air to it. I encountered a family...read more
Recently, while sifting through the contents of a file cabinet, I ran across an article I had written back in 1985 about the long and painful death of an old house in Manhattan, Kansas. I felt a bit sad reading it because old buildings - and the physical connections...read more
With rain and warm temperatures come mosquitos; it's a reality in a most places. The porch was losing its usefulness due to these bloodsuckers and other annoying insects; something had to be done. Jim didn't want to compromise the beauty of his creation with an...read more
I started collecting glass advertising pin trays with architecture depicted on them many, many, years ago. These things were always showing up at yard sales and thrift stores; they were fun and inexpensive. Eventually, because of the sheer number of such trays, I...read more
Sometimes a house or building just looks a bit off. If the problem isn't immediately apparent, such as a glaringly harsh color scheme or over-the-top landscaping, it might be something more subtle like a problem with scale. The following structures all have scale...read more
Sometimes construction projects end up looking somewhat different from what the initial architectural renderings suggest. A residential development in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has several unusual facades which vary somewhat from the early renderings. The...read more
Recently I discovered a plan book of houses published by C. L. Bowes of Hinsdale, Illinois, which was copyrighted in 1926. Within its pages was a dead-ringer for the "Rodessa" by Sears. Marketed with the nondescript name of Design 14155-A, this copy-cat design...read more
An unusual Corinthian column caught my eye from the road and lured me closer. I was surprised to find an unexpected theme incorporating a diverse array of architectural materials. I grabbed a few photos and continued on my journey... ...read more
I never tire of looking at bizarre shutter installations (or shudders - hat tip to Seth!) which is fortunate as there is no shortage of them! It's been almost two years since I first posted about them - it's time to share some more! That previous post noted the fact...read more
Miscellaneous eye candy! It's been a while since I posted random images from a road trip, so it's high time for me to do so: ...read more
Probably built around 1920, this house originally had late Prairie styling, some of which remains. The low veneer of buff brick still provides a strong horizontal emphasis while windows retain their three-over-one sashes. It's difficult to say exactly what this...read more
The use of Flemish bond as an upscale brick-laying technique lost popularity in many urban areas in the 1830's (along with Federal-style architecture, also known as Adam), but it persisted in many smaller communities after that time. It experienced a renewed...read more
Design No. 1509 was a popular plan for the Radford Architectural Company of Chicago judging by the number of surviving examples I've seen. The most recent I've found is surprisingly intact and appears to be loved by its owners. While this one in Oakley, Kansas, was...read more
Recently I had the pleasure of touring a vacant farmhouse which has remained in the same family since its construction in 1918. Although the house has had many of the updates one would expect over the course of a full century, it has had far fewer of them than...read more
The Bunkhouse just got bigger! Not in terms of actual square footage, but in terms of usable space. And bigger in style, too! Jim has been busy using a mix of materials: salvaged 2x4s and joists, salvaged porch parts, and a dash of new lumber. His porch project...read more
Recently I found this house pictured in a display of old photographs which had been reproduced for a fascinating display of local history at the Fick Fossil and History Museum in Oakley, Kansas (definitely worth a visit when traveling on I-70!). The house looked...read more
I ran across this house yesterday... it appears to be a Gordon-Van Tine product, but I'm not exactly sure which of the many variations of this design it is. I think it is the Cabot "A" model. There is one clue above the door that makes me confident that this is a...read more
The past week has been semi-chaotic, but I still managed to get a few things done on the greenhouse project. Below is a sectional drawing through the greenhouse (well, the lower half anyway) which should help to explain what is going on at present (depicted in...read more
As is common with many architects, the early work of Bruce Goff was considerably different (much more mainstream) than his later work. The following three houses were built in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1918, 1919 and 1925 respectively. The first and third houses show a...read more
A veritable time capsule, this brick ranch house has somehow managed to resist many of the modern incursions which erode the architectural integrity of most mid-century houses. It recently caught my eye on zillow.com where more images are available. Recently...read more
Today we continue with the second part of our examination of the evolution (and occasional devolution) of the noble newel post! The newel post fades in and out of popularity during these years as housing forms and styles change. It's no secret that American...read more
Winter weather returned - twice - before we got a break sufficiently conducive to the pouring of concrete. Finally the big day arrived! It was mostly successful, with only a few minor setbacks which ultimately were not a big deal, but were very consternating at the...read more
Newel posts - used to anchor the balustrade of an open staircase - have had many different looks over the centuries. Because of their high visibility at the foot of a stair, "starting" newels are often larger and more ornamental than secondary newels which typically...read more
It seemed so hip, so NOW... forty-odd years ago, anyway. As a kind of a bridge between the Contemporary style of the mid-twentieth century and the Post Modern movement of the late-twentieth century, the Shed style had a brief moment of glory in the early 70's. Shed...read more
Just one more post about Louis Curtiss and then I promise to move on to other stuff for a while! Given that virtually all of Curtiss' work is "lesser-known", saying so about some of the following may be redundant! Still, there are a few places that are more obscure...read more
Entrepreneur Fred Harvey is much better-known than architect Louis Curtiss. After Harvey's death in 1901, Curtiss designed some of his "Harvey House" hotels and restaurants for the Fred Harvey Company. Said to be the first restaurant chain in the nation, they were...read more
One of my favorite movies, a close second to "Mars Attacks!", is the slightly surreal Goff in the Desert by German documentarian Heinz Emigholz. The video has no narration; it is simply a series of video shots taken around 2002 of various structures designed by Bruce...read more
Louis Curtiss, who left his mark on Kansas City and other locations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was one of those incredibly rare architects who was just weird enough to do really, really, interesting work. While often compared to Frank Lloyd...read more
As you last remember, the bunkhouse was looking a little rough. It was dirty, dark, damaged, and downright depressing. Owner Jim wanted to not only put life and light back into the dilapidated structure, but put to use some of the salvaged woodwork and materials he...read more
A modest 1 -1/2 story Nebraska house with gable front, built around 1880, was given a stylistic makeover in the mid-twentieth century. The new look, reminiscent of an eighteenth century saltbox, was created by adding a lean-to addition with fireplace to one side...read more
While driving through a sparsely populated area of southwestern Nebraska I encountered a depressing amount of Victorian-era houses (which had once been grand for their locale) in advanced stages of deterioration. Despite their weathered facades, these houses were...read more
I drove by a house today which is undergoing an unfortunate and all-too-common procedure: it is losing its architectural integrity and will be gaining lots of vinyl and other synthetic products. I caught the house mid-way though the process... replacement windows...read more
Today it was time once again for the Lions Clubs' annual consignment auction... an event generally I think of as marking the near arrival of Spring. It was breezy outside, but at least it wasn't snowing as it had last year. As there wasn't anything that I couldn't...read more
I love looking at houses on Zillow.com - you never know what will turn up. I used to look only at old houses there (those built in the early twentieth century or earlier). But lately I find myself drawn to the clumsy and distorted newer houses which are increasingly...read more
This Sears Langston caught my eye while searching for an entirely different house on Zillow. The distinctive and memorable porch posts remain to proclaim their Sears heritage despite a rather clumsy addition on the side of the house. Images from the 1918 Sears...read more
Long before it became fashionable and trendy, living on a small scale was quite common. In most towns and cities, the earliest houses were built on a modest and utilitarian scale. Many such structures, particularly those of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,...read more
Old buildings can be subversive? "Just how, exactly?" you may ask somewhat incredulously. Well, quite simply, old buildings (if examined closely enough) have the very real ability to reveal the shortcomings of our present age - and thereby have the potential to...read more
Of the hundreds of house plans offered by the William A. Radford Company of Chicago, their design number 1517 appears to have been one of their most popular - at least in the nation's mid-section. Numerous examples of this house survive today. The design was so...read more
There is no doubt that television has had a huge impact on shaping consumer activity; it is a primary function of the medium. Like virtually everything, television can be used for good or bad. TV's power to shape our culture could have been harnessed to inspire...read more
A work still in progress, this two-room house wasn't much to look at a year and a half ago. The simple frame structure, built in the 1920's, originally served to house seasonal workers on a farm where it was referred to as the "bunkhouse". It had suffered from...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.