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What Style is It? Mid-19th Century Edition

Greenwich Village, the East Village and NoHo offer a vast array of architectural styles that span their long histories.  Through this series “What Style Is It?” we will explore the architecture of our area and look at the various architectural styles and their features.  So far we have looked at the Federal style and Greek Revival.

Morton Street, courtesy of Google Maps
Morton Street, courtesy of Google Maps

Today we will look at mid-19th century styles including Gothic Revival, Italianate and Anglo Italianate.

Gothic Revival emerged as a style in this country during the 1840’s and 1850’s, with its beginnings in England in the mid-18th century as part of the Picturesque movement and deriving from Medieval architecture.  The popularity of this style, like Greek Revival before it, was greatly aided by the publication of pattern books.  The Gothic Revival style was first publicized by Alexander Jackson Davis’s Rural Residences (1837) and then by Andrew Jackson Downing’s Cottage Residences (1842) and The Architecture of Country Houses (1850).  This style was never popular for urban residences; Davis and Jackson stressed it as a rural style and its typical features of multiple gables and wide porches did not lend itself to the narrow city lot.  Nonetheless it did introduce the architectural ideals of the Romantic movement to New York City architecture, and excellent examples of this style may be seen scattered among residences and in full expression on religious edifices.

Typically the style features steeply pitched roof gables, usually crossed, and pointed arched openings.  Wide porches were also common establishing the building’s relationship with the surrounding landscape.  Medieval ornament would adorn such structures including Tudor arched entries, turrets, towers and castellations.  Although not a common style with row houses, features would include flat arch hooded windows, and Gothic arched or Tudor arched openings.

7 West 10th Street, Rectory of the Church of the Ascension, courtesy of Google Maps
7 West 10th Street, Rectory of the Church of the Ascension (1839-1841), courtesy of Google Maps


Entry at 151 Avenue B, courtesy of Google Maps
Entry at 151 Avenue B (c. 1850), courtesy of Google Maps

One of the most magnificent examples of the style in our area is Grace Church and Rectory.  A National Historic Landmark and NYC landmark, Grace Church was one of the master works of architect James Renwick, Jr.  Built in 1846 and clad in Sing Sing marble,  it features many typical Gothic elements such as a rose window above the recessed doorway, a pattern of pointed-arch windows interrupted by exterior buttresses, an overall vertical emphasis culminating in the tall, narrow spire, and stained glass windows.

Grace Church
Grace Church, 802 Broadway

The Italianate style, like Gothic Revival, began in England as part Picturesque movement and in reaction to classical ideals which had dominated architecture for about 200 years.  While in rural areas the inspiration was the image of the rambling Italian farmhouse, in urban areas such as New York City the inspiration was the 15th century Italian Palazzo.  After decades of the restrained Federal and Greek Revival styles, New Yorkers responded to the Romantic movement and sought architecture which reflected the growing city’s wealth and prosperity though splendor and flamboyance.

The Italianate style is characterized by elaborate, bold projecting ornament with an emphasis on repetitive forms.  Features of the Italianate style include heavy imposing cornices with decorative brackets and heavily decorative entry and window surrounds with smooth unadorned walls.  Italianate row houses were usually clad in brownstone and had high wide stoops leading to a recessed entry with paneled doors capped by a bracketed hood.  Examples of this style abound in our area.  St. Luke’s Place and Morton Street, among others, offer streetscapes of Italianate row houses with many original features intact, including original iron work.

Nos. 3-7 St. Luke's Place, courtesy of Google Maps
Nos. 3-7 St. Luke’s Place, courtesy of Google Maps

The Salmagundi Club is an excellent example of a very grand mansion in the early Italianate style.  Located at 47 Fifth Avenue and built in 1852-53, it features an imposing entrance, richly framed in stone ornament and accessed by a very high and wide stoop which rises above a full story rusticated basement.  It also features heavily articulated window enframements, ornate cast iron balconies in front of French windows at the parlor level and projecting cornice with paired and single brackets.

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Salmagundi Club (1852-53), 47 Fifth Avenue

At the same time as the Italianate style was popular in New York City, some builders employed the Anglo Italianate or English basement-style for row houses.  It was so-called because of the inclusion of a low stoop which gave access to the entry at the rusticated basement level.  Typically the houses were two bays wide, accommodating increasingly narrow lots due to rising land costs, but nonetheless the style lent itself to elegant and urbane streetscapes.  Just above the the first floor, the full length parlor floor windows of the second floor were often designed to open onto a balcony with cast iron railing, extending the width of the house.

A row of houses in the Anglo-Italianate style at East 11th Street, between Second and Third Avenues
An excellent example of the Anglo-Italianate style which is not in the row house form is the Police Athletic League Building.  Built in 1855 and designed by Thomas R. Jackson, this four-story building has a symmetrically-organized facade with two pedimented pavilions flanking a recessed central section. The rusticated brownstone base features prominent arched openings and a central entrance porch with paired Corinthian piers supporting an entablature.  The upper stories, faced with brick, feature articulated window openings with molded surrounds and projecting brownstone lintels.  Those in the central section have alternating curved and triangular pediments in the second and third stories and those at the fourth floor have projecting lintels.

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Police Athletic League, 34 1/2 East 12th Street, courtesy of Google Maps

Next in our series on architectural style, we will look at more styles which proliferated during the mid-19th century up to the Civil War.

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