As mentioned before on our blog (here and here), we have an incredible new resource of a Storymap showcasing stories and examples of Greek Revival architecture in our area (and a few beyond). Born out of our young country’s desire to find a style that represented our democratic ideals, the Greek Revival style flourished in our neighborhoods starting around 1830, at the time they were first developing into much of what we still see today. While the map focuses on the many prime examples of Greek Revival architecture in our neighborhoods, both extant and gone, today we will look at the details section of the map, which helps you identify the many distinctive and elegant components which make the style what it is.
On the map, we looked at three forms or building types that the style manifests in our neighborhoods: churches, row houses, and terraces. Far and away the most prevalent of these are row houses. Here are some features you’ll find on these elegant gems:
Doorways and enframements
On the Greek Revival row house, the doorway and enframement were the most ornamented feature of the facade. The beginnings of the Greek Revival style were first seen in late Federal houses in the form of Ionic colonettes between the entry door and sidelights. By the 1830s, as the Greek Revival style became more fully embraced, free-standing porches with Doric or Ionic columns supporting full entablatures were built at the entries. The grandest examples of such porches are along Washington Square North, which were executed in marble (shown above). A slightly more austere one in brownstone may be seen at the Samuel Tredwell Skidmore house at 37 East 4th Street.
However, such porches were expensive, and what became the more common form for entries in Greek Revival row houses was brownstone surrounds with pilasters, sometimes with decorative capitals, supporting entablatures scaled to the pilasters.
Doorways were frequently recessed, providing a certain monumentality to the entry as well as a bit of shelter to would-be visitors. Transom and sidelights typically had simple wood muntins. The doors themselves would have a single vertical panel, two vertical panels or three horizontal panels sometimes edged in egg-and-dart molding. No. 228 West 11th has a particularly handsome doorway. Enframed by a simple brownstone surround with pilasters supporting an entablature, the recessed doorway has slim sidelights and a more substantial transom light with wood muntins. The pilasters on either side of the vertically double paneled door feature Corinthian capitals and support an entablature with a decorative motif at the center of the frieze. Above that motif is a palmette. A similar door, doorway and enframement are seen to the east at No. 226 West 11th Street.
Like the Federal style row house before it, the Greek Revival row house had stoops which connected the parlor floor to street level. Under those stoops were entries to the basement level, allowing servants and goods to enter the service part of the row house separately in the raised basement. Stoops in our area from this time were typically faced in brownstone, like the doorway enframents above. An exception to this is seen at Washington Square North, where the very grand white marble stoops also have heavy white marble balustrades.
The sidewalls of the stoops vary quite a bit, and sometimes were topped by ironwork along the slope and at the newels. Interestingly, during the early 20th century when row houses were being updated, both technically and stylistically, the removal of these graceful stoops was one of the common changes. With the removal of the stoops, the main entries were then found at what was the basement level. Some were done rather simply, making the former entry a window and converting the basement entry into the main entry.
Ornament and Iron work
Much of the decorative work and therefore the ornamental motifs of the Greek Revival row house is seen in the ironwork. Carving stone is much more labor-intensive than manipulating iron, and with machine-made casting available by the 1830s, beautiful ironwork became even more available to builders and homeowners. Popular motifs in the ironwork include the fret or Greek key, the acanthus leaf, and the anthemion. As mentioned above, such ironwork was seen at the stoop railings. Additionally, it was seen at the areaway fences and at parlor floor balconies.
A typical cornice on a Greek Revival row house was quite austere, unlike the typically heavy bracketed cornices we would see in the Italianate style which followed Greek Revival. Demarcating the roofline, it typically was a fascia board topped by dentil molding. Some were more elaborate and included egg and dart molding.
This is just a taste of the wonder which is Greek Revival architecture in our neighborhoods. We invite you to explore more of the incredible Greek Revival Bicentennial StoryMap we created HERE.