Greetings December and the small handful of people who read my blog! It’s that time of year again, time for me to watch Home Alone and Home Alone 2 as many times as I can before Christmas. (But also still after Christmas) Seriously, you can send me a picture of any point during those movies and I can give you the quote without having to look it up. I’m like rainwoman with Home Alone quotes. I’ve also visited the house where they filmed all the exterior shots, surely at the displeasure of the actual residents. It’s located in Winnetka, Illinois and not far from Cameron’s house from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
(The Home Alone house)
Look at that glorious home, resplendent with dancing Michael Jordan cut-outs and well-orchestrated traps for robbers. Winnetka is not too far from Elgin, Illinois, the town where I grew up. For those of you who dig architectural history (not what this blog is about or anything) Elgin, Illinois is reportedly home to the nation’s largest collection of Sears Catalog homes. This is probably has to do with the famed Elgin Watch Factory that brought so many working class men and women to the city in the early 20th century since these Sears home were more affordable than many other houses at the time.
(An Elgin Watch Factory advertisement)
One of the popular architecture styles commonly featured in the Sears Catalog was the Craftsman which is a good transition into the introductory section.
Today’s building is located at 3131 E. 7th Ave. Parkway and sits within the E. 7th Ave Local Historic District. It’s a one and a half story house and I shot this picture facing north. The house sits on the southeast corner of 7th Avenue an Steele Street. As you can see in the image below, 3131 E. 7th Ave (marked by the red pin) is just inside the boundary for the Seventh Avenue Historic District, labeled below in that pink color. East of Steele along 7th Ave is still within the district, but as you can see, the district no longer extends as far north or south as it moves east of Steele Street.
Built in 1919, 3131 E. 7th Ave is part of the East 7th Avenue Historic District, which I’ve mentioned a few times and so I’ll talk a little about it now. And, because I think they concisely sum it better than this ol’ gal ever could, I’ll defer to Denver Public Library’s Creating Your Community:
“Denver is known for its parks and parkways and for the many wonderful residential neighborhoods that have endured close to the heart of the city. The East 7th Avenue Historic District preserves one central neighborhood and three pieces of the park system. With the exception of a few earlier buildings, the district was built primarily from the 1890s through 1930. The district grew out from the core city.”
I’ll get more into the district down in this history section!
Remember when I did the line, “you say Queen! I say Anne! Queen! Anne!”? That was pure comedy gold, people.
Today’s building is what I would consider a Craftsman. And yeah, that was a pretty boring delivery but deal with it.
So now let’s get into the characteristics of a Craftsman style house. Usually, they are comprised of a low-pitched, gabled roof, exposed rafters, one to one and a half stories, and have either a full or partial-width porch that are most often supported by squared pedestals.
Given that run down, you can see that 3131 E. 7th Ave. definitely has the first item on the Craftsman checklist from above, a low-pitched roof. Think back to the last two posts about Queen Anne’s, those roofs were generally pretty steep and tall, much different than this roof. This is a side-gabled roof with a front-gabled dormer, and as Virginia McAlester notes, “about one third of Craftsman houses are of the [side-gabled roof] subtype. Most are one and a half stories high with centered shed or able dormers.” This is certainly consistent with the picture above fo 3131 E. 7th Ave.
To clarify, a dormer is the circled below:
Dormers can look a bit different than 3131 E. 7th’s dormer in the sense that they can be slimmer than this one which is quite wide since it encompasses two windows rather than the more common one per dormer. More broadly defined, a dormer is a vertical window that projects from the slope of a roof.
The other arrows and box that I made in the photo above showcases another characteristic of the Craftsman style. The arrows point to exposed rafter tails. So the different pieces of wood that create the gable (the triangle shape) are obviously quite a few in number as they have to support the weight of the roof. In the Craftsman style, they are almost always exposed and you can see them as such. It’s actually one of ways I can can identify a Craftsman when I’m doing windshield reconnaissance or going by a house quickly. (because I’m so fast on my bike, no big deal) I tried to take a photo of the east elevation but per my usual luck it was so frigid on the day I went out riding I took one shot and considered it sufficient until I returned home and uploaded it to my computer. Lo siento.
Nevertheless, we can carry on! The last characteristic I want to discuss that helps identity 3131 E. 7th as a Craftsman is the squared porch supports.
Wow, I am terribly photographer here. But I couldn’t even feel my hands, it was so cold! Please forgive me! As an aside, when I was taking these pictures I was in the middle island of 7th Ave. and there was this couple that was walking their dog and they were making it very clear they were staring at me wondering what I was doing. Being me, naturally I turned to them and waved hello in a very typical me, not-cool fashion. They didn’t wave back.
But from this picture and the other image I’ve posted of this house, I hope you can see the porch supports. We can certainly say this is a porch that is partial-width. Boom, that’s a Craftsman element. And while porch columns can vary, where some having sloping sides which means they grow wider as they reach from roof line to porch floor, this column at 3131 E. 7th would be more along the lines of a solid column since it remains the same width from the roof line to the porch level.
A visual here is probably helpful. Just like Virginia McAlester, whose book I scanned this out of.
Craftsman houses were popular from roughly 1905 to 1920 in America where they originated largely in California and spread east. This different from many other architectural styles that spread from the east coast and moved west. As McAlester writes, “Like vernacular styles examples of the contemporaneous Prairie style, it was quickly spread throughout the country by pattern books and popular magazines. The style rapidly faded from favor after the mid 1920s; few were built after 1930.” And that totally lines up with this house at 3131 E. 7th which was built in 1919. It also line up well with the E. 7th Ave Local Historic District as whole which saw its primary expansion between 1890 and 1930. Before I go further into this, I want to go back and quote a little more of the Denver Public Library’s Creating Your Community where they write of this historic district:
“The historic district claims its borders from a sense of neighborhood reinforced over the years by streetcar and bus lines using East 6th and East 8th Avenues, from parks bordering these avenues, and from early Denver city limits along East 6th Avenue. The old town of Harman bordered the district on East 6th Avenue between Josephine and Colorado Boulevard. A special tax district to pay for the East 7th Avenue Parkway in 1912, plus various early neighborhood organizing efforts, also contributed to a neighborhood identity. In 1958, East 6th and East 8th Avenues became one-way streets, giving families within the two-block- wide strip an even stronger sense of neighborhood”
This sense of neighborhood described by Creating Your Community extended throughout the city in a movement during the early 20th century called the City Beautiful Movement. Denver was not the only city involved, rather it was a nationwide architectural movement predominant in big cities that focused on making their city look revamped and revitalized to combat urban decay. Some argue ideas about the City Beautiful Movement stemmed from the 1893 Chicago’s Worlds Fair which featured many brand new buildings in high style built just for the Fair since the world was watching. Those buildings on the fairgrounds were often a stark contrast to much of the rest of the city of Chicago at that time.
Buildings in Denver like the capitol building you see on the header of this site is one example of the City Beautiful Movement here, as well as other urban planning features like monuments and vistas. In terms of the E. 7th Avenue Local Historic District, the beautiful tree lined streets and the grassy parkway that splits 7th Ave speak to the movement. In fact, the city bought the parkway in 1912 just so they could redesign it to better fit the City Beautiful ambitions. They hired a city landscaper, and even brought in the Frederick Law Olmsted firm (designer of NYC’s Central Park) to consult on the 7th Ave. parkway project.
What is it today?
Today it’s a private home of some lucky person who lives not only within the boundaries of the E. 7th Ave Local Historic District but also close to Snooze in Denver, those lucky ducks.
Thanks so much for stopping by and I’ll see you next week!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sears_Catalog_Home [Home Alone house picture]
http://www.horologist.com/images/Watch018.jpg [Elgin Watch Factory advert picture]
McAlister, Lee and Virginia. A Field Guide to American Houses. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.