Sorry about last week, my friends. I ended up more swamped with work than I anticipated and so I was going to push back my Wednesday post and then I got sick so here it is, a new post a week late.
I will say, if it’s any consolation, that I’ve been really excited to do this post. Plus, with this house, I had no inhibitions on taking a lot of photos since it’s not owned by an individual.
Usually I post some super-witty banter before I dive into the post, but the DayQuil still possesses its almighty grip around me and also I can’t really beat my remarks about Home Alone from last week so I’ll just get to it.
Today’s building is 1801 N. York Street. Also known as the Smith House, it sits at the northwest corner of 18th and York directly west of City Park. I’ve often run past this house, and even though when I go it’s usually dark out, this house still managed to catch my eye.
Not only is this house on the National Register of Historic Places since 1985 but its been on Denver’s list of historic landmarks since 1971. I took this shot of the facade facing west, standing on the edge of City Park.
Built in 1902 and designed by architects William Fisher and Daniel Huntington, the Smith House is one of many historically important homes design by Fisher and his various associates. Fisher started in the Denver area mainly drafting smaller, affordable starter homes for young couples but his talent led to his rapid and steady rise into more notable architectural relationships and designs. Fisher only worked with Huntington for a short time, spanning 1901 to 1905. Out of the six homes I could find that they did together, all six are either individually nominated or within a local historic district. In fact, the same can be said of roughly 75% of all of Fisher’s remaining known designs. Pretty impressive. I mean I kinda get that though, when I was in elementary school I drew a Georgia O’Keefe painting and my art teacher hung it in the computer lab where everyone playing Oregon Trail could see it, so, yeah.
So as I was saying earlier, I first noticed this building during one of my runs, during which I thought it was an Italianate structure. But it is not! I was fooled by the overhanging eaves and the decorative brackets below them. Unfortunately for my ego, that is about where the Italianate style and the actual style of this house end. Running is already such an emotional rollercoaster, and this intellectual blow was tough.
(Pretty much how I feel)
ANYWAY, without further non-sequiturs about running on a blog about architecture, (though would it really be me if it made sense 100% of the time? The lie detector determined that would be a lie.) my research has led me to conclude that this week’s building is French Eclectic.
Some of the key characteristics of the French Eclectic style are the following: tall, pitched hipped roof, masonry/stucco exteriors walls, dormers, quoins, and porches/balconies.
So some of the above are pretty easy to spot. It’s definitely tall, coming in at three stories for what was one the house for a single family, Frank L. Smith, and as we’ve talked about in other posts, this is a hipped (as opposed to gabled) roof and it definitely has a masonry exterior.
So now to the other aspects of this style. One of the remaining features left I haven’t discussed are the dormers. Now, in the Craftsman post we talked a little bit about dormers but I wanted to talk about these in a bit more detail.
So in the case of French Eclectic, there are a few potential styles of dormers that can be seen on different variations of this style. In the case of the Smith House, there are two main dormer styles I can identify. The first, is the gabled dormer. Slightly similar to the dormer we saw in the Craftsman, though this is a style of dormer that is a single window wide and, unlike the Craftsman example from last week, runs through the cornice. The cornice is a decorative molding that runs horizontal at the base of the roof and the top of the exterior wall.
So the arrows in drawn here show the cornice, the circles in that orangish-yellow color show the dormers I discussed above and the green circles showcase the second kind of dormer I’d like to dicuss: the circular dormer. These most often protrude from the roof and rather than have a gabled or hipped shape, are — you might guess — circular. This was one of the helpful, guiding features of 1801 N. York that helped me properly distinguish its style.
That last feature that I really want to dive into is one of my favorite individual architectural features, and that is quoins. Pronounce coins, these are the projecting masonry elements at the corners of the building.
The maroon color below is highlighting the quoins. And in this shot you can also see the porch/balcony which is only on this north elevation, it isn’t on the south elevation which I think is cool because other than that feature this is a symmetrical structure, but it’s actually deceivingly asymmetrical. Both subtypes of French Eclectic are common, but Virginia McAlester notes that even in the asymmetrical style, the higher styled variations often seem symmetrical but offer elements like this to make them asymmetrical. I also would like to point out that for anyone reading this blog, I link McAlester every post and I hope I’m singlehandedly helping push her viewership.
So I don’t want to make this portion too long, because I’ve once again rambled on and on in the other sections. I do want to touch on two things however. First, I’m going to copy and paste some personal history of the Smiths from the National Register document because I think it’s interesting and also they say it better than I can.
In June of 1902, Frank L. Smith bought five lots across from City Park at the northwest
corner of East 18th Avenue and York Street from A. M. Ghost, a real estate developer.1
Construction of the house and carriage house began in October of 1902 for an estimated
cost of $32,000. Fisher and Huntington were the architects, and McDonald and Morrison
were the contractors.^ Smith, his wife, Josephine Hill Smith, and their three sons,
Eben Henry, Melvin Hill and Frank Leonard moved into the house in 1903.
Frank Smith was the treasurer of the Mine and Smelter Supply Company, founded
by Smith’s father Eben Smith. Frank Smith began his career in the mining industry
while the family lived in Leadville in the 1880s and 1890s.
Eben Smith, one of the most prominent men in the development of Colorado’s mining
resources, founded the Mine and Smelter Supply Company with John S. and Robert J. Gary
in 1896. Smith served as president of the company until 1901, when, at the age of 73,
he sold his interest in the company and moved to California. He died in 1906 at the
Denver home of his daughter, Mrs. Charles T. Carnahan, while he was on a visit from
Frank Smith lived at 1801 York until November 1907 when the Smiths were divorced. In
1908, Mrs. Smith married Richard Louis Hughes and they lived in the house until 1911
or 1912. In 1920 the house was rented to John Anthony Crook and his wife, Millie
Cleo Crook. Crook bought the property in August of 1923. Crook, who moved to Denver
in 1917, founded the Denver Steel and Iron Works.
The other part of history context I want to talk about refers more to the style than the architects and occupants that made it historically significant. McAlester notes that French Eclectic houses rose to peak popularity in the US between 1915 and 1945, which is later than this house was built. While perhaps the Smiths were particularly bourgeois, and thus worldly in their tastes, I’m not quite sure why this style was chosen in 1902. That said, for other French Eclectic homes that were built between 1915 and 1945, its interesting to think about the influence of WWI. With so many Americans serving their country, and as McAlester writes, “their first-hand familiarity with the prototypes [the early models in France and surrounding areas she means] probably helped popularize the style.” I hadn’t really thought of WWI being so much of an exchange of ideas, but I think this is a really interesting take on French Eclectic’s popularity in America for the first half of the 20th century.
What is it today?
Today 1801 N. York is home to the law offices of Silver & DeBoskey. Their website states they’ve been in Smith House since April 1994, but they don’t really get into how they acquired the property. Tax Silver & DeBoskey do offer up a link to a PDF containing more information about the historic home in which their firm resides, however. Access it here for those who are curious.
Noting their own care in maintaining the structure while actively using it as an office they write:
“Painstaking care has been given to preserving the original décor and
grace including such features as the unusual circular Holland stairway,
the beautiful ornamentation and the refurbished chandeliers. This
preservation has been accomplished with no compromise of high quality
materials and fine craftsmanship. The results are dramatic, blending
preservation with a distinctively modern, efficient facility and creating a
‘living office’ environment reinforcing a professional image to clients and
employees. The renovations ensure that this stately landmark will
continue to have an important role in Denver’s future”
Who knew a building’s renovation could be so dramatic when it isn’t on HGTV’s Love It or List It. But it is certainly true that the Smith House is an important landmark. Situated just west of Denver’s City Park, its listed on both the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a Denver Landmark.
Thanks for stopping by! See you next time on the blog “Kim just learned how to do block quotes in wordpress”!
McAlister, Lee and Virginia. A Field Guide to American Houses. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.