2.5.12

HOW A SHORT POST BECOMES A LENGTHY POST

My intentions are always sterling---to post a short, concise essay and two or three pictures about something that I hope will be of passing interest to those who are inclined to be interested by such things.  But things always go astray, and before I know it, I've rambled on.  Therefore, as a public service, a demonstration of how my short ideas become long ones:

First, something catches my fancy.  In this case it is a painting by the distinguished interior portraitist, David Payne (1907-1985),  of the drawing room in the Beacon Hill town house of Mr. & Mrs. Ronald Lyman.  The picture was published in House & Garden's New England issue--August, 1937, if I remember correctly.  I like the room very much---architecturally elegant with its crisp woodwork, curving wall, and beautiful Italian statuary marble fireplace, with caryatids supporting a classical frieze.  It is old school New England, stylish and rich, with its Italian sofa, french chairs, damask walls, and at the right, a Bilbao looking glass, no doubt brought back in an ancestor's ship.


Of course, I then should mention that the Lyman House at 40 Beacon Street is one of a pair of brick bow front townhouses designed by the great Alexander Parris, overlooking the Boston Common. Parris was one of the first New England architects to break out of the box with elegant Greco-Federal designs with oval rooms, curved walls, segmental arched ceilings and other details that gave weight to the aspirations of the early 19th century plutocrats for whom he designed.  In his interiors one can see forms which Delano and Aldrich would make seem modern all over again in some of their most elegant designs of the 1920's and 30's.  But already I'm off the subject.  It is worth mentioning that the land on which these houses sit was owned in the 18th century by the painter John Singleton Copley.  The Lyman house was built for hotelier Daniel Parker, and its mirror twin at 39 for Nathan Appleton, whose daughter Fanny married the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow there in 1843.  These houses, in what was the finest location in Boston in their day are quintessentially with the elegant bow fronts that define their neighborhood, yet with their long second story drawing room windows , they also recall Regency London, the unruly Common sitting in for an English square.

 Historic American Buildings Survey, LOC

And there the post could end---but of course, it won't.   A fourth floor was added to the houses in the 1880s.  By 1914, the Appleton house at 39 had become The Women's City Club of Boston.  In 1938, just one year after the painting above was published, the Lyman House was purchased by the Women's City Club and annexed to its neighbor.   And that same year, the house was recorded for the Historic American Buildings Survey, and a photograph of the drawing room, post-Lyman, its damask wall covering in tatters, was taken as it was being renovated.


And there too, the post could end, but wait, I found a picture of the drawing room as it appeared in the Women's City Club era, all  bland good taste, very period room, with 'correct' furniture and safe decorations---gone is the rich cosmopolitanism of the Lyman era.

But one can't end a post without a picture of the exteriors of numbers 39 and 40 can one?  Below is a view of Beacon Street from the Common in taken in 1938.  Number 40 is at the right.  The gray granite building at left center is the Somerset Club, remodeled from the David Sears mansion, also designed by Alexander Parris, who was also architect of Quincy Market. 

Courtesy Boston Public Library Photostream, Flickr
Numbers 40 & 39 Beacon Street, present day view  (Wikipedia Commons)
By this point, I really could end the post, and it would still be of reasonable length, but how can I?  For the House & Garden article also included another David Payne painting---of the Lyman's dining room at Number 40, with yet another handsome mantel, a beautiful Chinese rug, and family portraits.


And, in for a penny, in for a pound, I might as well include a photograph from the Historic American Buildings Survey, of one of the beautiful interior hardware of the Lyman House, early 19th century cut glass, either English or American, and notice the beautiful close grain of the Honduran mahogany doors.


At which point I've decided to include the other interior views I found along the way, including the vestivule, with its inexplicable addition of an 18th century cupboard:

HABS

The hall, with its complex arches and false dome, is as sophisticated  as anything of its era in New England, and recalls, to my mind at least, John Soane.


And as few things make me weaker than early 19th century American classical architecture, this view, with elegant interior fan, and built in bookcases by one of Boston's fine early Federal era cabinetmakers, must be included.
HABS
And of course, this extraordinary Retour de l'Egypte chimney piece must be included, a bit of Thomas Hope in Federalist Boston:

HABS
And the third floor stair hall, with its unexpected coffered dome:

HABS
The Women's City Club, no doubt inspired by the Colony Club in New York, added this trellised dining room, as well as a ballroom and roof terrace.


The 20th century history of the two houses is too complicated to unravel on a simple trip through Google---too many writers, especially of the real estate variety, have garbled, joined and confused the separate stories and identities of the houses.  Many more photographs of interiors exist for both, but for now I have stuck with the Lyman half of the building---after all, even I have to end somewhere, right?


In the early 1990's, the Women's City Club disbanded, and sold the twin houses.  A developer turned them into condominiums, although four of the five Lyman house units were occupied as a single residence by Jack Welch (yes, that Jack Welch) until he moved back to New York.  More recently, the Lyman house has been on the market, selling for 27,000,000, a Boston residential record.

And that, kiddies, is how a Dilettante post gets so long.  And at that, I resisted the temptation to ramble on about what a pleasure it was to visit the houses back in '79, when the WCCB opened the house to the public in an attempt to raise funds.  Also, I resisted the temptation to include a picture of Alexander Parris, who managed to live long enough to have his photograph made, or of his great work, Quincy Market, and I even almost gratuitously included Gilbert Stuart's portrait of Boston Mayor Josiah Quincy, just because I liked the depiction of Quincy Market in the background.   I also avoided a segue into the story of social progressive Helen Storrow, wife of Boston Mayor James Storrow.  It was she who purchased the Appleton House for WCCB in 1914, because I would no doubt have wandered further off track into one of her pet projects, the moving of early American buildings to the Eastern States Exposition Fairgrounds, creating an idealized New England village called Storrowtown, the precursor of many of today's assembled village msueums from Cooperstown to Sturbridge.  And for a brief second I even considered a segue into Daniel Parker's famous hotel and the dinner rolls that bear its name.  But I resisted.  So many tangents, so little time.

But, perhaps you might like to see this Luxist story from 2008, about the sale of the Lyman House.  Click HERE (or if you just want pictures, click HERE.)  And for an earlier Dilettante post about the ancestral country seat of the Lyman family, click HERE

And just for the heck of it, a couple more Lyman interiors:

An earlier drawing room decorative scheme, late 19th century---the mirror, replaced by the 30's with the more elegant Continental one in the Payne rendering, may well be the original for that spot, and the painting hung above reflects earlier taste.  An animal rug growls at the fire.  The French clock remains the same.
Unidentified room with scenic paper

14 comments:

Reggie Darling said...

I have admired the exterior of this house for many years on my all-too-infrequent trips to Boston, and now I know what its interiors (once) held. Thank you for this delightful post, from another blogger who rambles on despite his best (shared) intentions otherwise. I enjoy every word that you write, DED, and every tangent you pursue. RD

The Devoted Classicist said...

If the journey is an enjoyable one, the length is inconsequential; it can be fun to anticipate what comes next, beyond that next bend in the road. And so goes a D.E.D. post. I am always up for the full tour.

Michele from Boston said...

Short, long or in-between, I love every word and always seem to feel in awe of your resourcefulness in tracking these histories. Feel free to take any tangent you like. I'll always be along for the ride. I'll keep that fabulous Egypt-inspired fireplace mantel in my head for the rest of the day! M.

The Ancient said...

I must have walked by that house a thousand times, as I lived very close by on two separate occasions. I never once stopped to wonder what the inside looked like.

I suppose the paintings were done to remember, weren't they?

P.S. There is no such thing as a Dilettante post with too many pictures.

Toby Worthington said...

Just now catching my breath, after that extraordinary
post! Loved every twist and turn along the way. By the
time I scrolled down to the Retour d'Egypte chimneypiece~who'd have expected THAT?~I was a goner.
Thanks for this one, Dilettante.

The Ancient said...

One more cranky thought.

Many of us look at Old Long Island every morning, and we often see B&W pictures of various rooms. Here, we are presented with something more -- paintings that are blatantly romanticized. Not Rex Whistler, perhaps, but charming nonetheless.

B&W pictures present a fundamentally false impression. It's as if "the stagers" of the modern world had intervened and deracinated the interiors of the past.

How wonderful it would be to see comparable color pictures of all those lost interiors. There's an old world out there -- a colorful world -- that's nowadays gone and forgotten. And that's a pity.

P.S. TW -- Miss your posts.

Toby Worthington said...

Only recently one of the newspapers referred to the late Albert Hadley as preferring black and white films so that he might "imagine" the colouring on his own. Which goes under the heading of the neatest trick of the week~ with all respect to Mr Hadley! In fact there is no more challenging task than to gaze at a black and white photograph and conjure up the colour schemes described. I think some of us would be be surprised,and not always in a good way, at the coarseness of our ancestors' sense of colour and tone, if recent academic restorations are any indication. But I agree with the Ancient that our understanding of historic interiors would be broadened were we to know just how those rooms were coloured.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Toby & Ancient, an upcoming post has photographs that come up against that very issue. Stay tuned

BTW, just for the heck of it, added a couple more pictures to the end of the present post.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting as ever!!

I'm a native Richmonder currently living in Atlanta. In Richmond scholarship recently revealed the Wickham Mansion, part of the Valentine Museum complex, was designed by Alexander Parris. Beautiful place inside and out.

Check it out, you may enjoy it.

mdrnpntofvu

The Ancient said...

http://www.parrisproject.org/

(Alexander Parris Digital Project.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you Ancient, the Wickham Mansion was not listed, recent research just revealed the true designer. Robert Mills was thought to be the architect for years. It turns out Parris designed the governers mansion as well. I brought up the Wickham Mansion because the place had very few owners, it had been Victorianized twice and that in itself was spectacular. In the 1980,s extensive research was done on the orginal paint colors and research had revealed there were quite a few wall treatments and murals as well. The restoration did find the treatments and murals and they are fabulous in the neo-classical design and the colors are quite vivid as well. But unforturately, I could find very few photos of the interiors. So what I was suggesting was maybe the Boston property had murals and wallpaintings as well? It was hugely popular at the time. And the Wickham House had gone through a Colonial Revival stage as well and all were removed during the 1980 renovation. Meaning, it's very difficult to trace back, especially when the house has had many owners with very different tastes.

Enough already :)

mdrnpntofvu

The Down East Dilettante said...

mdnpntofvu & Ancient---

I assume that you both examined the Sears house plans---which are very similar to the Wickham house,as was the original composition of the facade.

Anonymous said...

Actually I was looking for a refrigerator with period neo-classical treatments...

mdrnpntofvu

Simply Grand said...

I'm in agreement with everybody else: go on as long as you want, and include as many sidetrips as you want. We're smart enough to follow the main thread through the twists & turns.

Besides, if people get bored before the end of a post, they can leave after they've had enough, but if you pare down your posts to suit those folks' short attention spans, then the rest of us are left out in the cold wanting more. You don't want to get this crowd riled up.

One time, wandering aimlessly through the HABS archives, I spotted that photos of the [then]Lyman House's drawing room and recognized its curved doorways instantly, thanks to David Payne's painting, which was republished in several editions of H&G's large-format decorating books, which, in turn, were the start of my own interest in historic interiors.

I can't wait for your book.