27.11.12

IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY: YELLOW HOUSE

Few architects  had more impact on a region's built environment than Fred Savage, who practiced 100 years ago and more on Mt. Desert Island, and whose houses practically define the architecture of Northeast Harbor.   In the 1880's, he worked as a draftsman for Peabody & Stearns before setting up his own practice back home on Mt. Desert, and his early shingle style houses, large and small,  demonstrate that he learned the lessons of that office well.

The H.A.C. Taylor house at Newport
Peabody & Stearns were not the only firm who inspired him.  Savage clearly admired the work of McKim, Mead & White, arguably the most influential firm of their era.   In 1885, they designed one of the seminal houses of the era, the first great formal Colonial Revival house, for H.A.C. Taylor in Newport Rhode Island. Drawing inspiration from many early American sources, yet copying no house, it was a sensation, and was to inspire a generation of similar houses. Pictured below is just one random example, the home of a Mr. Parker  in Detroit, designed by Rogers & McFarlane, published in American Architect in 1897


Here in Maine, there are several spiritual design descendants of the Taylor house--among them is 'York Hall', built for  the Sewalls, owners of the Bath Iron Works shipbuilding firm.  Another great square 'Colonial' house, it has more than a whiff of both the Taylor house and the iconic 18th century home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Cambridge, itself one of the most copied of early American houses.

'York Hall', the Sewall mansion in Bath,  1897. (Photo via Swan Agency)

But  my favorites among the offspring of the Taylor house is 'The Yellow House' also known as 'Rock End Colonial', in Northeast Harbor.  It is a bijou homage to the Taylor house, designed by Savage in 1892 for his brother Herman as a rental cottage in the grounds of the family's Rock End hotel.  Its precise and formal form, a decorated square on a raised foundation and high pitched roof contrasts effectively with the shingled cottages that surround it.

'The Yellow House'
 Savage referenced many details of the Taylor house in 'The Yellow House', including the broken arch pediment of the central dormer of the garden front, and the 'Salem' portico of the entrance, but made themfinished work his  own, with a Palladian window in the highly decorated dormer opening onto the balcony of the portico.  The white trim contrasting with yellow clapboards perfectly reference a traditional old Maine color scheme, as on the Kavanaugh house below.

Kavanaugh House at Damariscotta, Maine, an early 19th century Federal, with many of the sorts of elements  (and traditional New England color scheme) that inspired the later revivalist houses above
In later years, the 'The Yellow House' achieved footnote in architectural history, when it was owned by portraitist Betsy Flagg (Mrs. John) Melcher, who occupied it for many summers with her mother, Mrs. Ernest Flagg, widow of the famed Beaux Arts architect whose own portfolio included the Singer Building, one of the early great skyscrapers.

9 comments:

The Devoted Classicist said...

I really enjoyed seeing these examples of houses in the interpretive Colonial Revival, a style that is often unappreciated today.

Parnassus said...

Did the Kavanaugh house ever burn down? I recall seeing a picture of that house (or one very much like it) in ruins.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Parnassus, although I haven't driven by since June, as far as I know, it is very much standing on its knoll, overlooking the site of the Kavanaugh's mills (poet Robert Lowell once lived within site of the Kavanaugh house--and one of his famous poems--'Lord Kavanaugh's Mills'---is the result

Parnassus said...

Hello again, The burned house was from an older photo. I just dug it out and sent it to your email--I hope you get it because I don't know how old that address is.

The Down East Dilettante said...

downeastdilettante@live.com?

Anonymous said...

The Sewalls who built York Hall in Bath didn't own the Bath Iron Works. They were important builders of wooden sailing ships.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Anon---thanks--I stand humbly corrected. William D. Sewall of York Hall was associated with Arthur Sewall in the building of wooden ships, and it was Arthur Sewall, who in turn invested in Thomas Hyde's Bath Iron Works creating the family's presence in that company.

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