The Cross House
ABOVE: You are looking at the second-floor Sewing Room of the Cross House, designed by architect Charles W. Squires.
In 1894, when the Cross House was built, a “sewing” room was traditionally a wife’s domain, or a Wife Cave in today’s terminology. A library was a husband’s domain.
A sewing room was used by the woman of the house to, yes, sew, but more importantly it would also have been used as a nursery, a school (for when the children of the household were young), the private retreat of a wife, a place for a wife to confer with the cook and housekeeper, and a private place to entertain close friends of a wife.
You see the balcony to the right? It is not a balcony, actually, but rather a porch inserted into the body of the house. It was open to the south and east, and through huge, almost circular, arched openings. Quite dramatic.
You will also note that at the south end of the Sewing Room (the bottom of the plan) there are four windows. Two face south, one west (left), and one east (the one overlooking the porch).
But…where is the door to the porch?
I have owned the house for eight months and just discovered this very strange detail. I mean, did Mr. Squires really expect the first mistress of the Cross House, Susan Cross, to open a window, duck down, and crawl through a window to access her south-facing porch?
How very very odd.
You see on the above drawing numbers at each window:
38 x 26 – 2
This means two sashes 38-inches by 26-inches.
T 40 x 22
This mean one transom window 40-inches by 22-inches.
When I first noticed a window rather than a door (on the drawing) opening onto the porch, I just assumed this a mistake. Perhaps Mr. Squires, you know, had a little too much wine that night while at his drafting table?
But the physical evidence supports that the drawing was correct.
In the late 1920s the second-floor of the Cross House was converted into three apartments. In 1950 the house was made into the Palace Motel (New & Modern!). It was at this time, I surmise, that the Sewing Room porch was enclosed. Its huge almost circular windows were infilled, and two small windows inserted. The east window of the sewing room was converted to a door opening so that one could gain access to a new walk-in closet (formerly the porch).
In 1999, when Debbi and Bob Rodak purchased the house, Bob’s first goal was to reopen the porch. The infill walls and their two mean windows were torn out.
ABOVE: The 1894 blueprint. You can see the arched open porch to the right. The window inside the arch is actually in a wall BEHIND the arch, and lights the bathroom (although the window was not installed as shown).
ABOVE: The 1920s apartment conversion plan. The bathroom is now a kitchen. The closet a bath. And the porch is still a porch, and still with no door. Very. Very. Strange.
ABOVE: The Cross House in 1999, just after Debbi and Bob Rodak purchased it. Those crazy kids!
The house was boarded up and circled by a six-foot-high chain-link fence. Very grim.
Anyway, if you note just above the porte-cochere (bottom left), you will see at the corner two almost circular openings which have been infilled with lap siding and two small windows. These openings were once open, and this is the porch off the sewing room — image courtesy of Bob Rodak.
ABOVE: You can clearly see the infilled openings — image courtesy of Bob Rodak.
ABOVE: From inside one can clearly see the infilled round openings. A sacrilege! A scandal! — image courtesy of Bob Rodak.
ABOVE: One of the very first things Bob did was to re-open the porch, enclosed (presumably) since the 1920s. God love ’em. — image courtesy of Bob Rodak.
ABOVE: A wonder! A glory! The porch, reopened. Bob put large sheets of glass in the openings so that the porch could be used in all weather. — image courtesy of Bob Rodak.
So, did Susan Cross really have to open a window, duck down, and crawl through the window to access her south-facing porch?
All the extant physical evidence supports this — surreal — conjecture.
Had a door originally been on the east wall, it would have certainly been of the same width and height as the two other doors on the east Sewing Room wall. But no. The opening today matches the width and height of the three adjacent windows, thus (seemingly) confirming that the original 1894 drawing is correct: this was a window.
As further proof, the two vertical pieces of interior trim have been lengthened, and exactly the length required to transform a window into a door. This is kinda slam-dunk evidence that the current door opening was originally a window, as stated on the 1894 drawings.
It can be reasonably assumed that somebody soon realized how totally idiotic it was to have a glorious south-facing porch that one could not easily access. So, the window sashes were ripped out (as well as the stained-glass transom), the opening cut down to the floor, and — presto! — a proper entrance to the glorious porch was now at hand.
Was this done minutes after Susan Cross moved into the house? One can almost hear her:
“Mr. Squires! WHAT is this ridiculous window doing where a door should be?”
I would have been on her side, and would have loved to have heard Mr. Squires explain that away!
Initially, I liked the porch’s huge glass panels installed by Bob. Then I visited one of my neighbors. He also has a second floor porch, and it is open to weather. It is wonderful, and felt totally different than being behind glass.
Then I also thought: Gee. I have a lot of interior rooms. A lot. But I have no covered outdoor space on the second floor. And in an instant I knew: I would fully reopen the porch by removing the glass panels.
I am not, however, such a damn fool as to restore the original east Sewing Room window.
No. Thank. You.
Instead, I plan to recreate the lost stained-glass transom (its mate is directly to the west, thus assuring an accurate copy), and will install a pair of French doors under the transom to access the —open!!!!!! — porch.
I look forward to sitting on the porch, with a glass of wine, and offering a toast to Susan Cross.