The Cross House

Hidden History…Revealed!

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Architect Charles W. Squires designed the Cross House in 1893, and the house was completed in 1894. Squires designed the grand stair so that one walked up four steps, onto a landing, and then turned left to go upstairs. In short, a L-shaped walk upstairs.

 

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…yet this is what was built, a U-shaped spatial sequence.

 

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As built. So, why the change from the original drawings? When was the change made? These have been questions of immense curiosity to me. Now, note the landing? Last week I crawled under it, and this allows a peek into the framing of the adjacent wall. I always enjoy enjoy peeking into framing. You do, too, right?

 

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While laying down under the landing, I pointed a flashlight into the framing. And noticed an intensely curious detail. Why was there CURVED framing hidden inside a wall????????

 

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And the same curious curved framing was up at the ceiling. WHAT????????? The framing is totally hidden.

 

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It took me a while to figure out the answer. I do not have the original floors plans for the first floor of the house  but there are select elevations. So, this is what Squires designed. Note the corner to the right. It…is…curved! CURVED!

 

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And the curved corner was, golly, obviously built. And I had no idea! It is now evident that the staircase design was changed AFTER the Cross House was under construction. So, the WHEN of the change has now been answered. But why????????? Although such historical questions are quite vexing, it is a thrill learning yet more about the Cross House!

 

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In summation, the corner with the missing plaster was supposed to be a sweeping curve. The curve, in fact, was framed out. Then covered over. Where it remained hidden for 122-years. Fascinating. I love this kind of stuff.

 

I know what I am going to do.

When the stair-hall is restored, I will create a small glass “window” at the corner. The window will reveal the curved framing, artfully lighted with an LED bulb, and an explanation typed up and framed inside the wall.

 

17 Responses to Hidden History…Revealed!

  1. Curious!

    Do the stairs end at the top in the same location that they were designed to? Or are they further back? If they end at the original location, I would venture that they original design was much steeper than what was built. The design has 4 steps and the landing, it looks like you actually have 6 steps and the landing. To have the landing two steps lower, but in the same location, the upper stairs would have to be steeper. Maybe this became a concern and needed to be corrected? Are there measurements given on the drawings?

    • Melody,

      You have a good eye!

      It does not seem possible that the original stair design COULD have worked. There would not have been enough steps.

      But maybe the change was for another reason.

      Squires was a highly experienced architect, and it seems unlikely that he just screwed up the stair design.

      Perhaps, rather, he decided that the original stair design intruded too much into the stair-hall? Or perhaps Mrs. Cross thought so, and commented as such?

      We will likely never know the answer to this mystery!

  2. I suspect a couple of possible reasons for the change:
    1. As built, the stair is visible from the front door; it would not have been visible in the original design. This gives more grandeur to the experience of first entering the home. (It also adds more showy newel posts, balusters and paneling where people would see them as they walked .)

    2. Turning the approach to the stair toward the rear of the home adds a bit of formality by making the approach to the private areas upstairs less inviting. It also constricts access to the service areas of the first floor.

    The conversations between the architect and the client concerning this change would have been rather interesting, I think.

    • David,

      The stair as originally designed could not have been built. There needs to be SIX steps down from the landing, rather than the FOUR Squires originally designed. But with six steps, the stair would have intruded well into the hall, creating a narrow, awkward space.

      As such, I have a fantasy conversation:

      THE TIME: Late 1893.

      THE PLACE: The Cross House, under construction.

      THE PLAYERS: Charles Squires (architect) and Susan Cross (owner).

      Susan (loudly): Mr Squires!

      Charles (walking rapidly to Susan in the stair all): Yes, Mrs. Cross?

      Susan (pointing to the newly roughed-out stair): WHAT is this?

      Charles (perplexed): That is the staircase.

      Susan: Well, I know that. But WHY is sticking out so far into my hall? How can I possibly entertain with my guests being SQUEEZED while walking from the parlor to the dining room? Mr. Squires, this just won’t do!

      Charles (trembling ever so slightly): Ahh….

      Susan: Mr. Squires, you just have to change the design. You just have to!

      • As originally designed the first landing was two steps lower. Which would have made the second run and the second landing two steps lower as well. Now there was plenty of room between the second landing and the second floor for two more steps, so that wasn’t the problem with the initial plan. There was so much room,in fact that when they remodeled to put in the kitchens they cut back on the space used by 1/3 and still had plenty of room. If you study the stair elevation carefully you can see that Charles knew exactly how many more steps it would take to get to the second floor. He’s got them sketched in at the upper left of the drawing.

        The real problem that the revision solves is to give a foot or so more headroom in the passage under the stairs. This passage leads from the grand foyer past a curved wall into a hall leading to the kitchen, a bathroom, and the south entrance. (See the first floor plan) Also note that that plan doesn’t accurately show the staircase either because it shows it flush with the living room wall when in fact it sticks out a foot or two into the foyer.

  3. Ross: Your discoveries are so interesting, as are the things I learn from the comments. So much to learn from history, and from an old house. Fascinating.

    • I agree! Learning from history is fascinating! But I did not think so when I was in grade school. History? Ugh!

      Not sure when I changed my mind on the subject!

  4. Ross, is that a rectangular outline on the left wall of the landing? It almost looks like a niche. Old houses are fascinating.

  5. You have the most awesome job in the whole world. To unveil some hidden secret from the past has to be such a neat feeling. To attempt to figure out what people were thinking and why they did things – even better! Undoubtedly it was the wife that changed the plans after the architect designed it and the contruction had begun!

  6. Ross, I stumbled accross your blog today, and I just want to say how incredibly grateful I am to you for taking on this project. I grew up in Burlington, KS about 45 minutes east of Emporia. My mother taught at the University, so we spent a lot of time there. This was in the late 90’s. I fell in love with the Cross House the moment I laid eyes on her, and dreamed of restoring her myself one day. Your attention to detail, and passion for preservation is outstanding. I look forward to reading more. Thank you for making my dream come true. She looks just beautiful.

  7. It seems as though if the stair would have been built as planned, there wouldn’t have been enough of a rise to give clear head height into the porte cochere hallway (is there a ceiling height change from the entry hall to the porte cochere hall?). But, like you, one would think he would have known that before construction began. Was there a change in the first floor ceiling height? Very odd.

    Magnificent house..I cant tell you how much I enjoy reading of your adventures.

  8. That is a very cool discovery! It’s kind of neat seeing physical evidence that mid-project change orders and fixes are nothing new.

    BTW, you have no idea how jealous I am that you have the original blueprints to your house. If any of my future houses have extant blueprints, I hope the sellers never learn how much extra I would pay for them.

    • Yes, it is quite incredible having the original blueprints.

      Except…the set is not complete! Argh! So, I don’t have the first floor! I have nothing on the carriage house, and I would KILL for these!

      Only recently did the main facade drawing show up!

  9. In your original plan view, there is a wonderful flourish curve to the left side stile of the paneling ending in a large carved upsweep together with a smaller carved downsweep on the wall to the left of the stair drawing. Was that carved detail eliminated altogether or used elsewhere in the house?

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