The Cross House
I have always loved architecture. As a kid my favorite toy was Lego Blocks. Endlessly, I would build house after house after house with the small multi-colored plastic blocks.
Looking at floor plans was (and is) a mesmerizing task. Mesmerizing! I started drawing my own plans based on TV houses like, for example, Bewitched. I would watch the show and then draw what seemed to be the floor plan. I still have these drawings.
My best friend Mark and I would walk endlessly around our suburban neighborhood and “redesign” the facades of houses. “This house would so look much better if….”
In the fall of 1978, when I was twenty-one, I boldly moved to New York City with $200 in my pocket. My dream? To have my own architectural design firm. That I had no connections, no college education, and very little common sense was not even a remote concern to me. I had a dream! And in 1985 I founded my own firm and rode out the 1980s designing hyper-expensive apartments in the new condo towers which had sprouted all over the city, including eleven units in Trump Tower. Even you-know-who’s apartment.
Books had always been a passion and over time I created a large private library with books on architecture, design, cities, urban planning, and ocean liners. I also subscribed to dozens of magazines, and collected vintage architecture and decorating magazines, too.
After buying a Colonial-era weekend house in Newport, Rhode Island, I then became somewhat of an expert on Colonial architecture.
So, by my mid-thirties, I knew a lot about architecture and decoration. A lot.
But, when I purchased the 1894 Cross House in 2014, I realized that all my education had a giant hole in it.
I knew almost nothing about Victorian-era houses.
NOT JUST A QUEEN ANNE
I knew enough to know that the Cross House was in the Queen Anne style. It took me a while to learn that the Cross House was actually a Queen Anne Free Classic.
In its day, the Cross House would have startled. People would have stood on the sidewalk and marveled at how advanced and stylish the house looked.
Gone was the elaborate spindle work which typified Queen Anne houses. Skinny single porch columns were replaced by beefier versions, paired, and atop stone bases.
Three years ago I had never heard of the term Queen Anne Free Classic.
Today, I enjoy driving around Emporia and other cities and testing out my new-found knowledge.
Oh! Look at that Queen Anne!
Oh! Look at the Queen Anne Free Classic!
MEETING MR. SQUIRES
When buying the Cross House I was told that it was designed by Charles W. Squires.
This meant nothing to me.
Today I am a bit obsessed with Charley.
His own house is around the corner and I fantasize about winning the lottery and doing a meticulous restoration and creating a museum dedicated to this amazingly prolific architect.
I am compiling a catalog of Squires-designed structures in Emporia and am astounded at what I have discovered. It now appears that Emporia has more one-off buildings by a single architect than any other city I know of. This is incredible and a fact the city seems unaware of. I look forward to getting the Squires database online and may have to reach out to an architectural school for help.
Several years ago I did a post on Squires but have not updated it with the wealth of information since accumulated.
Three years ago I knew nothing about Charles Squires.
Today, I love the guy.
A CATALOG HOUSE
In 2014 I marveled at all the rich mantels in the Cross House, paneled doors, intricate trim, and so many details. Yummy!
Today I see all this yumminess in context. My house is comprised, to a large degree, of catalog items. So, while designing the house, architect Charles Squires would have gone through dozens of catalogs which he, no doubt, had on hand and picked X from catalog A and Y from catalog B and so on.
While entire staircases were also easily available via catalogs, the Cross House stair appears to be custom, along with the porch columns, and interior columns in the stair-hall. Otherwise, pretty much everything in the house was ordered out of a catalog.
Three years ago I had no idea that the Cross House was largely created from items shipped to Kansas from across the country.
Today, I enjoy understanding this context.
The Cross House was not just built by Emporians. It was built by America.
I have always loved radiators and the fact that the Cross House abounded with them, AND had four new high-efficiency boilers, was a big selling point.
Today though I recognize that in 1894 radiators were an astounding new advance. Although invented in 1855, they only began really appearing in the late 1880s for residential use. The Cross House was likely one the first homes in Emporia, perhaps the first, with this new-fangled technology.
Three years ago, I appreciated the old-fashion charm of my radiators.
Today, I also hugely value what they represented in 1894: something way cool.
When I purchased the Cross House I knew that it was originally lighted by gas. It took me another year, in a burst of recognition, to realize that it was actually lighted by gas/electric combination fixtures. Wow. Wow!
The White House was electrified in 1892, so the Cross House having electricity just two year later was quite advanced. The house was certainly one of the first, if not the first, to be electrified in Emporia.
This realization shifted my plans, and all the lighting that I had purchased to date (early electric fixtures) was listed for sale, and a new hunt began for 1890s gas/electric chandeliers and sconces.
Only recently have I discovered more about the Cross House and lighting in the early 1890s.
When built, the house had no electric outlets. I know! This was because no devices yet existed which needed to be plugged in.
The house also had, essentially, no wall switches. If one wanted light, one walked over to a gas/electric fixture and either lighted the gas or clicked over the turn-key switch on the socket.
To date I have only discovered two original wall switches in the Cross House. One is in the telephone closet and I cannot explain why. The other is at the south entrance, and this appears to have lighted a fixture hanging from the ceiling of the porte-cochère. This makes sense as the ceiling is very high up, and the fixture would have also been very high to clear horses and carriages. Hence, a wall switch.
Three years ago I knew only part of the story about how the Cross House was lighted.
Today, it is exciting the recognize that the house represents a brief moment in time, a changeover from on old technology to a wondrous new technology. By the late 1890s all-electric houses were were built and what had been miraculous in 1894 was already becoming a bit passé.
A PICTUROUS LEARNING CURVE
Who knew that there was much to learn about a picture rail?
Three years ago I did not know that the Cross House even had picture rail. Not a single room had such trim.
Bit by bit though my knowledge level increased and my rooms increasingly looked a bit naked. These rooms, I began to ponder, must have had picture rail originally.
In time I found actual physical evidence that the rooms of the house did, indeed, once have picture rail.
I found large-scale picture rail online and ordered some for the parlor and library. Then I was successful in creating a finish on the rail to match the faux wood finish on the trim in the rooms.
It seemed that my job was over! Whoee!!!!!!!!
Then Bo came to visit and everything went to hell.
In a post I detailed the breathtaking discovery that picture rail in the 1890s was not so simple! And it would seem that rather than such railing being installed by carpenters along with all the other trim in the house the picture rail was perhaps installed by the wallpaper hanger! And the rail likely did NOT match the adjacent trim but was, rather, highly decorative and perhaps done in a burnished gold!
Three years ago I dd not know the Cross House had picture rail.
Three years ago I thought picture rail was a rather pedestrian bit of trim mainly necessary for hanging pictures from it, thus protecting plaster walls.
Today, I am agog to realize the picture rail was often a highly decorative accent strip high up on the walls, its burnished gold richly glowing from the soft gas lighting and carbon electric bulbs.
SITTING AROUND IN 1894
And I could not quite envision this in the Cross House.
And I had zero idea what would look right in the Cross House.
Bit by bit though some awareness manage to sneak into my brain and bit by bit I started to develop just a hint of an eye. What had, three years ago, been all lumped into the catch-all phrase VICTORIAN-ERA slowly began to emerge as distinct periods of furniture.
Three years ago I lumped decades of late-19th-century furniture into one group: Victorian.
Today, I recognize that there were a great many styles during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). And what was fashionable in 1894 did not exist a decade before. And this reminds me that in 1973 I begged my mom to buy me a pair of bell-bottom jeans. Something which did not exist in 1963. And something which I would not have been caught dead in by 1983. The moral of this story? No bell-bottoms in the Cross House! Well, except for the library.
WANNA JOIN ME IN THE KITCHEN?
Golly. I knew nothing about 1890s kitchen three years ago. If I did think about them this is what would have come to mind:
The above two images are but separated by about thirty years but they are world’s apart. The 1920 kitchen I could live with. I could not live with the 1890s kitchen.
Today, we are so used to fully fitted kitchens that it is hard to imagine that in the 1890s kitchens were the total opposite.
The Cross House kitchen likely had not a single built-in cabinet. It likely had a big table in the center. There was a coal stove in a brick niche. A sink was, I believe, against the south window. There may have been a small table under a wall and a few chairs.
That is it.
Of course, two pantries WERE fully fitted with built-in cabinets, and these were use for storage. But the kitchen was used to work in, not store things. And this was normal in 1894.
I knew none of this three years ago.
Today, I relish the opportunity to fully and exactingly restore the room itself, while inserting a huge modernist island floating in the room, containing all the must-have modern conveniences like a dishwasher. So, the 1890s and today, in a dialog.
I am excited!
NEED TO PEE?
Three years ago I had almost no idea of what an 1890s bathroom looked like.
My only thought was: high-tank toilet?
I was to be proved correct!
Three years ago I had but a hint about what an 1894 bathroom looked like.
Today, the original half-bath is partially intact, as is the full bath of the second floor. I now have confidence that I can restore each room in a truly period-correct manner.
My first pee will be memorable.
GETTING DELIRIOUS ABOUT PAPER
Three years ago I not only knew nothing about wallpaper but I could have cared less.
Then I discovered not only the original wallpaper in the stair-hall, but the original frieze, AND the original ceiling paper!!!!!!!
Later I discovered the original parlor wallpaper!!!!!!!
With immense help from Bo, I suddenly became mad for 1890s papers!
I now understand that it was common in 1894 to fully paper a room; walls, frieze, and ceiling. Wallpaper companies specifically created complementary patterns for all three situations, and their sample books were laid out as such.
Three years ago I not only knew nothing about wallpaper but I could have cared less.
Today, I look forward with immense excitement to recreating (at vast cost) the three papers for the Cross House stair-hall. I also look forward to being able to successfully recreate the parlor paper.
Inextricably linked with the process of physically restoring the Cross House is a huge learning curve.
I find this to be thrilling! To me, this is one of the great rewards in restoring a house. In an instant I recall my heart racing upon discovering the original papers for the stair-hall! I smile when recalling the slow but steady satisfaction, immense satisfaction, in learning what in the world an 1894 kitchen would have looked like! My pride was great when I could at last pick out a correct period chair for the house!
They say that learning something new creates new neural pathways in the brain. If this is true, the Cross House has offered neural directions to wondrous routes I would not otherwise have taken, and my sixty-year-old brain must be jumpin’!