The Cross House

Things I’ve Learned

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.

Oh.

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.

 

A Queen Anne-style house.

 

A Queen Anne Free Classic. Can you see the difference?

 

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.

 

The Squires residence, 613 Exchange.

 

 

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.

 

One could literally order from a catalog all the bits necessary to construct a house. This is from a  1900 catalog.

 

 

RADIATORS

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.

 

 

ELECTRIC THOUGHTS

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.

 

President Benjamin Harrison’s White House office in 1889 (today the Lincoln Bedroom). Note the gas chandelier.

 

The same room updated with a new gas/electric chandelier in 1892.

 

The very latest. Gas/electric fixtures from an 1893 Horn and and Brannen and Forsyth Lighting Catalog. I would kill for the fixture in the center. Perfect for my west vestibule!

 

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.

Oh!

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!

Oh my!

 

What picture rail COULD be! Thanks, Bo!

 

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.

Who knew?

 

 

SITTING AROUND IN 1894

 

Three years ago, when I thought about Victorian-era furniture, this is the kind of thing which came me to mind.

 

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.

 

This chair is much older than the 1894 Cross House. Deborah informed me that it is in the Renaissance Revival-syle.

 

This is an Eastlake-style chair. The Eastlake style had been wildly popular in the 1870s and 1880s but was waning in fashion by the early 1890s.

 

Then I found this chair, which seemed very early 1890s to me. Once Bo confirmed this guess I elatedly purchased it.

 

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:

But this isn’t an 1890s kitchen. It is a circa-1920 kitchen.

 

THIS is an 1890s kitchen.

 

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!

 

Physical evidence indicates that the half-bath on the first floor did have a high-tank toilet like this early 1890s model.

 

Physical evidence also indicates that a 34-inch-wide version of this type sink was also used.

 

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.

 

This is the Bolling & Company wallpaper for the stair-hall, except mine had a silver background. Thanks, Bo! (Courtesy Historic New England)

 

 

AND….SUMMING UP

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’!

 

 

28 Responses to Things I’ve Learned

  1. Ross, you really need your own show on HGTV. I’m serious. I bet you would do a lot to put an end to much of the insanity that results from people watching those shows. They really don’t have any restoration shows. It’s all about destroying floor plans and ripping up perfectly good floors. Even though I really didn’t know anything about old houses, it always bothered me the way they were “improved.” Then I discovered Nicole Curtis and thought that she was the gold-standard for home restoration. That was until i came across your blog and now I consider you to be the true gold-standard!

    • Thank you, Kerri!

      I very much like Nicole but her show is called Rehab Addict. She is very much about rehab rather than restoration.

      TV shows are set up for quick, dramatic results. A good restoration takes time, and the process does not lend itself to riveting TV!

      Still, as you do, I yearn to see an HGTV show featuring really good restoration work. Sigh,

      • Check out “Restored” I think on DIY. Out in California, big guy with a stetson!
        He’s a contractor who tries steering his clients into restoring/keeping the original features of their homes. He is a contrator but is very respectful of the homes he works in.

        He is light years beyond Nicole Curtis!

  2. I was thinking. Maybe they put a wall switch in the telephone room because if the phone is ringing you may not have the time to reach up and turn a knob, a wall switch would be much faster. I may totally be off about this…probably am.

    • That is the only explanation I have ever heard which would explain the telephone switch! It makes perfect sense! Thank you!

      • Is it definitely a light switch, could it have been used to silence the bell as commonly these were stand-alone from the receiver?

  3. Ross, I am loving learning along with you!

    About Charles Squires, what happened to his papers? Did his family keep them or donate them? They would certainly be well suited to your collection. I would hate to think they had been tossed at his death.

    • I assume all his papers were thrown out. Nobody would have cared at the time (early 1930s).

      BIG sigh.

      Recently I discovered that he had children, so descendants could be out there! Stay tuned!

  4. Ross, one of the things that’s most enjoyable about your blog is your unflagging enthusiasm. This was a great post, first because of the way it recaps the story of Ross and then the story of Ross and the Cross House – but also because it’s a great example of how to stay ‘open’ and engaged with whatever the world is going to bring your way….thank you for giving your readers such a positive start to the week.

  5. Ross darling? Here’s a conundrum that I’ve been puzzling over about your house. We know that the stove was coal fired and the abundance of coal burning fireplaces in the house is a dead giveaway that there HAD to be a coal hopper. You have stated that there is no indication of a coal dump in the basement. What indications were you looking for? Coal, contrary to popular opinion, is a rather “soft” rock, similar to limestone in “feel,” so there wouldn’t be dings and divots in the floor. It also cleans up surprisingly well with simple soap and water, so there wouldn’t be a permanent mark in the concrete. I would assume that the boiler for the radiators would have been coal fired as well, sooo…where was the coal stored? Having lived in coal country in east Tennessee, I know that one didn’t just get a bag of coal every day for the needs of the house. There had to be one!! So where was it? My first bet would be just off the laundry. The second would be very near the old boiler. Because…coal would have been the standard for heating and comfort in those days. After all, you couldn’t cook on a coal fired stove without it!! Just me scratching that itch about a missing piece of the puzzle.

    • There is no evidence of a coal hopper in the basement. Nor any evidence on the 1894 basement plan of a coal hopper, coal room, or even a boiler.

      The basement was wholly renovated as motel rooms in 1950, erasing all evidence about anything from 1894.

      I suspect that the boiler and coal were in the carriage house. This kind of “remote” heating was not unusual for the era.

      With a large laundry room in the basement, also storing coal there would have not been ideal!

      • If the boiler was in the carriage house, might there be evidence of where the piping entered the main house? Would the pipes from a carriage house boiler to the main house have been buried? Maybe a metal detector and a shovel could solve the mystery!

        • Oh! A metal detector would be a lot of fun at the Cross House!

          Any physical evidence in the basement of where pipes entered would have been lost when the basement was wholly renovated as motel rooms in 1950. All the interior perimeter walls were covered with cement. It’s still there!

  6. I echo and double down on what Susan M. says – an elegant, wise and beautiful post, and a true celebration of exactly where you are in the process and in your larger life arc. This is a special one.

  7. I first met Ross at ART et INDUSTRY gallery in NYC in 1986.

    We became fast friends.

    I was stunned and alarmed when Ross told me about buying the Cross House – but then again, I was flabbergasted when he moved to Kansas from Rhode Island! I thought he had lost his mind when I saw pictures of the Cross House as it looked like an overwhelming, life-long task.

    It’s how big? You’re gonna fix this up all by yourself? He was so excited. I held back my misgivings…he’s my friend and I wanted to be supportive.

    As time has past — the photos continuously appear and the house is becoming magically transformed into beauty and order.

    Maybe he has little elves helping him at night?

    Let me tell you, the over-the-top passion that Ross displays in his blog is genuine. Historian is in his DNA. We couldn’t walk down the streets of NYC without him pointing out various details on buildings and excitedly telling me about the entire life history of the architect who designed the building — all at 180 mph! Thankfully, I’m a good listener.

    Aside from his deep interest in the past, Ross is a visionary who thinks way outside of the box always stamped by his unique signature style — so be prepared…it will no doubt be magnificent.

    I know the blood, sweat and tears he so lovingly puts into it and, through our late night phone chats, know how he worries and struggles to keep afloat balancing out his work for money and work for his passion which of course is the Cross House.

    Ross is not only a restorer of things but a restorer of the human spirit by his tenacity, caring attitude, humor, and charm.

    Thank you dear friend for creating a blog that inspires, educates, and deeply touches people. I am in awe.

  8. And your doing more than boosting just your own brain power — you’re boosting a whole bunch of other people’s as well. Well done, you!

  9. Ross,

    If you have the time, would you write up a list of some of your favorite books on architecture? I too am a bibliophile, architecture books being one of my favorite subsets (I also love shipwrecks, asylums, and castles) and buy books mostly off amazon.com reviews. If you can recommend some good ones, please edify your fans!

    I recommend Virginia McAlester’s “A Field Guide to American Houses” to get people going.

  10. Minor note: your collated photos of Benjamin Harrison’s 1889 and 1892 White House offices show, in the latter photo, that the chairs in front of the Presidential desk appear to be kissin’ cousins to your early 1890’s find. The desk itself, by the time of the 1892 photo, is the “Resolute” desk, the President’s desk now in the Oval Office since Jackie Kennedy installed it there in the 1960’s.

  11. I’d just like to add my accolades to everyone else’s – I agree with them all! It is a privilege to learn from you and to follow your journey through this restoration. I’m so glad that I “know” you and I hope you can hear me cheering you on. Take a bow – this was a great post!

  12. Ross: this is such a fascinating post. As each posting is, this one is personal, informative, witty and well written. I always look forward to a new posting with either some new restoration adventure, or a new discovery at your incredible home.

    Your investigation of the architect made me think of the situation in my home city, Glasgow. We have two main famed architects – Charles Rennie McIntosh who most people know – designing in an art nouveau style, very different to that which existed in the late 1890s onwards; and another, lesser known- Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson. The second chap designed more buildings in the city than McIntosh, and yet today is largely unknown. Do a search to see his Greek style churches, private houses and tenement blocks and you’ll understand his nickname. He used Greek classical motifs everywhere.

    Unfortunately my home city is less than enthusiastic of his legacy and some of his designs were bulldozed or damaged through the years. I’m lucky enough to live in a suburb where there must be over 20 examples all within walking distance. I often pass a building and can see either his hand or a slight influence – exactly as you did in your wonderful series detailing the buildings in Emporia either attributed to, or proven designed by Charles Squires.

    Keep up the good work on your lovely home. I always look forward to reading your updates and hope one day to join Bette and Cary in taking a tour of this marvellous undertaking.

    Colin

    • Hi Colin!

      I did a LONG post on Thomson.

      Glasgow is a wonderful, fascinating city. I have been there about four times, the last time in, sigh, 2001.

      And it would be a thrill to give you a tour of the Cross House!

  13. Hi Ross. I am currently working my way through all your postings and hadn’t got to this one yet. Thank you for giving a wonderful insight to Alexander Thomson, and to my city! The Caledonia Road Church always looks so lonely left as it is – and I’m always hopeful something happens to make it live again.

    I note Thomson used the anthemion motif a lot in his designs and had only just finished your posts on those existing in your home.

    Let’s make a deal: next time you plan to visit the UK and wish a tour of my home city, let me know; and as I’m currently planning my next trip to the US, if I can, I will plan a Kansan detour. The thrill of seeing this beautiful house will be all mine!

    Colin.

    • Oh my gosh!

      It would be an extraordinary delight to offer you a tour of the Cross House!

      I sincerely hope you can detour to Kansas!

  14. Last year I was wildly in love with a house with barn that I couldn’t buy. My brain leapt while reading this entry. I am providing a link to the house. Without looking at the house, quickly rush to photo 30. Ahhhhhh.

    Here.

    OK now you can look at the house if you want to.

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