The Cross House
When the Cross House was built in 1894, it, too, had a context.
In 1894 radiators were an extraordinary invention, and people would have come into the Cross House and breathlessly asked: “Can I see a radiator?” They would have marveled over these mighty steel creations and stood agape wondering how they could produce heat with no flame or coal.
Today, most people pay no mind to radiators. They have lost their context.
In 1894 the house had all gas/electric lighting, and this also would have been wondrous. While gas lighting had been around for decades, electricity was new and miraculous. The White House was wired for electricity in 1892, so the Cross House having electricity just two years later was extraordinary, particularly for Kansas. People would have toured the house, wide-eyed at the glow from the carbon-filament bulbs.
Today, no one pays the slightest attention to a light bulb. They have lost their context.
In 1894 the house had a built-in ice chest, dumb-waiter, telephone closet, and speaking tubes — all miracles of technology.
Today, none of these are desired elements in new home construction, for they have lost their context.
So, in order to present the context of the Cross House when new, and what it represented, we need to time travel…
Around 1880, houses in the Queen Anne-style were introduced, and became wildly popular.
Distinctive features of American Queen Anne-style may include:
…an asymmetrical facade; dominant front-facing gable, often cantilevered out beyond the plane of the wall below; overhanging eaves; round, square, or polygonal tower(s); shaped and Dutch gables; a porch covering part or all of the front facade, including the primary entrance area; a second-story porch or balconies; pedimented porches; differing wall textures, such as patterned wood shingles shaped into varying designs, including resembling fish scales, terra cotta tiles, relief panels, or wooden shingles over brickwork, etc.; dentils; classical columns; spindle work; oriel and bay windows; horizontal bands of leaded windows; monumental chimneys; painted balustrades; and wooden or slate roofs.” —from Wikipedia.
THE BIG EVENT
Almost forgotten today, the The World’s Columbian Exposition opened in Chicago, in 1893, to tremendous international acclaim. An astounding twenty-seven million people attended (even more impressive considering that the total world population was eight hundred million).
At the center of the sprawling exposition was The White City, a grouping of neoclassical structures surrounded a lake. The effect dazzled and stunned visitors, for nobody had ever seen so many buildings, all designed in the same style, creating a unified composition — on a grand, awe-inspiring scale.
The White City inspired the City Beautiful Movement, which had its effects on cities and towns across the globe.
THE OTHER BIG EVENT
Also in 1893, the William H. Winslow house was completed, near Chicago, and designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Wright was young, and not yet famous, but the Winslow House was revolutionary. No one had seen anything like it before.
While few people knew about the Winslow house, as compared to the Columbia Exposition, every architect would have been gobsmacked after seeing it published in architectural journals.
A NEW STYLE
Architects were deeply shaken by the Columbia Exposition and the Winslow House. The former of course was in the neoclassical style, while the latter was boldly innovative and modern, but architects across the land knew that what they had been designing was suddenly and hopelessly passé.
Imagine being an automotive designer when the Ford Taurus came out?
Few architects, then and now, have the creative brilliance of Frank Lloyd Wright. So, architects of the day would not have gone from designing Queen Anne-style houses to Winslow houses overnight, but would have rather started introducing subtle shifts and updates to their work.
And thus was born the Queen Anne Free Classic style:
The strongest design features of the Queen Anne Free Classic are the porch posts. Rather than the turned spindles of the Queen Anne, the Free Classic has classical columns for porch supports. Across the country, these columns often ranged from simpler Tuscan columns, to high-styled Corinthian which featured leaves at the capital. Columns are sometimes full height and sometimes only partial height, sitting on a low wall or pedestal the height of the porch railing. Columns can be individually spaced, but are often paired, especially when there is a large, open span in the porch. Railings and other details are usually simple, and often lack the complex and delicate detailing of the Queen Anne houses.
Other classical elements were introduced, including dentil detailing, Palladian windows, pediments, and other features influenced by the Columbia Exposition.
INFLUENCING MR. SQUIRES
The Cross House was designed by architect Charles W Squires.
Squires would have, certainly, visited the Columbia Exposition, just an overnight train ride from Emporia to Chicago.
Squires would have also, likely, been aware of the Winslow House, which would have bene published in architectural journals.
And you can see these influences in his largest residential commission in 1893: the Harrison and Susan Cross House.
When I purchased the Cross House, I knew it was a fabulous Queen Anne structure.
I had no idea of its context though. I did not know how modern and clean it would have looked to people in 1894. I did not know that its architect was boldly pushing his work into a new direction.
I did not know that the house was a Queen Anne Free Classic.
And I did not understand until this week how Charles Squires would have, of course, also labored to assure a very modern color scheme.
BACK TO CONTEXT
Today, after much pondering, the very pale wall color makes perfect sense.
Squires had designed a modern, advanced home.
OF COURSE he would have selected a modern, advanced color scheme.
Now, I have something startling to show you. Scroll way down…
Today, as nobody pays any attention to the styling of a Ford Taurus, nobody looking at the Cross House will think that the house was something innovative in its day. And if I had gotten the original wall color right, nobody (save Bo and Eric) would look at it and think: Ah! Sooooo perfect for a very early Queen Anne Free Classic house!
I am thrilled with the colors I chose in 2014, and plan to continue painting the house as such. I have painted too much to start over.
Nonetheless, I am disappointed that I got things so wrong. I very much liked the idea of truly honoring what Charles Squires endeavored to create in 1894. He created something fresh and very modern, and I have slightly fudged this effect.
I do have a small solution, and will post this soon…