Colorado College Tutt Library

Century Chest transcription 17

Colorado Springs
3d August 1901

To The Citizens of Colorado Springs of the Year 2001. An account of the Architecture of the City at above date.

Domestic architecture being more directly expressive of the lives of the people, a description of it should therefore be first in order. What does greatly influence the style of domestic design is the fact that the limit within which the outside walls and roofs shall be built of incombustible materials is so small. On p. 32 of the official Colorado Springs Building Directory herewith included, those limits are defined.

Outside those limits owners seldom build better than is required by this Directory, there being at the present time not 20 residences in stone or brick. The designs are practically adapted for wood, and thus lacking in the element of permanency, are of a less serious type than if adapted to stone or brick.

Another influence in governing style is this: With the district being only 30 years a settled country, it is safe to say that no native Coloradoan has yet built to any extent, the building having hitherto been done by pioneers and those who have transplanted themselves here for reasons of business or health, the latter being very numerous. Naturally these pioneers and others have desired to reproduce their homes similar to those they have left. Thus for instance, those from Eastern States where the old Colonial architecture prevails insist largely on their homes being built in that style, and even Englishmen have imported their styles of architecture such as half timbered work, after the manner of old Chester houses.

Thus there is a variety of styles at present and will continue to be until a race of native Coloradoans arises and, unprejudiced by what exists in other parts of the country, will evolve a style growing out of existing conditions of climate.

At present the Colonial style may be said to be the prevailing one in residences designed by recognized architects. The architectural profession here, like most others, has been greatly benefitted in that some of its members who would have made their mark and fortune in large centers have had to reside here for health. Chief among these was E. C. G. Robinson who lived here six years and who, in his mastery of Colonial design, the fine proportion and delicate detail of which he so well reproduced in the spirit of the old work, has left a decidedly good influence on domestic architecture and helped to popularize the Colonial style. Inclosed are illustrations of some of his work, the best example of his Colonial design being the residence of Mrs. Cheney, the quality of restraint in which is so admirable. The residences of John G. Shields and R. J. Bolles in grouping suggest English influence, though the detail of the latter is Colonial throughout. His interior design was scholarly and showed a nice sense of fitness for residences. He built himself a residence at the N.W. corner of N. Cascade and San Miguel which in its spirit is Colonial, and has a great influence on other architects here, as for instance in the residence of James F. Burns by the late W. B. Perkins, an architect with great practical qualities and who also came here for health. A most unfortunate essay in the prevailing Colonial style has been the residence of W. S. Montgomery by A. J. Smith, and which is most generally condemned.

Of residences based on English models and where half-timbered work is a feature, the residence of Dr. Solly, north of the Antlers, and designed by F. J. Sterner of Denver is a particularly good example. Less good are those of the Hon. H. H. Seldomridge by T. P. Barber and the Bradford House on the S.W. corner of N. Cascade Ave. and Dale St. by the late W. B. Perkins.

After residences based on Colonial and English models there is the great mass indefinite in style and wanting style. Many might be entitled to the name of picturesque building, such as homes where the porch columns and chimneys are constructed with rough boulders, and where the general composition is pleasing, but what can be said of designs where the ornamentation so largely consists of fret-work, machine carving, and "stock." Doric and Ionic columns caricatured with such exaggerated "enbases" as would cause the architects of the Parthenon and the Temple of Diana at Ephesus to turn in their graves!

Several causes contribute to this characterless work. Lack of means to realize their ideals on the part of owners, called forth from a professional brother to the writer the remark that his life here was one weary effort trying to make $5000 houses cost $4000. Again, probably here as elsewhere not more than one quarter or at most one third of the buildings are erected from the plans of properly qualified architects. We have the contractors in the form of would-be architects who draw plans for owners, claiming without truth but with great emphasis that thereby they save the owner the architect's 5% fee. These gentlemen have recourse largely to various books of plans purchased for 50c up, advertised so largely in the various monthly magazines. These plans are turned out by the dozen, their authors being men of as little education in the profession as are the owners for patent medicines in medical science.

There is so much confusion in some minds as to the relative positions of Art and Craft, between the one whose function it is to design buildings, and the other whose function is to construct them, that the latter has had a great amount of confidence reposed in him especially by the "noveaux riches," even to the extent of entrusting him with the designing of business blocks and residences. The Mining Exchange Building was first of all designed and partly built in this manner, when an architect had to be consulted to help to put matters right, but the result is a building of no architectural value.

Of business blocks at the present, undoubtedly the Bank Building, though less pretentious than some, has the best exterior. This was designed by Van Brunt and Howe of Kansas City. Van Brunt was a pupil in the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris, and has shown an effective facade treatment in the variation of its surface by the flat Bay windows, while the Byzantine detail of the ornamentation is quite in the spirit of that beautiful style.

In the El Paso Bank Block, we are thankful for the color effect, though the design by E. C. G. Robinson and especially the plan are, owing to conditions under which the work was carried out, not worthy of him, though the exterior is greatly in advance of the Giddings or Post Office Blocks.

The Hagerman Block by Van Brunt & Howe is strangely below the usual standard of their work. The Out West Building by W. B. Perkins is one of his earliest works, but from an artistic standpoint, can claim no value. During his residence here of about 15 years he developed considerable fame in design.

The remainder of the business buildings here are mostly one and two stories, and a few three stories, but both an account of cost and size give little opportunity to display architectural merit. In style the Bank Building shows most character and more of an element of progressiveness than for instance the Mining Exchange Building where there is commonplace reproduction of well-known forms.

Of the proposed group of buildings for Colorado College only two, the Coburn Library and the Perkins Hall (named after W. B. Perkins, architect who left $20,000.00 towards building it) have materialized. These buildings are being designed by Andrews, Jacques and Rantoul of Boston. The upper windows in the Library are evidently based on those in the Scuola di San Rocco, Venice, with Gothic details introduced, and an effect of plate tracery, the latter producing a heavy appearance. These buildings are erected in peach-blow red sandstone, a refreshing change from the surrounding buildings, this material giving them a dignity unattainable in brick.

The High School designed by E. Boal of Denver is an effective architectural group, though in detail undecided in style. It is built in pressed brick as are nearly all the other schools. The Lowell School by the same author is a bit of simple but effective design. School architecture generally is of the dreariest description and we hope that ere long it will be recognized how great is that unconscious influence of the beautiful, particularly in the minds of the young in forming their tastes, and that their environment should be of the best that can be obtained both from a practical and an artistic standpoint. This would in great measure banish much that is ugly, as ugliness must beget its kind.

Our ecclesiastical architecture exhibits a medley of styles. The style of the First Congregational would be somewhat difficult to define as to whether in the words of W. S. Gilbert, it is in "the quaint grotesque or the grandly awful." In plan this building is a Greek cross, with a central pyramidal feature being that in outline it is similar to, but in frame and shingle and otherwise a travesty on the tower of Trinity Square Church in Boston by the late N. H. Richardson. The First Christian and the Cumberland Presbyterian show about the lowest ebb of church design.

The Unitarian Church by W. F. Douglas is a frame building on a high stone base reaching to the level of the window sills and for a mountain village as this practically was at the time, is a very pleasing and appropriate structure. Its bold projecting eaves and gable produce a good light and shade effect and the building is simple in its parts.

The First Methodist Episcopal Church by T. P. Barker, now in course of erection, is well-planned for the modern type of church in which the auditorium is mainly considered. This will be roofed by a flat dome in the center of which is a circular light, a most effective method of lighting. The exterior design does not promise so well, though good wall spaces are left which will act as a foil to the various features, but the windows will unfortunately be filled with wood tracery, that unpardonable imitation of stone so essential to its beauty. The main tower also looks attenuated and the smaller ones too much like caricatures of the larger.

St. Stephen's Chapel by the writer is in Early English Gothic and planned to be convertible into a two-story Parish House and Sunday School (as evidenced by the double tier of windows) when the large church is built on the front part of the lot.

By far the most important building hitherto erected here is the new Antlers Hotel, just opened and erected at a cost of $450,000.00. It was designed by F. J. Sterner of Denver, who has also designed several fine residences here such as those of Preston, Lennox and Allen. The Antlers is fire proof in its construction and supposed to be up-to-date in every particular. The general plan is decidedly good though open to criticism in some details affecting the practical working as a hotel. The color of roof and walls harmonize well, though generally the exterior cannot be said to reach the standard of the domestic work of F. J. Sterner. There is a flatness in the roof surface which might have been relieved by tiles of deep curvature; the facades are likewise flat, both in color and in light and shade. Relief to the color could probably have been attained by the use of a stone base to the building, and grouping of features and loggias introduced in the facades would have given them interest. The gables on the East Front with their finials are quite out of harmony with the general style of the building, and the towers are weak in their finish. It is a luxuriously appointed building and will serve its purpose well and greatly in advance of the old Antlers Hotel, a frame building which was burned down three years ago. In connection with this fire I may mention the danger to which the city at present stands. When the Antlers took fire, a hurricane from the West carried burning shingles all over the Eastern part of the city, set fire to many houses, two of which on N. Weber St. were burned down. It is the firm opinion that had not a fortunate change in the wind happened, the city at that time was in great danger of being swept out of existence.

El Paso County Court House now in course of erection is the second most important building hitherto contemplated in the city. In style it is very ordinary Italian Renaissance and we fear posterity will not give it a high place amongst architectural works. From its very inception, it has been made the butt of politics. The stone basement is only completed to date and we are left in uncertainty as to what material will be employed for the superstructure as generally this was to be brick with a tile roof. The trimmings and cornice are decided one day to be stone, the work to be terra-cotta. Again the walls are changed to stone, with a slate roof over. What the building will ultimately be no one can foretell, controlled as it is by politicians who know nothing of, and care less for, things beautiful.

In material conveniences in our buildings we think we are fairly well provided. All business blocks over three stories are provided with elevators, mostly electric. Also all hotels. Steam heating is the method employed in all large buildings and stores, also in residences, though hot water and hot air systems are more generally used in the latter. Schools and churches are heated by gravity and fan systems, and in some schools and residences systems of automatic regulation of temperature by means of thermostats are installed.

Electric light is in almost every residence, and in many a gas system is also installed and the light fixtures are of the combination type. Gas and electric kitchen ranges are also used to a considerable extent and separate heaters for hot water supply. Residences of larger size also include such conveniences as baggage lift, dumb waiters, speaking tubes, and clothes chutes from the various floors to the basement where the laundry is generally placed.

Interior wall decoration has hitherto been greatly limited to kalsomining, influenced by the fact of the city being so much of a health resort and this method is considered more sanitary. Lately however an extreme to this idea has been started by the use of burlap as a wall covering, but wall-papers are being used still more, and fortunately we are able to obtain some of those exquisite designs by the late William Morris of London. Colored tiles (glazed and dull) are mostly used for the facing of fireplaces, though the tendency lately is toward the use of pressed brick.

In the finish of interior wood work the most popular method is to leave it natural color, and varnished so that it retains for a long time its raw look. This is most destructive of pleasing color effects, when such could so well be got by the use of stains, and be as agreeable to the eye as the rich tones begotten of time in old wood work.

Stained-glass windows in residences are mostly confined to simple leaded work, using for instance two or three tones of amber, with lots of bright color here and there.

Stamped sheet steel is greatly used in stores and schools and even in some residences for ceilings. They are very practical in that there is no trouble as with plaster ceilings falling, a leak from a roof does not affect the same damage as in plaster, and the repair is less. The designs are however generally very bad, and if architects will devote their attention to this branch of ornamentation, doubtless steel ceilings will have a good future before them.

We hope that enough of our existing buildings will last to give the citizens of the year 2001 an idea of our planning of residences etc. Still, we can hardly see that any very radical changes in the main can be brought about, though there will undoubtedly be great changes in details.

It will be seen from the illustrations and photos of buildings inclosed that we are groping in search of a style appropriate to this section of the country. Though undoubtedly a number of architects of Colorado would build in a style more expressive of the country, they require here as elsewhere the co-operation of their Longmasters, the public, the uneducated portion of which in things architectural being always the most emphatic in insisting on their ideas being carried out. This leads me to express a hope that before long the study of architecture will form a part of the curriculum of our schools and colleges, and certainly ought always to form part of a liberal education. Then only shall architects have the much-desired co-operation without which it is an unequal struggle for them to combat the prevailing bad taste of the age. When the public appreciate that the beauty of architecture as Ruskin has so well expressed it, consists of the fitness and humility and the power the form is of association, then will it be a congenial task for architects to interpret their ideas.

As to a suitable style for this country, a high pitched roof, which in its tendency is Gothic, cannot be said to be appropriate to this dry and sunny climate. A comparatively flat roof serves as sufficient protection from rain and snow, is in harmony with the local lines of mesas and prairie, and can be given a bold projection at the eaves owing to the flatter pitch, throwing long shadows downwards, keeping the upper windows cool, and not unduly darkening rooms. The walls should be buff or white (in brick or cement plaster), these colors agreeably contrasting with the prevailing color of the landscape in which neutral tints predominate. The shadows from eaves on the buff or white walls would be delightful, and a note of strong red color in roofs, preferably tile, would complete an agreeable color and light and shade effect. Wall surfaces could be relieved with balconies, and porches would add the deeper shadows. Colored tiles or marbles in the shape of friezes would form another scheme for exterior wall treatments.

The foregoing indicates designs based on Spanish and Italian models. The expense of such designs is a deterrent to their adoption, although the wealth of two owners R. J. Preston, and W. Lennox, has enabled them to procure homes of Spanish type.

The style is flexible enough to apply to every kind of building be it cottage, mansion, church, school, club or business block.

I have inclosed a copy of the official Colorado Springs Building Directory which will be of special interest to the architects, also these further remarks concerning the practice of architecture here.

Competitive designs are often asked by promoters of public buildings such as schools etc., but there is a general feeling of resentment when we ask a professional advisor to be appointed to select the best design. They resent this as a reflection of their ability to select what they want, forgetting that it requires the trained judgment of a specialist of great experience to weight the merits and demerits of rival designs. Fortunately in some instances recently we have succeeded in persuading promoters to our point of view. In the case of a competition for the new Antlers Hotel into which the writer had the honor of being invited along with F. J. Sterner, Denver, Van Brunt and Howe, Kansas City, Peabody & Stearns, and Andrews, Jacques and Rantoul, Boston, and Mellon of New York, we urged first the sending in of designs anonymously, the payment of all competitors, and the appointment of a professional advisor. The latter point was partially carried, but the first and second were agreed to.

A great difficulty is the want of unity amongst architects themselves, to make the profession occupy the position it justly should in the estimation of the public.

We are hopeful that in another 100 years architecture will have so progressed as to exercise its unconscious but none the less effective good influence in moulding the character of the people.

T. MacLaren


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