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Italianate in Buffalo
1840-1885

On this page, below:

Introduction

Francis R. Kowsky, The Italianate Era in Buffalo

Identifying Features

Villa Style

Andrew Jackson Downing and the Italianate Era in the U.S.

Octagon Houses

Italianate House Interiors in Buffalo

Furniture style: Rococo Revival furniture

Photos of Selected Italianate Buildings in Buffalo

Links to additional Italianate buildings


Introduction

Italianate is a term used to denote an American architectural style from the mid-nineteenth century which came about as part of a larger Romantic movement in the arts. These buildings are commonly recognized by their tall, narrow windows and their low-pitched roofs with overhanging eaves.

Italianate buildings in America were not built by or for Italian families. Actually, there were few Italian people in the U.S. at this time, but the idea of rural Italy was romanticized by Americans and by America's early European-educated architects.

Italianate
1840-1885

The Italianate, along with the Gothic Revival, emerged in the 1830s as part of the picturesque movement, which rejected the formal classical ideals of art and architecture that predominated in the first half of the nineteenth century.

The movement sought inspiration from rambling informal Italian farmhouses, and was popularized in the United States by the writings of architectural theorists such as Andrew Jackson Downing. American builders freely adapted the style into wood construction.

Also referred to as Bracketed, this style was popular in Western New York from 1855 to 1880. The style is most readily identified with intricately cut brackets, which were used extensively to support door and window hoods and to embellish the cornices of hoods, tall narrow windows often with half-round heads, bay windows and porches with elaborate carpentry.

- Excerpt from Intensive Level Historic Resources Survey: City of Buffalo: Broadway - Fillmore Neighborhood, by Francis R. Kowsky

Identifying Features

    • Two or three stories (rarely one story)

    • Low-pitched hipped roof

    • Widely overhanging eaves having decorative brackets beneath, singly or in pairs

    • Single-story entry porches

    • Front doors single or paired

    • Doors and windows: rectangular, round arched, or segmentally-arched

    • Windows: Paired and triple

    • Windows: Tall, narrow

    • Window:  Sashes most commonly with one- or two-pane glazing

    • Window crowns: hooded, bracketed, framed

    • Window crowns: full arch, segmental, pedimented (triangular or curved)

    • Windows:   Lintels executed in wood or iron.

    • Square cupola or tower (usually villa style)

    • Italianate commercial buildings: first floor façade often of cast iron, the second of brick.

    • Italianate commercial buildings: capping the building is a requisite heavy, bracketed cornice. (Example: 116 Main Street, Albion, NY
Villa Style

Some guides categorize the Italian villa as a subtype of Italianate, whose principal feature is a tower,

The style was borrowed from the rural architecture of northern Italy and introduced by way of England in the late 1830s. Again it was the plans of Alexander Jackson Davis circulated in Andrew Jackson Downing's books (see below) that helped popularize the style.

The outstanding feature of the Italian Villa style is the combination of the tall tower with a two-story "L" or "T" shaped floor plan.

The roof with projecting eaves has a gentle pitch resembling the pediment shape of classical temples.

Other distinctive features are the grouping of either straight or round-headed windows into threes or small arcades, and the placement of porches or arcaded loggias between the tower and house or at the corners.

A smooth stucco finish highlights the classic simplicity of the design, while an exuberance of enriched ornamentation provides a baroque appearance. The overall composition is an asymmetrical balancing of classical forms intending a picturesque quality.

Renaissance Revival furnishings were used in Italianate villas and other classically inspired houses.

Andrew Jackson Downing and The Italianate Era in the U.S.

The Italianate style, along with the Gothic Revival, began in England as part of the Picturesque movement, a reaction to the formal classical ideals in art and architecture that had been fashionable for about two hundred years. The movement emphasized rambling, informal Italian farmhouses, with their characteristic square towers, as models for Italian-style villa architecture. Note that other, more formal, Italian models from the Renaissance or ancient Rome had led to the previous era of classicism. Italy, rather paradoxically, thus remained a principal source of artistic nurture during the reaction against the earlier ideals it had inspired.

The first Italianate houses in the United States were built in the late 1830s; the style was popularized by influential Andrew Jackson Downing, a widely respected American landscape gardener who also published house pattern books in the 1840s and '50s.

Downing's one-year partner (Downing died in a fire) was Calvert Vaux who himself published a fairly influential pattern book entitled Villas and Cottages. Six years later, Vaux moved to New York City and soon partnered with the superintendent of a new park that was being created. The park was Central Park and the superintendent was Frederick Law Olmsted. They went on to win the design competition for Central Park and also the design for the parks system in Buffalo. Vaux also designed structures for some of the Buffalo parks.

Downing's building designs were mostly for single family rural houses built in the Picturesque Gothic and Italianate styles. Believing that every American deserved a good home, he designed homes for three classes: villas for the wealthy, cottages for working men and farmhouses for farmers. He intended for every family to be able to afford one of these homes, but of course this did not occur.

Downing believed that architecture and the fine arts could affect the morals of the owners, and that improvement of the external appearance of a home would help "better" all those who had contact with the home. The general good of America was benefited by good taste and beautiful architecture, he felt. Others in the 1840s believed that the proper home environment could assure eternal comforts in heaven. The private home was becoming the place for moral education and the focus of middle class America's search for the meaning of life. See 4 examples of his cottage residences.

By the 1860s the style had completely overshadowed its earlier companion, the Gothic Revival

The decline of the Italianate style, along with that of the closely related Second Empire style, began with the financial panic of 1873 and the subsequent depression. When prosperity returned late in the decade, new housing fashions - -particularly the Queen Anne style -- rose quickly to dominance.

The Italianate style dominated American houses constructed between 1850 and 1880. It was particularly common in the expanding towns and cities of the Midwest as well as in many older but still growing cities of the northeastern seaboard. Italianate houses are least common in the southern states, where the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the 1870s depression led to little new building until after the style had passed from fashion.

The Italianate Era in Buffalo
1840-1880

By 1850, Buffalonians were interested in two new styles: Gothic Revival and Italianate. These styles had roofs extending beyond the actual walls and were considered more picturesque. than the columned Greek Revival buildings. Italianate-style buildings kept the gradual roof slopes of the earlier homes and added scrolled wood brackets to "support" the projecting overhangs. Sometimes an Italianate had a tower or an observatory at the top. The Italianate windows occasionally had round tops, and were sometimes ornamented with elaborate cast-iron designs of foliage. Double doors became common. In addition, bay windows entered the architectural vocabulary of the 1850s.

Nationally, the post-Civil War period was a booming time. Buffalo continued to grow, businesses were thriving, and many of the oldest downtown homes were demolished to make room for new commercial development.

Buffalo became known as "The City of Beautiful Trees.~ There were large mansions on tree-lined avenues and smaller brick and frame homes on the side streets.

The Italianate style was used throughout the East and West Sides of Buffalo. Buffalo's East Side is chock full of commercial buildings in the Italianate style, although they have not necessarily been well preserved.

The best area to see Italianates in Buffalo is in Allentown which has an unusual concentration of surviving older buildings, with over a hundred brick Italianates in a single district. It is possible to do a walking tour of Allentown and see most of the buildings in a single afternoon. In fact, walking is the best way to see them, because it is difficult to drive through Allentown's small one-way streets. In addition, there are the Tracy Street row of Tifft houses, only steps from Allentown.

In 1994, Allentown ranked as the second largest preservation district. in the nation.

Elaborate Italianate-style mansions were built on Franklin Street in Allentown. Henry Hellriegel and others built a whole block of middle-class homes on North Pearl Street in the late 1870s, with the Italianate influence evident in many of them. The Tim family built rows of modest Italianate-style homes on Allen, College, Mariner and Tracy Streets.

Octagon Houses

Octagon style houses often used Italianate style ornamentation.

Italianate House Interiors in Buffalo

Inside Buffalo's 1830s and 1840s homes, the side near the front door was devoted to a hall and staircase. A front parlor and a rear dining room occupied most of the remaining first floor, although sometimes there was a pantry or a bedroom downstairs. Front and rear windows admitted natural light. In the evenings, candles or oil lamps were lit in the parlor, and members of the family worked, studied or read around a common table. The second and third floors had bedrooms, each of which included a chamber pot and basin, since bathrooms did not yet exist.

It is also worth noting that by the 1840s, middle class kitchens in Buffalo were no longer in the basements. The formal first floor was usually reserved for special visiting occasions. Struggling working class families often had to share their homes with other families or boarders, whereas middle class families might take on fashionable boarders for profit or for pleasure. The notion of each family maintaining a separate residence had not yet entirely caught on.

Walls and ceilings were plastered or painted in light colors, and any interior woodwork was painted to match. The ceilings might also have plaster medallions and plaster cornices. Commonly, wallpaper borders were mounted below the cornices of principal first floor rooms. Interior doors were finished to at least look like mahogany or walnut. Some middle class homes had wall-to-wall carpeting, which was made by sewing together several strips of 24-inch-wide carpeting. Bedrooms sometimes had straw mats instead of carpets. Clothes were stored in clothes presses. and trunks, since there were virtually no closets.

Water: By the 1860s, a water supply system was developed. Water was taken from the Niagara River, pumped to a reservoir and distributed to wealthy homes via underground pipes. This was when bathrooms began to appear in the homes of the well-to-do. These families did not have to use wells or pump water for cooking and washing. Gas also became available, as a source of interior illumination. Pipes were run through the walls to outlets in the rooms. The fixtures were lit by opening a valve and lighting the gas. Cooking stoves began to replace kitchen fireplaces and brick baking ovens, but they were still fueled by wood or coal, requiring the families to constantly tend the fires.

Colors: During the Civil War era, darker and richer colors became popular, both inside and outside of the homes. Wallpaper and other indoor ornaments appeared in greater quantities.

After the Civil War, central heating became available, eliminating the need for individual stoves or fireplaces for each room. This consisted of a fireproof enclosure in the basement to burn coal, and ducts leading to each room. In the 1870s, laundry was still done by filling a large wooden tub with water that was heated on the stove. A large flatiron was also heated on the stove for the ironing of clothes.

In the early 1880s, steam heat was used in some homes. For this, a second, smaller enclosure utilized coal to heat water and turn it into steam, which was circulated through pipes to radiators in the rooms. Also in the 1880s, iceboxes became commonplace, with a block of ice being delivered each day for placement in the insulated wood cupboard, where produce and milk were kept. In addition, a few fortunate people were able to install private telephones, flush toilets and permanent bathtubs in their homes.


547 Franklin.
Note the
belvedere.


172 Summer St. Italian villa style with three-story tower and bracketed eaves


172 Summer St.
3-story tower


Brendel Building



G. Brendel Building
4-sided cupola with modillions



Captain Braley Buxton House



Squier House


266 Carolina


266 Carolina



266 Carolina



3 Cottage St.
Cross-gabled Italianate with
Eastlake-style porches



3 Cottage
Paired brackets. Round-arched gable window with carved head



3 Cottage



45 Mariner St.
Scroll brackets under the eaves



58 Tracy



63 Mariner St.
Front-gabled Italianate



63 Mariner



63 Mariner
All windows are round arched



Cary House
460 Franklin



Tifft Houses, 151-153 Allen St.



153 Allen



151 Allen



Italianate cottage on Summer Street.
See Mark Goldman, Urban Exercises: A Portrait of Little Summer Street  for more examples of cottages


Links to additional Italianate buildings in Buffalo area:

Examples outside of Buffalo:



Principal Soures:

Other sources:


Photos and their arrangement © 2002 Chuck LaChiusa
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