186 Linwood Avenue - Table of Contents

186 Linwood Avenue
Buffalo, New York

C. 1870

Status: Linwood Historic Preservation District

This house was featured in a 1947 Albright Art Gallery exhibit entitled "Buffalo houses" accompanying a talk by architecture historian Henry Russell Hitchcock. In his talk, Hitchcock maintained that the house was a "catalog house," i.e., one which could be ordered from a catalog-- with wood already cut to size. He wrote, "Reduced to cottage scale [but of] the mansard type, [186 Linwood] was built by local men working from house pattern books."

In its history, the house was owned by at least two medical doctors. One, Dr. James H. Lewis, who lived here in 1911-1962, was a physician at Bethlehem Steel. Because of his need to commute to Lackawanna, he was also one of the first locals to own an automobile. (Dr. Lewis died in 1962)

His young daughter, Barbara, has written lovingly of her days in the house. She describes a silver-handled door bell that rang like a loud school bell in the back hall for the maid to answer." She calls the curving banister on the front stairway "a great temptation for sliding." The pocket doors to the living room were only closed in very cold weather," she says. She was married in this "welcoming room with its bookcases and fireplaces and tall French windows letting the light."

-- Ramona Pando Whitaker

The symmetrical composition and three-story tower atop 186 Linwood was clearly derived from earlier, Italian Villa models. Yet, it was basically a scaled-down version of a French Second Empire home built in wood frame. . . . Underneath the porthole window on the south side, was a typical bay window of the period.

The original mansard slate roof had windows capped by wooden keystones. In 1912, this house was recorded as a one-story frame, with a private auto barn.

Sears, Roebuck & Company catalogs

As mentioned, it was possible to purchase plans for houses through the mails. In addition to the books and trade manuals published by architects for carpenters and builders, there was a company which was responsible for the design of a great number of houses later built in this fashion - Sears, Roebuck & Company.

After 1900, they apparently began to offer this service. Since they sold virtually all of the materials necessary to actually build houses except the rough lumber, their arrangement was somewhat different. As set out in their 1908 catalogue, a prospective buyer would receive a free copy of their Modern Homes and Building Plans which illustrated " a large variety of completed homes, together with the floor plans of each."

It was noted that the vast majority of these had been designed by "the most skillful, licensed architects in the country ." Prospective buyers could then order a free set of building plans and specifications, which included all the information required to actually build a house. Of course, the free service was provided in the hope that all of the necessary materials - furnaces, hardware, plumbing, doors, windows and trim -would be ordered from Sears. Because Sears; Roebuck & Co. manufactured all these items, it was assumed that thrifty customers would avoid paying the middleman and wholesalers, and would order directly from them.

The paint industry

The growing railroad network help to speed this process. It connected large urban manufacturers with distant markets. In addition to these more sophisticated architectural books, new developments in the printing field flooded America with colorful paint advertisements. Tempered by post-Civil War technological innovations which were sweeping the nation, pigment and containers in which to ship the ready-made product were developed. There was no genuine prepackaged paint industry until the first cans were sold in America in the 1860's.

Homeowners were no longer dependent on local painters, who were forced to mix dry colors with lead and oil. But the greening and browning" of America was a gradual process, complemented by the growing complexity in architectural styles. With the 1870's and 1880's Mansardic and early Victorian designs, colors were darkened and contours on a single building became more apparent.

"Picking out" the abundant architectural detail also intensified. Rossiter and Wright, in their book Modern House Painting (New York, 1883), cautioned against "picking out small members in a brighter color than the rest." Instead of bringing out the architectural detail in a subordinate way (as color should), they felt this would give a "choppy and mincing effect." They did, however, advocate a diversified color treatment. They said, "the old puritanical hatred of color, which found its natural outcome in white houses with green blinds, [had] to give way; at first to a compromise in which neutral and sickly, drab tints played a prominent part."

Later, with more advanced notions, positive and more vibrant colors found a chance for expression. House painting schemes began to stress the vertical and horizontal trim elements which suggested structure. Darkening the trim against a lighter house body was common. This was used to emphasize the literal, upward thrust of the home from the foundation to its cornice brackets.

-- "A New Look at an Old Neighborhood: Historic Homes of Buffalo's Linwood Avenue Preservation District 1820-1982," Susan M. Pollack, ed.

Drawing from "A New Look at an Old Neighborhood: Historic Homes of Buffalo's Linwood Avenue Preservation District 1820-1982," Susan M. Pollack, ed.

Page by Chuck LaChiusa
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