1.3 C
Niagara Falls
Saturday, March 25, 2023
Arch-i-text: Taking a road trip to explore Romanesque Revival
The Honsberger House at 4060 Jordan Rd. in Jordan Station. Brian Marshall

My wife and I decided to visit a recently opened storefront in Vineland which offers sauces, jams, relishes, etc. made principally from produce grown on the owner’s 53-acre farm.

The shop, Cultivate Niagara, is located in the “barn” on the Honsberger Estate Winery property in Vineland. Turning onto the long driveway off Jordan Road, it is impossible not to see the substantial (about 5,000 square feet) two-and-a-half storey family home of the Honsberger’s, who have farmed the land since 1811.

As we drove past the house’s driveway facing facade, my jaw dropped because it bore the telltale elements of a Romanesque Revival built in the last quarter of the 19th century.

Since I have been writing this column, the Romanesque Revival style has never been covered for two reasons: First, they are quite rare and second, there isn’t one in NOTL. The style is uniquely interesting however, so I thought, let’s go on a road trip.

Romanesque Revival first broke ground in North American during the middle of the 19th century. Early examples of the style were institutional buildings (Smithsonian in Washington ca. 1841 and University College in Toronto ca. 1856, etc.) but, by the early 1870s, an American architect named Henry H. Richardson had sunk his creative teeth into Romanesque and brought his interpretation into the residential market.

This North American interpretation, generally referred to as Richardson Romanesque, is typified by the coloured rusticated cut-stone masonry used in the foundations and building trim. This is combined with massive stone or masonry (brick) walls, dramatic round-arched, semi-circular recessed door openings, bands of windows, masonry decorative details, projections and/or recesses that interrupt the surfaces of each elevation and towers.

But, all of these elements came at a cost. The expense of premium materials was compounded by the requirement for highly skilled craftsman to complete the design. As a result, Romanesque houses were typically the purview of the wealthy and, due to the need for craftsmen, generally constructed in urban centres where that skillset could be found.

Hence the Honsberger House is an anomaly — it is located on a farm, a good distance (especially in the 1800s) from any population centre.

Given that Romanesque houses came at a premium, there were three general categories of build dependant on how deep one’s wallet was. For reference purposes, we can label the categories as “entry-level,” “middle-of-the-road” and the “full megilla.”

Let’s start our road trip with an entry-level in downtown St. Catharines at 33 Duke St.

Here the use of expensive rusticated stone is minimized by a shorter foundation wall, a narrow band wrapping the second storey sill elevation and single block placement plus impost on each side of the entry surround.

The main brick field is laid in a running bond, strategically punctuated by brick and fired clay decoration, with the majority of the rectangular windows topped by one piece dressed stone lintels. Even on the two-and-a-half storey frontispiece, the architect cleverly created a design which focuses on the balcony while echoing Romanesque elements around the recessed entry and the window to the left.

For this style Duke occupies a relatively small footprint — a modest house with pared down Romanesque features and decoration.

Back in the car, we head to 4060 Jordan Rd. to visit the Honsberger House which is appreciably larger than Duke although lacking some of its more expensive and ornate decorative touches.

Similar to Duke, the rusticated Grimsby red sandstone foundation is low and, only on either side of the recessed entry does it extend higher — in this case, up to the imposts which, like the sills, are limestone.

The semi-circular arches of the entry and first floor windows to the right are completely made of brick voussoirs which have been accentuated by a course of dark brick enders. In another cost saving maneuver, the two-storey bay has been given a separate flat-sided cone roof to create the impression of the style’s de rigueur tower without actually building one. Again, we see the hallmarks of Romanesque at an entry-level.

Now to the Hendrie House on the corner of James Street South and Herkimer Street in Hamilton where we have a middle-of-the-road example. Although it is constrained by the size of its corner lot, this house displays an intense presentation of towers, gables, roof lines, rusticated stone banding, carved and textured stone and brick decoration. The unfortunate addition of an awning obscures the impressive recessed entry from the road but it’s worth a peek from the sidewalk.

Finally, we head to the George Gooderham House at 135 Saint George St. in Toronto which is the “full megilla.” Intricate carvings of early Christian and Celtic motifs decorate multiple arches, gables, eaves and column heads. Rusticated stone abounds and a variety of roof shapes, tall chimneys, gables and tower animate the “castle” of the man who was, at that time, the wealthiest in the province. It’s full-on Victorian glam words cannot express.

And, since you are in Toronto, swing by the 8,000 square foot Romanesque “starter home” George built for his 21 year old son G. Horace Gooderham at 504 Jarvis St. It isn’t too shabby either!

Subscribe to our mailing list