The Buy Of The Century

The generation that fought World War II also won a housing revolution that promised and delivered a home for $7,990

Years later, after the fall of his financial empire, William Levitt remembered with some satisfaction the story of a boy in Levittown, Long Island, who finished his prayers with “and God bless Mommy and Daddy and Mr. Levitt.” Levitt may well have belonged in this trinity. When he sold his company in 1968, more Americans lived in suburbs than in cities, making this the first suburban nation in history, and his family was largely responsible for that. Read more »

Washington Acropolis

The U.S. Capitol stands where it always has, but the columns that originally held it up have become a hauntingly beautiful monument somewhere else

One of the most recent and most impressive monuments in Washington, D.C., is in fact nearly two centuries old. Three miles east of the Capitol, the U.S. National Arboretum’s 444 densely planted acres fall away from Mount Hamilton to open out into a great meadow, and there, silhouetted against a curtain of dark, blue-green beech trees, stands a choir of twenty-two massive sandstone pillars. Mysterious and beautiful, the thirty-foot-high, ten-ton shafts might be some relic of classical antiquity.Read more »

Fortress America

A Romanesque mansion in Chicago was built to forbid outsiders while providing a warm welcome to guests within

 

 
 

May 15, 1885. The architect Henry Hobson Richardson peered out of a carriage window at the corner lot on Chicago’s Prairie Avenue and then turned to his client and asked, “Have you the courage to build the house without windows on the street front?” Read more »

The House Of Many Layers

The Colonial Revival was born in a time of late-nineteenth-century ferment, and from then on the style resurfaced every time Americans needed reassurance

What would you do if you owned a Rembrandt that had been painted over by Picasso? A similar problem confronted the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 1969, when it came into possession of Carter’s Grove, a mansion on Virginia’s James River that had been built between 1750 and 1755 and extensively remodeled in the 1930s. Should the house be restored to its original condition to portray the life and society of Virginia’s colonial aristocracy, or should it be preserved as it was received, to illustrate a more contemporary social milieu?Read more »

The Parson’s Hearth

A rare survivor of New England’s earliest days testifies to the strength that forged a nation

 

When Joseph Capen moved to Topsfield, Massachusetts, in 1682 to become minister of the Congregational church there, his prospects did not seem bright. Two of the last three preachers had difficulties collecting their salaries, and another went on trial for intemperance. These conflicts degenerated into charges and countercharges of slander and drunkenness.Read more »

Pride Of The Prairie

At the dawn of this century a new form of residential architecture rose from the American heartland, ruled by the total integration of space, site, and structure

After dinner Frank Lloyd Wright would sometimes raise a wineglass, watch the yellow candlelight refracted through the red liquid and crystal, and, quoting the Chinese philosopher Lao-tze, remark that the reality of the vessel lay in the void within, “the place of greatest peace.” Wright was perhaps America’s last great architect to conceive of his work as a search for truth. And for Wright, truth was found not in the physical form of a building but in what it contained.Read more »

Williamsburg On The Subway

In the most self-consuming of cities, an impressive and little-known architectural legacy remains to show us how New Yorkers have lived and prospered since the days when the population stood at around one thousand

Famous for tearing down the old and for being oblivious of its past, New York City would hardly seem to be the kind of place in which to find a distinguished collection of fine old houses. Yet a surprising number do exist—sentinels from another era, survivors that stand quietly and incongruously in the midst of the city’s endless cycle of growth and obliteration.Read more »

An Unofficial Tour Of Yale

A guide who has been taking it all in for sixty years leads us on a lively, intimate, and idiosyncratic ramble through quiet yards where students once argued about separating from the Crown and to hidden carvings high on the Gothic towers that show scholars sleeping through class and getting drunk on beer

"That building on the left,” said the tour guide, “is William L. Harkness Hall. It was given by Mr. Harkness in 1926 and completed in 1927. It is built of Aquia sandstone with Ohio sandstone trim. It has a lecture hall seating two hundred and forty-nine persons. It has classrooms and faculty offices. Shall we move on?” Read more »

From The Greek

In its majesty and in its simplicity, the Greek Revival house seemed to echo America’s belief in the past and hopes for the future

The two great truths in the world are the Bible and Grecian architecture.” This is what Nicholas Biddle believed and what he published in his magazine, Portfolio , in 1814. Although we remember him today as the director of the Second Bank of the United States who fought with President Andrew Jackson over the role of a central bank, Biddle deserves to be best known as the evangelist for Greek Revival architecture in America.Read more »

The Tropical Twenties

The shady courtyards, tiled roofs, and white stucco walls of 1920s Palm Beach owed something to the style of the Spanish Renaissance and everything to the vision of Addison Mizner

As the evangelist of the Spanish Colonial Revival in southern Florida, Addison Mizner was an architect of fantasy as well as of houses. “I based my design largely on the old architecture of Spain—with important modifications to meet Florida conditions and modern ways of living,” he wrote. The mixture worked: by the mid-1920s Mizner had become America’s most prominent society architect, responsible for the transformation of Palm Beach from a collection of simple frame cottages into a fashionable tropical resort. Read more »