Category Archives: Greek Revival

Greek Revival Architecture

Englishmen Stuart and Revett’s famous publication “Antiquities of Athens” in 1762 was the guidebook that defined the beginning of Greek Revival architecture when it brought precise illustrations and measurements of architectural forms to England from Greece. This book of architectural patterns, which had international influence, paved the way for the national movement of the Greek Revival in America in the early 19th century. It not only embodied the simple, striking, and timeless style of classical Greek temples but also represented the democratic values that the new American nation had turned to after British rule as well as spiritually supported Greece’s fight for independence against the Ottomans (some Americans did in fact actually support Greece). The temple-inspired buildings were constructed across the U.S. but primarily it was in the East, such as Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York, and often served commercial purposes such as banks, courthouses, college halls and many government buildings. Residentially, the style was primarily used by the wealthy and prominent. The style was distinguished by buildings with a undecorated front-facing pedimented gable (sometimes purposefully incomplete) over a portico with columns of one of the major orders and featured heavy cornices with simple, yet bold entablatures and molding. Entryways were off center either to the left or right with narrow sidelights and transom. Additionally, buildings had symmetrically arranged six-over-six windows, chimneys that weren’t visible from the front, and white-painted exteriors. The Greek Revival period, although not completely confined to its chronological period, spanned from around 1820 to 1870 in the U.S. and its influences can still be found in Ann Arbor.

Burnham House

Nathan Burnham House. Source: aadl.org.

Nathan Burnham House. Source: aadl.org.

Built in 1837, this Greek revival house is noteworthy not only for its architecture but also for its intriguing history. For over 160 years, the home built by Nathan Burnham, was located near the Huron River, although its address did change from 947 Wall Street to 940 Maiden Lane in 1969. Then in 1995, the University of Michigan wanted to build additional parking on Wall Street for the medical center across the street and purchased the Burnham lot. Sadly, at that point, most of the historic homes on the street had already been razed and the Burnham house had only been listed one year before (Covitt 2001: 30). The University had a history purchasing historic homes and then demolishing them regardless if they were historically listed and culturally significant (Covett ibid.) and for that reason it was likely to be torn down. However, after petitioning by several Ann Arbor preservationists it was removed from its foundation, transported to the Arboretum, and saved from demolition! Currently, it is an educational center for urban environmentalism.

Here’s the curious bit. Oddly, it now sits on land that is leased from the Forest Hills Cemetery. So, it is also privately owned, even though the building itself and much of the surrounding land is the University of Michigan’s. Additionally, the house’s age (the building was never previously affiliated with the University) actually makes it older than the President’s House, and thus the oldest University building.

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Little Carpenter House

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Little Carpenter House. Although not located in Ann Arbor, it is an illustrative example of a Greek Revival residence.

This unique two-story Greek Revival house that is faced with clapboard has a recessed porch with a central entryway and square columns. It is surprising to see that even people with modest means in the 19th century designed their homes using Greek models. Homes like these speak to the range of Greek Revival architecture and reinforce that during the mid 19th century it was the national style and that many people were inspired by the Greeks at the time.

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Island Park Shelter

Island Park Shelter. Source: a2gov.org.

Island Park Shelter. Source: a2gov.org.

Built in 1905 by John Koch, the stucco shelter features slim Ionic columns in its semi-circular portico, a dentiled cornice, classical pilasters, and decorative trim all fitting within in the classical revival style (Wineberg 2014: 35). Located on the Huron river Island Park has a “Greek Revival shelter, play area, picnic tables and grills, benches, paths through the Island, and a connection to Fuller Park” (a2gov.org). The picturesque riverside shelter is often rented out for events and is a popular location for photos, particularly high school senior portraits.

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Kempf House

East side. Source: aadl.org.

Kempf House, east side. Source: aadl.org.

Similar to the William Anderson House at 2301 Packard, the Kempf house is a pure temple style Greek Revival home with square columns that has decorative window grilles in the frieze section in the entablature. Thought to have been designed by Arden Ballard of Ypsilanti, the Kempf house was built in 1853 for Henry DeWitt Bennett (Wineberg 2014: 83). Reuben and Pauline Kempf bought the home in 1890 and both pursued musical careers in Ann Arbor (Shackman 1990). Reuben was a musician and teacher and Pauline gave voice lessons from the home and were both very active musically within the commnity (Wineberg ibid). After Pauline’s death in 1953 their neighbors (the Parkers) bought their home and in 1969 sold to the city and now it is a museum (Wineberg ibid.). The Kempf-House museum preserves and displays the house as it was in 1890s and overall highlights its musical and cultural importance in Ann Arbor’s history.

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Blue House

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501 Onondaga Street

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222 North Thayer Street

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First Medical Building

Source: Wineberg 2004: 34.

The University of Michigan’s first medical building. Source: Wineberg 2004: 34.

Established in 1850, the University of Michigan Medical School was the first in the United States to own and operate its own hospital (medicine.umich.edu). The Greek temple style building the school used was made of sandstone and also had Egyptian Revival columns capitals. It displayed high Greek architectural influence and was one of the finest buildings on campus when it was built in 1850 (Wineberg 2004: 34). Unfortunately the magnificent landmark was damaged by fire in 1911 and demolished three years later (Wineberg ibid.). Today Randall Laboratory is located at the site.

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Danforth House

Source: Shackman 2001.

Danforth House. Source: Cooney 2010: 5.

Built in 1850 by George Danforth, when the Greek Revival style was at a high, this temple-front home features bold cornices, shuttered six-over-six windows, and a side entrance with Doric columns. It was considered by the Washtenaw County Historical Society in 1968 to be made into a museum but it was demolished in 1971 after it partially collapsed (Wineberg 2004: 92). Since then the site has been a parking lot.

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Methodist Episcopal Parsonage

Source: aadl.org

Former Methodist Episcopal parsonage. Source: aadl.org

Renovated in 1980, this extremely well preserved Greek Revival was a parsonage from 1857 to 1881 (aadl.org) The home was specifically constructed for Reverend Seth Reed, a prominent reverend in Michigan and the previous building was converted to what it looks like today in 1858 (aadl.org). Its classical influence is clearly represented in the front-facing temple style with its broken pediment. Other Greek Revival elements include the triangular attic window, fully decorated entablature, typical entry with sidelights and transom, and shuttered windows. Additionally, the transition of Greek Revival style to the more picturesque Italianate and Gothic can be seen in the unusual scalloped trim in on the gables and returns (Wineberg 2014: 143).

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