Three architectural languages ​​of Montclair

Marvin Clawson has earned a reputation for renovating historic homes with a modern sensibility. Architectural styles, for him, are not part of a progression, but languages ​​that can be learned and recited.

“We understand historical styles well enough to cite them,” Clawson said. “We try to take the historical cues of a home and then improve and improve it for longevity.”

On May 5, Clawson will give a presentation for the Montclair History Center on three of these architectural languages ​​found in Montclair – Queen Anne, Georgian and Tudor.

The information and examples he will present were gathered during his two-decade career as principal of his eponymous firm in Maplewood, Clawson Architects, which he co-founded with his wife, Mary René Clawson.

The presentation will cover how these styles originated in Europe and then traveled to the United States. Often the characteristics of these styles are not merely decorative, but rooted in past social conventions. For example, Queen Anne entrances often feature double doors that would allow gentlemen callers to ceremonially escort dates inside the house, Clawson said.

Montclair’s architecture is a particular fascination for him because the township, he said, was planned with intent – from Charles Anderson’s Oakcroft subdivision to the Olmsted brothers park plans.

“Montclair is a treasure trove of architectural styles,” Clawson said. “If you drive down Highland Avenue, you can see the variety of a road. It tells a story of how the township grew.

The old post office at 242 Belleville Ave. – with its steep gables and half-timbering – was one of the city’s first Tudor-style buildings and is credited with establishing this architecture as the signature style of the Upper Montclair Historic District, Hellen Fallon, a council member of administration of the Center d’histoire de Montclair, said during a
presentation on the historic downtown of Upper Montclair in 2020. An example is a residence at 1 Russell Terrace, where Colonel Isaac Lewis, maker of the Lewis machine gun, lived.

The house at 136 Upper Mountain Ave. demonstrates the Georgian style of architecture. (Courtesy MARVIN CLAWSON)

The house at 136 Upper Mountain Ave. demonstrates the Georgian style of architecture.

Local architect Francis Nelson, who designed the post office, loved Georgian Revival homes and chose that style for 155 Wildwood Ave., built in 1930, historian Lisanne Renner said in a statement. history center presentation.

That of the canton Historical Design Guidelines note that the Georgian style was originally popular in the 18th century and revived in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

“Although Georgian Revival structures used many details from their earlier colonial predecessors, they did not closely follow the rules of Georgian architecture,” the guidelines state. “Classical detailing was either exaggerated or updated for the 20th century, and strict Georgian symmetry and order was generally broken. Georgian architecture generally always consisted of a two-storey facade with five window openings and doors on the first and second floors of the main facade.

Georgian homes are characterized by features such as two stories tall and symmetrical, an entrance portico with classical columns, and entrances with sidelights and dormers at the roofline, according to the guidelines.

Montclair has many examples of Queen Anne architecture, as this style coincided with the township’s boom years at the turn of the last century. These buildings are marked by asymmetry, enveloping porches and turrets. A particularly beautiful example is the Livermore House at 66 South Fullerton Ave., designed by Charles McKim, History Center director Jane Eliasof said during a presentation last year.

Meanwhile, a renewed wave of interest in historic architecture – perhaps best exemplified by architect Robert AM Stern’s new Art Deco-inspired skyscrapers, such as 220 Central Park South and 15 Central Park West in Manhattan – occupied Clawson’s business. He is often tasked with restoring features to homes that had been stripped mid-century. Many believe these types of restorations are a welcome change from the clean look that became popular after World War II.

Veterans returning to civilian life sought employment in the trades, and mid-century designs offered novice carpenters an entry into the job market, Clawson said. Neoclassicism has also been attacked on philosophical grounds. In Ayn Rand’s novel ‘The Fountainhead’, a struggling modernist architect complains that Greek Revival marble ornamentation, such as fluting and triglyphs, tried to imitate features found in wooden structures that n have no real function in stone.

“Then your Renaissance masters came along and made plaster copies of marble copies of wooden copies,” Rand writes. “Now we are making steel and concrete copies of plaster copies of marble copies of wooden copies.”

But Stern disagrees that classical architecture is just an exercise in recycling old styles: “We always try not to copy the past, but to interpret and reinterpret it. as artists often do,” Stern said. said Architectural Digest in 2018.

This building at 151 Union Street is an example of Queen Anne architecture. The style coincided with the township’s boom years around the turn of the last century. (Courtesy MARVIN CLAWSON)

This building at 151 Union Street is an example of Queen Anne architecture. The style coincided with the township’s boom years around the turn of the last century. (Courtesy MARVIN CLAWSON)

As a professor at the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art, Clawson met two major figures in the New Classicism movement – the institute’s president, Henry Hope Reed, who helped organize protests against the demolition of Penn Station in New York, and Richard Cameron, who founded the institute. in 1990. Cameron is now leading the charge to rebuild Penn Station as it once was as an “astonishing act of cultural overhaul”, Cameron said.

“If you could recreate the station as it was, it would be a wonderful addition to the city,” Clawson said. “But if you get a bad facsimile of it, I don’t know if it will have the same power and substance.”

For Clawson, the merit of any architecture can only be judged by experience.

“It’s all about how you feel about that space,” said Clawson, who has won nine American Institute of Architects medals for his designs, including a house on Erwin Park. “I worry sometimes that with today’s architectural education, people forget that we design for human beings.”

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