Category Archives: special collections

Friday Finds: Secret Chambers and Hiding Places

Secret Chambers - CoverWritten by Allan Fea in 1901, Secret Chambers and Hiding Places: The Historic, Romantic, & Legendary Stories and Traditions About Hiding-Holes, Secret Chambers, Etc. explores “the gloomy hiding-holes, concealed apartments, passages, and staircases…[which are] the very groundwork of romance…[and] vitality of a plot” (pg. 12-13). Fea considers both fictional portrayals of hidden chambers and passageways, as well as historical uses of such architectural elements.  He is fascinated by the mystique of secret chambers, as well as the fact that they can serve malicious (as in the case of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a failed assassination attempt on the King James I of England) or benevolent purposes (young James II, while captive, became known for discovering hiding places during games of hide-and-seek, and so escaped while playing the game).

Secret Chambers and Hiding Places features entire chapters focused on the above mentioned instances, the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 and James II’s escape, but also explores specific houses, their owners, and the intended use of the secret spaces in every case.  He explores the phenomenon of “priests’ holes,” which were hiding spots built into the homes of Catholics in England during the time when Catholics were persecuted, in order to hide a priest in the home, sometimes including passages for escape.  In Salisbury, an old mansion “is said to have been a favorite hiding-place for fugitive cavaliers [Royalists] at the time of the Civil War” (pg. 160).  Fea provides a detailed description of the passage itself, as well as how it was not discovered until the late 1800s by complete happenstance; someone bumped a panel, which then opened to reveal a ordinary-looking cupboard, only to find that when one shelf was removed, the cupboard became a door leading to a small staircase which provided a concealed lookout point and a hiding spot.  All this within a small country manor-turned-inn.  Fea supplies such details in most of the chapters of the book, providing a deeper understanding of the mechanics and cleverness of these chambers.

Fea was a historian and author, and Secret Chambers and Hiding Places was his first published work, followed by seven other books, including one on James II (to whom two chapters of Secret Chambers and Hiding Places is devoted) and another called Nooks and Corners of Old England from 1907.  Clearly, Fea possessed a strong interest in hidden spaces, focusing on elements of plots and stories that were of little interest to other historians.  Like many historical works of the era, there are no citations or sources mentioned in Secret Secret Chambers - Pg. 148Chambers and Hiding Places, but rather Fea likely works from stories, other historical works, or perhaps even some myths.  Today, historians are expected to provide evidence for their claims and arguments, and to work primarily with facts and not rumor, yet somehow the mystery of Fea’s sources adds to his overall point about the mystique of these secret spaces – nothing is known for certain about who hid there, how they felt, why they hid, but Fea makes conjectures about such things, which are unknowable, to add to his story.

Though in some ways Secret Chambers and Hiding Places is a questionable work of history, it is a valuable historical source.  Fea provides drawings of the secret spaces he discusses, to help describe the mechanics of the chambers and provide useful context.  He shows that he has been to many of these spaces (as he did the drawings himself) and wishes for his readers to be as mesmerized by them as he is.  Secret Chambers and Hiding Places never claims to be a history, but Instead seeks to blend history with legend.  Fea makes the two indistinguishable.  It is unclear what is fact versus fiction, history versus legend.  But that seems to be Fea’s point.  He takes things which are hardly discussed (hiding holes for priests, secret passages for escapes, tunnels for assassination attempts) in the stories known by many English citizens and turns them into grand, important elements in the epic legends and history of Britain. There is something elusive and mystical about these hidden spaces that fascinates people, but it makes up only a small part of the story. What Fea’s book lacks in historical truth, it makes up for in highlighting the importance of secret spaces to England’s most famous historical events and mythologies.

Friday Finds: Medieval Architecture, Vol. I

Medieval Architecture - CoverFirst published in 1909, Arthur Kingsley Porter’s Medieval Architecture: Its Origins and Development Volume I seeks to serve as a survey of Medieval architecture for laymen as well as architects and students of architecture. Porter notes in the beginning that that book “attempts to unravel only a single thread from the tangled skein of medieval art…[which] is made up of that succession of formative or generative styles that shaped the architectural destinies of Europe” (pg. v).  By identifying the main formative styles, Porter builds context and a better understanding of Medieval architecture, even if it is not quite a survey of the subject.

Porter begins with a discussion of the architecture of antiquity, such as Roman and German, as well as particular exploration of the elements most incorporated into Medieval architecture, including the different kinds of vaults, arches, and ornamentation. Next he examines early Christian styles, and the connection between faith and architecture in these buildings.  From there, Porter launches into a study of Byzantine, Carolingian, Lombard, and Norman architecture.  He pays close attention to the similarities and Medieval Architecture - Page 8differences between each, and to the elements most frequently adopted, some of which remain popular in modern times, and others which are considered antiquated. Crucially, Porter draws a direct line between antiquity, Medieval architecture, and modern architecture, showing that ancient architectural features are not necessarily antiquated or irrelevant.

For many years, a synonym for “The Middle Ages” or “The Medieval Period” has been “The Dark Ages.”  While this has changed among historians, many in the public still refer to “The Dark Ages,” a time of seeming backwardness, where knowledge and advancement was lost as it gave way to the dominance of Christianity.  While it is true that the Church made efforts to suppress scientific thought and reading was a privilege reserved only for elites, to classify the Medieval period as a Dark Age is a gross exaggeration.  And in this sense, Porter’s book is extremely valuable, not to mention ahead of its time in acknowledging the contributions of Medieval thought and architects to the field.  In Medieval Architecture, Porter brings the remarkable architecture of Medieval times out of the Dark Ages into the light.

Friday Finds: Men and Buildings

Gloag - Cover SheetOriginally published in 1931, John Gloag’s book Men and Buildings examines architectural history and trends.  Gloag gives special attention to Italy, England, and changes in more contemporary times.  Gloag notes that “despite new materials and the need for work on a bigger scale, it is a peculiar weakness of our time to take refuge in the past for inspiration” (pg. 4).  He argues that “only if they are humanized can the austere experiments of the present prepare the way for an eventual coherence in architectural taste and a new majesty of form,” one which reflects modern values and an understanding that others will inherit those forms (pg. 228).

Men and Buildings is nearly as focused on the future as it is on the past.  The epilogue even includes a theoretical discussion in the 50th century among archaeologists interpreting the uncovered remnants of a 19th century bridge.  Gloag discusses the recurring theme in architecture of looking to the past for inspiration.  He pays particular attention to England’s recycling of Roman architecture, even naming the chapter “England Edits Rome.”  Additionally, Gloag notes Italy’s reuse of Roman architecture, as well as the numerous advances in materials and the dearth of quality modern architecture featuring new ideas.  Overall, he seems to mourn the state of architecture as of 1931, feeling that it lacks originality and does not reflect the values of society.

In Gloag’s fictional discussion in the epilogue, the archaeologists discover coins under the bridge.  The elder archaeologist believes the coins to be there by chance, while the younger theorizes that they were thrown intentionally.  The young archaeologists, it is revealed, is correct – the coins were thrown by those wishing for luck.  The story serves several purposes.  Gloag consistently argues for the reflection of “values” in architecture.  While it is easy to sort some priorities from the architecture of a home, for example (e.g. a large dining room might indicate the importance of entertaining and family), but it is more complicated with a bridge.  However, the presence of the coins might indicate a bridge so grand and so beautiful, that it inspires people to treat the river below as a wishing well.  The epilogue also implies the importance of the younger generation in innovation and discoveries.  The elder archaeologist dismisses the theory of the younger outright – had the determination of the apprentice archaeologist not been so strong, he might never have been proven correct.  In this sense, Gloag seems to be suggesting that it is time for the older generation to listen to and pass the baton on to the next.  Humans are taught to respect their elders due to their wisdom and experience, but new developments often come from the young.  Oftentimes, the ideas that change the world start as a radical, preposterous notion in the mind of an adolescent.

Friday Finds: Letters to Apprentices

Wright - Letters to Apprentices CoverLetters to Apprentices: Frank Lloyd Wright is a publication containing selected letters from Frank Lloyd Wright to his many apprentices. Alongside the many letters is commentary from the editor of the book and the Director of Archives of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and The Frank Lloyd Wright Memorial Foundation, Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer. This commentary provides context for some of the letters and information on the goings-on in Wright’s life and works at the time.  The letters themselves contribute valuable insights into Wright’s personality and work, as well as those of the Taliesin Fellows to whom the correspondence primarily concerns.

In the preface, Pfeiffer explains how the letters mostly pertain to “the Taliesin Fellowship, that group of young men and women who were his apprentices from 1932 to 1959…[and] throughout those years many hundreds of Taliesin Fellows arrived” (pg. ix).  The book seeks to capture the experiences of Taliesin Fellows, both in their work and their relationships with Wright.  As arguably the most influential and prolific architect of his time, the opportunity to work with Wright was undoubtedly one of the greatest opportunities any young architect could hope for.  The style of the Taliesin Fellowship, preparing students to be architects within only a few years and nothing like a standard curriculum, influenced training programs and apprenticeships across the country, in addition to giving the program a reputation that increased work opportunities.  Over time, “as there came an increase in architectural work, the demands required of him to answer letters…necessitated that letters to applicants and former apprentices be briefer,” so the longest and perhaps most interesting letters are near the start of the Taliesin Fellowship in 1932.

Interestingly, Wright made a point to note in a 1932 letter to an applicant that Taliesin “contemplates exactly 100 apprentices, about 40 girls and 60 boys,” and was intended to serve as an extension of the Taliesin studio Wright - Letters to Apprentices Pg 107(pg. 14).  The fact that Wright, as early as 1932, made a point of including women apprentices is fascinating, even somewhat radical.  Today, many still note an excess of gender discrimination in the field of architecture, as well as a dearth of female architects.  In contrast, Wright dedicated 40% of the apprenticeships to ensuring women had opportunities.  While there may have been no follow-through on this goal (Wright notes that he has decreased the number of fellows to 70 and mentions that the fellowship would likely be only 30% girls), there are letters to female apprentices throughout the collection.  It is worthwhile to note that Wright offers less praise for his female students than his male students, sometimes merely relegating them to “furnish” a project or “housebreak the owners” (pg. 96).  He also proves somewhat haughty at times, such as after a student left Taliesin, telling him, “we all make errors of judgment, if we have any judgment, and being a young fellow, you ought to acquire a collection of errors in your own name as I have in mine,” indicating that he believes the student’s abandonment of Taliesin to be a mistake he will later regret (pg. 97). Wright also showed himself through the letters to be dedicated to keeping up with his pupils, often offering them work or advice, and asking about their families and personal lives.  While Wright definitely showed a preference for his male students, he remained a loyal correspondent with many of his students whom he respected.

As one of the most famous architects in history, Frank Lloyd Wright remains a fascinating figure to study, for the controversy of his personal life, for his celebrity, and for his unique style.  There is something enigmatic about Wright.  He is remembered as fiercely proud of his own accomplishments, selective in his taste, and loathe to give compliments.  Yet in his correspondence with his students, he is shown to be loyal, to have great faith in his students’ talents so long as they display a similar loyalty and dedication to their work, supportive of female architects (certainly for the time period), and yes, a bit haughty, yet more affable than he is remembered. Letters are a unique historical resource – they unveil personality and information that, for example, Wright’s autobiography, would not. These letters were never meant to be ready by anyone other than the recipients, making them a more unvarnished, honest source than something written to be read publicly.  In this sense, Wright’s letters are a powerful resource.  As much of a celebrity as he was, and as much as he and his work has been researched, no source could explore his personality and the complicated relationships he had with his apprentices as well as the letters in Letters to Apprentices do. The collection of letters provides captivating insights into one of America’s best-known architects, supplying glimpses into Frank Lloyd Wright and the proteges who followed him in shaping modern architecture.

Friday Finds: Sam Houston’s Texas

Flanagan - Cover Sheet copySue Flanagan’s book Sam Houston’s Texas “attempts to place Houston in proper perspective against the backcloth of past events and to show him still a part of the changing pattern of our time” (pg. ix).  The book is organized chronologically, running from 1832 to 1863, with a chapter devoted to each year.  Included in every chapter are photographs of relevant buildings and the Texas landscape, as well as historical context for the year, based mostly in primary sources from the era.

Beginning in 1832, Flanagan examines Houston’s childhood in Virginia, his time as a Congressman and Governor in Tennessee, and as a delegate for the Cherokee Tribe to Washington.  Houston came to Texas to buy up land and serve as an envoy to Native Americans in the territory, a role assigned to him by then-President Andrew Jackson.  Moving year-by-year, Flanagan details the increasing dissatisfaction in Texas with Mexican governance, Houston’s rise to General of the Texas army, the price of Texas independence, and the early years of the Texas Republic.  One of the longest chapters is the one on 1836, the year Texas won independence from Mexico, featuring discussion of the Battle of the Alamo, the massacre of all inside the mission, and the subsequent surrender of Santa Anna to Houston less than two months after the loss of the Alamo.  Houston declared on March 2, 1836, that “Independence is declared; it must be maintained.”  Houston recognized that once Texas was free of Mexico, its best chance of maintaining independence was joining the United States.  However, before Texas joined the Union, it was its own nation for ten years, with Houston remaining a prominent leader throughout, serving twice as President of the Republic of Texas, a Senator to the US Congress, and Governor of Texas. Flanagan’s book ends in 1863, the year of Houston’s death. Throughout this narrative are photographs of relevant places and spaces, showing the Texas Houston fought for and loved so dearly.

Published in 1964, Sam Houston’s Texas came just over 100 years after Houston’s death and just short of 100 years of the start of the Civil War.  Houston foresaw the Civil War, and feared that secession and alliance with the Southern states would irreparably damage Texas and the United States.  Instead, he thought Texas would fare better as its own empire if it conquered Mexico.  With this in mind, as Governor of Texas, Flanagan - LonghornHouston refused to secede from the United States.  This stemmed not from a belief in abolition (Houston himself owned slaves) but rather from his wish to avoid more war on Texas soil.   As a result, Houston was forced out as Governor and replaced with someone more sympathetic to the Confederate cause.  Much like in the 1860s, the 1960s were filled with racial tension and turmoil. President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texan, passed the Civil Rights Act the same year that Sam Houston’s Texas was published, a reminder of how much had changed in the last century for the state and the nation.

Sam Houston’s Texas is a fascinating look at Sam Houston himself, as well as the indelible mark he left on Texas.  Houston is an incredibly complicated figure: a representative for Native American rights, yet an advocate for slavery; a believer that Texas should be in the United States while also wanting Texas to be a great nation in its own right; a war hero who wanted to avoid war at all costs in later life.  He was the first President of the Republic of Texas, a U.S. Senator for Texas, the man who made Santa Anna surrender and won Texas’ independence in a battle lasting only 18 minutes against a seemingly unstoppable Mexican Army, and he is the namesake for the city of Houston. The tales of Sam Houston are larger than life.  Flanagan’s book reveals the man who inspired the legends.  Using Houston’s own words, letters, and accounts from others who knew him, Flanagan shows Houston to be a complicated and flawed, yet remarkable man. In short, Houston was human, with all the complexities and contradictions that come with the human experience.

Many Americans have gone through a reckoning in recent years, realizing that the Founding Fathers were not infallible men.  For years they have been literally placed on pedestals, had cities, buildings, and monuments named for them and built in homage to them, with few questions asked about who they were beyond the iconic image. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and many of the other Founding Fathers preached the values of liberty and equality while owning slaves.  This does not make them entirely unworthy of admiration, but it does mean that Americans must recognize that they were imperfect men who accomplished exceptional things. Texans must face a similar reckoning with their heroes, and Sam Houston’s Texas is an excellent start to rewriting that historical narrative. Houston was all things: a friend to Native Americans, a slave holder, an American, a Texan, a leader of the Texas Revolution, and an advocate against the Civil War.  These seemingly contradictory traits make Houston a more tangible, relatable figure. Sam Houston the legend provides an unattainable vision of what it means to be human.  Sam Houston the man, with all his flaws and contradictions, provides a realistic example to which Texans can aspire. Sam Houston will forever live on in Texas folklore, but it is time to separate the legend from the man.  It may be simpler or more appealing to tell tales of Houston as a perfect, Arthurian icon who led Texas to independence, but the truth of the man behind the legend is a far more fascinating story.

Friday Finds: Images de Salzbourg

Published in 1947, Images de Salzbourg - CoverImages de Salzbourg is an Italian booklet featuring a brief introduction to and numerous photographs of Salzburg, Austria. The introduction, in Italian, describes Salzburg as a “city of festivals” and “one of the most…original [cities] of Europe” due to its love of music (especially Salzburg-born composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) and natural beauty (pg. i)

The photographs themselves highlight the landscape and architecture of Salzburg.  Nestled in a valley near the Austrian Alps, the scenery is breathtaking.  On one side of the city are green rolling hills, and on the other, the rugged Alps.  The Hohensalzburg Castle, a medieval fortress, sits atop a mountain in the heart of the city, its white stone gleaming in the sunlight as it Images de Salzbourg - Table of Contentswatches over Salzburg.  At the foot of the mountain is Salzburg Cathedral, renowned for its Baroque style of architecture.  Mirabell Palace is a common feature in the photographs, as it provides an uninterrupted view to Old Town Salzburg, including the Salzburg Cathedral and the Hohensalzburg.  The narrow streets, the beautiful buildings (some of which are Baroque, others medieval, and still more Renaissance in style), and the grand landscape of Salzburg make it, as the introduction notes, “one of the most attractive cities” in Europe (pg. i).

Images de Salzbourg - HillsThe photos capture Salzburg’s beauty in black and white, merely two years after the end of World War II.  Austria had been occupied by Nazi Germany from 1938 to the end of the war in 1945.  Adolf Hitler himself was born in Austria, and the nation welcomed the annexation by the Third Reich.  The Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp was established not long after the Reichstag established its government in Vienna, as well as hundreds of other sub-camps across Austria.  In 1945, Austria seceded from the Third Reich, following heavy Allied bombing efforts and the capture of Vienna by the Soviet Union’s Red Army.  After the war, Austria was divided into Soviet, American, French, and British zones, only regaining full independence in 1955. Salzburg was at the heart of the American zone. Although Salzburg had been hit heavily by the bombing, most of its major buildings and architecture remained intact, turning Salzburg into a major tourist destination for Americans.  The photographs in Images de Salzbourg, taken in 1947, reveal a city mostly unscathed physically from World War II.

Today Salzburg is primarily known  for its gorgeous location near the Alps, its utterly charming Old Town, as the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and as the setting for The Sound of Music.   Images de Salzbourg shows the city to be remarkably intact two years after World War II.  But while its buildings and landscape were as beautiful as ever in 1947, Salzburg’s citizens had to contend with the horrors committed by the Nazis.  Salzburg installed small metal stones outside of homes where Jewish citizens had lived before they fled, or were taken to concentration camps or ghettos. The stones mark their names, their birth and death dates, and the place of their death.  They are called “Stolperstein” in German – literally translated as “stumbling stones.”   In a city of festivals, of music and Mozart, of such grandeur in the form of its buildings and its landscape (which somehow escaped the devastating damage seen in other European cities following World War II), the Stolperstein serve as a reminder of Austria’s complicity in carrying out the atrocities of the Holocaust.  Walking through the winding cobblestone streets past pastel-colored buildings, with the gleaming Hohensalzburg above and the Alps beyond, it is easy to forget the darkness of the 1930s and 1940s, as Images de Salzbourg does, and become lost in the charm of Salzburg.  The Stolperstein jut out from the otherwise flat sidewalks throughout the city, tripping tourists and locals, forcing them to look at their feet as they walk, taking note of every name.  Max Matschke, 1897-1939, Deported.  Uri Aron, 1942, Auschwitz.  Irma Herz, 1870-1942, Theresienstadt.  Countless names, dates, and fates are etched forever into brass stones along the streets of Salzburg, a reminder that for all its charm and beauty, the Holocaust came to Salzburg too.Images de Salzbourg - Mirabell

Friday Finds: Our Washington

Our Washington - CoverOur Washington: A Comprehensive Album of the Nation’s Capital in Words and Pictures, true to its title, explores how intrinsically interwoven the United States government and Washington, D.C., are.  Henry G. Alsberg, Director of the Federal Writers’ Project as part of the New Deal program Works Progress Administration, writes in the preface, “if the national governments were withdrawn from London, Berlin, or Paris, those cities would remain imperceptibly altered…[whereas] if the Federal Government were withdrawn from Washington, there would remain a ghost city on a colossal scale” (pg. 11).  Our Washington, published in 1939, is a more compact, condensed version of the Federal Writers’ Project book Washington: City and Capital, featuring many of the same photographs and highlights.

The book begins with a description of Washington’s founding.  After the selection of the Potomac as the location for the capital city, Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a French engineer who came to the colonies during the Revolution, was chosen by George Washington to plan the city.  L’Enfant Our Washington - All Imagesplaced the most important buildings on hills, so as to make them prominent and add to the dignity and celebration of democracy.  Washington D.C. “was a desolate and dreary place [in 1800 when the government first moved]…but with each emergency in the national life, the Federal City grew and developed” (pg. 14).  The following chapter focuses on the Capitol building, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, the White House, and other notable buildings, making particular note of the configuration and centralization of the most important institutions of the government in a relatively small area of the city.  Much of the rest of the book is comprised of photographs related to other aspects of Washington life including the buildings and areas deemed most important.  These photos show embassies, historic homes, festivals, and the landscape of the area.

Almost of equal interest to this detailed description and historical exploration of the U.S. capital city is the context in which the book was written.  The Federal Writers’ Project was one arm of the Works Progress Administration, the most ambitious program laid out by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.  The WPA, as it was widely known, funded projects in numerous fields, with the ultimate goal of providing jobs and income to as many Americans as possible, including artists and writers.  Many of the projects served as a sort of propaganda  – the final product celebrated the United States, the government, or encouraged citizens to stimulate the economy by spending newly earned money.  Our Our Washington - Text and ImageWashington is one such project. As a history of the nation’s capital, the book exudes pride in the United States, glorifying the capital city as a global symbol of democracy, strength, and beauty with an extreme romanticization of its history.

Our Washington overall is an informative and interesting, if somewhat biased and propagandistic, history of Washington, D.C.. Featuring photos, sketches, and plans from the city’s past adds to the value of the book as an educational resource.  Washington, D.C., the federal government, and the nation as a whole are idealized in Our Washington.  Alsberg writes at the beginning that “Washington is…unique in the place it holds in the hearts of all Americans…they come with pride and awe to see their Mount Vernon, their Arlington Cemetery, their Washington and Lincoln Memorials, their government buildings, their Library of Congress, their Capitol” (pg. 11).  In spite of the biased nature of the book, this point proves particularly poignant.  The United States Constitution begins with the words, “We the People.”  The beauty of democracy is, to quote from President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, that it is a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”  Such a grand notion deserves a grand city to represent these ideals.  The shining white buildings present the illusion of a perfect city on a hill, and though it is only an illusion of perfection, it is important to remember that these buildings in Washington, D.C., from the Capitol to the White House, are of the people, by the people, for the people. They symbolize the most revolutionary, wonderful part of democracy as a form of government, the foundation that makes the United States a great nation, and something so integral that it makes up the first three words of our Constitution: We the People.

Friday Finds: Ancient America

Leonard - CoverJonathan Norton Leonard’s Ancient America (from the series Great Ages of Man: A History of the World’s Cultures) provides a historical overview of the lives and architecture of Native American tribes in South America.  Leonard calls the tribes “a race of master builders” and highlights such achievements as stone cities and Machu Picchu (pg. 43).

In the Introduction by the Peruvian Ambassador to the United Nations, the pre-Spanish history of South America is summarized, providing geographical and historical introduction for the reader that provides background to Leonard’s more detailed writing.  He makes use of primary and secondary sources, as well as his own knowledge and experience, to create a full cultural picture of ancient South America.  Featuring photographs of artifacts and sites in South America, Leonard explores the art, architecture, lives, and cities of these tribes, from their earliest known years to the European conquests. Leonard demonstrates the Aztec, Inca, and Mayan ingenuity in building their cities.  For example, he highlights that Aztecs “soon learned to increase the area of their island by filling marshes with dirt and rocks and by building chinampas, islets made by anchoring wickerwork enclosures to the bottom of the lake and piling them with silt mixed with reeds and refuse” (pg. 64).  Such creativity is what allowed the tribes of the South American world flourish and build some of the most miraculous and mysterious sites in the world, such as their pyramids and Machu Picchu.

Leonard shows great respect and appreciation for the culture and accomplishments of Native Americans in South America, an attitude Leonard - Pageunique in its time.  Ancient America was published in 1967, when the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution was still felt, paranoia about the spread of Communism was at an all-time high, and the superior attitude of the United States’ “Good Neighbor Policy” remained strong.  This era was a time when the field of history began to shift from being completely Eurocentric to thinking globally.  Leonard himself was a longtime correspondent on South American events for TIME Magazine, and even married a Peruvian woman, giving him greater appreciation and admiration for South America than that of many Americans at the time.

Much of modern South American culture is dominated by European (particularly Spanish and Portuguese) influence.  Leonard supplies a much-needed and deserved celebration of pre-European South America.  While today Spanish architecture and social hierarchy remain major aspects of South American culture, the achievements and history of Native American tribes are only just beginning to be recognized.  Leonard celebrated this past in Ancient America when South Americans themselves were just beginning to appreciate it. And how could they not?  They are descendants of the people who built pyramids (the construction of some of which still baffles historians), plowed grandiose patterns in the fields without an aerial view to guide them, and they achieved what was thought impossible and built Machu Picchu, a literal city among the clouds, securing a place of honor for Latin American Native Americans in the canon of master builders.

Friday Finds: A Plan for Bath

A Plan for Bath - CoverIn A Plan for Bath: The Report Prepared for the Bath and District Joint Planning Committee, Sir Patrick Abercrombie, John Owens, and H. Anthony Mealand provide a plan for the city of Bath, England, to rebuild and repair the city immediately following World War II.  The plan discusses the growth of Bath over time, a general description of the area, the population, and the history, including images and drawings throughout to provide the reader with imagery to better understand Bath as it was and the authors’ vision for the city.

A Plan for Bath goes into great detail on everything from the water supply and sewage to traffic to schools and how the authors propose to improve them.  They note that “war damage in Bath…has not laid waste such continuous tracts as it has in some other towns…[but] A Plan for Bath - Page 2the upheaval of population directly caused by the war and the cessation of normal growth for five years, have drawn attention to all phases of civic life and have created the desire for a comprehensive plan to meet a new set of conditions” (pg. 19).  On the “Architectural Treatment of Bath,” the plan highlights that the “planner, by perspective and model, must show great new buildings in juxtaposition with famous old ones,” and continue to use Bath stone, “which makes for continuity and stability in Bath” (pg. 22-23). Overall, the plan proposes preparing Bath for population growth and adaptation to modern needs (such as railways and cars).  Such changes, the planners argue, will restore Bath as a resort town while still providing space for local industry.

Today Bath is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Great Britain.  The Circus and the Royal Crescent are easily recognizable and well-known architectural landmarks in the city.  As much as the creators of A Plan for Bath hoped to blend the old with the modern, it is the historic buildings which are most visited and noticed.  So while the authors did not succeed in returning Bath to its days as a getaway for British elites, their protection of its architectural heritage did pay off.  Bath has become known as much for the natural spring waters in the Roman baths as for its unique architecture and beautiful setting.  A A Plan for Bath - PagePlan for Bath is a perfect example of the immense impact of city planning and architectural preservation on cities’ reputations and personalities, even if not in the way intended.

Friday Finds: The Octagon Library

The 1927 Volume I of The Octagon Library of Early American Architecture focuses on Charleston, South Carolina.  The volume is Octagon Library Coveredited by two notable Charleston architects, Albert Simons and Samuel Lapham, Jr., and goes into thorough detail on the architecture and history of Charleston.

In the preface, Samuel Gaillard Stoney introduces Charleston as a place that “preserved the tradition of the classic, with its intellectual freedom, its moral tolerance, its discipline in matters of etiquette, its individualism, and the spirit of logic which elsewhere largely perished in the romantic movement” (pg. 11).  Typical of the 1920s South, Stoney refers to “systematized negro labor” and explains that “malaria made the negro the agricultural laborer exclusively,” thereby blatantly ignoring the realities of slavery (pg. 11-12).  He concludes his brief history of Charleston with an explanation that “if these people did nothing else worthy of memorial, they set up in their city records of a society and a civilization, drawn from an older time” (pg. 13).

Simons and Lapham’s study moves chronologically from the founding of Charleston in 1670 to the ante-bellum Octagon Library City Planperiod and includes many photographs of local buildings, sectional drawing plans, and city plans for Charleston.  Despite the French Hugeunot presence in early Charleston, “it is difficult to point out anything that is indisputably Gallic, for what is not English has rather more of a Dutch character” (pg. 17).  The staple crops of the area were rice and indigo, and many in the area amassed fortunes as planters.  Following the American revolution, during which Charleston was heavily damaged as a focal point of the fighting, there occurred “the erection of a considerable number of religious, philanthropic, and social institutions, as well as commercial and domestic buildings” (pg. 103).  There also was more French influence in the architecture, as well as English, and greater ingenuity in the designs (for example, in the oval drawing-rooms, and a focus on size rather than detail).

Of equal interest is a note on the title page of the book from one of the authors: “To the successors of Paul P. Cret from Albert Simons in grateful appreciation of our Cher Maitre.”  Simons also signed the book right above his name.   Cret was the architect of the Tower and campus at UT Austin, drawing an interesting connection between two figures who greatly influenced the cities of Charleston and Austin.

The Octagon Library: Charleston, South Carolina is more pictures and drawings than writing, but the images demonstrate the elements the authors mention and give a better sense of Charleston’s architecture.  Charleston has grown in popularity over recent years, and become renowned for its Octagon Library Doorway Detailwell-preserved buildings, history, and Southern charm.  While other Southern cities have failed to protect their historic homes and buildings, Charleston has capitalized on them. The city also beautifully shows how historic events shape the identity of a place.  The destruction of Charleston during the American Revolution followed by a fire and heavy artillery damages during the Civil War have resulted in Charleston placing an emphasis on protecting its buildings.  Many cities could learn from Charleston’s example.  The inclination toward tearing down old homes to make room for businesses may seem  practical, but integrating those old buildings into the fabric of local society and industry has been financially rewarding for Charleston.  So, why invest in protecting historic buildings?  Just ask Charleston – it’s on fire again, just not that kind of fire.