Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cincinnati Architectural Anatomy: Reviewing interesting buildings: New series

I thought it might be productive to study and dissect what makes a great building, well great, architecturally. For 'architectural junkies" Cincinnati is one few places in the country where great architecture abounds. You can drive down just about any street and see something that makes you pause. Now, I am not going to rehash buildings that have been covered extensively over the years, like those by Hannaford or many great public buildings we all know about. My intent is to cover the un-noticed. Those buildings that passed from our collective memory or those buildings that today may still be standing on some side street, probably known to only those that live or visit that block.

I do not know a lot about the history of this building, although I am sure some of you readers who like to do historical research may be able to find out more about this building. This image dates from the 1920's and this is the Renfro Funeral Services building, no doubt before they moved   St Julian  Renfro and his wife moved to Cincinnati in 1915 from New Orleans and he started Renfro Funeral Services in 1923. He must have been attracted to this building as it represented the graceful elegance of homes in New Orleans with that same exuberant detailing.

Architecturally, this building is a tour de force. Most likely this was built originally as a single family town house or 'town mansion' might be a more appropriate term as it rivals architecturally the grand homes found in New York or Boston. This is a three story structure (four in you include the basement).

The way the architect has addresed the issue of building narrow and tall  is particularly appealing with the two story bay window and the third story balcony, shows the appreciation for "views" and light. The bays bring in more light at street level which tends to be darker because of adjacent buildings while the third floor balcony creates an opportunity to get above the street hustle/bustle and have a commanding view of the neighborhood. Note the small curved projection at the second floor capped with iron work. One could see how this was designed not only to add architectural interest but also to provide a place to put flower pots which is always nice in an urban setting. The top of this bay is 'topped' with a nice detail that disguises the internal balcony for the third floor and that balcony again is capped with iron work. The top level 'Hood" over the window/balcony is arched to lead the eye up further to the prominent cornice and gable. There is delicate carved stonework above the arch  below the cornice.

The entrance side is more classic "high end" Cincinnati with an arched opening that builds in prominence above it. the entrance is inset, a common practice so there is a 'covered porch' effect. The brick banding from the bay is carried across the front elevation and helps unify the front elevation of the structure. There is very skillful use of brick banding to create detail around windows. This would be interpreted more commonly with limestone or terracotta in other cities. This home sits on a corner and it brings in light to the middle of the building by a three story bay. We can deduce the center of the bay was occupied by fireplaces on each level and the side windows of the bay brought in valuable light while protecting the privacy of its occupants from other properties on the side street. This is a well thought out solution in an urban setting to bring light into a home. Even at street level the iron work is nicely detailed and over all this residence has combined all the elements to show a display of wealth.

Does it still stand? I doubt it. If it does, let me know because I'd love to see it in person. Imagine the interior of this! Can you imaging duplicating this structure today?

So discussion of this building? Comments? For those of you who are architects or architectural scholars, are their buildings in Cincinnati, lesser known or gone that you would like to 'dissect' architecturally? If so let me know I'd be happy to publish it here.


Dale from Avon said...

3547 Eden Avenue. Beautiful. Sits on its own hilltop. Foreclosed, now owned by the city. Before it is too late.

400 Forest Avenue. More beautiful. Before it is too late.

cincyhistoryluvr said...

Sadly, this building is gone, as you expected. Searching the 1923 city directory shows Renfro & Fiedling, Undertakers. It was at 746 Richmond, which is now the Queensgate Park.

If you look at the CAGIS map, you can still see the street numbers.

cincyhistoryluvr said...

Or could have been 752 W 9th St. Moved here between 1925-1926
From the 1926 city directory:
St. Julien Renfro, Manager and Embalmer, License No. 2942-A; Inez L. Renfro, Secretary and Treasurer; also, Notary Public; Cincinnati's Leading Colored Undertakers in Service and Equipment; Ambulance Service; All New Equipment, 752 W. 9th, Telephone West 5031

Eric said...

cincyhistoryluvr - how do you find that info?

That is a beautiful building, too bad its apparently gone.

Eric said...

602 Madison Ave (address per Google street view) in Covington has always interested me from the first time I saw it- and last I saw it's up for sale. It's just so different from all the other buildings in the area. Might not be the most detailed, but everything from the design to the stone is unlike anything around it. First building that came to mind that wasn't the Germania building in OTR.

cincyhistoryluvr said...

Eric - The Cincinnati Public Library has the city directories on-line and searchable:

cincyhistoryluvr said...

Eric - Are talking about 611 Madison Ave, Covington? The brown building?
German National Bank