One of the many significant losses to American architecture is the demolition of the Low House, a perfect encapsulation of the Shingle style of architecture by one of the most prolific designers in American history. The William G. Low House was constructed at the southern tip of Bristol, Rhode Island by esteemed architect Charles Follen McKim (my personal favorite) of the firm McKim, Mead & White. The Shingle style, which took off in the Northeast United States, primarily in seaside communities in the late 20th century, the homes of the style often had a strong horizontal emphasis. The style contrasts the other Victorian-era styles, de-emphasizing applied decoration and detailing in favor of complex shapes wrapped in cedar shingles. The Low House, formerly located on Low Lane, stood out for its 140-foot long gable which appeared to protrude right from the hilly outlook. The home was demolished in 1962, but was documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey program, which documented the home inside and out before it was a pile of rubble. Architectural historian Leland Roth later wrote, “Although little known in its own time, the Low House has come to represent the high mark of the Shingle Style”.
Located on the idyllic Main Street in Stockbridge, MA in the Berkshires, this stone church marks the emergence of the once sleepy town into a summer retreat for wealthy citizens, escaping the cities in the late 19th century. This building is Charles Follen McKim’s first church design, a building reflecting his early training in the office of H. H. Richardson with the use of Romanesque detailing, though with a hint of Norman design. St. Paul’s Church is constructed of gray Berkshire granite with stained glass windows by John La Farge. The church replaced an older wooden church building designed by Richard Upjohn in the Gothic Revival style. The church was almost entirely funded by Charles Butler, a New York lawyer who wanted to honor his late wife Susan Ridley Sedgwick Butler, a descendant of Theodore Sedgwick, whose home I featured not long ago.
Located at the corner of Beacon and Charles Streets in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, the Bachelor Apartments showcase the luxurious housing available to single Bostonians and young couples. The seven-story apartment house was designed by Charles Follen McKim in the Renaissance Revival style and is one of a limited number of McKim, Mead & White buildings in Boston. The building was likely geared towards young bachelors (due to its name) who were not yet established in their professions. The building featured commercial space on the ground floor, which originally housed a grocer. By the 1940s, the residents of the 13 apartments were mostly represented as widows with a few single bachelors there. The stunning building stands today as a prominent southern anchor of the Beacon Hill neighborhood and an entry to the Charles Street commercial district.
Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan was opened in 1910, and its sheer scale immediately evoked a sense of awe. At the time it was completed, it was the largest building ever built occupying two entire city blocks, and boasted the biggest waiting room in history. Over 500 buildings were demolished for the station to make way for the Charles McKim-designed station, an icon in the Beaux-Arts style. The structure had “nine acres of travertine and granite, 84 Doric columns, a vaulted concourse of extravagant, weighty grandeur, classical splendor modeled after royal Roman baths, rich detail in solid stone, and an architectural quality in precious materials that set the stamp of excellence on a city.” Sadly, being one of the most beloved architectural gems in the city did not constitute its maintenance nor preservation.
In 1961, after numerous plans for redevelopment, air-rights were sold on the building and in 1963, Penn Station was razed. The former grand station was replaced by Madison Square Garden and Pennsylvania Plaza, an office skyscraper, all with a modernized station below. When the building was destroyed, art historian Vincent Scully famously said, “One entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat.” In 1965, two years after Penn Station’s demolition commenced, the city passed a landmarks preservation act, thereby creating the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Additionally, Grand Central Station was proposed to be demolished later in the decade, but was saved thanks to preservation efforts.