Sunday, December 8, 2013
Christopher Glass thinks it takes more than a black-and-white pamphlet with postage-sized pictures of houses to make people fully appreciate the great number and rich variety of historic homes in Maine.
Pamphlets are often a prime publicity tool for the state's historical societies and preservation groups. But Glass has long envisioned a coffee-table book with color pictures that would talk about the best examples of period architecture in Maine and the stories behind them.
So the Camden architect took it upon himself, with help from Camden architectural photographer Brian Vanden Brink, to create a book that would do just that. The result is ''Historic Maine Homes: 300 Years of Great Houses'' (Down East, $40).
''I'd been involved with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission for years, and they had a homeowners' guide to historic styles showing photos, but I had always lobbied for a more attractive, widely available book to help people appreciate the historic homes here in Maine,'' said Glass, 66.
''I also wanted to write something that would not only describe styles but give social history as well, to explain what led up to people wanting to live in Greek temples (Greek Revival style) or Gothic cottages (Gothic Revival style).''
The book features descriptions of about 40 historic homes that help illustrate 11 architectural styles found in Maine, from Colonial (1600-1720) and Georgian (1720-1780) to the Colonial Revival (1876 to present) and Modernism (1936 to present).
The color photos, many of which fill entire pages, were taken by Vanden Brink during his 30-year career as an architectural photographer, many on assignment for Down East magazine. The book is available at most local bookstores and online at www.downeast.com.
GLIMPSES OF GRANDEUR
In the book, Glass explains the societal circumstances that led to certain house styles and their popularity in Maine. Vanden Brink's pictures give some rare glimpses of magnificent homes not often seen by the public, including the Modernist marvel known as the Anchorage, which was built into a hillside in Seal Harbor for Nelson Rockefeller in the 1940s. It's considered one of the best examples of Modernism in the state.
The sleek home looks like something from the Hollywood Hills, except there's a lighthouse on top and the Atlantic Ocean can be seen from virtually every room. There's an interior spiral staircase with steps that get smaller as it rises, forming an artistic image from below.
Then there are homes Mainers have probably driven past but maybe not fully appreciated, such as the Hartley Lord House built in 1885. Situated on Captain's Row in Kennebunk, it's an almost original example of the ornate Queen Anne style popular during the Victorian period.
The interior pictures in the book show the over-the-top style of ornamentation popular with Queen Annes, including a long hall with three differently colored Oriental rugs, and wallpaper of pink flowers on a yellow background.
''This book fills an important need. It's more comprehensive than anything we've seen, and does a wonderful job of conveying the richness of historic homes here,'' said Earle G. Shettleworth Jr., director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and a state historian. ''I think the book could be extremely valuable in raising people's consciousness about the rich heritage of domestic architecture in Maine.''
Just how rich is it?
Well, more than 1,500 individual structures in Maine are on the National Register of Historic Places, and there are more than 150 neighborhood historic districts, said Shettleworth.
Maine's oldest homes, dating back to the early 1700s, are as old as just about any place in the country, points out Glass. Shettleworth says Maine's stock of historic homes is somewhat unique in that there are so many neighborhoods of 19th- and early 20th-century homes still intact.
Both Shettleworth and Glass say that Maine's fairly isolated location and the fact that the state has not had huge development booms in recent years are factors as to why Maine has so many surviving historic homes.
NICE PLACES TO LIVE
Another, says Shettleworth, is that they are seen as nice places to live.
''I think one factor is that Maine is a desirable place for people to spend the summer or to retire or to pursue individual jobs or artistic pursuits,'' he said. ''By having these concentrations of older homes, people can live and work in traditional villages or towns or small cities. And that whole lifestyle leads to the preserving of historic neighborhoods.''
Glass hopes the book helps people realize that even fairly common-looking homes can be an important part of the historic housing stock. For example, the Charles Clapp House on Spring Street in Portland, owned by the Portland Museum of Art, is an obvious example of Greek Revival. It even looks like a Greek temple, with its giant columns.
But Glass says the more ordinary versions of the Greek Revival style in Maine are houses with a temple-style front gable facing the street and a front door off to the side of the house. Earlier American housing styles had gables on the sides, and doors in the center.
Glass says the Greek Revival took hold beginning around 1820 because leaders of the young United States identified more with the Greeks, the founders of democracy, than with the British. Previous American house styles were based on British examples.
''The British identified with the Romans, and there was a feeling that maybe we should emulate the Greeks, the inventors of democracy, who at the time were fighting their own revolution,'' Glass said.
The Colonial Revival is another movement where there are grand examples, including several designed by noted Maine architect John Calvin Stevens in Portland's West End early in the 20th century.
But more modest capes and colonials built in the 1920s and '30s fill many Maine neighborhoods, and new capes and colonials are still being built today.
''Understanding the styles should help people appreciate their own house and its story,'' Glass said.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: