Upper Bluff National Register

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Boundary Justification

Architectural Overview

The earliest architectural style evident in the Upper Bluff Historic District is Italianate. This style dominated American building from 1850 until 1880. It greatly effected the built environment of the booming industrial towns of the Midwest, such as Joliet. The Italianate style originated as a reaction against 200 years of classical design models. Based on the asymmetrical rambling farmhouses of Tuscany, the style aspired to the organic forms in nature. The tremendous popularity of the Italianate style led to a wide variety of adaptations from the vernacular on up. The Campbell House, at 306 Nicholson, reflects an early vernacular adaptation of this style. Constructed in 1852, it is a Greek revival house type. The simple, well-crafted stone walls and bracketed roof line reflect this period. A more elaborate example is the Brooks House at 505 Western (constructed in 1875). This frame structure displays more of the detailed bracket design of the Italianate style. This is best seen on the two-story trapezoidal bay on the south side. The A. S. Phelps House (1887) is another Italianate style house found in the district.

The greatest period of growth for the Upper Bluff Local Historic District occurred during the period from 1880 to 1900. This timeframe was dominated by the Queen Anne style, started by the English architect Richard Norman Shaw. The style was influenced by architecture of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. Early examples stressed the pattern brick and half timbering of the English precedents. The spindle-work and free classical interpretations of the style are indigenous to America. It is these later versions that are exemplified in the Upper Bluff District. A typical example of the Queen Anne House is that of J. W. Downey at 509 Buell (1889). Dominated on the main facade by a rectangular tower, this house sets the norm for Queen Anne houses in the area. Exceptions to this rule are the A. J. Bates house at 500 Western Avenue (1888), which reflects the Romanesque Revival style with brick and stone arch motifs, and the Sebastian Lagger house at 429 Buell (1890), which is dominated by a large classically designed wrap porch. The Queen Anne/Classical style exhibited in this house is a forerunner to the Classical Revival that took place around the turn of the century in Joliet. Twelve additional Queen Anne style houses are located at: 413 Buell (1887), 415 Buell (1887), 507 Buell (1889), 416 Western (1893), 513 Western (1886), 602 Western (1896), 605 Western (1894), 607 Western (1906), 708 Western (1997), 716 Western (1894), 406-408 Whitney (1891), and 309 Woodworth (1893).

Examples of the Stick Style and the Shingle Style also exist in this district. The A. Odenthal House at 510 Jersey (1892) is a key example of the Stick Style. The surface of this structure is covered in a variety of different clapboard and shingle patterns divided by decorative wood framework. The Shingle Style is best seen in the district in the Thomas Hennerby House at 510 Buell Avenue (1894) or the E. B. Shaw House at 510 Buell Avenue (1890). Both of these houses are covered almost entirely in split or cut shingles, and they both utilize a multitude of towers and varying roof lines to create unique and impressive silhouettes.

The Neoclassical Revival style was popularized by the Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition held in 1893. The Exposition had a classical theme which resulted in white colonnaded buildings around a central courtyard. The dazzling white city inspired numerous commercial, public, and residential buildings. Examples of this style vary in the Upper Bluff District. The Thomas Freely House at 406 Buell is a unique but accurate interpretation of the style. The structure is dominated by an enormous front gable, and decorated with a two story semi-circular portico, which breaks from the common use of a pedimented portico. Quite in contrast to this is the A. C. Clement House at 519 Campbell (1901). This structure pulls together all of the possible classical elements and turns them into one of the most imposing yet lighthearted structures in the district. Two additional NeoClassical style houses are located at 600 Western (1897) and 611 Western (1904).

The Colonial Revival movement started in the late 1870’s shortly after the nation’s centennial celebration in Philadelphia. The creation of a new awareness of our colonial heritage prompted interest in the built environment of the period. These sentiments first were evidenced in the free classic interpretation of the Queen Anne Style. Colonial Revival came into its own by the end of the 19th century. Advances in the printing industry led to the wide dissemination of books and periodicals that contained accurate measured drawings of original Colonial structures. This created a better understanding and interpretations of the historic precedents on which the revival was based. The Colonial Revival style dominated residential architecture throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Seven examples of the Colonial Revival style include: 420-422 Buell (1924), 406 Raynor (1928), 504 Western (1897), 509 Western (1906), 606 Western (1901), 608 Western (1914) and 613 Western (1918).

The early twentieth century eclectic movement in architecture mimicked earlier European architectural styles. Unlike the 19th century styles that also mimicked these earlier periods, the Eclectic Period interpretations were somewhat more accurate. This was in part due to more Americans traveling and studying abroad, thereby gaining first hand exposure to these styles. One popular style of the eclectic movement was Tudor Revival. Originally, the style was only seen in architect-designed structures, but the style spread quite rapidly. The style is associated with the increase in suburban development during the twenties. During that time Tudor Revival rivaled Colonial Revival as the leading vernacular style. The Henry Webster Tomlinson House at 304 Nicholson (1921) is an example of the large Tudor Revival style. The house has a simple brick massing, articulated throughout by multi-paned casement windows. The gable eaves contain the usual half timber effect. On the modest end of the Tudor Revival are the houses at 412 – 422 Whitney (1923). These structures are of the more modest 1-1/2 to 2-story type. They all utilize the major trend of the Tudor Revival, such as stucco, and stone mix, casement windows, and bulky thatched type roofs, but each in their own interpretation. Two additional Tudor Revival style houses are: 611 Campbell (1911) and 350 Whitney (1929).

The Jacobean Revival Style is a far less common artistic style utilized in the Upper Bluff District. The style was utilized following the Tudor period. This style tends to be more restrained, using more finished architectural details. The Theiler House at 428 Buell (1906) is a key example of this style in the district. Although this house has a distinctly classical porch, the quoins on the corners and the distinctly Jacobean gabled dormers make this house a key example of the style.

The final Eclectic Styles found in the Upper Bluff District is the Craftsman style. The Craftsman style is based on the Arts and Crafts movement and utilizes open woodwork and half-timbering effects, as well as a lower pitched roof and open trellises which are an outgrowth of the Spanish or Mission style. Due to the open beam work, simple proportions, and decorative elements, the Craftsman style became extremely popular with contractors and people building their own houses. In the Upper Bluff District, the Craftsman style is seen most commonly in the modest bungalows, although the style can also be seen in the larger houses in the form of porch additions and roof alterations. One example of the stylistic mixes in the Henry Sawyer home at 610 Western (1910). This structure is a side gable house with an open-eaved porch supported on simple wooden posts with staggering wooden beams supporting the roof of the porch. Two homes at 352 Whitney (1918) and 410 Whitney (1918) are additional examples of bungalow style homes.

The Prairie style is one of the indigenous styles of architecture. Originated in Chicago by Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan, it had a major impact on domestic architecture in the Midwest between 1900 and 1920. The style as started by Frank Lloyd Wright utilized symmetrical rectangular forms. Later versions were predominately hipped roof asymmetrical plans. Common examples of the Prairie style found in the district are the symmetrical cube form houses. A typical example of this is the S. R. Knott House at 715 Western. (1912). This structure has a hipped tile roof with a large but low sprawling front porch. The Wilhelmi house at 415 Western (1918) is quite unique in that the facade is dominated by a 1-story NeoClassical semi-circular portico. The two first floor windows that flank the entry way are also unique in that they have rounded top edges. Neither of these features are commonly associated with the Prairie style, but rather suggest a structure that is a combination of elements from two contemporary styles that reflect the very different trends of Modernism and Classicism. Six additional examples of the Prairie style are located at 609 Campbell, (1910), 709 Campbell (1907), 711 Campbell (1907), 508 Western (1910), 612 Western (1908), and 623 Western (1922).

Architects Contributing to the District

Joliet has historically been a haven for architects. Many famous names in the world of architecture have been commissioned to work here. Joliet has also spawned its own group of architects. Some of them either came from or went on to careers that would have some impact on the history of architecture, while some would work their entire live in Joliet. One of the fascinating things about the Upper Bluff Historic District is that all of the architects who had offices in Joliet during the period of significance designed at least one structure in the district. This is the only known area in Joliet that has such an accumulation within its boundaries.

The first known architect in Joliet was James Weese. Starting as a contractor, by 1887 he was working as an architect proper. His major body of work in Joliet was residential. He commonly worked in Italianate, but his work also included some Second Empire. He was the only architect in Joliet to have worked in the Second Empire Style. His contribution to the Upper Bluff District is the A. S. Phelps home at 427 Buell, constructed in 1887. This home is an imposing Italianate with a low mansard roof.

Another early architect was Hugo Boehme. Boehme was first mentioned in 1884, and at that time worked in the Italianate style. His work progressed with the changing styles, although many of his designs are cluttered mixes of purer styles. An example of this is the S. W. Cowels house at 301 Nicholson. The proportions and details of the house are Italiante, while the steeply pitched roof with towering chimneys ad dormers is much more of the Queen Anne style. Mr. Boehme enjoyed a long career, spanning into the twentieth century, where his style changed again to the NeoClassical Revival. The Clement house at 519 Campbell, built in 1901, is an excellent example of his later work.

Julian Barnes began practice around 1884. His work appears to match closely with the major stylistic trends. He is known to have based many of his minor commissions on pattern books; however, the work he did in the Upper Bluff District appears to be his own creativity. Julian Barnes is best known in Joliet for his elaborate work with Queen Anne porches. This is best seen in the Downey house of 1889 at 509 Buell. The Kinsella house of 1895 at 625 Western is another example of his work.

By 1889 there were four architects working in Joliet - the three previously mentioned, and F. S. Allen. Mr. Allen was drawn to Joliet in 1886 by a competition for Christ Episcopal Church. By 1887 he had set up an office. Prior to Joliet, he had worked in Chicago and Streator. Mr. Allen brought a new style to the city, Richardson Romanesque. His two earliest commissions in the Upper Bluff District are unique and show the versatility of this architect. The Keip house built in 1887 at 708 Western shows a unique use of domed towers. Quite on the other hand, the A.J. Bates house at 500 Western of 1888 is a massive brick Queen Anne with light Romanesque overtones. The Shaw house of 1890 at 510 Buell is a lighter Queen Anne Shingle house, although the heavy tower, common to Allen, is present. Also unique to this house is the stucco walls on the back which are inlaid with sea shells. This motif was also utilized in the servants quarters to the F. S. Allen estate. Allen would only practice in Joliet until 1904 when he relocated to California. It was during his years in California that Allen would achieve national acclaim for his work in the Mission Revival, and advances in school architecture.

The city directory of 1899 lists nine architects. This is an increase of five architects in the city. The four previously mentioned were all still listed in practice. John Barnes came to Joliet in the early 1890’s. He had previously practiced architecture in Denver, Colorado. He is of no relation to Julian Barnes, mentioned previously, and his work is clearly of a different background. Barnes has three structures attributed to him in the Upper Bluff District. The first is the Sebastian Lagger house at 429 Buell (1890). His work seen here merges the Queen Anne and the Classical style. A large tower with a classical wrap porch typifies the residential work of this architect. The house at 309 Woodworth is another example of the work of Barnes. This house has the same tower massing and detail as the Lagger house, although the main body of the house and the porch follow more closely to the Queen Anne style. John Barnes continued to practice in Joliet and in 1899 he was commissioned to design Farragut School (now demolished), a public grade school located in the Upper Bluff Historic District. After the onset of World War I, the decline in building forced John Barnes to become a car salesman.

Herbert Cowell arrived as an architect in Joliet around the same time as John Barnes. It is not known where Cowell came from, but as most new architects did, Cowell brought a new style of architecture to Joliet. Herbert Cowell is known to be the first architect in Joliet to have utilized the Dutch Colonial style. His first work in the Upper Bluff District was the J. C. Smith house at 609 Western, which is a unique mix of the Dutch Colonial and Queen Anne styles, constructed in 1894. Between the years of 1900 and 1904, Herbert Cowell resided in Huntsville, Alabama, where during that time he was responsible for a great amount of construction in that area. However, by 1905 Cowell was back in Joliet. The Arentz house of 1905, at 611 Western, is an example of the Neoclassical purity that Cowell developed during his years in Alabama. The Smith house and the Arentz house, side by side, make an interesting comparison of two of Cowell periods of work. Cowell practiced in Joliet well into the twentieth century.

Charles and Elizabeth Wallace first appear in the City Directory of 1899. They are the first brother and sister team of architects in Joliet, and Elizabeth is the first female architect in Joliet history. They worked in commercial architecture during their early years; however, no known example of their early work survives. By 1908 the Wallaces had built houses next to each other at 709 and 711 Campbell. These are the only structures standing in Joliet that have been attributed to the Wallaces. They did continue in practice through the mid-1900s.

C. W. Webster appears in Joliet in the late 1890’s. Little is known about his early years, except that he worked as a construction supervisor for the Joliet Township High School, F.S. Allen’s last work built in 1901. By 1908 Webster was working in the Prairie style. The Edward Barrett House at 612 Western (1910) is a key example of his work during this period. Webster went on to design a number of schools in Joliet, but most of his other residential commissions lie in areas outside of the Upper Bluff District.

Rudolph Hoen appears in the city directories between 1899 and 1901. The majority of his work was built between 1913 and 1919. The examples of his residential work in the Upper Bluff District are of the cubic Prairie style. His home at 358 Whittier, and the Nadelhoffer home at 305 Nicholson, both built in 1916, are simple brick four square topped with slightly flared roofs alluding to the Oriental pagoda. Hoen enjoyed a long career in Joliet.

Henry Webster Tomlinson came to Joliet from Chicago. During his early years he worked as a draftsman under W.W. Boyington. Between 1903 and 1905, Tomlinson entered into a financial partnership with Frank Lloyd Wright. This appears, though, to have been strictly a financial partnership. Tomlinson became widely known for his work with prison architecture, and in 1925 was sent to Europe to inspect prisons on the continent. In 1918 Tomlinson moved to Joliet to complete the work on the prison cells at Stateville Prison from the plans of W. C. Zimmerman. He constructed his house at 304 Nicholson in 1921. The house is a large but simple Tudor Revival with simple brick massing, and light half timbering. Tomlinson continued to practice until 1940, when he retired.