Neoclassical Revival

In 1893, while the Queen Anne style dominated American domestic architecture, the fabulous Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago. Its buildings, many designed by Stanford White, were inspired by the architecture of the Neoclassical period, from about 1760 to 1820, which in turn received its inspiration from the architecture of Classical Greece and Rome.

The symmetrical, monumental buildings of the Columbian Exposition offered a striking contrast to the asymmetrical and whimsical forms of the Queen Anne style. Soon, this “Neoclassical Revival” swept America, first combining its details with the Queen Anne style, but eventually eclipsing the Queen Anne completely.

400 N. Person St. (George and Norrish Rozgonyi), built around 1898, perfectly illustrates the transition in styles. This gorgeous house is Queen Anne in its form: it has a complicated, asymmetrical shape, a steeply-pitched roof with projecting gables, and an octagonal tower. But its details are Neoclassical Revival, most especially the fluted Ionic columns. (“Fluted” refers to the vertical grooves. “Ionic” refers to the shape of the tops, or “capitals.”) These are in the Classical Greek and Roman tradition. The Palladian window in the Person St. gable is also Neoclassical Revival. The windowpane pattern in this window is of Roman inspiration. The oval windows in the tower, with keystone ornamentation, are another Neoclassical Revival detail. So is the marble sidewalk.

The fine stained-glass windows are left over from the Queen Anne style, but the beveled clear glass in and around the front door is Neoclassical Revival, as is the plasterwork wreath in the door. The cream-and-white color scheme was a Neoclassical Revival innovation, as opposed to the darker, richer colors of the Queen Anne period.

116 N. Person St. (Stephen & Julie Gugenheim), built around 1900, is also a Queen Anne house, but with some Neoclassical Revival details: the Palladian window in the gable, and the clear leaded-glass windows.

409 Polk St., built around 1910, is considered a true Neoclassical Revival house. It has Ionic columns and leaded-glass windows. Its roof is not so steep as a Queen Anne roof. This slightly shallower roof pitch allows the gables to be in the form of a classical “pediment,” which is the triangular top portion of the front of a Greek or Roman temple, with the “entablature” forming the bottom of the triangle. The entablature consists of a cornice and a wide fascia board, and continues all the way around the eaves of the house and porch.

The “lunette” (half-moon) window in the gable, the diamond-paned windows in the dormer, and the “trabeated entrance” with a transom over the door and “sidelights,” the windows on each side, are also Neoclassical Revival features, as is the white paint color and the marble sidewalk. But even in this house, there lingers a remnant of the Queen Anne style, in that the house is quite asymmetrical.

The Neoclassical Revival did not reach its purest form in Oakwood until construction in 1912 of the symmetrical Tucker House (418 N. Person St.). This magnificent house features a semicircular two-story portico supported by huge Ionic columns. It is surmounted by a balustrade of Roman-style fretwork. Behind this portico is a one-story porch, with a balcony above it. The front door and the door to the balcony have transoms and sidelights, with beveled glass around the main entrance. The eaves have “dentil” molding (like a row of teeth). The dormer has a Palladian window. The Tucker House is quite similar to several houses displayed at the 1893 Columbian Exposition, and it is amazing that it took 19 years for this design to reach Raleigh. We were truly a backwater!