by Suzanne Spellen (aka Montrose Morris)
Poor Queen Anne! Her name is synonymous with the catchall of architectural style — a flamboyant and eclectic design genre that caught on in Brooklyn at the end of the 19th century.
But how in the world did a little-known queen of England get her name on an entire period of architecture that took place almost 200 years after her death? And what is Queen Anne architecture, anyway?
Queen Anne includes is so many things — medieval details, ornamented tile, turrets, towers, oriel windows — that it’s almost a joke among architecture geeks. “What would you call that one? I can’t quite put a name to it…must be Queen Anne.” “Yeah, Queen Anne.”
But after you read this, you’ll be able to spot Queen Anne-style architecture like a pro.
Who was Queen Anne?
The real Queen Anne was born in 1665 to James, Duke of York, who became James II, king of England. Her life — although interesting — is not really relevant to architecture, but here’s a quickie history lesson: Anne was sister to Queen Mary of “William and Mary” — the first rulers of Britain to be under a constitutional monarchy, with limited powers. Anne became queen after William died in 1702. She was rather sickly and bedridden through much of her reign. She ruled only 12 years, until her death in 1714.
Why’d we name an architectural movement after her?
England has long been one of the most powerful of the European influences on our culture, but it was especially influential in the 19th century. When English architect Richard Norman Shaw — one of the most important British architects of the 19th century — wanted to revolutionize British architectural style, he went back to the time of “Good Queen Anne.”
Shaw wanted to emulate the era’s simple craftsmanship, so he took his themes from half-timbered Tudor-style houses, sturdy common brick buildings and the quintessential “English” style elements of Elizabethan, Jacobean and Gothic architecture. None of them have anything to do with Queen Anne either. But Shaw and his followers liked the name, and it stuck.
The movement mirrored similar philosophies of William Morris, and his Arts and Crafts brethren, ushering in architectural and decorative motifs that are still popular today.
Shaw built half-timbered country houses — his most famous is Cragside in England — in addition to city mansions, churches and government buildings. Most were brick, or brick and stucco, with tall chimneys, quirky windows and exterior massing. Many seemed organic in nature, as though expanded and evolved over time.
Over on this side of the pond, Shaw’s ideas were enthusiastically adopted by the famous American architect Henry Hobson Richardson. From his name we get the phrase “Richardsonian Romanesque” — describing a particular style of rough-cut stone building with a mixture of materials, and arched windows, doorways and porticos.
Richardson’s buildings influenced thousands of architects and started a movement that was eagerly embraced by Brooklyn’s architects. Romanesque Revival architecture is a style all unto itself, but elements of it are a vital part of what we call Queen Anne.
We actually have two Queen Anne movements:
“Urban” Queen Anne, particularly on the East Coast, is more influenced by British Arts and Crafts architecture. It includes row houses, city mansions and apartment buildings, churches, schools and commercial buildings.
“Rural” Queen Anne is much more suburban, sprawling and integrated into a landscape. It’s about as far from simple as you can get.
As in many things American, we took an idea — in this case an architectural style inspired by a simpler time — and put it on steroids. These elaborate, flamboyant buildings are the Queen Annes most people associate with the name: the enormous, turreted, wrap-around-porched, and shingled mansions found everywhere from Ditmas Park to Oregon, Cape May to Indiana.
Here in brownstone Brooklyn, in the late 1800s, the critics were grumbling about everything cultural, including architecture. The endless rows of Italianate and Neo-Grec brownstones with their tidy uniformity and implacable sameness were now deemed BORING.
The introduction of Shaw’s Queen Anne elements — in conjunction with Richardsonian Romanesque massing and mixture of materials — inspired architects to create an entirely new kind of row house. Groups of homes were no longer the same; some rows were designed with different houses all down the row, with not a single one exactly alike. The architectural and cultural critics applauded, and the buyers did too. This was something new and different, and actually FUN.
What did we have here? The basic elements of Queen Anne architecture are thus:
1. Asymmetry. Even on a 20-foot brownstone façade you could have a massing of shapes: towers, turrets, bays, oriels, porches, gables, dormers, loggias and more. Windows could have different shapes, on the same floor, as well as on each level. Dogleg steps instead of straight stoop stairways, or even a combination of both in the same group, were in vogue. There could be arches and straight lines, round and square, any combination possible, limited by only imagination and budget. Massing, the combination of shapes, is key to the style.
2. Texture. The surface of the building was a collage of materials. Ashlar (rough-cut) stone, usually brownstone, most often at the base of the building. Smooth-cut stone above, or brick, often separated by bands of terra cotta, giving not only ornamentation, but more texture. Sometimes a mixture of stone: ashlar brownstone with limestone trim, for example. Other elements could be added, such as wooden shingles. Roofs of slate or Mediterranean tile. Metal clad or wooden cornices, more brick or terra-cotta on prominent chimney stacks. The possibilities were endless.
3. Ornamentation. Queen Anne corresponds with the timeframe of the Aesthetic Movement, a time of great emphasis on beauty and ornamentation. Stained glass windows in myriad patterns and colors, terra-cotta ornamentation of every type, from floral and geometric running bands of pattern, to fantastical faces, animals and mythical creatures. Stone carving, often mistaken for terra cotta, and vice versa. Encaustic and fired tile work. Wooden trim in cornices, doors and window framing, gingerbread and bargeboards. Artistry in wrought and cast iron, creating beauty in security, on windows and gates. Color, wherever possible.
The results of these elements were buildings of great imagination and beauty.
This was the Golden Age of Brooklyn’s architects and their works. Architects such as Frank Freeman, Montrose Morris, the Parfitt Brothers, William Tubby, George Chappell, Magnus Dahlander, Rudolph Daus, Frederick Langston, George Morse, C.P.H. Gilbert and many, many more did their best work in this period.
They built mansions and row houses, apartment and office buildings. All of them came into their own during this style’s heyday, from the mid 1880s through the early 1890s.