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Thread: "Gothic Vernacular", "Vernacular Gothic", just Vernacular, or something else?

  1. #1

    "Gothic Vernacular", "Vernacular Gothic", just Vernacular, or something else?

    A post in another part of this forum has inspired me to expand it in more detail here.

    There is a certain house type in Toledo, Ohio that I have been very intrigued over during my research of historic house types that appear to be unique to that city. This type is quite prevalent in an German section of town, known as Lenk's Hill, and found virtually nowhere else. The ones I documented were mostly built between 1882 and 1902, with one or two built as late as 1905.

    These houses are characterized by a side gabled roofline, off-center entrance, and a prominent gable pediment, (or "false gable"), usually located off-center in the roofline. What is most unusual about these houses though is that they are usually set way back on the lot with some lacking windows and porches on the front elevation.

    I speculate that the original facades were only temporary: As the owner's family grew and acquired more money, an extension was added onto the front (hence the reason for the deep setback) and resulting in the house being changed into a "Gabled Ell" footprint. Indeed there are many gabled Ells in this section of Toledo that look suspiciously like Side Gabled houses with a later Ell extension.

    But in one part of town, the Lenk's Hill/Kuschwantz sections, which was predominantly German during this era, many of these houses were never changed. Windows and porches may have been added onto the front, but no gable front extension was ever built.

    Here are a few examples, showing many variations in fenestration, but all adhering to the same basic form.

    Note how recessed this house is in relation to it's neighbors. Also no windows and no porch.

    Before And After Pictures of another setback house.

    Unusually decorative examples

    Only one window in front and no porch.

    Same as above, but with 2nd story window.

    This one is a duplicate to the one directly above (note solitary first story front window)
    except it has a porch. It was probably a later addition.

    Again, the porch is probably not original on these two models, both built about 1893
    and similar in treatment.

    In this example, both houses have the same side gabled profile. However, the house at
    the right extends much further to the front of the lot, while the subject house remains
    recessed. Most likely, the house at right was probably once a duplicate to the subject
    house but was later added onto the front.

    In this example, the gable pediment is more centered than most other examples.

    I think these houses are very unique and significant because they appear to have been built by their owners with intention of being added onto later. They may be a truly “Toledo” house type and are some of the last remaining remnants of the original German folk housing from the 1880s and 1890s. But then again, they could have been built all over, but do not survive in their original form elsewhere. (It should be noted that these houses predate any building permits, so it’s impossible to tell if common builders constructed the majority of them or whether they were acquired from or inspired from actual plan books.)

    My question though is what style and type would you assign these houses? It's side-gabled orientation with a gable or pediment (though off-center in most cases) seems to evoke the basic Gothic Revival form so would the term Gothic Vernacular be appropriate for these houses? Or is it too plain for even that label? How about house type? I would like to see something more unique than the ubiquitous term Side gabled

    Here is the gallery of these house types:

    Here is an old ad for a house similar to those above that I found, dated from 1907. The house is two full stories, so it doesn't quite fit into the form of those above, but it is recessed on the lot and has a flush pedimented facade. It was built ca 1901. What is interesting is the ad actually states that the "house arranged so that front could be built on at any time.."

    It took a while to trace this property, because there was no address in the ad, but I'm quite certain that the house below is the same house. (Property records show that this lot sold later in 1907). A 1905 Sanborn shows this as the only two-story house on this street that is also recessed on the lot. Later Sanborn maps show a T-Plan, indicating that the house had indeed been added on.

    Sanborn Maps - 1905 and 1976

    The building permits only state that a $900 basement expansion occurred in 1928. It's possible that it was that late that the front gable was added to this property, but more than likely, judging from the design of the front gable, it's a much earlier expansion, likely ca 1907 to 1915 and no permit was taken out.

    Anyway, I think this ad pretty much shows what I have been wondering all along. That there was a type of house in Toledo built during the 1880s and 1890s that was deliberately set back on the lot and arranged parallel to the street with a minimum of fenestration on the front facade in anticipation of future expansion.

    One wonders how many more of these things were actually built, but altered so long ago that their original appearance has long since passed out the collective memory of the population because all the original owners, and their children have passed away.
    Last edited by Super Amputee Cat; 07 Dec 2004 at 4:31 PM.

  2. #2
    There were large numbers of German settlers in the Louisville metro area, but that housing form is not found here at all. I'm wondering if the German settlers were from a certain area and transported that building type from their native lands. I don't know why, but Bavaria seems to jump at me looking at them, perhaps the crossed-gables and fairly steep roof pitches. Have you done any research in that direction?
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  3. #3
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
    Feb 1998
    Greensburg, Kansas
    I see nothing to credit Gothic to the style--I don't think the cross gables and steep roof lines are enough. Very unusual. Perhaps you can name this particular regional vernacular style. As Gedunker said, they are not in German areas of Louisville...or Cincinnati s far as I remember. A very inventive concept.

  4. #4
    May 2009
    Jackson, MS.

    Lenk's Hill

    In doing a Google search for "Lenk's Hill", I discovered this post.

    The Lenk's Hill region is where most of my family was born or lived in Toledo. I lived in the neighborhood from 1945 until 1963, when I joined the military. Most of my early family immigrated there from Bavaria in the mid-to-late 1800's. Although I have only visited my old neighborhood briefly over the past 30 years or so, I never realized the uniqueness of the homes there until reading this post. Many of the houses shown in the photos (I cannot get all of them to load), I remember from my youth there; some of my childhood friends lived in them.

    The neighborhood has declined over the past 40 years to a state of near destruction, and almost total ruin now. It was at one time populated by many members of six or seven very extended and very large German famlies. The Germans, and eventually many post-WWII Russian (Ukraine), and Polish families were extremely fastidious when it came to their lawns and the overall maintenance of their homes. Many of my mother's aunts and uncles had even built small smokehouses in their back-yard areas throughout the neighborhood.

    Sadly, other groups of people moved in to the area that had no real connection to the "roots" of the neighborhood, and no stake in preserving it; a familiar story. From my conversations with some of my family and friends who still live in the Toledo area, Lenk's Hill is the drug, prostitution and "other assorted crimes" center of Toledo now.

    Thanks for the posts and the photos. It was good to see the old home places again.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker View post
    I don't know why, but Bavaria seems to jump at me looking at them, perhaps the crossed-gables and fairly steep roof pitches.
    Quote Originally posted by Viking View post
    In doing a Google search for "Lenk's Hill", I discovered this post.

    The Lenk's Hill region is where most of my family was born or lived in Toledo. I lived in the neighborhood from 1945 until 1963, when I joined the military. Most of my early family immigrated there from Bavaria in the mid-to-late 1800's.
    For my next career, I'm going to be an architectural historian.
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  6. #6
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
    Nov 2006
    Jamestown, New York
    This style of home isn't found in the old German neighborhoods of Buffalo, either.

    I'm thinking that perhaps there was a local builder who came up with this design, people in the area thought it was quite "the thing", and either had him or others build ones similiar to it.

    Numerous cities have local styles that are found almost nowhere else. I think "shotgun" doubles are common in sections of New Orleans (or were) while "telescope" doubles are common in Buffalo, particularly on the East Side.

    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker View post
    For my next career, I'm going to be an architectural historian.
    Art history was just about my favorite class in college, especially the first semester of the course that focused primarily on architecture.
    Last edited by Gedunker; 03 Jun 2009 at 11:42 AM. Reason: seq. posts

  7. #7
    Jun 2009
    Chicago Region
    I concur with some of the other posters...I don't see anything "german" about the architecture. I'll confess however, that I'm only familiar with the Brandenburg region.

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