October 7, 2004 • Volume 13 Number 3
From the Archives
This issue, Boston College Chronicle introduces a new feature, "From the Archives," offering commentaries on historic BC images from the Burns Library collection.
Prof. Jeffery Howe (Fine Arts), editor of The Houses We Live In: An Identification Guide to the History and Style of American Domestic Architecture, considers the old Philomatheia Club, Commonwealth Avenue home to the college's ladies' auxiliary in the years BC was an all-male institution.
Drawing its name from the Greek for "devotion to learning," the Philomatheia Club united prominent Catholic women from Greater Boston for the purposes of forwarding the general interests of the college. Their benefactions included scholarships, a stained glass window and a letter of St. Francis Xavier for Bapst Library, and the chalet on Commonwealth Avenue. The Philomatheia clubhouse and adjoining Tudor-style Alumni Hall were razed in 1988 to make room for the Commonwealth Avenue residence halls.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American architectural styles were consciously chosen to reflect an emotional or ideological association. There was a great increase in historical and geographical knowledge, and an increasingly sophisticated awareness of the relationship between style and social values.
Since there were no direct links to these historical traditions in America, styles were a matter of deliberate choice. Pattern books such as Andrew Jackson Downing's Cottage Residences (1842) and The Architecture of Country Houses (1850) provided practical solutions for suburban homeowners seeking designs that would proclaim their individuality and sophistication. Downing observed that "a beautiful house fully reflects a fine character."
Swiss chalets were revived for those with a taste for the Picturesque. Downing's books and Sloan's Homestead Architecture (1867) offered Swiss chalet designs. In 1858, Samuel Colt built a whole neighborhood of Swiss style cottages for workers in his wicker factory in Hartford, Connecticut. In the second half of the 20th century, the Swiss villa was revived as a favorite style for housing near ski resorts in Vermont and elsewhere. This alpine style, and the related revival of Scandinavian wooden architecture, was linked to an association of freedom and life close to nature.
The Philomatheia Club was a particularly fine example of this style, with very nice details in the wood, especially at the entrance. The sawtooth carvings under the roofline are also quite engaging. •