5.7. GEORGE POST ADOPTS THE MULTISTORIED ARCADE

George Post, Proposed Design for the Marine Bank, New York, c. 1874. (Landau and Condit, New York)

Although Hunt had ultimately chosen not to use the multistoried arcade in the Tribune’s building, he did use it in a five-story warehouse at 478 Broadway.  He broke the elevation into three vertical bays within which he placed triple windows framed between thin cast iron mullions.  He treated the elevation as a tripartite composition with a one-story base and one-story cornice that framed the middle three-story arcade of segmental arches that were nothing more than cast iron screens (more than likely to minimize the loss of daylight vs. actual arched openings).

Richard M. Hunt, 478-482 Broadway, New York, 1873. (Online)

George Post appears to have taken the triple window scheme of Hunt’s elevation and combined it with the multistoried arcade in Cady’s Tribune competition entry,  in an extremely prophetic employment of the multistory arcade, proposed in 1874 for the Marine Bank in New York.  The middle three floors were grouped together under a three-story arcade that was strikingly skeletal in concept as Post continued the triple windows down into the building’s base.  As this was his first serious use of an arcade, however, Post had made an error in its design as he did not increase the size of the corner piers in relation to the interior piers in order to express the fact that they were buttressing the entire thrusts throughout the arcade; a mistake he would not repeat in later buildings.  The large voids between the piers were divided into triple windows by what appears to have been thin iron mullions.  In the attic Post experimented for the first time with a progression of openings.  He divided this layer by continuing the rhythm of the main piers into it with opaque panels instead of windows that fill the other divisions.  This created a 1:2 rhythm between the lower arch and the upper windows.   The corresponding increase in the proportion of opaque material gave the top of the building a more solid, horizontal top reading, an effect he had undoubtedly intended.

George B. Post, Chickering Hall, New York, 1874. (Landau, Post)

While the Bank was not constructed, Post did use the elongated arcade in another 1874 design that was built.  He was commissioned to design a new building in New York City for the Chickering Piano Company that was to incorporate a store and a concert hall.  Post reused the Marine Bank’s tripartite parti of an arcade sandwiched between a base and a cornice.  The two-story arcade used at the auditorium level even employed the triple window of the Bank design but did not repeat the mistake of not increasing the size of the corner piers.  In fact, the Piano Building appears to mark a conscious change in Post’s preferred aesthetic.  While the Bank’s overall image is vaguely Romanesque, the Piano’s arcade is proudly Classical, one of the country’s earlier attempts at a Renaissance Revival design.  Post would not waiver from this course during the rest of his career. (The historical record reveals that Post, who had never studied in Europe, had adopted the Classical before his teacher, Hunt had done likewise.) The attic in the Piano Store is also Classical in its pure horizontality, completely independent of the layer beneath it: i.e., the width of the arcade’s piers is not brought into the rhythm of the attic. The attic has its own repetitive staccato; only the centerlines of the attic’s mullions line up with the centerlines of the lower piers. The attic was designed with a progression of four windows to each of the main bays, resulting in a more open layer than the solid read Post had achieved in this same location in the Bank’s design, that tended to visually make the roof appear to float above the body of the building.

George B. Post, Long Island Historical Society Building, Brooklyn Heights, 1878. (Landau, Post)

Post then had a chance to perfect the defects in his first two arcaded designs in 1878, in a competition for a building for the Long Island Historical Society in which he incorporated an arcade in the final design. The elevations were broken into four horizontal layers, a dormered Queen Anne roof, an attic of square-headed windows and two single-story arcades.  Curiously, he felt compelled to once again bring the thickness of the lower piers into the attic as he had with the bank project. This project was during the same time that he was designing the Braehm House in which he first used Loring’s terra cotta, and so we can pick up the story of Loring’s penetration into the New York market from where we left it in the previous chapter.  The Historical Society’s monochromatic design took Post’s experiment in the Braehm House to the extreme by eliminating all contrasting banding, except to highlight each of the major horizontal sillcourses.  Pressed red brick piers framed and supported red terra cotta arches, spandrels and stringcourses that were fabricated at Loring’s Boston works. Gone was the polychrome of the Victorian Gothic era.

Alfred H. Thorp, Racquet Club, New York, 1875. (Landau and Condit, New York)

The extreme openness of Post’s arcaded schemes is best appreciated when compared to a contemporary arcaded scheme that was built in 1875.  Although the arches that Alfred Thorp used in the Racquet Club at Sixth Avenue and 26th Street extended continuously for four stories, the degree of openness between the brick piers by no means even approached the truly skeletal nature of Post’s Marine Bank scheme or any of the earlier brick arcaded facades in Philadelphia.  Instead, the facade of the Racquet Club reads as a brick wall with windows that are grouped vertically by the applied decoration of the pilasters of the arcade  Apparently as was also the case in the 1850s, due to either stylistic preference or perhaps the building code, the multistory arcade, although it appeared in a number of unbuilt schemes, had still not been exploited by New York architects in commercial buildings to any significant extent during the 1870s as a true method of masonry skeletal construction.  

FURTHER READING:

Landau, Sarah B. George B. Post, Architect.  New York: Monacelli Press, 1998.

Landau, Sarah B., and Carl Condit.  The Rise of the New York Skyscraper, 1865-1913. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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