Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Frances Glessner Lee and Erle Stanley Gardner

Erle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970), creator of that crime-solving attorney Perry Mason, was an avid admirer of Frances Glessner Lee, captain in the New Hampshire State Police, and founder of the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and of the Harvard Associates in Police Science. There is plenty of evidence to support their friendship, but little that indicates how it began.  Nevertheless, Gardner’s pen was prolific in his praise of Capt. Lee and the eighteen miniature crime scenes she designed for the purpose of training police offices to take away as much evidence as possible from the clues offered by the crime scene itself.   

The details contained in these miniature crime scenes, dubbed The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, which Capt. Lee created herself, were not only microscopic, they were baffling.  This is precisely why Gardner’s book The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom bears the following dedication: 
In the foreword of that same book, Gardner recounts how he had the unique privilege of attending one of Capt. Lee’s seminars on Homicide Investigation at Harvard. These were exclusive, invitation only classes given for policemen, and as far as records show, Gardner was the only “layman” to ever attend one.  

Gardner's membership certificate in the Harvard Associates in Police Science,
signed by Frances Glessner Lee, October 1948

Capt. Lee attended them all as well as other instructors, the best in the fields of forensics, crime detection, medicine, and criminology. Having witnessed all this, Gardner concludes that “these homicides have for the most part been conceived with a diabolical ingenuity which would give the proverbial ‘Philadelphia lawyer’ brain fog within the first few minutes.” Furthermore, Gardner announces: “I am not going to have any of Mrs. Lee’s graduates appearing in my books. Such an officer would not only solve the crime as soon as the hero could, but he just might be a hundred or so pages ahead of the procession.” [Gardner, Erle Stanley. Foreword to The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom, vii-x. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1949.]

Upon Frances Glessner Lee’s death in January 1962, Gardner was asked by the Boston Globe if he would write a sort of eulogy. This he did, as “a labor of love.” The document begins: “My friend, Captain Frances G. Lee, had a keen brain, a big heart, and an open mind.” He continues:

“Because she had an orderly mind and a logical mind, she was able to comprehend police work in a way that enabled her to make a shrewd and accurate appraisal of individual cases as well as overall planning of what was being done and an accurate estimate of what should be done.  Because she had a great big human heart, a warm understanding and the approach of a woman of highly developed maternal instincts, she not only adopted the cause of legal medicine and law enforcement as an intellectual pursuit, but she came to regard the men in the law enforcement as her “boys” and they in turn gave her a respect and affection which brought about a warm human relationship.”  (Gardner, Erle Stanley. “She Would Battle for Ideas at the Drop of a Hat.”  The Boston Sunday Globe, Feb. 4, 1962).

Parker Glass, secretary of the Harvard Department of Legal Medicine, seconded Gardner’s sentiments canonizing Mrs. Lee as “unquestionably one of the world’s most astute criminologists.” [Banner, Earl. “She Invested a Fortune in Police, Entertained Them Royally at Ritz.” The Boston Sunday Globe, Feb. 4, 1962.]

Cray Kennedy was privileged to work as an intern in the collections department at Glessner House Museum during the summer of 2017, primarily cataloging the museum's collection of Frances Glessner Lee images. Cray is studying history and is particularly interested in preservation, historical architecture, and collections. She attends the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota.           

The first-ever public exhibition of the Nutshell Studies, entitled "Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death," will open on Friday October 20, 2017 at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.   William Tyre, Executive Director and Curator of Glessner House Museum will speak about Lee's life and work at the Renwick on Saturday October 21st at 2:00pm; the event is free and open to the public.  The exhibit runs through January 28, 2018.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Society for Photographing Relics of Old London

On February 3, 1887, Frances Glessner wrote in her journal that her husband John brought home a large stack of photos of London.  These photos happened to be from a series by the Society for Photographing Relics of Old London.  Since the Glessners never visited London, the photographs, which are in the museum collection today, provided them with a picture of what the city was like pre-industrialization. 

In 1875, scholar Alfred Marks commissioned photographers Alfred and John Bool to photograph the Oxford Arms Inn in London.  The commission was an attempt to document the building before its imminent demolition.  Continuing this desire to document buildings in danger of destruction, Marks formed the Society for Photographing Relics of Old London.  Over the course of 12 years, Marks and the members of the society published 120 photographs (the majority of which were taken by photographer Henry Dixon) of buildings they deemed significant that were in danger of being torn down.  Although some of the buildings were destroyed, the complicated histories of three buildings photographed by the society prove that the passion Marks had for architectural preservation continued after the society published its last series of photos.


19: Temple Bar

This photo depicts the Temple Bar in its original location.  The location of the Baroque arch denoted one of the main entrances into London from Westminster, and held great importance throughout London’s history.  The structure photographed by the society is Christopher Wren’s 1670 design that covered the ancient road.  The gateway itself consists of many decorative elements, along with stone statues of Queen Anne of Denmark and James I on one side, and Charles I and Charles II on the other (the side from which the society’s photo was taken).  The gateway stood in this location for over 200 years, and infamously displayed the severed heads of traitors in the eighteenth century. 

Temple Bar at Theobolds Park

As London grew more industrial, the gateway became problematic, as the arch made the street under it extremely narrow.  At the publication of the descriptive letterpress in 1881, Alfred Marks noted that the Temple Bar was already demolished and replaced by a memorial.  However, Marks was unaware of the events surrounding the monument’s demise: instead of being destroyed, the gateway was taken down stone by stone and stored by the Corporation of London, where it remained for ten years.  The gateway was later purchased by Lady Meux, a woman from a wealthy family based in Theobalds Park, and she had the Bar rebuilt in her estate.  It remained there until 2004, when the Temple Bar Trust convinced the Corporation of London to fund its return to London

Temple Bar today

Since the original location still provided the same spatial issues as it did in 1880, the Bar was rebuilt in Paternoster Square in London, right outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Both the Temple Bar and its 1880 monument remain a fixture of downtown London.

Temple Bar monument


37: Charterhouse - General View

The most extensively photographed buildings in the collection are the Charterhouse Buildings.  The twelve photos of the structure document nearly all facets of the building, and Marks notes that “London has few public buildings of equal interest with the Charterhouse, in respect either of historical associations or of beauty.”  The Charterhouse was built in 1371 as a Carthusian monastery, which lasted until 1537.  It was then converted into a mansion, and housed visiting royalty including Queen Elizabeth I and James I.  In 1611, the building was purchased by businessman Thomas Sutton, who converted it once again.  This time, the building was to be a charity house and school, specializing in health treatments and schooling for those less fortunate.  The Charterhouse School moved out of the building in 1872, but the school itself still exists today. 

41: Charterhouse - Great Hall

42: Charterhouse - Great Hall

In addition to the fear of demolition that occurred around the time of the society’s photos, the building also endured World War II.  After extreme damage during the Blitz bombings of 1941, extensive renovations and repairs were undertaken in the late 1950s.  Today, the house remains an almshouse (supporting those in need of financial assistance), and also functions as a museum.

Charterhouse buildings today


Another building that the Society for Photographing Relics of Old London was especially interested in was Lambeth Palace.  The palace dates to 1262, and since then it has been the primary residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The society published three photos of this building, focusing on Morton’s Tower, Juxon’s Hall, and the Water Tower, respectively.  The history of its construction and development is extremely complex, and many aspects have been added since its original dedication.  The chapel in the church and its corresponding crypt are the only sections which remain from the thirteenth century, but many other aspects from later periods are equally impressive.  The majority of the building was constructed by architect Edward Blore in the 1830s with the goal of hiding the reminders of the English Civil War that marked the building.

73: Lambeth Palace - Gate-House

The subject of the first photo published by the society, Morton’s Tower (named after its architect), was built in 1490, and it remains in its original position to this day. 

74: Lambeth Palace - Great Hall

The second photo shows the Great Hall of Lambeth Palace, which has since been turned into a renowned library, and provides one of the site’s main attractions. 

75: Lambeth Palace - "Lollard's Tower"

Unfortunately, the subject of the third photograph, Lollard’s Tower, did not completely survive to the present.  Like the Charterhouse and many other buildings in London, Lollard’s Tower was damaged by a direct hit bombing in 1941.  The tower did not collapse and has since been reconstructed, but the original structure is incomplete. 

Lambeth Palace today

These three histories demonstrate the complications and difficulties involved in architectural preservation.  Many of the buildings photographed by the Society for Photographing Relics of Old London did not survive to the present day, but the photos ensure that the buildings are not lost in the past.  The histories of Temple Bar, the Charterhouse, and Lambeth Palace exemplify the amount of work, and, in some cases luck, necessary to preserve ancient buildings.  Despite the short life span of Alfred Marks and his society, their impact and the buildings they documented live on through their work.

Andrew Haberman is a history student at Loyola University Chicago and a collections intern at Glessner House Museum during the fall 2017 semester.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Postcards from Boston #5 - Engine Company 33

Located at 941 and 951 Boylston St. in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, two adjoining Richardsonian Romanesque buildings were originally constructed to house the local police and fire stations.  It was the first combination police and fire station in the city of Boston.   Designated landmarks by the City of Boston, the eastern building still functions as a fire house, but the western building has been extensively altered on the interior and repurposed twice since the mid-1970s.

City Architect Arthur H. Vinal designed the buildings in 1886 in the then popular style based on the work of Boston’s most celebrated architect, H. H. Richardson.  Vinal was a prolific architect who designed many buildings in the Richardsonian Romanesque style.  

Chestnut Hill Pumping Station (Photo courtesy of HAER)

His most celebrated design is the Chestnut Hill Pumping Station on Beacon Street in the Allston/Brighton neighborhood, completed in 1888.  The Pumping Station is even more of a direct homage to Richardson, reminding one of the series of libraries Richardson designed late in his career.

Police District 16 occupied the larger four story building at 951 which was noted as “the handsomest station house in America” in 1888, a year after its completion.   By the early 1900s, the police needed additional space and a small building at 955 Boylston was constructed in the Classical Revival style.  (It now houses Dillon’s Restaurant, named for a police captain who served here from 1920 until 1950).  Both buildings continued to serve their original function until 1975, when District 16 was consolidated with another nearby police district.  At that time, the four story building was completely gutted and renovated by Graham Gund Architects for use by the Institute of Contemporary Art.  Galleries and other spaces were created around a centralized staircase.  The Institute moved to larger quarters in 2007, and the building was acquired by the Boston Architectural College, which has its main building immediately to the north facing Newbury Street.  The College spent $14 million to purchase and renovate the building, which opened in 2012.  It was the first building added to its campus in 50 years.  The Newbury and Boylston buildings are connected by way of a green alley sustainability project.

The eastern building has always functioned as home to Engine Company 33 and Ladder Company 15.  It is connected to the police station by a central bay with a large opening that led to shared stable yards behind the buildings.  

Two huge arched openings on the fire station accommodated the equipment including the first ladder truck in Boston to be equipped with a three-horse hitch, and the first turntable aerial truck.  Plaques at the entrances memorialize four Boston firefighters killed in the line of duty who served out of the building:  Cornelius J. Noonan (d. 1938), Richard F. Concannon (d. 1961), Richard B. Magee (d. 1972), and Stephen F. Minehan (d. 1994). 

A tall turret at the northeast corner of the building was designed so that the heavy canvas hoses could be hung to dry.  

Classic Richardsonian Romanesque features of the buildings include numerous arches over doors and windows, carved foliate decoration, heavy rusticated stone, and clusters of engaged columns between windows.  

Fire alarm box on Boylston Street;
side of building visible at far right

Monday, August 28, 2017

Postcards from Boston #4 - First Baptist Church

Richardson’s first church design in Boston’s Back Bay is overshadowed by his monumental Trinity Church, which gave him a national reputation.  The commission for the Brattle Square Church, received in 1870, was extraordinarily important in his career, however, in that it is the first of his buildings to feature the characteristics of what became known as Richardsonian Romanesque. 

The congregation of Brattle Square Congregational Church constructed its first building in 1699, and a second was built a few years before the American Revolution.  By 1869, the Brattle Square area went into decline resulting in the congregation purchasing a prominent lot along Commonwealth Avenue in the developing Back Bay neighborhood.  H. H. Richardson was among a small number of architects asked to submit designs, possibly at the suggestion of Benjamin Crowninshield, a strong supporter of the project and father of Richardson’s Harvard classmate, Benjamin W. Crowninshield, for whom he had designed a nearby house in 1868. 

Construction began in 1871 and the building was finished in time to be dedicated just before Christmas in 1873.  The higher than expected cost of the building, combined with a financial depression in the early 1870s resulted in the congregation filing for bankruptcy in 1876.  

Six years later, it was acquired by the First Baptist Church for $100,000 which soon after engaged another architect to design a chapel at the west end of the building.  Galleries were added to the auditorium to correct acoustical issues in the original design.

The building is cruciform in shape; however, one arm is so short that the auditorium is actually T-shaped, with a huge rose window at each end of the T.  

The main axis runs parallel to Commonwealth Avenue, with entry off of Clarendon Street through an arcade consisting of three large arches composed of three different types of stone in shades of buff, cream, and red, set atop intricately carved foliate capitals.  

The floor of the entry porch is set with encaustic tiles in similar colors creating an overall harmony to the space.   

The stone used for the walls is a locally quarried Roxbury puddingstone, which works especially well for the Romanesque design, with the whole set beneath a roof of dark grey slate tiles set into decorative patterns.

The building is dominated by a massive 176-foot tower which rests on four large piers framing arched openings that form a covered carriageway.  

The tower contains multiple arched openings of various sizes and is capped by a pyramidal roof clad in red clay tiles.  

An enormous frieze near the top was designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, sculptor of the Statue of Liberty.  In was carved in situ by Italian stone carvers working from plaster models created by Bartholdi.  The four sides contain groupings of figures depicting the sacraments of baptism, communion, marriage, and death.  At each corner, angels blow through trumpets (originally gold in color), which earned the church the name “The Church of the Holy Bean Blowers.” 

Today, the church is in need of major repairs with canopies covering the sidewalks and scaffolding encasing the Bartholdi frieze.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Postcards from Boston #3 - Trinity Church Rectory

Three years after the completion of Trinity Church, H. H. Richardson was invited back by the congregation to design a rectory for Rev. Phillips Brooks.  Located just over a block to the north of the church on a corner lot at 233 Clarendon Street, the building shows Richardson’s mastery of a monochromatic palette to achieve a sophisticated and elegant design.

Richardson received the commission in April 1879 and the building was completed the following year.   The exterior is clad in a locally made hard red brick with trim of Longmeadow brownstone.  A balanced, asymmetrical façade is centered by the most commanding feature of the house – a low sprung arch surrounding a deeply recessed entry porch.  

Decorative stonework set within the arch over the door and three-part windows features Richardson’s trademark eight-petaled flower set amidst bands of triangles and simple geometric leaves.  

Foliate designs enliven the base of the arch, its inner perimeter, and the stair newel, while a band of double dentil trim surrounds the outer edge of the arch. 

The pitched roof features a forward-facing gable at each end and two dormers of different sizes in between, each with a different window configuration.  Of particular note is the finely laid brickwork set at 45 degree angles creating subtle triangular panels along the sides of the gables.  Bricks are laid in soldier courses at the level of the second floor windowsills, and a band of brickwork creating a checkerboard pattern is set between courses of brownstone framing the transoms of the first floor windows.  The second floor is dominated by three large panels of cut brick, in floral and foliate designs. 

The irregular arrangement of the windows reflects the interior configuration of the house.  One of the most prominent spaces was Brooks’ library, which was featured in Artistic Houses: Being a series of interior views of a number of the most beautiful and celebrated homes in the United States published in 1883-1884.  

The room was located at the south end of the first floor with the brick and stone fireplace placed in an alcove set within a projecting bay. 

After the death of Rev. Brooks in 1893, the building was enlarged by Richardson’s successor firm, Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, which added the present third floor.  Their design closely mimics the second floor below (without the decorative brick panels), and Richardson’s top floor was rebuilt above according to his original design.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Postcards from Boston #2 - Trinity Church

H. H. Richardson’s design for Trinity Church on Boston’s Copley Square firmly established him as the most important architect in this country, and also made him the first to be recognized and respected abroad.  This distinction was reinforced when his fellow architects selected Trinity Church to head the list of the ten best buildings in the United States in 1885.  A century later, it was the only building from the original list to be included in a similar survey sponsored by the American Institute of Architects.  More recently, Geoffrey Baer included the building in his PBS documentary “Ten Buildings That Changed America.”

Richardson received the commission through a competition in the spring of 1872, of which he was one of six architects invited to submit.  By the time construction began on the building itself in 1874, Richardson had moved his home and office to Brookline, so that he could closely supervise the building.  He would remain in Brookline for the remainder of his life, resulting in the largest concentration of his work being located in Boston and surrounding towns.

One of four piers supporting the tower

Work began in 1873 when 4,500 wooden piers were driven into the ground to support the enormous weight of the building.  Four huge piers in the sanctuary support the weight of the tower, and sit upon granite pyramids underground, measuring forty feet wide by twenty feet tall.  This massive engineering feat was essential, given that the site sat in the middle of the Back Bay, a former swampy area that had been filled in over the preceding fifteen years.  

Parish House

The overall plan of the building is in the shape of a Greek cross, with the Parish House extending to the northeast, reflecting the original irregularly shaped plot of land.

The exterior comprises four different types of local granite and is trimmed with Longmeadow brownstone.  Richly carved ornament is set amidst walls featuring Richardson’s trademark polychrome stone work, including checkboard and zigzag patterns on the front façade, and eight-petaled flowers on the apse.  

Inspiration for the overall design includes the French Romanesque which Richardson studied extensively during his years at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in the early 1860s.  His refinement of the style led to what later became known as Richardsonian Romanesque and characterized the buildings in the later years of his career.  The cathedral at Salamanca, Spain served as a model for the large tower. 

In 1876, at Richardson’s request, the congregation hired John La Farge to complete the interior decoration.  As noted by Keith Morgan in his Buildings of Boston, “(La Farge), assisted by Augustus St. Gaudens and a team of American artists, produced the most extensive scheme of figurative and architectural painted ornament of any American building up to that time, influencing the emergency of mural decoration in American public buildings.”

The interior features an exceptionally open auditorium for Rev. Phillips Brooks, a Harvard classmate of Richardson, considered one of the finest preachers of the late 19th century.  A marble bust by Daniel Chester French dominates the baptistry, and was completed in 1897.  It commemorates Brooks’ 22 years as rector of Trinity Church, and his two years as Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts, in which position he served until his death in 1893.

Christ in Majesty (detail)

The church features a dazzling collection of American and European stained glass windows.  Five are by La Farge, including the Christ in Majesty window set into three lancets over the main entrance, and his New Jerusalem window in the north transept.  

The New Jerusalem (detail)

That area features a series of windows by Sir Edward Burne-Jones for Morris & Co., who also designed the window, David’s Charge to Solomon, located in the baptistry.  

David's Charge to Solomon

William Morris as the head of Goliath (detail from upper right of window)

A humorous note is that Burne-Jones incorporated Morris’ image in the window, as the severed head of Goliath being held in the right hand of David.  Other English windows include a series of seven surrounding the chancel by Clayton & Bell of London and several by Henry Holiday, also of London, including Three Scenes in St. Paul’s Life, shown below.

Three Scenes in St. Paul's Life

The building was consecrated in February 1877 with the total cost of the site and building at $635,000.  In 1897, Richardson’s successors, Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, added the richly carved west porch, combining Richardson’s general scheme and the design of St. Trophime, a Romanesque church in Arles, France.  The firm returned to add the massive sculptural pulpit in 1914.  Architects Maginnis and Walsh extensively remodeled the apse in 1937-1938 to reflect the shift toward a more ceremonial form of worship.



A major restoration and expansion was begun in 2003, and continues to this day, with significant work on the exterior being undertaken during 2017. 

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