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The Aldine (1.1)

On May 9th, 1914, disaster struck Halsey Wood’s only (so far as we know at the time of writing) apartment building.

The “Aldine” stood at the corner of North Broad Street at Lombard (just one block north of Peddie Baptist), a six-story brick building with commercial rental space on the ground floor, four levels of apartments, and an attic for servants and, very likely, storage. The building is reported to have been the first of its kind in Newark. I’ve looked at postcard images of Peddie for years and never noticed the apartment building just beyond it (left of the large tree), the selfsame “Aldine” mentioned in the Manufacturer & Builder:

A. L. Dennis is about to erect a five-story apartment house, 60×100 feet, on the corner of Lombard [actually Lombardy] and Broad streets, Newark, N.J. It will be known as the Aldine Apartment House. It will be faced with Trenton brick on the front, and relieved with selected North River stone. On the north side the roof is to be of slate. It will contain twelve suites of apartments. Besides the drying room, servants’ and janitor’s apartment, each suite of apartments will have a reception parlor, dining-room and kitchen. It will be heated by steam, and have an Otis elevator running from the basement to the upper floor. W. Halsey Wood is the architect. The cost is to be $50,000.

Sadly, there is no reference here to the multi-story skylit atrium which proved to be the building’s downfall and the cause of three deaths, all of them servants housed on the top floor.

There is an incidental note in the AA&BN correcting an earlier reference attributing the building to another architect but also suggesting this was to be Newark’s first New York-style apartment building.


WHW and South Orange

The leafy upscale suburbs called The Oranges are likely turf for discovery of additional WHW projects, particularly large scale residential work. And while his houses in Newark have not fared well, there’s potential for a higher survival rate farther out on those 19th century commuter rail lines. I can hope.

I mention this only because the South Orange Methodist church is suggested as a Halsey Wood design. I’ve mentioned it earlier and spoken recently with friend-of-the-project Richard Kenyon, another pair of eyes to see what I may not (and vice versa).

I’ve looked at enough of Wood’s designs to make two observations: #1) his mid-sized projects have a geometric discipline about them, both as plans and as volumes/masses, which is not sufficiently present in the South Orange church—at least insofar as I can tell from available on-line resources; and #2) with very few exceptions, Wood rarely repeated himself.

Aerial view of South Orange-Vailsburg Methodist Church

This aerial view of the South Orange church shows a wondrous accumulation of diverse geometric elements, articulating the interior complexities of typical late 19th century “Social Gospel” Protestant Christianity—auditorium sanctuary, Akron Plan Sunday school, and other adjunct spaces for the full range of expanded programming. But the handful of Wood’s other non-Episcopal commissions aren’t nearly this complex on the exterior, even though he understood and included Akron components in at least two of them. Complex multi-valent interior spatial relationships abound—witness the plan of Peddie Baptist, the church whose towers are echoed at South Orange—but the exteriors are deceptively tidy and disciplined by contrast.

In those cases where WHW does “repeat” it is more often than not the development of an idea rather than its simple reiteration. His churches at Kansas City and Chattanooga, for example, demonstrate that, as does the series of “modular” designs for the Jersey Shore and elsewhere.

Stay tuned.


Idle speculation is the Devil’s workshop.

This curious pile of masonry has been in the Akron-Auditorium database for a couple years, but looking at these postcard images today has caused me to wonder who its architect may have been. Its construction date is wrong for Wood’s involvement (1902-1903) and Halsey Wood did no work for any Methodist congregation that I’m aware (though he did for Baptists and Presbyterians, so it’s not out of the question). But look at those mismatched towers and then compare them with Peddie Memorial.

The only way this works is if the Methodists of South Orange had commissioned Wood five years before construction and then sat on the project while waiting for better economic conditions. Certainly not beyond possibility.

OPTION #2: Then, of course, there is the “trickle down” principle applied to architecture: Wood’s Peddie church was strongly influential on another architect, who could mimic him with impunity, since Wood had died in 1897. The rest of the stonework seems entirely too timid.

OPTION #3: Wood’s death at the age of 41 was unexpected, so there would have been multiple projects on the boards at the time. His assistant at the end was Henry Baechlin, who inherited the practice and provided some assistance in the completion of these works. It’s possible that Baechlin is the link with south Orange.

Seriously, though, those are the towers of a tall building—which South Orange M.E. isn’t—rather than the towers of a building that wants to be tall. Much as I’d like to add another WHW building to the list, it’s hard to make a case for this one.

Marcus Sayre Residence, South Orange, NJ

Halsey Wood’s houses are rare survivals these days. So many of them were in Newark and the Oranges — leafy suburban enclaves that have been heavily suburbanized — that most have disappeared and left very little visual record. Among those now gone was the home of Marcus Sayre, owner of the Builders’ Material Supply Co. in Newark. Sayre’s home was located in South Orange, on Scotland Road at the southwest corner of its intersection with Montrose Avenue. You can see its footprint and that of his carriage house on a 2.7 acre site about one block east of what is today the Mountain Station of the NJTransit system. North is more or less up.

It may be the local historical society will have photo files to satisfy my immense curiosity.

Church of the Redeemer, NYC (1.1)

Wood’s Episcopal Church of the Redeemer was built at the corner of 82nd Street and Fourth Avenue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Since that time, Fourth Avenue has been renamed Park Avenue and the street’s character has changed considerably. The Church of the Redeemer has long since disappeared, however, and there is remarkably little visual information available about it (without a research trip to NYC, which I can ill afford in either time of dollars, unfortunately). Here is some stopgap material for the meantime, drawn from The Churchman and the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

The G.W. Bromley Survey Atlas of 1891 confirms the location of Redeemer, which makes much clearer the building’s placement and context. Most of Wood’s Manhattan churches were mid-block and party-wall sites, or nearly so, inhibiting most of the prominence and dignity he had hoped to achieve.

The tower is similar to the unbuilt scheme of Trinity church, San Francisco, though I can’t say which came first.

SMAAA, Anniston, AL (1.1)

The Church of St Michael and All Angels, was begun in 1888 and ready for service in 1890. Industrialist John Ward Noble built the complex for a congregation of English textile workers; but since they have long since departed the community, and the parish is somewhat Anglo-Catholic in a diocese which is “low” church, St Michael’s is remarkable in many respects. How the client, John Ward Noble, came to know WHW isn’t clear, nor do I know whether Wood visited the site before, during or after construction. A master’s thesis in art history was written some years ago at the University of Alabama–Birmingham, but it deals to a very large degree with social history and the Noble family as the context for the building’s story. I’ll review my copy and summarize it for you.

Both The Churchman and The Spirit of Missions were church periodicals that supported the Anglo-Catholic view (or, at least, weren’t hostile to it) and, as you might expect, WHW received a lot of press in their pages. Shortly after dedication, The Churchman devoted three pages to St Michael’s, including an interior of the sanctuary, a detail of the reredos, and a plan of one of Wood’s more complex commissions.

The group—which occupies an entire city block—consists of the church itself, the rectory, a parish hall and school, and (I think) space intended by Noble to house a convent of Episcopal nuns.

On one of his trips to Florida a few years ago, our partner in crime Richard Kenyon detoured through Anniston to visit SMAAA (as it is often abbreviated) and passed along the shock and awe of such a monument to “high” churchmanship in so modest a community. I look forward to my own visit a.s.a.p. to compare the simple rectangle of the sanctuary (with little architectural definition between nave and chancel) with other late churches by Wood that are also essentially boxes: Ascension in Pittsburgh comes to mind. Perhaps SMAAA can be understood as a preliminary for those that followed.

The reredos was designed by Wood and manufactured by Rudolph Geissler (I believe), with whom Wood often worked.

WHW at Linville, NC

It isn’t every day (though I wish it were) that I can add a new project to the WHW gazetteer.

From The Churchman, 06 June 1891, p. 899:

—The Linville Improvement Company has offered a site and $1,000 to the denomination building the best church at Linville this summer. A condition of the offer is that the work shall be commenced not later than July 1, and the Rev. C. N. F. Jeffrey is extremely anxious to secure sufficient funds at once to justify him in submitting plans for a church with the hope of receiving the preference. Plans have been given by the well-known architect, William Halsey Wood, of Newark, but it is necessary that, before sending them in to the company for competition, Mr. Jeffrey should have such promises of financial help as will enable him to satisfy the company of his ability, in case his plans are preferred, to proceed with the work. Here is a splendid opportunity to build a church at small cost in one of the most rapidly developing sections of the state, and friends of the Church and of Linville everywhere are asked to assist in carrying the work to a successful issue. Promises payable on demand after July 1 may be sent to the Rev. C. N. F. Jeffrey, Charlotte, N. C., or to Miss Mary MacRae, Wilmington, N. C.

A hasty search suggests that this church was not built.