Sunday, April 1, 2007

'Springfield Present and Prospective (1905), The Visible Charm, As It Was, Is, and May Be,' Excerpt VII

Another installment of 'Springfield Present and Prospective' (Pond & Campbell 1905), the book currently being transcribed as part of the historical book series presented on these pages. We continue chapter one, 'The Visible Charm, As It Was, Is, and May Be,' with section three, 'Churches, Monuments and Chimneys,' from part III, 'Architectural Garments.' The author is Eugene C. Gardner, a prominent Springfield resident and an accomplished architect, who, together with his son, George Clarence Gardner, also an architect, designed such significant city structures as the Chestnut School, the Myrtle School and the Springfield district court building at 1600 E. Columbus Avenue. The latter two are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Eugene C. Gardner's fussy interest in architecture, evident in his contribution to 'Springfield Present and Prospective,' is also reflected in his other written endeavors, including 'Homes and How to Make Them (1874),' compiled in a homespun 'letters to the architect' format, and 'The House that Jill Built, After Jack's had Proved a Failure (1882),' another folksy approach to architecture through word, with many interesting illustrations and diagrams. Both books are available for free reading or download at Project Gutenberg, currently hosting 20,000 titles, including audio books and digitized sheet music.

Without further interruption...

Continued from: 'III. Architectural Garments, Part 2. Commercial and Municipal.'

III. Architectural Garments

3. Churches, Monuments and Chimneys
Local ecclesiastical architecture is easily disposed of. There are plenty of cities in the world infested by eager tourists, sung by enamored poets, and coveted by military heroes, whose fame rests almost solely on the marvelous beauty and impressive grandeur of their churches and cathedrals. Even the buildings of state, erected by the rulers of great nations with apparent utter recklessness as to cost, are less notable on the whole than those which have been inspired by religious sentiment and devoted to its expression. It will hardly be considered unkind to say that Springfield is in no immediate danger of being ravaged by rapacious generals, preserved in ponderous poetry, or tormented by tourists, solely on account of the magnificence of her churches. Leaving out the venerable and hoary First church, which by reason of its halo of historic sentiment and hallowed associations can hardly enter the race on its architectural merits, there are four or five others that are justly entitled to admiration for their beauty; although in two or three of these it would appear that the lamp of sacrifice flickered and went out before they were completed. Aside from these, of the various buildings used for religious purposes, none rise above the commonplace. If any one of them should be destroyed, it is doubtful if it would be rebuilt in its present form solely for the sake of its architectural excellence.

Monumental architecture belongs either to some of the dead and gone golden ages, renowned for a precocious development of physical courage and intellectual refinement, or else to the tyrannical reigns of great autocrats, able to compel the unlimited resources of a kingdom, including the unrequited toil of their subjects. We have escaped the latter condition and have not yet attained the former. In our commercial age, the successful production and accumulation of material wealth makes it inevitable that the finer intellectual, aesthetic and moral qualities are often submerged under waves of financial success and business ambition. We have no time nor inclination for "Art for Art's sake;" there must also be money in it.

In combination with other structures, spires and towers are somewhat monumental in purpose, though these were originally intended for use, either as campaniles or as observatories when enemies were expected, and for hurling hot pitch and Greek fire on their heads as soon as they arrived. When to the strength and magnitude of defensive towers, grace of form and beauty of detail were added, they came to be recognized as among the most impressive examples of the builder's art, the most effective of decorative features. Seen from a distance, the simplest of strictly utilitarian structures, be-smoked and be-sooted steam chimneys, greatly improve the landscape of a city. If beauty is ever recognized as an essential element in all the work of our hands, as it will be when we are sufficiently civilized - say, for instance, as highly civilized in this direction as the Japanese - so obvious an opportunity for combining the two as exists in these great organs of respiration, will not be neglected, and every steam chimney, like every urban park and church spire, will be beautiful not only to the stockholders and the employees but to all good people in sight of it. Of course, long before that time the "smoke nuisance" will be not merely "abated" but abolished, and there will be no stain on the escutcheons, or the chimneys, of the great corporations.

From monumental to industrial architecture, by way of the chimney tops, is an easy step and highly suggestive of the close relation between the useful and the beautiful. If industrial architecture is given a shelf by itself, there are few cities that would make a more creditable showing than this city of homes and industry. The venerable buildings of the United States Armory are models of simplicity and agreeable proportions. It is undoubtedly through their silent influence that many of the more important factories in the city exhibit a thoughtful regard for careful, harmonious design.

It appears, therefore, that in modification of Nature's perfect legacy by means of architectural garments, we have not gone far astray. There is health and hope and vigor in us, and while much remains to be done, there is comparatively little that needs to be undone.
Next: 'IV. Looking Forward, Part 1. Bed Rock.'

Complete chapters of 'Springfield Present and Prospective':
Chapter 7: 'The Story of Springfield,' by Alfred M. Copeland and Edwin Dwight (includes book title page)

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