Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Mansard Roofed Houses, Maynard, MA

The image of impoverished writers, starving for their art and living in garrets, predated the era of Paris as a city of garrets tucked under mansard roofs. Garrets were attic living spaces - hot in summer, cold in winter - fit quarters only for servants or the poorer sort of tenants. The British artist William Hogarth, renowned satirist, painted The Distrest Poet in 1736 as an image of a writer awash in poverty - he sits at his garret desk, pen in hand, while his wife is darning clothes and a milkmaid stands in the doorway, demanding payment of debts. [An observation: When Hogarth published and sold engravings of the image, the black-and-white prints were a mirror image of the original oil painting, so that the distressed poet switched from being right handed to left handed.]   

As to what is and why called 'mansard,' the style originated with a French architect, Francois Mansart (1598-1666). He was an builder for the wealthy aristocracy, and even for them a tribulation, as he at times changed his plans in mid-construction and insisted the building be torn down and started over again. He fell out of favor with the royal court and others when the foundation for one of his buildings cost more than his original estimate for the entire project.

The Paris of mansard-roofed buildings (and garrets) dates to what is referred to as the "Second Empire Style" of French architecture  (1855-1885). Emperor Napoleon III ordered a reconstruction of Paris that swept away the medieval street plan of Paris, resulting in the elegant city we are familiar with today. Boulevards were lined with stone-faced, five-story buildings capped by a mansard roof. This top space was in effect a sixth floor walk-up (elevators not yet invented).

Mansard roof design calls for a nearly vertical roof that slants in on all sides. At a height similar to a floor of the building all sides of the roof continue at a very shallow upward slant. The steep part of the roof is punctuated by dormers. The net effect is a habitable living space under the roof rather than an additional floor of the building. Decorative details are ornate rather than spare.

The Lorenzo Maynard mansion on Dartmouth Street. Built 1870s.
In the U.S., Second Empire Style houses and public buildings came into vogue during the time of  post-Civil War prosperity, especially among the wealthy merchant class. Houses had two or three floors capped by a mansard roof. These houses typically had extensive porches, sometimes a tower, and a carriage house, also with a mansard roof. In Maynard, the best existing example is Lorenzo Maynard's mansion, at 7-9 Dartmouth Road. It still has the original stained glass windows. The modest house to the west was Lorenzo's carriage house. There are two more on Dartmouth - the next house over (#13) and an 1960s-built apartment complex at the site of what had been Amory Maynard's even larger mansard roofed mansion.    

Four other 1870s mansard-roofed houses grace Maynard. Three are on Maple Street. One has a similarly roofed carriage house. The largest of the three is now four apartments, but once was the dwelling of the Case family, owner of W.B. Case & Sons, Dry Goods - now the Outdoor Store. The last is a house just west of ArtSpace, on Summer Street.
Gambrel roof house (internet photo)

A mansard roof is related but not the same thing as a gambrel roof. The latter are common in Maynard. Gambrels are seen more often on rectangular buildings which have only one story below the roof. The shorter sides rise straight up from ground to peak, while the roof on the long sides starts steep, often punctuated by windowed dormers, then continues with a less slanted roof to the roof beam. The architectural style is called Dutch Colonial. Many of the homes in the part of town with streets named after Presidents have gambrel roofs. 

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