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11:09:2004 Entry: "Ann : Dancing About Architecture"

Dancing About Architecture

The other day I was watching one of those shows on HGTV where they show people's houses that have some interesting bit of history and show how the person has decorated/renovated them to make them very unique. One of the houses was what they referred to as a "shotgun" house. That word and the building structure stuck in my head. First of all, the building was nothing special, rather small, but what made it special is that it was in such an incredible state of decay when the owner renovated it, and now it's completely liveable, not to mention artistically redone. Second, that word, "shotgun house" haunted me. Where have I heard that before? Ah, the Talking Heads: "You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack." Although the house in the show was in New Orleans, I swear I have seen shotgun house before, especially in Fort Collins. Am I mistaken? I decided to do some research.

I found out that the term shotgun may refer to the way the rooms are lined up; theoretically, you cold shoot a shotgun through the front door, all the way through and have it exit the rear door. The house is several rooms deep and only one room wide (of course that assumes all the doors line up in the same spot). Or perhaps shotgun is an adaptation of the original African word for house, "to-gun"--the style is supposed to have orginated from slaves brought from Africa over to the Caribbean, and it then moved northward to the deep South, and then even further northward and outward to Missouri and the Carolinas. I wonder if it even made it further north and west to like...Colorado...or if the houses I seem to recall are even a further adaptation or modification/mutation...some sort of Colorado Vernacular Architecture.

I learned that term...vernacular architecture. As vernacular, when commonly referring to language, means an everyday language spoken by people peculiar to a certain region as opposed to a literary language, vernacular architecture is a sort of folk architecture composed of possibly many different styles and constructed by carpenters and craftsmen as opposed to designed by architects in a particular style (i.e., Victorian, Greek Revival, Dutch Colonial, etc.)

I learned that the house on the HGTV show was probably a "double shotgun" which is sort of like a duplex, with two shotgun houses side by side. The owner renovated it into a single-family building. It also looked like a creole cottage, but I would suspect if it was, someone on the HGTV staff would've known better. I failed to take notice of the roofline. A creole cottage's roofline is parallel to the street, whereas a shotgun house's roofline is perpendicular. The fronts of the houses look similar to me, with the long, shuttered windows. A very good site I found with interesting information on these types of houses is here: Bywater Neighborhood Association.

I do wonder if my and Stan's future had taken us to the south instead of where we are, would we be owning a shotgun fixer-upper? A creole cottage? A camelback (shotgun with a 2nd story on the back)? Instead of whatever it is we own? What is it that we own, I wonder. I did further research. I'm pretty sure it's some sort of vernacular architecture. The best I could come up with for its style is "Vernacular Folk Victorian Cottage."

Across our street are a row of houses that must have been some of the first tract housing in Madison...circa 1910. Both our next door neighbors' houses are really similar to eachothers, however our house on our block is unique. In fact, I've only found two other houses like it in Madison, both on the east side as we are, but north of East Washington (we're south of it). The other two houses have not had the extensive mid-century remodelling as ours had, at least not on the exterior. Fortunately, all three houses have wood siding--the other two never seemed to have ever acquired that nasty faux brick WWII-era tarpaper, and we removed ours and restored the wood. Unfortunately, a starburst pattern that surrounded our attic window was removed around the time the stupid tarpaper was added. They literally chiseled it off so that the tarpaper would lay flat, the bastards. We added some classy gingerbread scrollwork we found at a local Menards to make up for the loss, making our house even more unique. Last year we finished painting our house's exterior. "Frangipani," a light buttery color, is the base. We painted the 2nd story gable ends "Dutch Cocoa". We used "Baked Clay" and "Taupe" (very neutral) as the trims. It's not as decorative as San Francisco Painted Ladies, but it's very decorative for our area in Madison. We've gotten lots of compliments on it. When we uncovered the tarpaper, we saw the original paint color was dark brown and the trim was an ochre. Typical for its era (our house was built in 1908, I believe), but too dark and depressing for me. I wanted a light main color for the first floor so that it would reflect light back into the windows for our houseplants' sake, but I wanted to keep it in the same hue range (browns, golds, warm earth tones) as the original. One of the other houses like ours is painted in tasteful sages and dark browns, unfortunately the third house is all white (yuck).

But back to shotgun houses. For years, I have had reocurring dreams about a fictional Fort Collins. The dreams have been frequent, sometimes dealing with different areas of the town. They're usually not mentioned with my dreams I record for this journal because they're so common that they're almost a subtext, and not important to the more "plot" oriented dreams I write down. These have repetitive motifs...travelling through these different parts of "Fort Collins," seeing the landscape and the houses that are all pretty much consistent during each different dream. I could actually map out this city's regions, and describe what each region is like. Certain parts of "midtown" Dream Fort Collins, east side, is a low-lying region. The houses are old, in decay. Some are on stilts or brick piers, much the way shotgun houses were built. Other parts of Dream Fort Collins, like East Stuart/Stover Street, has areas where all the house are painted white, very small on very small lots. Some of the pictures I've come across on this recent shotgun house research have been very similar to these dream images. Where did these dream images come from? I've never been to the south...I'm a northern creature. When I was merely a young teen I had scary dreams about burned out or decaying houses on stilts, something I'd never seen in my life, only to see, years later, something on tv showing those kinds of houses in the south. This is a mystery.

I did manage to find this link at the Colorado Historical Society showing Vernacular Masonry style homes of Colorado. Those houses, especially the two in the middle, look SOOOooooo old Fort Collins. I know we have been in houses like that when we were looking for places to rent. I do not find them attractive at all, and I feared if Stan and I decided to stay in Fort Collins and buy a house there, we would have had to settle for something like that.

And finally in my housing research, I came back to Madison. I found these two links to Lustron Homes, which are post-WWII all steel cold war pre-fab homes. There are some in Madison. I never knew that's what they were before. I was always fascinated by their exterior siding...I thought it was just some sort of mid-century aluminum siding that was square rather than made to look like wood slats. I didn't realize it was porcelainized steel. I didn't realize the whole house, including built ins and plumbing, was steel. It sounds awful...noisy, cold in winter, hot in summer, susceptible to rust, dark, claustrophobic. It just begs the question, what were they thinking? I later found this link to the Journal Sentinel that highlights one of Madison's morning radio hosts, Sly, and *his* Lustron home. His decor is all very ironic and retro, and very fitting of that era. It's more like a museum piece, rather than a home. I need a house that breathes, personally.


Interesting your dance about architecture :)

Posted by hildur @ 10:08:2004:03:12 AM CST

It's from a famous saying, I believe by Laurie Anderson, which went something like "Writing about Art is like Dancing about Architecture" or something like that.

Posted by Ann @ 10:08:2004:08:45 AM CST

By Ann @ 13:33 PM CST ..::Link::..