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ARCH 771, Fall 2020 1.1

ARCH 771, Fall 2020

Enrollment as of 15 August 2020

  • BROWN, Douglas, Jr.
  • BROWN, Troy
  • BUSCHKE, Bailey
  • CROWE, Devin
  • FORD, Taylor
  • HILL, Amanda
  • HYATT, Brandon
  • MASON, Alex
  • MATEJCEK, Karlie Anne
  • MEYER, Sean
  • MILLER, Marcy
  • PUKAL. Evan
  • SANDERS, Luke
  • SKIDMORE, Jonathan
  • STROH, Anna

Other than Marcy and Alex and one of the Brown twins, you are largely unknowns. But that’s one-way ignorance; you know full well who I am and what I represent—or at least you think they do.


Bench Marks

I’m not one who values quantity over quality, presuming I can tell the difference between good writing and its opposite. But every now and then I do enjoy checking on the stats for this site, the number of pages viewed since its beginning. So, today I looked and found 43,223 pages viewed. Just thought you’d like to know.

NITC (2.4)

Nothing says “end of the line” quite like this station at Third and Jones streets in Sioux City, Iowa.

Many words have been spent here on the subject of infrastructure, especially of the interurban and trolley variety. For the classic treatment of interurbans in America, consult the volume by George Hilton, but it’s gonna cost you.

What may not be widely known is that the third elevated railway in urban America, after New York City and Chicago, was in Sioux City, Iowa. An idea born in 1888, it ran neither very far nor very long. But I wonder if its incongruity may not have inspired Agincourt’s N.I.T.C. enterprise begun in 1909 (but conceived a couple years earlier, I suspect).

Beginning in Fort Dodge (or ending there, depending on your point of view), the Northwest Iowa Traction Co. went to and through Agincourt but never achieved a connection with the Missouri River valley. Whether money or enthusiasm ran out isn’t recorded. Either Council Bluffs or Sioux City would have been logical targets — I never quite decided, myself — but the trackage of the Sioux City Transportation Co. would have been a lure to head northwest, rather than west. An article about the company is unclear how long it operated or how long the elevated trackage remained. If it was long enough for the NITC promoters to obtain the use of its right-of-way, I suddenly have inspiration to get back to work on that piece of community history.

 The scale of interurban cars can be intimidating, somewhere between passenger rail and a streetcar or trolley.This two-car Fort Dodge, Des Moines & Southern Railway train is stopped at Ames, a heavily-used station due to the State College traffic. I suspect ridership on the N.I.T.C. might have been substantially less and required only single cars.

The challenge at the moment is to create a schedule or stops, mileage and estimated time between them. Which means tweaking Iowa geography just a little than we already have — to squeeze the state’s one-hundredth county between at least four others. A typical schedule would have looked something like this:

“Opera is actually a lot better than it sounds.” —Cecil Elliott

Our dear friend Cecil Elliott left us long before the Agincourt Project was (ill)conceived but his fingerprints are everywhere. One of his more memorable quotes — those who knew him have their own — is the title of this piece: a suggestion that what we may see as a substantially aural experience is anything but. I learned this lesson quite by accident.

Twin City composer Dominick Argento, who passed just over a year ago, is renowned for the several operas in his long list of compositions. A 1987 work “The Aspern Papers” is based on a Henry James novella written a hundred years before. Commissioned and premiered by the Dallas Opera, it was performed soon after at the Ordway in St Paul. I was there for the second performance in one of the very cheap seats in nose-bleed territory.

The plot centers on the supposed existence of American poet Jeffrey Aspern’s papers. They may be held by an old lover living in Venice. An American visits the old woman and beguiles her to reveal the papers’ existence. Desperate to have access, the narrator seduces the old woman’s niece toward that end.

This is from the Dallas production, not the Minnesota.

There is an amazing scene at the opera’s conclusion with two revelations: the spinster-niece realizes she has been used and her aunt protects herself and Aspern’s memory by burning the papers. At an earlier point, however, when Aunt Juliana reminisces about her passionate relation with the poet fifty years earlier. And so in one and the same room where those events transpired, there is a quartet — the couple, young Juliana and Aspern, and the other pair, the aged Juliana and the writer. What is remarkable is the quartet they sing, two duets entwined with one another. On stage it is easily understood because the costumes are period appropriate, light pastels for the flashback characters and somber Victorian for the present day (1880s). Each pair has to negotiate the room oblivious of the other, no easy staging, yet their voices blend and complement. It was a stunning experience.

I hadn’t realized until the next day how true Cecil Elliott’s observation had been in this case. On the next day, Minnesota Public Radio did a simulcast, which I enjoyed at home, reliving the event of the night before. But when it came to that crucial, magical scene, it fell completely apart. Without the costumes and staging to explain its complexity, it became what I’d characterize as an aural swamp: nothing made sense without costume, set, staging AND music. Opera was, in fact, a lot better than it sounded.

Why am I harping on this here today? Because Agincourt, too, is a multi-sensory experience. Or at least it should be, optimally, and has been with the aid of the community’s Composer-not-in-Residence Daron Hagen and the contribution of authentic “Windmill” cookies from Marcie Baker, still warm from the oven (the cookies, not Marcie).

Frank Lloyd Wright in Iowa

During the Prairie School years, the early period of Frank Lloyd Wright’s long career, Iowa was privileged to have at least two of his buildings: the Dr Stockman house and the combined City National Bank and Park Inn, all in Mason City. From an Agincourt point of view, that’s interesting on several counts.

First, both of those projects date from 1908-1909, a little earlier than Sullivan’s bank and church commissions. In 1908, our hero Anson Tennant was nineteen years old and already oriented toward a career in architecture. Second, both of these Wright designs were located in Mason City, which coïncidentally happens to be the home town of his mother Martha Corwin Curtiss. Indeed, summers at his maternal grandfather’s house exposed Anson to carpentry and construction, important events in young Tennant’s life. Why had the question never arisen in my mind: Was Anson Tennant aware of the Wright projects during any of his visits to Mason City. Since all this is substantially fiction, perhaps I get to decide.

A third coïncidence is the 1909 construction of Agincourt’s street railway company, Northwest Iowa Traction. Anson would have been too young and inexperienced to have been involved with the NITC depot. BUT — and this is an important “but” — a small trolley station was built in the burgeoning industrial district on the Muskrat’s west bank. Anson’s dad Jim Tennant was an NITC stockholder and in a position to nudge a small project like that in his son’s direction. I can’t speak for you but that’s enough justification for me to break out pencil and paper.

The Wasmuth Monograph

A fourth and clinching coïncidence was the publication in Berlin of Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright, usually abbreviated as the Wasmuth Monograph or Portfolio after its publisher Ernst Wasmuth. Published in 1910 in two folio volumes, it included one hundred large plates of his work to that date. Some were drawn by Marion Mahoney Griffin, some by Wright’s son Lloyd Wright (FLlW junior) but all in the style of ukiyo-e Japanese prints that characterize the Oak Park years.

I don’t know the number of folios that were published, but those destined for the American market were shipped to Wright’s home in Wisconsin, “Taliesin”, where they were promptly destroyed in the fire of August 1914. I don’t know the number of copies that actually found buyers, but Wright did advertise its availability in architectural journals. If you’d like a copy today, there’s one offered for $85,000. Please buy it and remove the temptation.

My point is simple: Anson Tennant could easily have known and actually seen an important early work by Wright, the City National Bank and adjacent Park Inn. And as Jim Tennant’s only son and heir, one wonders if a copy of the Wasmuth Portfolios could have materialized under the 1911 Tennant Christmas tree.

Early Water-powered Industry

It’s doubtful that Agincourt ever boasted anything so grand as these, the Five Rise Locks at Bingley, in the U.K. Before the arrival of railroads, transport was chiefly by river and there was never a need for an engineering feat like Bingley — which I’ve visited twice in my life, so far, and would gladly go again but with a picnic lunch this time — due to Iowa’s mellow topography, except along the Mississippi. It is surprising, however, how many water-powered mills there were, each requiring some sort of dam or weir to create a millpond.

Something was built early in Agincourt’s history (about 1860) for the Occidental flour mill, on the Muskrat’s west bank. [The irony must have been lost on its founders.] What sort of dam/weir initially held back the river to power the mill isn’t determined (one of those gaps in the story and material culture of Agincourt that aren’t necessary) but it may have have been enhanced for the next piece of industry, the Syndicate Mill of 1868. Something like this sluice gate would have allowed the new mill to access that energy.


The Greek Revival

The Greek Revival is probably the earliest architectural style that arrived in Agincourt in the mid-1850s. Vestiges of the style remained on the East Coast, but it had largely spent itself there and came West only as a memory of the “home” that had been left behind.

As with many styles, its heyday in Britain and on the Continent was spent before Agincourt had been founded. Architects like William and Henry William Inwood, father and son, designed St Pancras church in London, taking inspiration from Stuart and Revett’s Antiqvities of Athens, published in 1762, such as using the “Porch of the Maidens” on the Erechtheion or the “Tower of the Winds” that he adapted as the vestries and bell tower, respectively, on the church. Karl Freiderich Schinkel in Germany became expert in applying its simple dignities to the rebuilding of Berlin so the Hohenzollerns might keep pace with the Bourbons and the Habsburgs.

Here in the U.S., the Greek Revival style coincides with our Federal Period and put its stamp on such early buildings as the Second Bank of the United States and the Philadelphia Stock Exchange. But I believe its highest calling may have been the small churches of New England, New York and Pennsylvania like the one at Holland Patent, NY.

New England, western New York and Pennsylvania are peppered with carefully-proportioned buildings such as these, usually of frame construction and very often carpenter-built, i.e., without benefit of architect. A skillful master building could produce elegance of this sort and, as itinerants, they plied their trade from one community to the next, creating clusters or garlands of them across the landscape. It was buildings like this that came farther west into Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and beyond up into the 1850s. And it was this model that inspired the First Baptist church in Agincourt, a building of 1858 from the hand of the aging builder Amos Beddowes.

In addition to the Greek Revival style, First Baptist was also an opportunity for this latent Victorian (me) to explore classically-inspired proportioning systems such as were used by the ancient Greeks, particularly the “Golden Section”, one of the half dozen most remarkable numbers in all of mathematics.