Whence the Gablefront House

The meaning of the Gablefront house to Gallows Hill having been made clear, the next obvious matter is “Wherefore hence Gablefront“.

Downgrading the Greek Revival

In the early 19th century, roughly 1820 to the Civil War, the predominant polite, or formal, architecture style in Salem, and in America at-large, was Greek Revival. Like Gablefront, a Greek Revival house also has a gable front roof, but here the gable is fully pedimented and low pitched (an isosceles triangle not an equatorial triangle), the lower pitch made possible by the wider frame of the house, three bays not two bays in the typical Gablefront. The wider frame leaves room for the main entryway to be in the front, not the side as in most Gablefronts, and the entryway is not centered but lined up with the left or right window bay. A Greek Revival house is gussied up next to a Gablefront, the windows always shuttered and often topped with lintels, the main entryway flanked by columns, topped by a pediment, and frequently adorned with transom and sidelight panels or glass panes.Greek Revival basics

As the popularity of the Greek Revival peaked circa 1840, local builders started “slimming down” the style to derive the Gablefront, obviously arrived at from Greek Revival style, but without the appurtenances of Greek Revival. A poor man’s Greek Revival, so to speak. The Gablefront would be popular to the end of the 19th century and even into early years of the 20th, while the Greek Revival style had passed from popularity by the Civil War

The narrowing of the frame in the reduction of Greek Revival to Gablefront had many advantages. The high-pitched gabled roof hindered accumulation of snow and ice in the winter. Central heating and cooling in the mid-19th century was unknown except for the wealthiest. In the summer heat opening windows on both sides of a Gablefront allowed cooling cross-ventilation; in the winter warming sunlight would penetrate the full living space. The Gablefront in its way was an early example of green engineering long before the term achieved resonance in the early 21st century.

156-158 Boston St

Nowhere better is the distinction yet the similarity between Greek Revival and Gablefront highlighted than this pair of homes on Boston St in Gallows Hill. On the right an elegant and loudly colored Greek Revival. On the left a demure Gablefront. The Greek Revival has a full roof pediment with friezeboard; the Gablefront has not. The Greek Revival has handsomely decorated windows; the Gablefront has not. The Greek Revival has a striking front entryway adorned with entablature and pilasters; the Gablefront has an unobtrusive side entryway.

The transition from Greek Revival to Gablefront, like all architectural transitions, was not sudden, but, in keeping with the archetype of evolution, gradual and almost indiscernible. Take this early 19th-century house in the McIntire District. 115 Federal StcGreek Revival for sure, but the roof pediment is broken, the house is only two bays wide, and the elegant Greek Revival entryway, complete with columns and portico, is tucked away to the side. Traces of Gablefront style, though not quite there.

A realty listing once of the Gallows Hill Gablefront house this blogger lives in described it as a “modified” Greek Revival. Erroneous, but in light of the evolution of architectural styles not all that far from correct.

Upgrading the Gablefront

As noted previously the Gablefront house is simple to build and highly adaptable. Given the American propensity to upgrade their residences, no sooner would have a Gablefront house been occupied than the improvements commenced. Perhaps a small portico to smarten up the main entryway. Dormers to the roof to add living space on the top floor. A bay window to replace the drab original windows. Perhaps an oriel window on the second floor. A small porch to the front to provide cover to entering guests. Dress up the eaves.

13-15 Oak St

Two once near-identical Gablefronts. The one on the right apart from an added oriel retains humble Gablefront appearance. The one on the left dressed up for high society.

Sometimes, as in this example in the Blubber Hollow section of Gallows Hill, go all out. A grand Palladian window in a humble Gablefront! Why the nerve!

Eventually, rather than have bay windows and porches and such as after-market upgrades, build them in as original equipment. So grew the Queen Anne style from the basic Gablefront. If one bay window is fine, why not more bay windows on other sides or other floors. If a porch is fine, why not exuberantly wrap a large porch around the front and side, or even add a porch to the rear or to the 2nd floor. Extend the roof eaves well beyond the wall below and adorn with with patterned wood shingles. Keep the high-pitched gable front roof, but perhaps add extra gables, and while you’re at it maybe even a roof turret.

Since by the late 19th century central heating was now commonplace the narrow two-bay wide front wall could be widened to three bays. The door tucked around to the side in the Gablefront came back round to the front, usually not central but to one side or the other, as in the predecessor Greek Revival.

So by the end of the Victorian Period Queen Anne began to supplant Gablefronts. Again the evolution was gradual, not sudden. Though Gablefront houses continued to be built up to and through World War I their time was past. In Gallows Hill most lots were built up, so Queen Anne homes only showed on the occasional still empty lot, as in the examples below.

32 Ord St

Two Queen Anne homes on Gallows Hill. Note two-story bay windows and substantial front porches, wrap-around on the right

The Gablefronts in the tiny corner of Gallows Hill burned out in the Great Salem Fire of 1914, around May Street, were mostly replaced with becoming Queen Anne houses.

Upscale to downscale and back

Gablefront transitionSo over a century or more the Greek Revival house evolved into the Gablefront house (or should it be said devolved, since complexity was stripped), then the Gablefront evolved into the Queen Anne house. The circle of (architectural) life.


2 thoughts on “Whence the Gablefront House

  1. Pingback: Gablefront Tract Housing on Ord Street | Streets of Gallows Hill

  2. Pingback: The Gablefront House Gets No Respect | Streets of Gallows Hill

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