Archive for the 'Everything Else' Category

Happy Valentines Day From Centers and Squares

Early Valentine With House In The Background

Early Valentine With House In The Background


Before I became a real estate agent I was an archivist. I’ve always loved old paper and have collected all sorts of ephemera.

Not surprisingly there’s often a common denominator in what I collect – house images are everywhere. 

Catalogs, greeting cards, postcards, magazines, letterhead, and yes – valentines – often have very charming vintage house images.

Here’s a vintage Valentine from the early 1900s, maybe the 1920s or a bit earlier.  I love the sweet little Cape in the background and the curving path behind the swinging gate. You  just want to pinch the rosy cheeks of the boy and girl – him in his sailor suit, her in her gingham bonnet.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Categories: Everything Else
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Octagon Houses


Octagon houses have always intrigued me.  Over the years I often drove past a brick octagon house in Townsend and another up the road in West Townsend with clapboard siding (more about these later) and another in Gardner.   Here in Somerville we have a round house that’s a local favorite.

Orson S. Fowler and the Octagon House

Stoneham MA Octagon House on Pine St

Stoneham MA Octagon House on Pine St

While Orson Squire Fowler did not create the octagon house style he is most closely associated with it.  Octagon houses were built before Fowler’s time – Thomas Jefferson’s summer home, Poplar Forest, was an octagon completed in 1819 for example.

But it was Fowler’s 1848 book, A Home For All, or a New, Cheap, Convenient and Superior Mode of Building in which he promoted the octagon as an economical and healthful house style, that set off the craze for octagon houses in the United States.  Fowler pushed for the octagon style as a way to get more interior square footage with the same amount of exterior linear feet as a traditionally styled house.

Octagon house floor plans typically show a layout with four square rooms and four small triangular spaces on each floor.

It is estimated that as many as several thousand octagon houses were built in the United States, most from 1848 to 1860.  Fowler was from New York and attended Amherst College in Massachusetts. Octagons were particularly popular in New York, Massachusetts, and in the Midwest in areas where Easterners settled – Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

Octagon House in Stoneham on Spring Street

Octagon House in Stoneham on Spring Street

Another edition of Fowler’s book was published in 1854 and retitled A Home For All or The Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building.  Fowler believed that the best way to build the octagon was with “gravel wall construction – i.e. poured concrete – but most were built with wood or brick siding.

Fowler also advised that a cupola should be built on an octagon house to provide light and ventilation and many octagon houses were in fact built with a cupola atop.

O.S. Fowler was a man of many interests – he was a publisher, writer, lecturer and reformer.

Even more than architecture, his passion was phrenology – the belief that the shape of a person’s head reveals one’s talents, personality and character.  Fowler’s phrenological practice, with his brother as partner, attracted many well known patients including Clara Barton, Horace Greeley, President Garfield, Brigham Young, Walt Whitman, Richard Henry Dana and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Stoneham Octagon Houses

Want to see some octagon houses?  The best place to get your fix near Cambridge is Stoneham, Mass which has three octagon houses, all privately owned.

Stoneham Octagon House on Summer Street

Stoneham Octagon House on Summer Street

Stoneham’s eight-sided houses are pictured in the photographs here.

The red octagon house with cupola at 2 Spring Street was built for William and Lucinda Bryant in 1850 and is on the National Register.

The octagon house with the two-story enclosed porch at 77 Summer Street was built by Captain James Hill Gould between 1848 and 1850. It originally sat on 16 acres.

Enoch Fuller’s house at 72 Pine Street is beautifully sited atop a rise.  It is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

Given Stoneham’s selection of octagon houses I guess the six-sided Dairy Dome on Main Street is just what you’d expect to find here. The distinctive building that houses the ice cream stand was once a Colonial Beacon gas station and is also on the National Register.

So come summer – make a day of it – go for a cone and a drive to see some very cool houses.

More Massachusetts Octagon Houses

The best source for info about octagon houses – and round houses and other many-sided houses – is Robert Kline and Ellen Puerzer’s Inventory of Octagon Houses.

Their site has pictures and details of these unusual houses – those that are still standing as well as those long gone. 

Turns out there’s an octagon house on Route 16 in Newton that I’ve never noticed. And those “octagons” in Townsend and West Townsend?  Lo and behold they’re both hexadecagon houses.  I had to look that up  –  it’s a sixteen-sided house.

The inventory shows 82 houses in Massachusetts – though that number may include houses that are no longer with us.  Either way there are a lot of amazing houses to go see. 

Some people have lists of mountains to climb.  Me?  I’m going hunting for octagon houses.


Other Local Architectural Styles


Greek Revival Architecture

Tudor Revival Houses

Cape Cod Style Houses

Categories: Everything Else
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Decorative Window Trim on Cambridge Houses

Window trim on an mansard on Avon Hill in Cambridge

Bracketed window trim on a mansard on Avon Hill in Cambridge



Decorative Window Trim  

Window crowns – curved trim, bracketed or pedimented window tops – became popular on houses during the Italianate period.  Second Empire mansards often had trimmed window tops like the one at right and window-top ornamentation can be found on Queen Anne Victorians as well.


Here are some of my favorites spotted on houses in Cambridge. For the life of me I can’t get larger versions of the photos to show in the slideshow. If you click on it you’ll get the larger views.

It’s often a certain special feature that makes us fall for a house.  Here are some more house parts we love:

Bracketed Entries

Cambridge Fences

House Numbers

And for more favorites, click on the House Parts tag link below.

Categories: Everything Else
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Dutch Colonial House Style

Dutch Colonial Revival House in Arlington MA

Dutch Colonial Revival House in Arlington MA

When you skim through the American architectural guides looking for info on the Dutch Colonial style you’ll see pages about the houses built by Dutch settlers in the earliest years of our country.  From 1625 to the 1830s Dutch immigrants built houses in the mid-Atlantic states with steeply pitched gambrel or gable roof lines.

In Massachusetts, what we think of as a Dutch Colonial is better described as Dutch Colonial Revival.  These charming houses are common in the towns and cities around Cambridge and were built in the early decades of the 1900s.  A Dutch Colonial in Arlington is pictured above.

The defining feature of the Dutch Colonial Revival is the gambrel roof with a continuous dormer. Federal or Georgian style entryways were common.

While the Dutch Colonial in the photograph is a center entrance, the side entrance became quite popular in the 1920s and ’30s.  Typically you’ll find in the side entrance version that the living room runs across the front of the house to the side of the entry.

More Posts About Local Building Styles:

Capes in Cambridge and Nearby

Shingle Style Houses

Triple Deckers

Concrete Buildings In Cambridge

And for even more click on the Architecture tag link below.

Categories: Everything Else
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Blue Towns

massachusettsIt was Martha Coakley by a landslide in Centers and Squares territory.  While we’re all in denial today, the votes were counted and statewide Brown won yesterday’s election 51.9% – 47.1% or 1,168,107 to 1,058,682 votes.

But the picture was very different in Cambridge and nearby.  Here’s how we voted:

  • Arlington: Coakley 65%, Brown 34%
  • Belmont: Coakley 59%, Brown 40%
  • Boston:  Coakley 69%, Brown 30%
  • Brookline: Coakley 74%, Brown 25%
  • Cambridge: Coakley 84%, Brown 15% 
  • Concord: Coakley 62%, Brown 37%
  • Lexington: Coakley 65%, Brown 34%
  • Lincoln: Coakley 68%, Brown 34%
  • Medford: Coakley 57%, Brown 42%
  • Newton: Coakley 67%, Brown 32%
  • Somerville: Coakley 75%, Brown 24%
  • Watertown: Coakley 61%, Brown 38%

I was happy to see that Belmont, former hometown of Mitt Romney, was firmly in Coakley’s camp. Medford’s numbers are appalling given that it’s Martha Coakley’s hometown. Boston’s, Somerville’s and especially Cambridge’s results – woohoo!  

My mother was ready to move to western Mass after seeing the Globe’s red/blue map – solid blue from Northampton to New York – until I told her about the vote in Cambridge.  But we’re keeping the map posted on the fridge – we know where our friends live.

Categories: Everything Else
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Documenting Belmont Buildings Destined for Demolition

26 Harris St, Belmont, MA

26 Harris St, Belmont, MA

 Documenting Belmont Buildings Destined for Demolition  Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to visualize a building once it’s gone?

This happens to me even on streets I drive down every day.

When all that’s left is a gaping cellar hole, or there’s a new building on the lot where an old one once stood – you scratch your head and ask “What was here before?”

And in recent years with teardowns becoming all too frequent our architectural memory becomes even more fractured.

The Belmont Historical Society has started a project to photograph the houses destined for demolition.

566 Trapelo Rd in Waverly Square

566 Trapelo Rd in Waverly Square

The program began in 2008 and I would imagine was prompted in part by the outcry about the Belmont Hill School’s demolition of  what may have been New England’s first Modernist house, designed by architect Eleanor Raymond.

There are only two photographs on the Society’s webpage for the project, both from 2008.  Perhaps with the real estate market upheaval demolitions paused in Belmont in 2009 – I don’t know. Hopefully the project is ongoing.

Check out the photos of demolished Belmont houses on the Belmont Historical Society’s website.  One is a sweet bungalow, the other a two-story mansard with turret in Waverley Square.  The buildings that replaced them can be seen at right

Not that a photograph is enough. But it’s a start.  And maybe with enough Before and Afters we’ll think a little longer about allowing our older, smaller houses to disappear one by one.


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Vintage Paving Company Markers

Cambridge Mass Vintage Paving Company Marker

Cambridge Mass Vintage Paving Company Marker

Vintage Paving Company Markers ~ It’s funny sometimes, the things that start to catch your eye that suddenly start popping up everywhere.

For me, one of those things are the old metal markers that are set into concrete sidewalks.  I love them!  As I make my way around Cambridge, Arlington, Medford and other nearby towns I’ve started to photograph any I come across.

Who knew that concrete sidewalks are so durable?  The oldest plaque that I’ve found so far is the clover-shaped marker dated 1907 by the Simpson Bros. Corporation of 166 Devonshire Street in Boston.

Other paving company markers I’ve found include:

  • Benj. Fox, Inc., Concrete Construction, 15 Exchange St, Boston
  • F.O. White Construction Co., Cambridge
  • Thomas J. Hind, 19 Milk Street, Boston
  • Vulcan Const. Co., General Contractors, Boston, Mass.
  • W.A. Murtfeldt Company, Artificial Stone Walks, 161 Devonshire St, Boston
  • Wm. F. Condon, Artificial Stone, 218 Putnam Ave, Cambridge, Mass.

I think most of these miniature plaques are made of bronze. And it still seems to be a practice of paving companies to inset a company marker.  A house near my office had a newly constructed cement sidewalk and a metal plate with the company’s name was inset. It was a messy job though – the marker, not the sidewalk – and the sense of pride that these older signs exude was absent.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot written about these intriguing little signs.  Someone has taken the time to extensively document the sidewalk markers in Buffalo, NY where the metal plates date from 1885 to the 1920s but I’ve yet to find much else.

If you know anything more about these vintage paving company markers please let me know.

Categories: Everything Else
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The Tudor Architectural Style – Tudor Homes in Belmont and Nearby

Tudor Revival House in Belmont MA

Tudor Revival House in Belmont MA

Tudor Style Homes in Belmont and Nearby.  Real estate buyers who move from other parts of the country may expect to see more Tudor style homes when they move to Cambridge. 

The Tudor architectural style in America was popular in the early 1900s and was very popular in American suburbs in the 1920s and early 1930s after most of Cambridge and Somerville’s houses were built.

Characteristics of Tudor Revival Architecture

  • Usually brick or stucco, less frequently stone or wood
  • Many have decorative half-timbering
  • Steeply pitched roof
  • Massive chimneys, often with decorative chimney pots
  • Tall, narrow multi-paned windows, often in groups of three
  • Rounded arched doorways are common
  • Patterned brickwork or stonework detail is common

Tudor Houses in Belmont and Nearby

Belmont has the largest concentration of Tudors in the area by far.  There are some in Cambridge near Brattle Street or in the Divinity neighborhood.  Tudors in Medford can be found in West Medford and the Lawrence Estates.  In Arlington you’re most likely to see a Tudor Revival house in the Morningside neighborhood.

Here’s a slideshow of tudor style houses in Belmont Massachusetts.






To see posts about other architectural styles in Cambridge and nearby towns click on the Architecture tag below.

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