LANCASTER IN STYLE, PART 30: AMERICAN FOURSQUARE, 1895-1935
This is the 30th architectural style that we have explored over the past 2 1/2 half years.
Far from romantic or a style that exudes high curb appeal, the American Foursquare is truly one of the very few architectural styles that is “homegrown”! It was born as a reaction to the overly ornate and pretentious Queen Anne style and the popular “romantic” revival styles including English, French and Italian Renaissance.
Popular between 1895 and 1935, the American Foursquare Style is characterized by its square and “boxy” floor plan, a distinctive pyramidal or hipped roof with a large single dormer and an exterior relatively void of details. The houses were designed for the working middle class families and provided 2 1/2 stories of living space with a full-width front porch.
The floor plan was organized to maximize efficiency using four corner rooms on each floor and a shared bath on the second floor. The corner rooms provided improved access to daylight and natural ventilation. Similar to the bungalow, the Foursquare often utilized space-saving built-in cabinetry. Designed for tight building lots in “streetcar suburbs,” the garages were detached and accessed from a shared alley. Unlike other styles that enjoyed regional popularity like Shingle Style, the Foursquare was popular all across the country from the East Coast to the West Coast.
The Foursquare was the first residential style to introduce a new building product that increased fire safety for the consumer: decorative concrete block. The block was cast in custom-made forms that provided more visual interest than traditional “foundation” block. Broken ashlar and split rock face were the most popular profiles; porch posts were even cast in decorative block patterns.
The simple “cube” form and shape of the Foursquare made it the perfect candidate for a mail-order Sears & Roebuck or Aladdin affordable home. The consumer received their new home in wooden boxes at the local train depot along with a set of detailed instructions at a very appealing price.
Like many other styles prevalent in the 1930s, the Foursquare lost its popularity prior to and after World War II. Lancaster’s 1920s and ’30s suburbs still have streets lined shoulder to shoulder with fine examples of the American Foursquare, representing many variations on the “homegrown” concept that swept the country.
Are there other “homegrown” American styles?
Yes. Federal Style, 1789-1820, and Prairie Style, 1900-1920. .
Are there other names for the American Foursquare Style?
Yes. Transitional Pyramid or Prairie Box Style.
What is a “streetcar suburb?”
Before the advent of the automobile, cities expanded beyond their core by using streetcar lines (trolleys) for transportation.
This column is contributed by Gregory J. Scott, FAIA, a local architect with more than four decades of national experience in innovation and design. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows. Email [email protected]