This is one of a few remaining 19th-century stables in the city – a historical city that seems hell-bent on building suburban-y townhouse modules on every vacant lot – and there is every likelihood that something as unique as this will be dematerialized for that very reason.
But here it is, and someone liked it enough to play with its original form and update it simultaneously, with a raised roof accommodating a clerestory row, and a whimsical, geometric use of roof shingles as a facade design feature. It is a hybrid of its multiple pasts: a shelter for animals, a contractor’s warehouse, a storage shed, a produce and fish market, a parking garage, a polling place and an artist’s studio. Besides age, it has attitude, which the new buildings often lack, and it especially has spunk. It is as hip as it is hidden, squeezed in between the newly constructed suburban-ish boxes that occupy what had been the farmland it existed for, and the now-old-school-but-once-new interloping houses that resent the presence of the current ones.
This old-timer has seen it all in terms of land use and is now the most venerable of fixtures in the neighborhood. It has an independent soul and refuses to give up its proud history. In its own quiet way, it is jaunty and free-spirited. Given a chance, it will outlast everything that surrounds it.
These adjacent, mirror-image townhouses together create a kind of gatehouse, signifying your entry into a section of town that is both old and new, changed and changing. Built in 1975 by Benjamin Martin & Associates, the two three-story houses have brick book-end towers that are chamfered, revealing a bit of the same stucco of the inner, recessed arched entrances.
Shock-ing as they were when they became among the first-built of the new gentrifying structures in the neighborhood of mostly 19th-century rowhouses, these geometric citadels seem almost classic now. The towers are like modern interpretations of pruned or shaved rowhomes, monumental sentinels that, although a little heavy handed, are stylistic landmarks having, along with the connecting arches, overtones of classical Roman architecture – a modern reference to an aqueduct or an arched bridge with massive piers. Their overall resonance is that of the ancient tradition of the walled city and its limited entry, and how that can often make life tolerable in a densely packed area.
The houses have set-back courtyard entrances (always an urban bonus) with decorative metal louvered gates – practically the only ornamentation on fairly plain structures – and the plant material within the courtyards provides some relief from an otherwise hard-surfaced world. Without their brick towers they might have looked more like odd and encroaching West Coast housing and been misfits in their midst, but they recede and at the same time stand out as contemporary takes on city housing.