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Camelot


Camelot, National Register of Historic Places, State College, Centre County, PA

Photo: Camelot, National Register of Historic Places, State College, Centre County, PA

Camelot (520 S. Fraser St.) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.

Camelot is located within the Holmes-Foster/Highlands historic district.

Description

Camelot is a rambling two story house which, by virtue of its whimsical irregularity of design, romantic detailing, and landscaping, achieves an over-all storybook, or "fairytale" quality. It was designed by the late David A. Campbell, former professor of engineering drawing at Penn State College. According to his widow, Madeline Campbell, English Wayside architecture provided the source of inspiration for the house. Construction began in 1922.

The structure is wood frame, covered with stucco and dressed with limestone. The plan involves a principal section fronting on South Fraser Street, State College. To the rear, is a long extension which appears as two stories on the south and one story on the north. (Camelot is accommodated to a southeasterly slope, which accounts for the difference in stories.) An attached garage is located at the west end of the extension, behind which is a one story bedroom wing housed under a shed roof.

The entire building covers an area of 2,170 square feet. Most of the house is of wood frame construction, topped by a network of expanded metal lathe and covered with rough-trowelled stucco. Two exceptions are the west wall of the dining room and the east wall of the kitchen, both of which are built of twenty-four inches thick, randomly coursed limestone. The kitchen wall has been stuccoed on the exterior.

Camelot's roof is a series of five main interconnecting gables with gable overhang. The rafters are built up with wood pieces at the gable ends, forming exaggerated peaks and giving the illusion of sunken mid-sections. The roof is covered by composition shingles, which are interwoven at the valleys.

The main facade of the house, on South Fraser Street, has two distinct sections. The left, or southern part is a low, one-story rectangle opened by a pair of twelve-light casement windows and a nine-light door flanked by brick pilasters and sidelights. This part of the facade encloses the sun porch area.

On the northern part of the facade, the wall forms a gable, with the roof line plunging sharply towards ground level. A recessed, arched doorway trimmed with split-face limestone and featuring voussoirs of random length, is tucked into the wall near the southern roof slope. The door, which opens into the kitchen, is a traditional string latch door built of oak planks. To the immediate right of the door is a second arched opening containing a recessed, six-light casement window. Above the window, a decorative clay tile depicting a rampant lion, is set in stucco. The arch itself possesses an attenuated keystone which intrudes upon the textured stucco above.

Camelot's northern elevation fronts on a lane and consists of the lateral walls of the main section and extension, and the gabled front of the garage. The eaves of the main section are drawn up into two irregular gables with casement windows below. A small diamond shaped tile is set in the stucco above each window.

A sunken doorway roofed by a gabled hood divides the main section and the extension. The hood is supported by scrollwork brackets and, on the right, by a limestone wall. The wall has a rectangular aperture into which is set a baluster from Penn State's first Old Main building.

To the right of this doorway, the northern wall of the extension is lighted by two windows or markedly different scale. Both are projected from the wall as bay windows and are supported by scrolled brackets. Their heads become imbedded in a convex roll of the wall which supports the eaves of the extension.

Finally, to the right of the extension (north elevation), is a gabled entrance which projects from the gabled front of the garage.

Camelot's entire southern exposure reveals the two-story wall of the extension recessed between the southern extremities of the main section (at right) and the back of the garage with its abutting bedroom wing. This configuration forms a garden court. Once again, the picturesque contracts of line and texture are in evidence. The stuccoed expanses of the second story are countered by the exposed rubble limestone surfaces of the lower walls and chimneys. The roof lines swoop in all directions and casement windows appear in random scale and configuration. A stone wall becomes a stairway leading to the second floor entrance. The roof juts forward over the doorway and is supported on the left by the limestone chimney.

The interior spaces of Camelot express the same fine craftsmanship and aesthetic appeal. The living room has a long, ten feet high, barrel-vault ceiling, which along with the walls are plastered and painted white. At the center of the far end of the room is a fireplace with a plastered interior tapering flue. The fire chamber is described with split-face limestone, above which is a simple, squared mantle. Flanking the fireplace is a pair of thirty-six light window bays, each having its own sixteen light arched door.

Camelot's woodsy setting, in spite of its location in a residential area of State College, compliments the whimsical character of the house, and suggests a scene from the English countryside.

Significance

Architecturally, Camelot (begun in 1922) is one of the best examples of the imaginative and tasteful houses built by Penn State professors in the State College area in the early twentieth century.

Suggesting the quaint rural charm of the old English countryside, Camelot's architecture is said to be derived from the English Wayside style. The naive, arbitrary appearance of folk architecture is, however, romantically emphasized. As a result, Camelot presents itself as fantasy or storybook architecture.

Camelot was designed by the late David A. Campbell, professor of engineering drawing, as a home for himself and his wife, Madeline. Wanting more than just a house on a lot, he envisioned an ideal, a dream, and in keeping with its whimsy, he called it Camelot.

Mr. Campbell taught engineering drawing at Penn State College from 1920 to 1931. In 1931 he became an associate professor of architectural engineering and remained in this post until 1940, when he resumed teaching engineering drawing. In 1948 he became an associate professor of engineering drawing and continued this position until 1959, when he retired. In his leisure time, Mr. Campbell was an amateur musician and painter. He died on May 4, 1962.

The circumstances surrounding the construction of Camelot are almost as unusual as the house itself. Upon completing the plans, Mr. Campbell found he was unable to find a contractor willing to take on such a curious design. A contractor friend, John Hoy, finally agreed to build the house, but only if the Campbells promised not to reveal who did the job. (After Camelot was popularly received by the people of State College, however, he was proud to admit his work.) Financing was another problem. Because of its odd design, no one was willing to mortgage Camelot, and so construction could only be continued as money came in. It took fifteen years for the house to reach completion.

References

Dunaway, Wayland Fuller. History of the Pennsylvania State College. State College, Pa., Pennsylvania State College, 1946.

Mairs, Thomas I., Some Pennsylvania Pioneers in Agricultural Science. State College, Pa., Penn State College Studies, 1928.

  1. Reade, Nancy and Ramsey, Gregory, Centre County Historic Registration Project, Camelot, nomination document, 1979, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Camelot Map

**Information is curated from a variety of sources and, while deemed reliable, is not guaranteed.
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