The Holmes-Foster/Highlands Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.[‡]
The Holmes-Foster/Highlands Historic District of State College, Centre County, PA is an approximately sixty-block area south of The Pennsylvania State University Ag Hill and Farmers High School historic districts (National Register) and south and west of State College's central business district. While much of the business district has been redeveloped, this district encompasses a major portion of the land and historic buildings associated with the residential history of State College as an emerging college town from its incorporation in 1896 to the beginning of World War II. (A separate district has been developed for the College Heights Historic District, a smaller residential area of State College immediately north of the campus.) The western portion of the District, Holmes-Foster, is bounded by Prospect Avenue to the south: Buckhout Street to the west: and Railroad Avenue to the north. Atherton Street (today's Business Route 322) is locally defined as its eastern edge. The Highlands portion is located on the eastern side of Atherton Street. Its northern edge is along Highland and Beaver Avenues. High and Keller Streets and Irvin Avenue represent its eastern and southern borders. The District occupies a ridge of land south of campus and the downtown that bends southeast from its highest point of 1200 feet between Fairmount and Nittany Avenues to the west to about 1090 feet at the southeast edge. There is an appreciable slope beyond the southern edge. Undulations within this ridge provide gentle ups and downs on many of the streets which, when contoured with mature boulevard trees, make for a district with a distinct varied streetscape. There are 727 contributing resources out of a total of 858 structures in the Holmes-Foster/Highlands Historic District. Three houses date from the last half of the 19th century and are associated with farm properties upon which State College was developed. The remainder represent a rich sampler of early 20th century design and construction. Closest to the campus and downtown are vernacular Victorians, late Queen Annes, Mansards and Foursquares that were built in the first two decades of the 20th century and served as duplexes, rooming houses and early fraternities. A building boom of single family homes occurred during the 1920s and 1930s — Bungalows, Colonial and Dutch Colonial Revivals, Tudor and other revival styles, and a few buildings in the International Style — chosen from pattern books and mail-order catalogs, and designed by Penn State architecture faculty members. During the same building boom, thirty-two mansion-sized fraternity houses in highly decorated revival styles also were built. Public buildings and spaces include two schools, three churches, a smattering of shops, and Memorial Field, the high school football stadium. The district includes one National Register property, Camelot, at 520 South Fraser (April 26, 1979). While nearly all of the properties have wood frame structural systems, their variation in style is enhanced by facing materials of stone, brick, wood, stucco, or shingle, sometimes in combination. Most, approximately 580, are single-family homes. Another fifty buildings served as rooming houses and early fraternities (in addition to the thirty-two fraternities built in the 1920s and 30s), forty more were built as duplexes, and fifteen served as apartments. Buildings that have been identified as not contributing to the integrity of the District total 131 or 15 per cent. Approximately one third of them are single-family homes that postdate the period of significance. A very few older buildings have undergone extensive alteration. Most of the non-contributors are apartments built during the 1970s and 1980s, particularly as student housing. Although many of them are not scaled any larger than apartments built in the 1920s and 1930s, they generally lack the architectural quality of the earlier buildings. A few apartments dwarf their neighbors and are out of context with the residential properties that surround them. These various non-contributors are scattered throughout the District, however, and do not strongly affect or intrude upon its integrity. As a result, the Holmes-Foster/Highlands Historic District is intact, generally well maintained, and an excellent residential example of the growth and evolution of an early 20th century college town.
The shape of the Holmes-Foster/Highlands Historic District is that of a shallow crescent, its orientation fixed around Alien Street as the central axis of the southward development of State College. Atherton Street is the current artery, but in the 1920s it did not extend south of Fairmount Avenue. Today many houses along Atherton Street, originally a street of single and multiple family dwellings and churches, have been converted to professional offices or have succumbed to redevelopment pressure for apartment buildings. Even so, streetscapes on either side of Atherton share a similar history of subdivision, development and architectural quality. A band of recent high-rise apartment buildings along Beaver Avenue sharply defines the District's northern edge. Although the blocks to the north contain historic structures, including Victorian houses and landmark churches, they have not been included in the District because they are interspersed within a zone of new structures along alleys and commercial redevelopment for retail, businesses and apartment land uses. The ragged southern boundaries are constrained by postwar suburban dwellings constructed after the period of significance. Several holes within this District reflect islands of redevelopment for student apartment housing since the 1970s.
Each of the six subdivisions that were competing for potential builders within a two-decade period has excellent examples of large and modest housing in different styles. The development on and adjacent to West College Avenue, one of State College's main streets, offers a good example. The earliest properties, those located closest to the original core of the downtown, are mostly vernacular Victorians faced in wood siding. As the town grew, larger and more architecturally detailed housing was built in the West College Avenue area. Buildings of 2 1/2 to 3 1/2-stories, built or faced in brick and ranging in size from 2,100 to 7,000 square feet, were added-with mansard or gabled roofs, classical porticos, multiple dormers, bays, towers, wrap-around porches, and decorative trim. Many of them served as rooming houses and fraternities. Despite some hard use and unsympathetic remodeling in recent years, these houses — with high ceilings, large windows, detailed woodwork, built-in bookcases, hardwood floors — have continued to provide comfortable living space. Their residential scale, their porches, and their yards have contributed to a sense of neighborhood. As a result, these properties in the West College Avenue area have continued to be popular rental choices for many Penn State students.
As was true in other rapidly expanding late-19th and early-20th century Pennsylvania small towns, simply-designed small-scale alley houses were built at the back of residential lots. Some of them were located at the back of long and narrow lots on North Barnard and Gill Streets and on portions of West College Avenue, most of them facing Wood and Clay Alleys. Also located along those alleys were businesses such as a welding shop and a sheet metal works. Alley housing still exists in the West College area and in some of the other older parts of the Borough; more recently, alley housing has been introduced in other locations.
By 1920, an increasing demand for single family housing resulted in the building of Bungalows and Four Squares, especially along Beaver Avenue and on the connecting side streets. Well-designed single-family homes in Revival styles, many of them faced with local stone, were added to the area during the late 1920s and early 1930s, along with a 4-story "state-of-the-art" apartment building. Built by State College businessman and contractor O.W. (Orlando) Houts in 1930, the Mansard-roofed, brick-faced Orlando Apartment, with its sunrooms and fireplaces, is still a well-maintained and popular non-student housing choice with infrequent residential turnover.
Large houses, including duplexes, also are located along other main thoroughfares, particularly Allen, Pugh and Atherton Streets closest to the central business district and the campus. Allen Street, for example, in 1910 had thirty-four homes with forty-two households extending from College to Fairmount Avenues; ten years later, the number of households had reached eighty-one, located in fifty-four properties extending from College to Irvin Avenue, two blocks beyond Fairmount. In contrast to these main streets but similar to the West College Avenue area, Bungalows and Foursquares and occasional Dutch Colonials can be found along the connecting side streets. The three-story Heatherbloom Apartment at 126 East Nittany and the Nittany Terrace Apartment at 318 West Nittany, both built in the 1920s, remain attractive larger-scale apartments near smaller residential properties.
Fraternities were built in all five subdivisions as well as on the Penn State campus adding mass, architectural quality, and therefore a distinctive character to every segment of this Historic District. In 1923, when a new fraternity district was developed on the Henszey/Lederer tract, a number of fraternities, particularly some that initially had been located on West College Avenue, moved southeast to this new location. Twenty-four mansion-sized, highly decorated fraternity houses in a full range of historic revival styles highlight this end of the District. Intermixed are single-family and, for the most part, owner-occupied homes built at approximately the same time. Many of them reflect the historic styles used by the fraternities; some are faced in brick, some in stone, and a few are either all stucco or combined with half-timbering. Some of the Bungalows and Dutch Colonials have combined masonry facades on the first floor with clapboard or shingles above. Many of the buildings in the district have retained their original slate roofs.
Examples of architect-designed houses can be found throughout the Holmes-Foster/Highlands District. Buildings designed by Clarence Bauchspies, Frederick Disque, P. Boyd Kapp, Dean Kennedy, A. Lawrence Kocher, H.O. Smith, and others are located for the most part west of Atherton Street on Fairmount and Nittany, and east on Fairmount, Hamilton and Prospect. Nearly all of these designers had Penn State faculty positions in architectural engineering or architectural drawing. Also within the Holmes-Foster/Highlands District are homes designed by faculty members in electrical, mechanical, and civil engineering, and in landscape architecture. West Fairmount Avenue has several examples.
Some home buyers made their architectural selections from plans provided by Good Housekeeping or the Woman's Home Companion Small House Service Bureau. But, many others, in this as well as in the College Heights District, selected mail-order houses. The Gordon-Van Tine Co., the Alladin Company, Sears, Roebuck and Company, and probably others, provided plans and materials that were often modified and individualized to meet the needs and tastes of their owners. An array of styles offered by Sears is located especially along East Foster, Fairmount, Prospect and Hamilton Avenues. Many of them were built by developer and contractor John Henszey.
Public buildings include the Nittany and Fairmount Avenue Schools and three landmark churches built in the 1920s: St. Andrew's Episcopal, University Baptist, and the Friends Meeting House. Memorial Field, east of Atherton Street and within the District and Fairmount Park, adjacent to but outside of the District at its eastern edge, and Holmes-Foster Park and Community Field, west of Atherton and outside the southern outer edge of the District, offer open space and recreational facilities to residents in the Holmes-Foster/Highlands neighborhoods.
The Holmes-Foster/Highlands Historic District offers an excellent example of a growing and evolving early 20th century college town. Although there is diversity of age, architectural style, and scale within the District, individual neighborhoods have developed in a unified and cohesive way. Most properties are set back in a consistent line. Mature trees, many of them fifty or sixty years old and with circumferences of over sixteen feet, line and canopy the streets, reflecting the Borough's early commitment to the planting of shade trees.
Most of the properties in the Holmes-Foster/Highlands Historic District are well maintained and strongly contribute to the rich architectural history of developing State College. Ranging from vernacular Victorians to the International style, Craftsman Bungalows to Colonial Revivals, from mail-order English Cottages to highly sophisticated English Tudor Revival fraternities, this district of 727 contributing properties offers a full range of early 20th century architectural styles — a virtual field guide of examples.
The Holmes-Foster/Highlands Historic District located in State College, Centre County, PA, is significant in the areas of community planning and development and education. It is a well-preserved example of suburban residential development associated with the beginnings of The Pennsylvania State University in 1855, and particularly with its growth and development from the 1890s to 1944. (The central business district also was affected by the growth and success of the college, but because it has experienced greater change through redevelopment, it is not included in this district.) The District is significant in the theme of community planning and development through the ways in which landowners, developers, and builders transformed furnace farms into housing for faculty and staff employed by Penn State and for students seeking off-campus residence, and particularly through the implementation of several schemes that encouraged home ownership. They included: (1) The establishment of a non-profit organization, the State College Community Housing Association — an early and innovative effort to meet the community's housing needs while also addressing some design considerations. Organized by a newly formed Chamber of Commerce in 1921, the group of eleven local citizens from the business community and the college selected, arranged funding, and had built ten new homes, using four variations of a nationally advertised architect-designed plan for single-family homes. So that each house would be "a little different from its neighbor," varying facade materials were used. The houses were sold "at exact cost and at what is considered to be a very reasonable figure" to young faculty and staff members. (2) Borough residents took advantage of the growth and popularity of national mass-marketing institutions offering pattern book and mail order housing that coincided with the growth of Penn State and the State College community by selecting from a wide range of easily accessible housing choices which they modified and individualized to meet their needs and tastes. (3) A number of home owners chose to be personally involved in the design of their residences, drawing upon the expertise of a wide range of involved Penn State engineering and architectural faculty. The District is significant in the theme of education not only because of its historical association with the founding, growth and development of the college, but also because of the role college personnel played in the development of a newly forming State College. Penn State faculty and administrators were actively involved in the drawing up of the Borough's charter, in establishing its ordinances and serving on its boards and commissions, in developing and designing its elementary and secondary schools, and in creating its parks. Much of the housing in the District was developed for and lived in by people associated with the University as staff members, faculty, or students. And, many of them lived along streets whose names had linkages with Penn State. The distinctive presence of the largest system of fraternities in the country further underlines the impact and interrelationship of the University and its neighboring community. Although this was not company housing in the manner of coal or steel towns dominated by a large employer, the phasing of growth on and off campus makes this District an effective mirror of the development of one of the Commonwealth's largest centers for higher education. The District also is significant in the area of architecture. There is remarkable intermingling of architect-designed houses, pattern book designs and mail order housing, of mansion-like fraternities and modest single-family homes. This mix, represented across several decades of growth, presents a sampler of late Victorian, early 20th century, and pre-World War II housing styles. A high level of integrity is sustained by strong efforts to retain streetscapes and plantings on block after block of subdivisions, and by the efforts of fraternities to maintain their historic facades.
The pattern of community planning and development in the Holmes-Foster/Highlands District is more varied than that of the College Heights District north of the Penn State campus. Residential housing in Holmes-Foster/Highlands flanked the railroad and industrial warehouse zone to the west, the campus instructional district and downtown business streets in the center, and campus-related apartments and fraternities primarily to the east. This took place on a wider swath of subdivision land, and over a greater time period than the more confined spaces and more pre-World War II developments in College Heights.
The Holmes-Foster/Highlands District differs architecturally from College Heights in that it contains nearly all of the large, strikingly designed dwellings in the Borough, particularly through the presence of so many mansion-scale fraternity buildings. This building type alone provides a clear distinction to the District and sets it apart from equally residential College Heights. A supporting cast of architect-designed and mail-order houses, like those found in College Heights, are here joined by apartments, back alley houses, and rooming houses to offer a greater spectrum of shelter types.
Most college communities are grafted onto existing urban places. Rarely have they been located in the middle of a rural area on a greenfield site. Interconnections between the growth of State College and the growth of Penn State can clearly be seen. Their co-evolution was the result of the area's first and most significant 19th century industry: charcoal ironmaking. The new school, the Farmers High School, was located on Centre Furnace lands donated in 1855 by ironmasters James Irvin and Moses Thompson; the town, incorporated in 1896, developed on farms also originally part of Centre Furnace Iron Company.
Despite a shaky start, the Farmers High School gained a new name, the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania, and land grant status in 1862. In 1874 it became The Pennsylvania State College, and the hamlet that had gradually developed around the newly established college began to be called State College. County historian John Blair Linn noted in 1883: "Quite a little village has grown up around the college. The village bears the name of the college. It contains two stores and a hotel, the State College Hotel...There are two or three elegant private residences in the town."*
Both State College and Penn State continued to be part of Harris, and later College Township until 1896, when a State College charter of incorporation was granted. Eight years later, in 1904, the actual limits of the town were established by court decree. These limits included the campus and extended from Park Avenue on the north; to Foster Avenue, two blocks beyond College Avenue to the south; west to Gill Street; and east to High Street. The town's development was located along College, Beaver ad Foster Avenues and their connecting streets, particularly Allen and Pugh, east to High Street. To the west, the residential development of State College extended to Gill Street and included a small parcel of land west of the campus to the south of Railroad Avenue and the right-of-way of the Bellefonte Central Railroad.
To the south of College Avenue, former furnace farms were acquired by William and Robert Foster, Samuel Garner and John Hamilton and eventually became neighborhoods now identified as Holmes-Foster and the Highlands. Three houses and a barn survive within these neighborhoods to link State College with its earliest roots. The William Foster farmhouse (c. 1865) was moved downhill from its original location at the corner of what is now Fairmount and Fraser to Prospect Avenue (157 W. Prospect). A second early house at 422 West Fairmount appears to have belonged to an early but unrelated Foster family. The John Hamilton property, The Highlands, was designed by Bellefonte architect Robert Cole and built in 1891. In the 1920s, both its facade and its use were changed when it become the location of Delta Upsilon fraternity. The Hamilton barn was incorporated into Acacia fraternity by architect Frederick Disque also in the 1920s. Both the Garner homestead located at the corner of what would become Foster and S. Garner, and the Robert Foster farmhouse west of Atherton Street on West College Avenue, were razed many years ago.
The student population grew slowly at first — 110 in 1860, 209 in 1890. But by 1900 under the direction of President George Atherton, the school was underway and with it, the resulting growth of State College began. In 1900, State College had a resident population of 425. It doubled in five years to 800, doubled again in the next five to 1,662, and by 1920 had reached 3,232. In another two decades it had doubled again, to a 1940 pre-World War II total of 6,400. The student population paralleled these totals almost exactly.
As early as 1904 the State College Times was citing a housing shortage, noting: "a great scarcity of dwellings in the Borough...(since) new instructors just hired are heads of families, there will be considerable scrambling for them." College faculty were just as likely to be renting as someone working at the local meat market. Even those who owned were likely to have two or three boarders who were listed as "instructors at College."
Even if some proportion of faculty were able to achieve home ownership (less than 20 percent in 1912), other instructors, support staff, service people in town, and off-campus students sought rental space. This demand was met by alley houses at the rear of lots and by boarding houses, some of which had fraternity associations, adjacent to the campus and especially in the area along West College and Beaver Avenues, west of Atherton Street and south of the Bellefonte Central railroad tracks. (The Bellefonte Central came into State College in 1892, and its terminus west of Atherton created an early nucleus for services and housing south and west of campus.) These early properties have historical significance because of the role they played in the growth and development of the new college.
The housing history of three prominent Penn State chemists (all had campus buildings named for them) provides an example of how early faculty residential needs were being met. George Pond, professor of chemistry and dean of the School of Natural Science, was, in 1912, one of the few senior faculty members still living on campus, in housing (now nearly all demolished for institutional buildings) that had been provided for faculty families some twenty-five years earlier. William Frear, a professor of agricultural chemistry, had purchased a home at 238 S. Pugh; Wheeler Davey, the youngest of the three and with a rank of lecturer, was one of three boarders living in the rented home of his department head at 522 W. College. This 3 1/2 story West College Avenue house is typical of the large rental properties that housed faculty and students during this period. Built about 1910, it is a brick-faced simple Queen Anne with architectural ornamentation that includes two Palladian style dormer windows and an off-center bay. A porch extends across the front facade.
Local developers began to answer this housing need by laying out subdivisions, grading building lots and competitively seeking buyers; local banks and savings and loan companies were formed to aid potential buyers in accessing the housing market. As an indication of the emphasis on new building, by 1912 more than seventy building tradesmen — eight contractors, thirty-two carpenters, ten painters and paperhangers, three plasterers, seven plumbers, eleven stone and brick masons — were available to provide their services to a town with a total population of approximately 1,650.
And, to manage this rapid growth, the State College Borough Council passed a series of ordinances regulating street development, building use, heights and setbacks, and tree planting. The Street Committee of the Town Council was established in 1903; the Shade Tree Commission in 1923; and the first zoning ordinance was enacted February 21, 1927.
Five additions developed in less than two decades, extending the Borough's southern limits to provide some fifty-eight blocks of subdivided land and a considerable amount of housing by 1923.
-The first of these additions came in 1909 when the William Foster farm was subdivided; Highland Park added nineteen blocks (bounded by Foster, Burrowes, Pugh and Irvin) astride Allen Street, the main artery south from downtown.
-Three years later, the Hamilton Addition (1912) extended the Highlands district by adding four blocks to the east (Pugh to Locust Lane), folding in the John Hamilton farm.
-Next, the Southside Addition (1917) west of Burrowes over to Gill Street brought in fifteen blocks and opened up the Robert Foster farm for development.
-An annexation from Ferguson Township extended the Borough west from Gill Street to its current Buckhout Street limits in 1922, and included more of the land north of College Avenue adjacent to the Bellefonte Central Railroad.
-Finally, to the east, the Henszey track of 1923 was laid out by developer Eugene Lederer and builder John Henszey as the new fraternity district, on fourteen blocks of the former Samuel Garner farm (east of Locust Lane to High Street and south to Irvin Avenue). This addition fixed the southeast corner of the borough limits until more land was annexed from College Township in 1930. The 1930 annexation was developed slowly, however, with new housing built only along those streets immediately adjacent to the 1923 Lederer/Henszey tract until State College's post-World War II expansion.
In 1920-21, the newly organized State College Chamber of Commerce undertook a study to see what kind of housing was needed. Although Chamber members felt that student housing was being met, they determined that the most pressing need was for small houses of five to six rooms. According to their study, "...a very large number of small families were living in inadequate quarters in the larger student rooming houses." The State College Community Housing Association was formed to arrange for homes to be built and sold without profit — their cost would be based on the actual cost of construction. By the end of 1921, ten new homes, designed and modified by New Jersey architect N. Montgomery Woods, had been completed by builder Park Homan on the 200 block of South Gill Street, to the southwest of the campus. Although all had similar floor plans, some had gabled ends facing the street, others were turned to have the roof line run parallel to the street; some had open porches, some were closed. Each, with different facade materials (brick and shingle, frame, frame and stucco, frame and shingle, brick and stucco), "met the general approval of all prospective purchasers." Their total cost was $54,750, less than $6,000 a property.
These new homes were immediately popular with young faculty and staff families. Professors from throughout the college (botany, physics, English, classics, mechanical engineering, industrial education, public speaking, political science) and staff personnel (power plant foreman, college statistician, building and grounds supervisor) were some of the early residents who moved to South Gill Street. At least two of those early families stayed for the next sixty-plus years, virtually their entire professional lives at Penn State.
Marsh W. White, a professor emeritus of physics now in his nineties, recently wrote: "I have owned two houses in different areas that have some historical value. One was at 222 South Gill Street which I purchased when the development in that area was completed. The group of these houses was constructed as a result of the efforts and financial support of a number of public spirited citizens who wanted to help the veterans returning from World War I. Most of the lots had only 50 feet of frontage but a large area was provided in the back for orchard, flowers, and vegetable gardens. Modest down payments and good terms facilitated the purchase by young employees of the Pennsylvania State College."
Most Pennsylvania communities had peaked and then receded in building activities by the 1920s and 30s, but State College, enjoying the economic stability of a college town, was in its building heyday. As the town grew to the south, building construction was spread across several subdivisions. In 1922, alone, the Highland Park Real Estate Company was advertising one hundred lots for sale including "some good fraternity sites" as well as some speculatively built houses; Henszey and Lederer were offering "Highlands — the most desirable lots of Foster, Fairmount, Prospect, and Hamilton, all within a half mile of the Post Office."** C.O. Broome, a professor of engineering drawing, was offering six-room houses on South Gill in the South Addition. The Chamber of Commerce continued to promote its development as, "The ideal residence town and home of The Pennsylvania State College." Residents, identifying with the spirit of home ownership, seemed to be in agreement with the proclamations being made by Sears and other mail-order home suppliers that "A home of your own is an absolute necessity," or, as the Architects' Small House Service Bureau urged, "It is the right of every American child to grow up in a real American home."
Street names serve as historic reminders of the link between Penn State and the newly developing Borough. In addition to the obvious College Avenue, the earliest thoroughfares — Atherton, Allen, Beaver, Pugh, Sparks, Burrowes, Fraser, Calder — all represent the names of past Penn State presidents; Barnard, Buckhout, Patterson, and Gill recognize faculty members.
Streets were named for former farmland owners as well. Examples include Irvin, Hamilton, Garner, Foster, and Waring. Locational names with different roots also are evident in this older section of the Borough. Nittany Avenue refers to the nearby mountain and the valley in which State College is located, Fairmount Avenue reflects the view available from its high vantage point.
Alley names differentiate subdivisions. In the Foster farm addition, for example, alleys were named for birds: Lark, Thrush, Robin, Sparrow, Hawk and Owl. Trees, such as Chestnut, Birch, Maple, Oak, Apple, Peach, and Osage Orange, were used in the naming of alleys in the Hamilton and the Henszey/Lederer subdivisions. (Henszey was a son-in-law of John Hamilton.)
Highlands, the neighborhood that is part of this District to the east of Atherton Street, refers not only to its elevation but also to the name of early landowner John Hamilton's fine farm property, The Highlands. And Holmes-Foster, the neighborhood of this District west of Atherton, is named for Laird Holmes, a local businessman, and I. L. Foster, a professor of romance languages. They were the 1926 donors of the ten-acre park located at the District's southwestern boundary.
Subdivisions were being developed to meet this building boom for a local population with a sophisticated interest in architectural housing choices. Their development also was coinciding with the increased availability of stylish residential options in the national landscape. Local businessmen were demonstrating their optimism in the town's future by building fine houses. First National Bank Chairman Newton Hess chose a brick-faced Colonial Revival (639 West College) with stone lintels over its symmetrically placed three bays, and a front porch with elaborate Corinthian columns; auto dealer C.E. Snyder selected a handsome Prairie style faced in stone with a red tiled roof, and a large front porch with heavy porch supports (400 S. Atherton); builder William H. Homan constructed a cobblestoned and shingled Craftsman Bungalow with exposed rafter ends (500 W. Nittany); merchant Morris Fromm selected a stone-faced English Tudor Revival which he had landscaped by faculty member John Bracken (100 N. Patterson); and movie theater owner Maurice Baum chose a brick Georgian Revival, one of the largest single-family houses in the Borough.
The period from the early 1900s up until World War I also was one of enormous growth for Penn State's College of Engineering, and with it the establishment of the Department of Architecture. So significant was the growth of the college, in fact, that during at least some of the period, three-fourths of all students were in the engineering curriculum. This strong emphasis, particularly in architectural engineering, undoubtedly influenced the contributions made by faculty members to State College's built environment.
With faculty talents to draw from and with the financial stability provided by Penn State, many residents used local architects and designers to acquire the home of their dreams. Or, they turned to local builders to replicate plans taken from a wide variety of books, catalogs, and trade magazines to meet architectural preferences ranging from small Craftsmen and Prairie style bungalows to Picturesque Revivals and the latest International styles. Skilled carpenters, bricklayers, stonemasons were kept busy meeting the needs of a continually growing college community.
The urbanization of the community was greatly aided by the addition of some well-designed apartment buildings in the district, and especially by the relocation and rebuilding programs of the fraternities in the Henszey-Lederer subdivision west of Pugh Street. Local contractors were building these highly-decorated architectural "mansions," State College's 20th century equivalents to the grand 19th century buildings in nearby Bellefonte and Williamsport. National fraternity organizations, responding to a 1929 Froth Magazine advertisement by John Henszey and Eugene Lederer, took advantage of this building program to advance the goal of developing "the most beautiful fraternity section in the country." More than twenty houses of between 7,000 and 15,000 square feet were built in the eight-year period, 1925-1933, many on large lots, representing a vast variety of Colonial and Romantic Revival styles.
Information about the designers, the builders, and the owners of these residential and fraternity houses provides an intriguing look at emerging State College. The architect with the greatest national prominence is A. Lawrence Kocher. He received an undergraduate degree from Stanford and, in 1916, a master's degree from Penn State. His thesis, The Character and Development of Colonial Architecture in Centre County, Pennsylvania, is a significant record of local architecture, with many of the sites no longer in existence. He taught architectural history at Penn State and later served as department head. In 1926 he left to become head of the McIntire School of Art and Architecture at the University of Virginia; from 1928 to 1938 he was managing editor of the Architectural Record. He later taught at Carnegie Tech (1939-1940), and was professor of architecture at Black Mountain College, North Carolina,(1940-1943) where he designed a studies building.
A leading advocate of historic preservation in the United States for four decades, Kocher was a noted expert on the restoration and conservation of landmarks, emphasizing meticulous historical research. He served as supervising architect for the restoration of Washington Irving's home, Sunnyside, in Tarrytown, New York, and after his 1928 NPS appointment by John D. Rockefeller, served on the Advisory Committee of Architects for Colonial Williamsburg. From 1944-1959 he lectured on fine arts at William and Mary and was the architectural recorder at Williamsburg. A practicing architect (in New York and California), he also was known as an advocate of modernism and an early member of the International Congress of Modern Architects. The Aluminaire House, designed by Kocher and Albert Frey in 1937, has recently been moved from Huntington, Long Island, to be restored by architecture students at the New York Institute of Technology in Central Islip, New York.
Three Kocher houses are located in the Holmes-Foster/Highlands Historic District. His own, built in 1921-22, is at 357 Prospect. He used an uncoursed stone facing for this English Cottage design, with a two-story recessed cross gable that includes a pair of double-hung windows, and another set to the right of a rounded front door on the main section of the facade. Two small casement windows are located above the door in a shed-roof dormer. He personalized his design and applied his interest in colonial architecture by incorporating architectural elements he had collected from three demolished early Pennsylvania homes. They included a doorway for the back door from the Dr. Constans Curtin home, Bellefonte (c. 1806); a living room mantel from the Diller House on South Queen Street, Lancaster (1804); and a second floor bedroom mantel from the Hetherington house, Milton (1803-04).
He also designed two much larger houses in the early 1920s: the J.W. Henszey property at 320 E. Hamilton, and the E.C. Woodruff house at 234 W. Fairmount. Mrs. Henszey was the daughter of John and Elizabeth Hamilton, owners of The Highlands, and granddaughter of ironmaster Moses and Mary Irvin Thompson of Centre Furnace. The house was located "out-of-town" on a farm road, now Locust Lane, part of the Hamilton farmstead. Kocher provided the Henszeys with a handsome six-bay brick Georgian Colonial Revival, with decorative keystones over the six-over-six windows, a slate roof with three rounded dormers, and a featured entryway with a copper-hooded half-circled portico with classical columns. The house also includes a large two-story wing with matching architectural details, now used as an apartment. The landscape plan was the work of Department of Landscape Architecture head John Bracken. It is still mostly intact and is an excellent example of Bracken's naturalistic style.
Kocher also designed an outstanding large stone Colonial Revival for Eugene Woodruff, a professor of electrical engineering. The front facade has triple double-hung windows located at either side of a featured entrance, embellished at the top with stone trim. Its handsome Georgian-style doorway has a well balanced portico, triangular pediment, Doric columns, and a fan-shaped decoration in wood above the door in lieu of a fanlight; sidelights flank the door. Three windows are across the front facade at the second level, the middle window has sidelights repeating those in the main entrance. With a hipped slate roof, the third floor has pedimented dormers; stone chimneys with decorated tops are located at each gable end. A one-story side sun porch with balcony to the right of the entrance has a large half-circled window with stone arch trim on the front and back facade, and triple double-sash windows at the side. Extending to the left of the house is a porte cochere, also in stone. Located at the crest of the hill on Fairmount Avenue, this house with its many windows has an excellent view of the Tussey Mountains to the south.
Kocher designed the Nittany Avenue School (1923) and joined forces with a department colleague, architect Frederick C. Disque, for the Fairmount Avenue School (1920). Both buildings have undergone changes over the years, but Kocher's use of classical detailing can still be found on the Nittany School.
Professor Disque served as an architect for both single-family homes and fraternity mansions during his tenure at Penn State. His residential designs include a Dutch Colonial and a Colonial Revival in the Holmes-Foster/Highlands District (254 and 262 East Hamilton). The Dutch Colonial, built for mechanical engineering faculty member H.A. Everett in 1925, has a main floor faced with local dolomite, and a wood-shingled shed-roof dormer under a slate roof. The interior has architect-designed cabinets and teak floors, said by Disque to have been from a World War I battleship. The Colonial Revival, also with architect-designed built-ins, has a broken pedimented doorway, slate roof, and a set of three main floor double-hung windows. There also is a two-story side wing.
Disque was the architect for four fraternity houses: Acacia (1925), a Georgian Revival in randomly coursed rubblestone with Roman Doric columns, built on the foundation of the John Hamilton barn; Sigma Phi Epsilon (1926), a Spanish Colonial Revival with a stucco facade, casement windows, arcaded porch on each wing, and heavily decorated stone around a rounded front door; Delta Sigma Phi (1927, a Renaissance Revival in stucco with limestone quoins and belt courses; and Alpha Tau Omega (1927, a finely detailed fraternity house with a Flemish bond brick facade and a huge two-story rounded portico with Corinthian columns and roofed balcony. At the time the building permit was issued in 1925, its estimated cost was $50,000. In the early 1930s, Disque left Penn State to join Kocher as a professor of architecture at the University of Virginia.
A cottage, called Camelot and reminiscent of an English wayside inn, was the 1922 design goal of David and Madeline Campbell. He was a professor of engineering drawing. Such an unconventional house initially met with resistance from both local contractors and financiers, but when completed (by contractor John Hoy) it was enthusiastically received. According to Mrs. Campbell, "Every door, window, shelf and nook needed to be custom built." This house, with its labyrinth of rooms, stairs, nooks, and architectural detail, and a garden filled with summer flowers, also planned by the Campbells, continues to be maintained by its current owner. It is located at 520 S. Fraser and listed in the National Register.
Another Penn State architectural engineering professor, P. Boyd Kapp, was responsible for the design of several handsome State College properties during the 1920s and 30s, including his own Spanish Revival style home at 512 W. Nittany. Built in 1929, it is faced with stucco and has a central tower with balcony and a rounded front door. Metal casement windows with a leaded triangular glazing pattern are to the left of the tower entrance; to the right is a one-story gable with a decorative rounded arch over casement windows. A low wall encloses a portion of the property. Kapp's office was located on the second floor of this home.
Kapp joined forces with partner Henley Eden, also a Penn State architectural engineering graduate, for two particularly fine Tudor Revivals, one on West Park Avenue in College Heights, and the other across the street from his own home at 519 W. Nittany. This house, designed for State College businessman W.B. Keeler in 1926, is faced in stone and has a rounded door and stone arched trim in an entrance gable, part of a larger gable. Windows include a set of double casements in the gable, a set of three double-sashed windows to the right of the doorway, and two small shed dormers in the slate roof. Kapp also was the architect for two State College apartment buildings: The Heatherbloom (1924-25), at 126 East Nittany, a $100,000 undertaking by businessman John Haugh and one of the first apartment buildings in State College, and Nittany Terrace at 318 W. Nittany. With its particularly fine detailing and with fireplaces and screened-in porches, the Heatherbloom continues to be another popular non-student residential apartment building. Kapp used classical-style entrances for each of these three-story buildings: an entrance porch supported by richly detailed Corinthian columns for the Heatherbloom; a rounded brick arch and keystone above a broken pedimented doorway with a handsome Palladian window over it at the Nittany Terrace.
Kapp, and a second partner, Dean Kennedy, designed several houses in State College, including contractor John Henszey's Tudor Revival at 300 East Hamilton, patterned after one they had done for John Haugh (325 Arbor Way) in College Heights. The Henszey Tudor, built over a period of years (1936-42) is a stately home with a coursed-stone face and clay tile roof. It is T-shaped. A turreted entrance is located where the gable meets the right front facade; a sizeable chimney is to the left, narrow wall-gabled windows are located to the right of the entranceway. A copper-roofed bay covers another set of casement windows at a gable end. Also on the property is John Henszey's stone-faced hipped-roof office with a shed dormer, a separate turreted tower, and stone gates. Interior beams and tiles from Henry Chapman Mercer's Moravian tile works in Doylestown add to the detail of this fine house. After their partnership ended, Kennedy continued on his own into the 1940s, becoming an early proponent of the International style.
Three generations of Kennedys were involved in the architectural development of State College. Dean Kennedy's father, William, was a general contractor responsible for several fine 1920s homes. In a 1923 issue of the State College Times, the McClure Home Building Service of New York announced the arrival of their New York sales manager and listed personal supervision of construction by William Kennedy, "the well-known architect and builder of State College." His buildings include two large Colonial Revivals on West Park Avenue in College Heights overlooking the Penn State golf course, and two more on West Fairmount. It is very possible that the spacious 1917 Dutch Colonial at 300 West Fairmount, built by Kennedy, was designed by its owner, Paul B. Breneman, professor of mechanics and materials of construction. William Kennedy also served as general contractor for several fraternities. Grandfather Thomas Kennedy, also a contractor, built the Fraser Street School in 1897 and served as the first school board president.
In addition to more than a dozen houses in College Heights identified as the work of architecture professor Clarence Bauchspies, he designed at least two fine residential properties in the Holmes-Foster/Highlands district. Like some of his College Heights examples, Bauchspies used roughly-coursed stone facing and half-timbering for a Tudor Revival at 711 W. Fairmount that he designed for chemistry professor Gustaf Cohen in 1938. Of particular note is the decorative timbering above the doorway. His three-bay Georgian Revival style house at 529 W. Nittany, also faced in stone, has a rounded front door trimmed with a stone arch, and a copper-roofed side porch. In addition, early in his career (1933) he was the architect of a large English Tudor Revival fraternity for Kappa Delta Rho. Faced in random ashlar stone and half timbering, it is richly detailed with stained glass windows and an especially effective roof.
While Bauchspies did most of his work in College Heights, another Penn State architectural engineering graduate, H.O. Smith, provided well-designed homes for a number of property owners in the Holmes-Foster/Highlands section of town. He served as an instructor in architecture before opening his own firm, the State College Construction Company. Smith built a variety of smaller homes in a variety of styles. For example, English professor J.S. Bowman chose an English Tudor cottage of stone, with a slate roof, sharp gable, casement windows, and double chimneys with chimney pots (452 E. Hamilton). J. Ben Hill, a botany professor, preferred a stone Cape Cod with a slate roof, gabled dormers, central chimney, and a simply designed classical doorway (221 E. Hamilton). Matching English Tudor Revivals were built by Smith at 624 and 628 Locust Lane. These twin residences have first floors of stone, second of stucco with half-timbering, and sharply pitched gables and gable dormers. The house at 231 East Hamilton, in something of a French Revival style, was built in 1940 for education professor H.S. Hurrell. It is faced with stone and has decorative stone quoining, a pent roof with a central chimney, and a hooded copper roof over the entranceway.
Perhaps three of H.O. Smiths most intriguing efforts are a 1932 Spanish Revival (520 E. Hamilton), an "Old English Cottage" built in 1929 (323 E. Hamilton), and his own home at 317 East Prospect, built in 1925. The parents of Mrs. Russell Blair, owner of an Allen Street gift shop, selected as her wedding gift a home in a Spanish Revival style. Stuccoed and with a tiled roof, it has a corner tower with narrow doorways located in decorated rounded insets, and iron balconies. A large rounded half window, and a rounded wooden door in the tower are accented by an iron fence, and by a brick trimmed wall creating a courtyard. Single-story additions to the building are revealed behind the courtyard wall.
Mrs. Edward Steidle, wife of the Dean of the College of Mineral Sciences, was from England and wanted their home to look like an old English country cottage. Smith chose a rough red brick and used it in a random coursing, some with sharp corners protruding out and some laid with ends showing. These were laid over concrete block creating twelve-inch thick masonry exterior walls. Metal casement windows, one with leaded stained glass, and heavy plank front and kitchen doors also with leaded stained glass, support the look of an old house. The steeply pitched roof with dormers has random sized and tri-colored Vermont slate laid with the thicker and larger slate at the bottom and smaller and thinner ones toward the ridge, an additional English feature. There are two chimneys, each with two terra cotta chimney tops in the shape of chess pieces (castles). A two-car garage is constructed with the same building materials, and is joined to the house with a brick wall topped with slate and featuring a round-arched wood plank door or gate.
The main portion of Smith's own rough-faced stone-veneered home, in the English Tudor style, has a particularly steep slate roof broken by three hipped dormers along the front facade. A pair of double-hung windows with shutters are located on either side of a recessed doorway with a stone stoop. Two wings to the left of the main entrance to the house are faced in a combination of stone and brick. The larger of the two has a gabled dormer over a large rounded wooden plank door trimmed with heavy iron hinges. The rear and sides of the house are faced in a combination of stone and white stucco with half-timbered trim. Also on the property is a two-car garage in stone veneer, stucco, and half timbering, and a small garden house. Features in the house include Moravian tiles, a lock from an early local ironmaster's mansion, and two rooms paneled with chestnut from the bleachers of Penn State's Old Beaver Field. Smith situated his house to face residential Clove Alley rather than Prospect Avenue, offering a more private front yard while taking advantage of the length of the lot to allow for a larger structure. A stone wall encloses the front and one side of the property; a combination brick and iron fence encloses the remainder.
Other College of Engineering faculty members also designed their own homes during this period. Although not trained in architecture, they possessed the skills necessary to draw up original plans and specify details, and in some cases "a desire to have some particular widget built in" caused them to take on the project. College of Engineering Associate Dean Earl Stavely chose a brick Dutch Colonial (534 W. Fairmount) in 1925. At about the same time and a few doors away, a professor of civil engineering, H.K. Kistler, and a professor of mechanical engineering, J.J. Light, designed their own homes (510 W. Fairmount and 317 S. Gill). A few years later, another neighbor, A. Harris Forbes (520 W. Fairmount), modified a Good Housekeeping plan, incorporating several electrical "innovations" including an automatic garage door opener he fashioned out of lawn mower parts, using his skills as a professor of electrical engineering.
Penn State landscape architects also played a role in the development of State College. Arthur W. Cowell, who served as the first department head, was the architect of a five-bay Georgian Revival home at 160 W. Fairmount. It was designed for his colleague, Stevenson Fletcher, a professor of horticulture and later Dean of the College of Agriculture. Cowell also laid out a portion of East College Heights, named some of its streets, and built one of the first Sears Dutch Colonial style houses in the Borough. After leaving Penn State, he developed landscape designs for several Pennsylvania locations, including the state park at Washington Crossing and the Capitol Grounds in Harrisburg.
John R. Bracken was another Penn State landscape architect who added his design expertise to the appearance of State College. A 1914 undergraduate of Penn State (he later received both his Master's and PhD from the University), Bracken returned in 1924 to become an assistant professor of landscape gardening. Two years later he became department head, a position he held until 1957. He was a member of the State College Shade Tree Commission for many years and designer of the State College High School Memorial Field on Fraser Street. He provided landscape designs for several larger residential properties including the Henszey residence at 320 E. Hamilton and Leland and Christine Rhodes' fine English Tudor Revival home at 617 West Fairmount. In 1982 the Bracken Lecture Series was established to honor his contributions to Penn State, the community, and the field of landscape architecture. Each year a John R. Bracken Fellow is selected from internationally known scholars and professionals in landscape design.
In addition to properties being designed by local architects, some prospective homeowners in the Borough sought architect designs from nationally available sources. Electrical Engineering Professor A. Harris Forbes (mentioned above) modified a Good Housekeeping plan designed by "Larson and McClaren, AIA." Mr. and Mrs. Max Kriss chose an Architect's Small House Service Bureau pattern designed by A. Raymond Ellis and available through the Woman's Home Companion. Ellis had several styles to offer this State College couple: a Cape Cod, Early Colonial, Brittany Cottage, English Cottage, Spanish Bungalow, Dignified Colonel, and the one they chose, a Southern Colonial. Plans were $35. Ellis wrote the Kriss' that there would be an additional charge of $15 if he modified the plan to make the living room five feet longer, as they had requested. A February 9, 1940 agreement was drawn up with contractor Albert W. Bartges to build the house for $11,400, but Max Kriss died soon after and the house was not built. There undoubtedly are other still to be identified houses in the Borough whose plans were provided through the Small House Service Bureau.
Many properties built in State College during the early part of the 20th century were not designed by either local or more distant architects or engineers, however. Rather, a large number of local residents were choosing house styles from Sears, Roebuck and Co., the Aladdin Company, Gordon-Van Tine, and perhaps other mail-order companies. How many mail-order houses are there in the Holmes-Foster/Highlands District? Seventy-five would be a conservative estimate, with one hundred more likely. Examples of over twenty different Sears styles can be found in this district alone, an indication of their popularity.
These mail-order companies offered would-be home owners not only the latest in style choices to meet their space needs and their pocket books, but total house packages with first-rate materials. All building parts arrived by railroad, precut and numbered and, in the case of Sears, a mortgage plan was provided to help owners acquire their new homes along with a guarantee that promised satisfaction or Sears would pay all shipping costs and refund the purchase price.
Once the lot and foundation were ready, the homes were assembled by local builders or possibly even by the purchasers themselves. For the convenience of the builder, shipping dates were staggered to allow materials to arrive when they were needed. In some cases, local contractors were engaged by Sears and construction was supervised by a company representative. John Henszey appears to have been one of those contractors; A.G. Wilson was one of the Sears construction superintendents. In May, 1933, a letter was sent to 10-Henszey from Wilson of the Sears Home Construction Division in Philadelphia offering, "If the dates on the shipping schedule do not conform with your expectations on the progress of the work, please advise and we will change the dates accordingly."
Materials were carried on the Bellefonte Central from a variety of places. In the case of the house at 437 East Fairmount, "Honor Bilt" Modern Home #3290 — The Stratford, for example, leaded glass, moulding, paneled doors and nails came from Newark; hardware, curtain poles, and window shades arrived from Philadelphia; paint and varnish was shipped from Summerdale, Pennsylvania; radiators came from Bayonne, New Jersey; bathroom fixtures from Camden; boiler parts from Buffalo; wood shingles from Detroit; quarry tile from Kushequa; and firebrick from Bolivar, PA.
Early 20th century mail-order buyers chose to build in familiar late 19th century styles. Sears, Aladdin, and Gordon-Van Tine, as well as other mail-order companies, all were offering vernacular Victorian patterns that are similar to houses in the older areas adjacent to campus. Examples are Gordon-Van Tine # 710 and Sears #167, closely resembling houses along the 300 block of South Burrowes and the 100 blocks of North Patterson and Barnard.
But within the next decade, tastes of prospective homeowners began to change in State College as they were changing across the country. More architecturally modern designs were preferred, and the Prairie Four Squares became a very popular choice. Two stories high, with low pyramidal roofs often with at least one dormer, and a verandah running the full width of the first floor, variations of these houses were offered by every mail-order company from 1900 to 1925, and they can be found throughout the older neighborhoods of the Borough. Sears described The Chelsea (122 W. Nittany) as a "conveniently arranged house available at very low cost," and cited the advantages of the large front porch extending across the front; or The Rockford (525 E. Foster), "conveniently planned to allow the greatest use of space consistent with good architecture."
The residents of 501 W. Fairmount made another choice in about 1920 when they selected "A Beautiful Suburban Home," Gordon-Van Tine Home No. 536. A large and more elaborate version of the Prairie style than the Four Square, it is a two-story rectangular house with a low hipped roof and a wide eave overhang. Its front facade has a row of eight-pane casement windows located at either side of the hooded front main entrance. There is a sun porch in a wing to the left of the main entrance. Its catalog description offered, "The simplicity of good taste, the charm of fine design...a 'show place' in fine residence districts in scores of cities." It appears to have been at the top of the company line since Gordon-Van Tine president E.C. Roberts selected a stuccoed version for his own home in Davenport, Iowa. Elsewhere in the Borough, property owners at 229 West Foster and 347 East Prospect each selected Gordon-Van Tine home #535, "a beautiful home...a favorite with the discriminating home builder." These houses match #536, except that they both are finished in stucco and include a sleeping porch above the sun porch.
Reflecting new interest in the Craftsman style, local buyers also could choose from several Bungalow type homes. Aladdin Company representative E.L. Brittingham, "The Aladdin Man," while staying at the nearby Bellefonte YMCA, advertised in the Stale College Times that Aladdin Ready-Cut Houses "can be built cheaper...(with) first-class materials...at half the cost of buildings put up by the usual method." An approximately 1,500 square foot Aladdin Bungalow, The Plaza, was chosen in 1914 for a new house at 441 W. Fairmount. This one-story cross-gabled house has clapboard siding, exposed roof beams and rafters, and square wooden roof supports on stone piers for a porch that runs partially across the front.
Another attractive Craftsman Bungalow, the Sears Westly, was selected in the late 1920s by Department of Agronomy Professor C.F. Noll and his family. Located at 313 South Burrowes, it is a brick and shingle veneered two-story with a full-width front porch and an attractive gabled dormer with exposed rafters opening onto a balcony. Variations on this style are located elsewhere in the District.
The design for the one-story bungalow at 812 West Beaver was selected from a 1920s Gordon-Van Tine catalog, home No. 613. But instead of using the recommended stucco facade, local owners chose cobblestones from the West Branch of the Susquehanna River near Lock Haven to enhance the "most inviting exterior" of this house, "distinguished by the wide eaves supported by brackets and the recessed porch." These three examples are a few of the many varieties of large and small Bungalows that were built in the Holmes-Foster/Highlands District prior to 1930. They are prevalent along Beaver, Nittany and West Foster Avenues, and interspersed elsewhere throughout the District.
While Craftsman Bungalows and Prairie style homes were popular local choices, other residents in the 1920s and 1930s were selecting from Colonial Revival styles. Many opted for two-story gambrel-roofed Dutch Colonials, with shed dormers that extend almost the whole width of the house. The Sears Van Jean is one of several mail order options that was available to Holmes-Foster/Highlands District homeowners, offering double windows on either side of a gabled portico. This style and several other often-repeated facade variations can be found throughout the district.
Other local residents preferred the look of a Georgian Revival and selected Sears houses with "the dignity and charm" of The Princeton (508 East Foster) or "the perfect symmetry" of The Newcastle (521 East Prospect). Others chose Cape Cod variations like The Gordon (510 East Fairmount), an example of "the sturdy houses still standing in New England."
Emeritus Physics Professor Marsh W. White described the purchase of his Colonial Revival, The Winthrop, this way: "A fine group of houses was developed in the 1930s in the eastern section of the town. Construction was less expensive and financing was facilitated by using materials from Sears. My house at 511 East Prospect was built by John Henszey. This house was purchased in September 1934 from Professor Hufford who had it built several years earlier. The extensive use of Sears materials was the subject of comment by later contractors."
Other prospective home buyers were making yet another style choice, selecting Romantic Revival versions of Old World English Tudors and Cotswold Cottages. Masonry facades often were used to make these 1 1/2 and 2-story mail-order houses look more authentic. In high demand by the 1930s, these picturesque homes were repeated throughout the residential districts of the Borough, offering architectural variety and individuality to the neighborhoods.
Three Sears English Cottages, built side-by-side in 1933 on the 400 block of East Fairmount, show the versatility of these mail-order selections. While Sears recommended brick facing, all three owners chose to face their houses in stone, undoubtedly reflecting the availability both of stone and qualified stonemasons. The houses are similar in size, all have steep gables and stone-decorated doorways, two have distinctive front chimneys. The Chauncey Langs' (he was a professor in agricultural extension and former mayor of State College) chose The Croydon, "a small house, absolutely modern, without a single trace of faddishness," and customized it with the addition of two roof gables. Next door, English professor Harold Graves and his family selected The Stratford, described by Sears as offering "the latest idea in English architecture with the touch of the popular California studio type." And, next to them at 447 E. Fairmount, The Hillsboro was the choice of the F.H. Fishers. Sears recommended "a little careless touch to the stonework," and the addition of shutters and wrought iron to "give the right feeling."
The Lynnhaven was described in the Sears catalog as a "cheerful well-proportioned residence with deep set door and flower boxes." It obviously was a popular choice in State College. There are examples of this English Cottage on Barnard Street, Foster Prospect, and Beaver Avenues in the Holmes-Foster/Highlands District, and also in College Heights.
In 1933, Economics Professor George Mitch and his family selected The Roxbury, a large stone Tudor Revival at 511 East Hamilton. It and another handsome Tudor style house, The Ellison — #3359, on the corner of Fairmount and Sparks, are comparable to architect-designed houses nearby. Like the others, their building components were shipped in from Sears factories, but the stone was from the area. The Ellison is faced with ganister rock from the Bald Eagle Mountain near Port Matilda.***
And, if there was not a style available to meet a prospective owner's taste, Sears would custom-design one. An example at 500 E. Hamilton is a large and handsome French Eclectic built in 1933 by John Henszey for Frank Whitmore, the Dean of the School of Chemistry and Physics. Symmetrical with a steeply-pitched hipped roof in slate, it has side gables with French doors at either end of the front facade. The impressive entryway includes cut stone decoration around the front door; arched wall dormers extend across the front facade of this painted brick house.
Many of these well-designed and well-built mail-order homes compare favorably with architect-designed houses of the period and are not easily identified. Help in identifying them has come from several sources. In some cases, homeowners still have the plans and even information on the whole building process. Others houses have been identified by matching them to plans offered by mail-order companies. Papers in an unsorted attic office of contractor John Henszey have resulted in a cache of materials about these homes. And court house records have identified the name of at least one bank officer handling Sears mortgages, F. C. Schaub of Philadelphia.
An academic community, plugged into ideas and trends across the country, knew how to use a cadre of architects, landscape architects and engineers that were eager to experiment with built versions of theoretical designs, or how to select mail order designed houses that reflected the latest trends. They also knew how to tap into the skills of locally available craftsmen and how to find the building materials needed to effectively carry out their projects. State College clients and practitioners created the possibility for making an evolving suburban landscape of academic quality. As a result, there is probably no community in Pennsylvania — with the exception of middle-class suburban neighborhoods of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh — that comprises so many examples of 20th century suburban architecture.
In many communities in the Commonwealth, historic properties and districts have suffered from neglect due to financial hardships. In State College, however, the threat is not financial neglect; rather, it has been a lack of awareness of and appreciation for this relatively young town's 20th century architecture — considered by many of its residents and its developers as being without particular architectural merit or historic roots, and therefore unimportant.
The result has been, until recently, a passive response to aggressive commercial development that has replaced/renewed whole blocks in the downtown with multiple, especially high-rise, student apartment buildings, and has threatened adjacent older stable residential neighborhoods with conversion of single-family owned homes into rental housing and absentee ownership.
*The State College Hotel, at the corner of College Avenue and Allen Street and directly across from the campus main gate, has undergone a number of changes since the 1880s but it remains a local landmark. The residences Linn refers to have disappeared.
**The old post office is now the Schlow Memorial Library, located at the corner of Allen Street and Beaver Avenue in the Central Business District.
***In addition to the Port Matilda location and cobblestones from the West Branch of the Susquehanna, stone for borough housing also came from Stone Valley in nearby Huntingdon County; the Sand Mountain area near Bear Meadows in the Tussey Mountains; and from two State College locations — a site near what is now East College Avenue and Pugh Street; and from a quarry whose traces can still be seen behind the Hamilton Avenue Shopping Center just off South Atherton Street.
Architects' Small House Service Bureau. Your Future Home: Architect-Designed Houses of the Early 1920s. American Institute of Architects, Washington, D.C., 1992.
Gordon-Van Tine Co. 117 House Designs of the Twenties. The Athenaeum of Philadelphia and Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1992.
Gowans, Alan. The Comfortable House: North American Suburban Architecture 1890-1930. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA., 1986.
McAlester, Virginia and Lee. A Field Guide to American Houses. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1988.
Schweitzer, Robert and Michael W. R. Davis. America's Favorite Homes. Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1990.
Stevenson, Katherine Cole and H. Ward Jandl. Houses By Mail. Preservation Press, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington, D.C., 1986.
CENTRE COUNTY REFERENCE MATTERIAL:
Anderson's Directory and Reference Guide of Bellefonte, State College, Howard, and Milesburg, 1911-1912. H.R. Anderson, Mansfield, Pennsylvania.
Bellefonte and State College Telephone Directory. The Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania, November, 1939.
Hibshman, E. K., Editor. The Pennsylvania State College Alumni Directory, 1861-1935. Penn State Alumni Association, State College, PA.
The Pennsylvania State College Bulletin. Summer Session, 1927.
The Pennsylvania State College Bulletin, Summer Session, 1932.
Sanborn Map Company, State College, PA: 1906, 1911, 1922, 1929.
State College, Pennsylvania Telephone Street Guide and Householders' Directory. Mullin-Kille and Daily Times, State College, 1943.
Student, Faculty, Staff Directory. The Pennsylvania State College, State College, PA, 1945-46.
U. S. Manuscript Census of Population, State College, PA., 1910; 1920.
‡ Melander, Jacqueline, Holdsworth, Deryck, State College Historic Resources Study Committee, Holmes/Foster-Highlands Historic District, nomination document, 1995, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Atherton Street • Beaver Street • Buckhout Street • College Avenue • Irvin Avenue • Prospect Avenue • University Drive