This is the fourth in an 18-part series highlighting the work of Lancaster's preeminent 19th- and 20th-century architect, Cassius Emlen Urban.
As the 19th century was waning, C. Emlen Urban’s architectural career was waxing.
In 1898, at the age of 35, Urban was commissioned to design what many of his admirers consider to be his high-water mark — the Watt & Shand building. If not his crowning achievement, it is certainly the most recognizable and prestigious public building in downtown Lancaster.
After Urban successfully completed the personal residence for mercantilist Peter T. Watt in 1896, Watt and his business partner, James Shand, challenged the young Urban to further elevate their position in the retail community and bring the department store into the 20th century.
Concurrently, a new architectural style was sweeping the country and replacing the ever-popular Queen Anne style. The newest craze was grounded in European design with a flair for the flamboyant. The Beaux Arts style, named after the French national university in Paris, Ecole des Beaux Arts, arrived in the United States during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Many cities of wealth and prosperity subsequently introduced this radical departure from the norm into their downtowns. Civic buildings including courthouses, capitols, libraries, train stations and post offices were the typical candidates for the Beaux Arts style.
The most distinguishing characteristics included Greek and Italian Renaissance decorative elements such as columns, pediments, balustrades, ornamental windows, stone carvings and elaborate sculpture. The traditional building materials were tan-colored brick, marble and cut stone.
The Beaux Arts style was new to Urban, and certainly new to Lancaster. It is of little doubt that an architectural style associated with success and prosperity would become the style of choice for the founders of the formerly named “New York Store” in downtown Lancaster. Watt, Shand and Urban collaborated on a masterful design that would see five phases of construction over the course of 26 years: 1898, 1906, 1916, 1920 and 1938. Most recently, the facade was restored in 2009 for the Lancaster County Convention Center.
The Watt & Shand building represented the first Beaux Art style in Lancaster County, but not the last. Urban went on to explore this popular style in several future commissions.
- How many lion heads are on the facade of the Watt & Shand building?
There are 13 lion heads around the perimeter between the first and second floors. The large, glazed terra cotta faces feature varied expressions.
- Are there other examples of the elaborate Beaux Arts style in Pennsylvania?
The state Capitol, described by President Theodore Roosevelt in the 1906 dedication of the building as “the handsomest building I ever saw.” It is considered by many to be the Beaux Arts style at its most extravagant level of detail.
- Did Urban attempt the Beaux Arts style prior to 1898?
The architect’s private residence at 212 E. King St., which he designed in 1896, has Beaux Arts detailing on the facade, including classical cornice moldings, balustrades, tan brick and Roman arches.
- 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 GScott@rlps.com.