The year is 1896. C. Emlen Urban is 33 years old and celebrating his 10th year of private practice. His architectural commissions to date have been as varied as his business acquaintances. Architectural styles embodied in his work have included Queen Anne, Shingle, East Lake, Chateauesque and Romanesque Revival. Noteworthy business acquaintances have included chocolatier Milton S. Hershey, hotelier Charles Wagner, tobacconist Menno M. Fry and, now, mercantilist Peter T. Watt, partner of James Shand.
Within one year of completing twin Chateauesque mansions on West Chestnut Street in 1895, Urban was commissioned to design an even more impressive baronial Chateauesque mansion at the corner of President and Marietta avenues for the Watt family.
This freestanding three-story, asymmetrical, cut stone residence included broad ballustraded porches, a porte cochere, round turrets, conical roofs, stepped gables, finials and six chimneys. A two-story carriage house of equal quality and detailing featured an unusual bell roof.
It was a busy year for Urban in 1896, a year that included the construction of the S.R. Moss Cigar Factory at the corner of Lemon and Prince streets; the completion of the Strawberry Street Public School and the design of his own center city residence at 212 E. King St.
The S.R. Moss factory introduced another building type and skill set for Urban to master. The six-story limestone and brick structure, with heavy timber framing, was the tallest building in his portfolio.
The Strawberry Street School, a two-story red brick Italian Renaissance Revival style building, was his first public school commission in the city. This was also Urban's first attempt at this popular late 19th-century style of architecture that included hipped roofs, balconies, arches and deep overhangs with exposed rafter tails.
Interestingly, Urban's private residence of 14 years was a remodel of a former 1860s Federal Style residence. He adorned the unpretentious flat-roofed, three-story symmetrical twin structure with gold-colored brick, arched entrances, leaded glass transoms and classical ornaments including a full roofline balustrade.
In 10 short years, Urban completed more than 26 commissions representing eight building types and eight architectural styles. To celebrate his achievements, he published a promotional booklet, "Recent Work by C Emlen Urban Architect." It featured photographs of 11 prominent commissions. His career was firmly established.
What does baronial refer to?
The castlelike characteristics of a building, such as turrets, towers, battlements and steep stepped gables.
What is a bell roof?
A bell roof is so named because its shape resembles a bell. They can be round, multisided or square.
What is a stepped gable?
A stepped gable resembles stair steps on the gable end of a roof. The gable projects above the roof and is a common feature on buildings in the Netherlands.
- 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.