Architects typically hit full stride in their early 40s, and C. Emlen Urban was no exception. With his practice in full swing and his reputation for producing high-quality work growing exponentially, Urban was able to be more selective with the commissions he accepted and the architectural styles he designed.
Approximately two years prior to the Stevens Girls High School dedication, the bishop of St. James Episcopal Church offered a blessing for its newly constructed Parish House at 119 N. Duke St. Its architect was none other than Lancaster’s favorite design professional, 41-year-old Urban.
Respecting the adjacent Federal-style church and rectory, Urban selected Georgian Revival style for the 1903 three-story, five-bay brick Parish House. This monumental yet understated structure is one that is easily overlooked by the passer-by. Today, and even in the earliest known photographs of the Parish House, massive shade trees along the narrow sidewalk make it difficult to appreciate and fully enjoy the architecture and detailing. Behind the canopy of branches, however, lies Urban’s largest and most exquisite example of nonresidential Georgian Revival architecture.
The Georgian and Colonial Revival styles were his two favorite comfort venues because they strictly adhered to rules regarding classical design, proportion and use of materials. These styles were perhaps a welcome relief from the unorthodox experimentation found in some of his previous work and projects that were soon to come.
The Parish House exhibits textbook Georgian Revival details, including Flemish bond brick, quoins, a water table, two belt courses, keystone window lintels, six-over-six window panes and classic Ionic columns.
However, the real magic occurs at two locations on the facade. Directly over the main entrance door is a cast-stone balcony supported by two large decorative consoles and, above that, a stone pediment with the date inscribed in Roman numerals. The second location is Urban’s attention to detailing at the roof cornice; the deep soffit consists of square blocks with pegs, round rosettes, dentil molding and the traditional use of Greek “egg and dart” trim.
Urban’s insistence on using good materials to build “strong and sustainable” plays out beautifully on this 115-year-old building.
When was Georgian Revival popular?
Georgian Revival was most popular between 1900 and 1940. This timeless two-story and five-bay design is also referred to as Georgian Colonial Revival, and is always a favorite.
What would the Parish House cost in today’s dollars?
The Parish House cost $17,000 to construct in 1903. That would equate to approximately $350,000 today.
What alterations to the building have occurred since 1903?
The only noticeable alterations, based on a photograph from 1904, are the removal of basement windows and iron grilles at the sidewalk level.
- 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.