C. Emlen Urban personal home

Later in life, in 1926, architect C. Emlen Urban designed this Colonial Revival home at 1008 Buchanan Ave. 

Despite C. Emlen Urban’s rising success in designing large scale and significant commercial, retail, and civic structures, he still made house calls.

Residential design is often where architects learn the trade and begin understanding how buildings are constructed. Although smaller in scale, a private residence is just as complex, and often demands more skill, patience, time and knowledge than the larger public structures. Urban’s reputation for producing quality and innovative designs at all levels and styles resulted in residential commissions in Lancaster city, Lititz, Millersville, Manheim, Marietta, Strasburg, Gap, Annville, and Hershey.

His residential design styles were as varied and unique as his clients and included: Queen Anne, Chauteauesque, Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival, Italian Renaissance Revival, Shingle Style, Beaux Arts, and Georgian Revival. Each architectural style has its own vocabulary of details, proportions, materials and overall character that must be taken into account when developing the plans and elevations.

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Pair of Homes 1898 623 W Chestnut St Italian Renaissance.JPG
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Pair of Homes 1898 623 W Chestnut St Italian Renaissance 1.JPG
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William Wohlsen 1893 537 West Chestnut St Queen Anne 1.JPG
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Menno Fry Mansion 1894 624 W Chestnut St   Chauteauesque 1.JPG

For example, the Paired Mansions at 623-625 W. Chestnut St. are designed in the Italian Renaissance Style and incorporate terra cotta ornamentation, low projecting tile roof overhangs with exposed rafter tails and distinctive, recessed third- floor balconies. His design solution for these companion homes was so well received that he was commissioned to replicate them in New York City.

Whether his residential commissions were extraordinary or ordinary, Urban would calibrate his approach to meet the program and design objectives of each client; from a 10,000-square-foot mansion to a 1,000-square-foot townhome, each was special in its own way. He designed numerous residences in our community that would be considered ordinary by many standards — but with a flair. Two such examples include the Keiper Apartments on East Lemon Street and the Shingle Style row houses on College Avenue circa 1892. Both examples represent Urban’s ability to fit in with the surrounding neighborhood while adding a special or distinct feature to set them apart.

The four-story Keiper Apartments circa 1914 served as an opportunity for Urban to test the future of modern design, while the College Avenue row homes provided him with an opportunity to experiment with a new and unusual style typically reserved for New England.

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Herman A Wohlsen 930 Buchanan Ave Lancaster 1922 Tudor Revival.JPG
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Keiper Apartments 1914  129 E Lemon St Italian Renaissance Revival.JPG
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St James House 1903 119 N Duke St  Colonial Revival.JPG
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C E Urban Residence 1926 1008 Buchanan Ave Colonial Revival.JPG

Many of Urban’s residences have been well-documented and survive today but, interestingly, a fair number are still being discovered through research and by accident. You can check out more than a dozen examples from Urban's portfolio below: 

Did C. Emlen Urban have one residential architectural style that he preferred over others?

Design professionals with Urban’s talent rarely “cookie-cutter” their designs. For Urban, each commission was an opportunity to experiment with new ideas, styles and materials.

What architectural style did Urban choose for his personal residences?

Surprisingly, for all the innovation and experimentation that Urban exercised in his business commissions, two of his private residences (1914 and 1927) were of the Colonial Revival style.

When is a residence considered a mansion?

Typically, a residence in excess of 6,000 square feet is considered a mansion. The definition is based on area and amenities rather than the number of rooms.


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.