Monday, September 13, 2021

Dating With Style: 20th Century Housing (Part II)

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

Like clothing, architecture has fads, trends, and fashions. In previous blogs, I have written about 19th century housing styles, as well as those from the early 20th century. Elmira and its suburbs expanded rapidly during the 1910s and 20s, but the Great Depression ground that growth to a halt. The aftermath of World War II kicked off a new housing boom across the nation which was dominated by such styles as Minimal Traditional, Ranch, Split Level, Contemporary, Shed, and Neoeclectic.  Minimal Traditional, Ranch, and Split Level are ubiquitous throughout Chemung County's post-war suburbs, but Contemporary and Shed never seemed to have caught on here. Neoeclectic is what you find in many late-2oth and early 21st century developments.

Minimal Traditional was popular in the 1930s through the 1950s. They’re usually one-story homes with built much like a Tudor with side gables and a prominent front cross gable, but with a less steeply pitched roof. They often make heavy use of stone or brick veneer. 

Minimal Traditional home on Larchmont Avenue

Ranches were developed in California in the 1930s and became the denominate style for residential architecture during the 1950s and 60s. The style borrows heavily from Craftsman, Prairie, and also Spanish Colonial styles found throughout the Southwest. They’re always one floor with either hipped roofs or side gables with wide overhanging eaves. Their rise to prominence accompanied the death of public transport, so most have some sort of built-in garage or car port.

Ranch on Hendy Avenue

The Split Level rose to popularity in the 1950s as a modification to the basic Ranch. Like the Ranch, it was either hipped or side gabled and had a built-in garage. The first level usually consisted of said garage and a family room, with dining room and kitchen on the middle level, and bedrooms on the upper level. The Split Level was popular through the 1970s. 


Split Level on Acorn Road

The Contemporary Style, sometimes called American International, drew heavily on International Style in terms of windows and roofing, although some do have pitched roofs. Unlike the International Style, they tend to have walls decorated with wood, stone, or brick veneer rather than plain stucco. Shed Style developed in the 1960s and continues to be used today. The defining feature is the multi-directional shed roofs which give the house the look of colliding geometric shapes. They usually have wood siding and/or brick veneer. Chemung County doesn't have many examples of either style because their peek popularity in the late-1960s through the 1970s coincided with the start of an economic downturn and decline in local population.

Neoeclectic is basically a return to the earlier Eclectic Styles after a brief pause following World War II. Unlike earlier architectural styles which began with high-fashion architects designing statement homes for the rich, the Neoeclectic Movement began with the builders of modest homes putting a new spin on late-19th and early-20th century designs. In this area, there are examples of Neocolonial, Neo-Tudor, Neo-French, and Neo-Victorian. The Neoeclectic Movement is currently the dominant style in McMansions and newer suburban housing. 

Now that you know the different styles of residential housing, take a drive around and make note of what you see.  Consider what the types of houses reveal about the growth and development of different neighborhoods.

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