Friday, May 4, 2012

The Baltimore Hostel The Bennett Mansion 1857

The Baltimore Hostel The Bennett Mansion 1857

One of my favorite brownstones in Baltimore is the Bennett Mansion now used as a Hostel. I lived down the street from this Beautiful building for five years in the Mount Vernon area of Baltimore, Maryland. When travailing I love to stay in Hostels as a way of saving money, It is also a way of meeting cool people that you might not meet staying in a hotel. The Bennett Mansion built 1857 by Francis W Bennett, a wealthy auctioneer and commercial merchant belonging to an influential Maryland family that had settled in Baltimore in 1680. The elegant Italianate style  brownstone with its richly appointed interior would serve as the family home for the next forty-three years. Bennett died in 1880 leaving an estate of one and a half million dollars. The Italianate style flourished in America from 1840 until around 1870. Like any architectural style, it borrowed and combined with other brownstone-clad styles also emerging at the same time, such as the Neo-Grec, and Second Empire.

Built in the Italianate style this brownstone building has ornate carved detail on the facade and a decorative cast iron cornices.

The inspiration for the Italianate brownstone was the 15th century Italian city palazzo, a style with classical detail, elegance and gravitas deemed eminently suitable for conveying prosperity and social position in a limited space. This style worked well on deep narrow city lot's with little frontage on the street level  At the same time, the East Coast sandstone known as brownstone was gaining in popularity as an elegant and rich building material, and by the late 1840′s through the 1850′s, almost all of the new residential architecture, as well as churches and commercial buildings in Baltimore were faced in this stone, praised for its unostentatious magnificence. The enduring popularity of this material is evidenced by that fact that most people along he East Coast call all row houses, whether brick, brownstone, limestone, or a combination thereof, brownstones.

The ornate Italianate style bracketed front doorway 

What some people don't realize is that brownstones are, in fact, brick houses faced with a six inch veneer of brownstone slab. The skill of the masons of the era was so great that these blocks of stone were joined together almost imperceptibly, so that the seams almost disappear on the flat surface, calling the observer’s attention to the elaborately carved doorways and windows. Unfortunately, in the building frenzy of the 1850′s and 60′s, builders often cut and laid the stone with the grain exposed, thinking no one would know the difference, or that it did not matter. As we all know now, improperly cut brownstone can scale and crumble and even fall off as is the case in the Bennett Mansion. The stone should always be cut and laid across the grain, so that water cannot enter the grain, freeze, expand and break the stone. Sadly, cutting corners in new construction is not a new concept. Those brownstones that show minimal damage and wear, after 150 years in the elements, were cut and laid correctly, those spalling, and in need of major resurfacing, were not.

Over the years the building has been used for various purposes, including individual residences and a fraternity house. The building was purchased in 1983 by the Potomac Area Council of Hostelling International USA.

The 1850's Grand Hall Entry still has original furniture, gas lighting and ornate black walnut staircase.

The original ornate black walnut staircase. 

To the left of the Grand Hall Entry are spacious double parlors with a pair of ornately carved Italian marble mantels.

Detail of ornately carved Italian marble mantels. 

The original ornate plaster ceiling medallion

The Grand Hall Entry plaster ceiling medallion with original gas fixture

Detail of the original ornate plaster ceiling decoration and capitals dividing the double parlors

Carved Black walnut newel post as base of staircase

Detail of the original ornate plaster ceiling decoration in Grand Hall Entry 

The dinning room Italian marble mantel and mantel mirror 

This marble mantel in the dinning room has since been restored

The 1850's Grand Hall Entry still has original furniture, gas lighting and ornate black walnut staircase.

The 1850's Grand Hall Entry still has original furniture, gas lighting and ornate black walnut staircase.

This beautiful large pier mirror might have been originally gold leafed it now sports White paint 

Detail of pier mirror in Hall 

The double parlors feature a pair of Rococo Revival ornate originally gilt bronze gasoliers that are now painted gold and missing there glass shades.

At the time the Bennett Mansion was built natural gas was used to light homes. Gas was in use as a lighting fuel in America as far back as the early 19th century, Baltimore, Maryland a very rich city during this time was the first city to light its streets with gas in 1817. Early gasworks extracted gas from coal. It was a complicated, messy and smelly procedure, with lots of dangerous and polluting by-products. The gas underwent several purifying processes which were designed to produce a clean, bright flame with little or no smell or residue, but if the processors were even a bit careless, the fuel could be quite unpleasant, with smoky, with a nauseating smell . But by the 1850′s the time the Bennett Mansion was built, gas was widely in use in many new and old homes across America. The other problem with gas was that a Older building/House had to be retrofitted with the pipes leading from the street or basement, up through the house to wall and ceiling outlets. In Baltimore, the growth of row house neighborhoods and rapid new construction saw the instillation of gas mains under new streets, and homes outfitted with gas pipes and fixtures. After 1872, coal gas was replaced by water gas, generated by superheated steam and anthracite coal or petroleum, and by the 1890′s almost all of the gas used in America was produced this way.

The double parlors feature a pair of Rococo Revival ornate originally gilt bronze gasoliers that are now painted gold and missing there glass shades.

The majority of the new gas fixtures, called gasoliers, were ceiling fixtures or wall sconces. Most of the ceiling fixtures had long pipes that dropped at least two feet before branching out into a decorative shape of armes holding etched globes. The nature of the gas delivery, through the slender tubes of piping in the fixture gave rise to great style, with elaborate curved arms ending in upturned glass globes possible in many permutations, styles and materials. Essentially, all gas fixtures work the same way: the flow of gas along the pipe to the burner is controlled by an adjustable gas cock. Turning the cock released the gas, which had to be lit, and gave rise to the phrase, “turning on the lights.” The flame emerged at the end of the pipe, amplified and protected by the glass globe or shade covering the flame. For the first time, Victorian decor became static, as the previous practice of moving furniture to catch natural light was no longer desirable. Furniture was now arranged to take advantage of the artificial light from above and on the walls, much of which could be in adjustable fixtures that moved up and down, or out away from a wall, as needed. Some ceiling fixtures had a rubber hose that could be attached and dropped to a table, where a table lamp could be connected to the gas flow. But more often than not, people still depended on kerosene lamps for most of their table lighting.

Hopefully one day theses bronze gasoliers will be restored to there original splendor

Self portrait at the Hostel 

No comments:

Post a Comment