The Chestnut Hill country house of the 1920s: A unique architectural 'type'

Khosrow Bozorgi, University of Pennsylvania


In Chestnut Hill there evolved a clearly identifiable "type" of country residence. The "type" may be recognized by the unity of house and its walled garden combined with a Romantic architectural expression that came from the shared cultural heritage of the owner and architect. In the best examples of the "type", house and walled garden are conceived as a total unity rather than as two separate elements that have been skillfully joined together. All the examples studied are the products of a common cultural heritage. The modest architectural treatment owes much to the prevailing Quaker heritage and to a nostalgic interest in the farms of Normandy and rural England as well as an insistence on the finest craftsmanship in masonry, woodwork, tile, and iron. Within a framework of inward-looking courts and gardens, such harmonious integration was determined by the traditional background of the gentleman-farmer and the constraint of a small site. Characteristically, the Chestnut Hill country house conveys a picturesque silhouette, yet remains cohesively structured. The unity of inside rooms and outdoor courts which are asymmetrically balanced based upon an intellectual awareness of spatial sequences in planning, restrains the entire architectural composition. Organically integrated with the natural form of the site, such uniformity makes a particular contribution to the notion of genius loci. Client and architect shared a common social and educational background in the Philadelphia Quaker tradition with long-standing cultural ties to Europe. All six architects, Mellor, Meigs and Howe, McGoodwin, and Willing and Sims received their professional education in Paris or at the University of Pennsylvania where Cret so eloquently preached the architectural principles he had learned at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. A conceptual synthesis reconciling the English Romanticism of the Arts and Crafts movement with the Beaux-Arts method of composition as rationalized in the late nineteenth-century provides the key. This thesis is supported through detailed analysis of a group of six examples: the McCracken house, the McIlhenny and Pepper residences, the Mellor and Frazer house and High Hollow the property of George Howe.

Subject Area

Architecture|American history

Recommended Citation

Bozorgi, Khosrow, "The Chestnut Hill country house of the 1920s: A unique architectural 'type'" (1988). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI8908308.