“Colonial” refers to the architecture of Mexico, while the house on Clemow…owes more to the architecture of southern Spain.
By Donald Beecher
No house in Ottawa takes me back to my university years in Santa Barbara as readily as the Spanish (Colonial) Revival house on Clemow Avenue. It was designed and built by the noted Ottawa architect, Werner Noffke, in a style then emerging in the southlands of California, largely in keeping with the revival architecture devised for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Diego in 1915. This was a seminal moment in the stylistic future of the state as Californians became increasingly conscious of the cultural legacy of the colonial period under Mexican rule combined with a longing for an identity of their own expressed through their architecture and civic festivals. Viva la fiesta!
Californian mission style
At the end of the 19th century, the 21 Franciscan missions up and down the state were, for the most part, in ruins. The moment had come for their restoration, not only as heritage, but as emblems of the emerging California of the developers and boosters of tomorrow. Consequently, adaptations of the “mission style” began to appear in civic architecture featuring thick adobe walls, long arcades, bell towers and the de rigueur terracotta roofing tiles. But following the Exposition, it would be paralleled by a lighter, brighter Mediterranean-inspired eclectic style. Both were nostalgic and, in a sense, fake, but no more so than any of the revival styles of architecture inspired by Tudor manors or French châteaux.
Specifically, “colonial” refers to the architecture of Mexico, while the house on Clemow, along with all its cognate exemplars in California, owes more to the architecture of southern Spain, characterized by starkly white smooth stucco walls, red tile roofs, cantilevered balconies, high casement windows, wrought iron grille work (rejas), and monumentally ornate entrances, often baroque in inspiration with occasional mudéjar (Andalusian Arabic) touches in the decor. Such features belong to the more elaborate revival houses of the 1920s and 1930s, which one sees today so beautifully concentrated in Santa Barbara and San Clemente, where the architectural homogeneity was controlled by city legislation.
The house on Clemow was built in 1926, coming late among Noffke’s contributions to the area east of Bank Street known today as the Clemow Estate East Heritage Conservation District. The difference in its conception may be seen by comparing it to two of Noffke’s earlier Spanish revival houses in the Glebe, one at 86 Ralph Street (1912) and another at 85 Glebe Avenue (1913). With the passage of some 13 years, fashions had emerged. But most pertinently, Noffke had travelled west, spending 1923 to 1924 in Los Angeles where he absorbed the trends at first hand. He returned brimming with avant-garde ideas for his own Spanish revival conceptions.
What, then, is worth noticing about the house on Clemow? The entry is composed of a massive wooden door with wooden grille work placed within a triple-lobed gothic arch with its wrought-iron lantern, the door framed on each side by stone Solomonic (twisted) colonnettes with finials placed on their capitals. Above the first storey ensemble there is a shallow, wrought-iron balcony backed up by a double casement window with its lunette (semi-circular window) above, this central ensemble crowned by an ornamental curved entry gable projecting through the roof. If the entire house is an architectural book, this is surely its frontispiece. To the right is a massive, off-centred chimney rising well above the low-pitched roofline, with a pointed vertical recess in the stucco replacing the side apertures often seen at the tops of old-world Spanish chimneys. The triple metal casement “library” windows on the left are separated by colonnettes similar to those framing the door, with four “blind” (merely recessed but not open) arches above in the stucco. These windows are bold yet the lights are intimately small and secluding. More might be said generally about stucco textures, the thickly corniced overhanging eaves, the total absence of porches and verandas, the stucco return (no wooden trim) around doors and windows, and the uninterrupted wall surfaces, all characteristic of the style, but the overall aesthetic of the house speaks far more than the descriptive details.
This house has had a surprisingly high number of owners over the years, but until the mid-1970s there were only two: Levi Crannell and his wife Florence until 1946; and G. Harold Burland until 1974. Crannell was the director of the Bronson Lumber Company and president of the Little River Redwood Company, while Burland was the comptroller and treasurer at the British American Bank Note Company.
The redwood enterprise had its headquarters in Tonawanda near Niagara Falls but their sawmill in Humboldt County, California, opened in 1908 in a town renamed Crannell in 1922 in honour of the company’s president. He made trips to the west coast by train where he too would have encountered the styles of California architecture. Might he have commissioned the house in the Spanish revival style and perhaps even influenced its design?
The complex history of the Bank Note Company founded in 1866 in factory quarters on Wellington Street closely reflected the rising and falling fortunes of the Canadian economy. Burland was a third-generation family member to work for the company, engaged in the production not only of bank notes, but also postage and revenue stamps, bonds and other securities over many decades. If they could talk, what might the walls of this house tell about earlier times?
For more information about heritage architecture in the Glebe, contact the Glebe Community Association Heritage Committee (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Donald Beecher is a professor in the department of English at Carleton, a Renaissance specialist and, most recently, the editor of Ogilby’s Aesop’s Fables (1651)