Texas Heritage, Winter 1985

Ashton Villa, Galveston, (Circa 1858). When J.M. Brown built this house he chose a style which was
already fashionable in the East but would not become popular in Texas until after the Civil War. The
Italianate Villa is characterized by very low roofs, deep-bracketed eaves, and tall narrow windows
and doors. Photo courtesy of Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas. Photographer, Todd Webb.

wide voids between the posts give the
porch an open and airy quality that has
certain affinities with the interior of a
thirteenth-century Gothic cathedral.
The desubstantiation of the solidity
of the posts through proliferation of
the component parts also has a similarity
with the complex and abundant
details that assist in denying the physical
reality of both the interior and exterior
of a Gothic cathedral. The porch
of the house has another "Gothic" element
that is not to be found in original
Gothic architecture. The wide spans
of the horizontal lintels are partially
supported by brackets that cantilever
out from the tops of the posts. These
structural brackets are given a very
decorative character because of their
elaborate profiles which consist of
undulating curves. The cantilever profiles
make the brackets appear twodimensional,
and this thinness is accentuated
by the actual perforation of
the surfaces of the brackets with an ornamental
motif. The brackets appear
linear and lace-like. The brackets, like
the posts, have a delicate and desubstantiated
quality. The way in which
the brackets were cut with a jig saw
produced flat forms that are somewhat
reminiscent of gingerbread. As a re26

suit, this style of design is sometimes
labeled Gingerbread Gothic. And because
the brackets have such a distinct
character, the manner of design is also
known as the Bracketed Style.
As mentioned, the main part of the
Sturgis House maintains a block-like
character, which is similar to that of
the Neill-Cochran House. But the block
of the Sturgis House does not seem
quite so massive because it is penetrated
by windows that are more vertical
than those of the Neill-Cochran
House. The windows in Waco are also
less geometric than those in Austin.
Instead of a straight lintel, they are
surmounted by a segmental curve that
increases the verticality of the opening.
This preponderance of the vertical
direction is another characteristic that
the Sturgis House has in common with
Gothic cathedrals. The verticality is
accentuated by the attenuation of
the posts of the porch. The Gothic
dominance of verticals over horizontals
has superseded the Greek classical
harmonic balance between the two
directions.
Whereas the Sturgis House, like the
Neill-Cochran House, has a compact,
horizontal roof, many Victorian houses

have roofs that emphasize the vertical
direction. For example, the house
known as Brent Place, which was built
near Plano in 1876, has three sharply
pointed gables that provide its front
with an elaborate profile that seems repeatedly
to shoot upward. Although
the house is much wider than it is tall,
the gables establish a verticality that is
dominant.
Whereas both the Sturgis House and
Brent Place are as symmetrical as the
Neill- Cochran House, a great many
Victorian designs are decidedly asymmetrical.
For example, Ashton Villa
was built in Galveston in 1858 with a
large wing projecting to the right. The
breaking of the symmetry makes this
pre-Civil War house seem less geometrically
contained and more picturesque.
The asymmetry of Ashton Villa
is an example of what is referred to as
the Italian Villa Style. Like so many of
the stylistic terms that we have encountered,
Italian Villa Style is misleading.
The familiar Italian villas of
the Renaissance and Baroque periods
were extremely formal and symmetrical.
The so-called Italian Villa Style
does not have much in common with
the renown villas of the Renaissance
and Baroque. The Italian Villa Style
was instead regarded as a recreation of
Italian farmhouses of the vernacular
medieval tradition, which were generally
asymmetrical.
Picturesque asymmetry became even
more common in the late nineteenth
century when the so-called Queen
Anne Style was popular in Texas and
elsewhere. The name is another example
of a misnomer. Queen Anne
was the monarch of England from
1702 until 1714. The late Victorian architecture
that is associated with the
name of Queen Anne has very little in
common with early eighteenth-century
architecture in England. A Queen
Anne house in Texas or elsewhere in
America is distinguished by the juxtapositioning
of a multitude of varied
forms. The collection of shapes is emphatically
asymmetrical, even more so
than those of the Italian Villa Style.

Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Winter 1985. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45443/. Accessed July 23, 2014.