Historic Structures

Initial Building Construction Garret-Jacobs Mansion Baltimore Maryland

Local tradition has always associated the name of Stanford White with the original design of the Garrett-Jacobs house, but only recently was this personal association substantiated. The list of works by MeKint, Mead & White in which he took a leading part (given by his son, L. G. White, in Sketches and Designs by Stanford White) begins with the year 1883 and makes no reference to this building. A letter from the current offices of McKim, Mead & White to the Peale Museum, dated April 15, 1960, reads: "We are unable to state which member of the firm was responsible for the work."

Research by the Peale Museum in the Garrett Papers has, however, uncovered numerous communications to and from Stanford White, which clearly indicate his responsibility for the designs and various contracts. In addition, a good many of the hundreds of bills and estimates for construction and decoration bear the initials "S.W." It appears that he made trips to Baltimore and entered into frequent, and sometimes sharp correspondence with the Garretts over questions of expense, percentages for commission and slow payment of some of the bills. A Mr. Hoffman appears to have assisted him in such matters and also visited Baltimore as the firm's representative, remaining at one time for eleven weeks. A Mr. Martin also approved many bids and contracts.

Work on Robert Garrett's new house was begun in September, I884. Prior to this, two of the older houses on the site were largely, if not entirely, demolished. The extent of this demolition is open to question, for the appearance and line of the rear brick walls of this part of the present building suggests that they survive from the previous structures. It may even be that parts of other walls were similarly incorporated in the new construction.

Be that as it may, the building designed by Stanford White took shape rapidly and almost immediately became the subject of controversy in Baltimore. Sides were taken as to whether this then modern style was appropriate to the character of Mount Vernon Place, and a next-door neighbor, Mr. Henry Janes, spurred on by his friend Enoch Pratt and other partisan critics of the new building, brought a bill of complaint to prevent its completion.

Besides objecting to the general style and scale of the new residence, Mr. Janes' principal contention was that the "monstrous vestibule" of the house—about 24 feet high, nearly 20 feet long, and projecting about 8 feet from the building line—violated city ordinances and would interfere with the flow of air and sunlight to his house, and also deprive him of his first floor view of the Washington Monument.

This case was acrimoniously debated, both in Court and throughout the city. The complaint was filed November 24, 1884, and the Circuit Court ruled in favor of Mr. Janes. It is somewhat difficult at this distance of time to understand the verdict, for the offending vestibule began 8 feet 7 inches from the Janes House, and except for some possible interruption of the view towards the monument, it could hardly be said to interfere with that building. An appeal was filed and the brilliant and satirical summing up by E. J. D. Cross, for Mr. Garrett, still makes interesting and entertaining reading. The Court of Appeals reversed the earlier verdict in 1885, ruling in favor of the Garretts and permitting continuation of the work.

During these proceedings a number of architects and art experts had been called for the Garretts. Great emphasis was laid on the contention that the house exemplified the best styles then prevailing in New York and parallels were drawn to the Astor residence and similar mansions. The plaintiff's witnesses, on the contrary, contended that New York fashions were out of place in conservative Baltimore. J. Kudolph Niernsee, then in some sense the dean of Baltimore architects and within a few weeks of his death, confounded these critics by testifying for Mr. Garrett. Niernsee stated that he had designed "most of the houses" on Mount Vernon Place and continued, "I think it would be the handsomest house on the square—the most ornamented—and I don't think it is any too massive according to the design."

Further study of the arguments in this case would also throw light on some details of construction of the house if time permitted such research. For example, a Mr. Peat had the contract to prepare the stonework and build the front, including the portico. The estimated cost of this facade alone was over $30,000. Similarly, information is given on the original lay-out and function of some of the rooms which might otherwise be unknown, as when it is stated that part of Mr. Garrett1s office extended under the porch or vestibule. In another place mention is made of plans for "a sub-cellar and a sub-subcellar."

Bad blood engendered by this controversy remained to mark the history of the house. Neighborly relations were never reestablished between the Garretts and Janes and this bitterness led to later alterations in the house which will be discussed in the proper place. Also it may not be too fanciful to suppose that the disapproving attitude of many Baltimoreans towards the house, which persists today and may influence its ultimate fate, stems in part from this initial dislike of its style and later reaction against the exclusive and lavish manner of living adopted by its occupants. There has certainly been a tradition of disparaging this building in certain circles.

In any event wort on the house continued swiftly despite 'the Janes suit. During I884 and 1885 an immense number of bids for construction and decoration came under review, were approved and put in operation. A detailed consideration is outside the scope of this report, but even a brief summary of the salient items in the Garrett Papers will provide names of contractors and give some idea of the elaborate construction of the house. As much of the work was done ty New York firms and craftsmen, these papers also afford a good example of the leading builders and interior decorators of a mansion of the period. William Ortwine appears to have been the principal contractor.

A great deal of iron went into the construction of the building, all of it apparently supplied by the Bartlett, Hayward Co. of Baltimore. Many bills and estimates from that firm speak of girders, trusses, tie rods, beams, channels, lintels, gratings, ornamental iron work and plumbing, as well as the framework for the great central roofed conservatory. They also built the heating plant, including a system for heating the conservatory. (Subsequent changes in the heating plant indicate that for some time this was a principal problem in running the house.) A Bartlett, Hayward elevator is mentioned as early as 1885-86. In 1886, after some water pipes had burst, a letter from McKim, Mead and White, dated December 31st, states, "All the piping used in the house was of the best quality, whether of brass, lead, or iron, that could be purchased."

A. L. Fouchere & Co., of New York, submitted a bill in December, 1886, for Sienna Marble Caps and Bases for the vestibule, and one Victorian and two Brown Wakefield panels for the floor of the vestibule. It also sent two whole and two half columns of yellow Numidia marble for the vestibule. An earlier bill, November 1885, listed an onyx bathroom, an onyx column in the conservatory, and a "dado of red Numidia" for the conservatory.

W. H. Jackson & Co., of New York, was concerned, among other things, with the hearths and fireplaces, itemized are "carved Eschaillon and California onyx marble facings" for the ballroom; Sienna marble facings in the parlor; yellow Numidia marble for the boudoir; and Acajon marble facings and a speckled brick hearth for the hall.

George Crawford supplied the "stone for shelves in wine cellar."

E. W. Hale was responsible for at least some of the brickwork. Burns, Russell & Co,, submitted a bill for bricks in 1887. 0. D. Person supplied enameled bricks. Filbert did the yard paving.

J. Pasquali and C. Aesehliman, of New York, provided most of the extensive mosaic work "throughout the house." This included the conservatory, vestibule, bathrooms, and pantry. In 1887 reference is made by this company to "lifting and relaying the pavement at south end of conservatory." Also Herter Brothers, of New York, laid mosaics in Mrs. Garrett's bathroom,, in addition to furnishing many other items.

The Garrett Papers also contain a letter from James S. Ingle, 144 Fifth Avenue, New York, dated September 14, 1887, regarding decoration of the dining room, to consist of woodwork, tapestry and a "decorative fire place." As far as can be determined, this is the same scheme still in place and if so appears to have undergone fewer subsequent alterations than the rest of the building. This firm also undertook to make doors, a cabinet, stairs and newel posts.

A number of companies provided glass for the house. H. C. Tiffany & Co. was one which figured prominently. We know, for instance, that Tiffany glass was used in the "vestibule, large hall windows and Dome skylight" (the last probably refers to the skylight over the main stairwell). Glass for the boudoir was made by Otto F. Falck Stained Glass Works, of New York. Also leaded glass was put in by P. F. McMahon of New York and S. Slack and Co. The latter's estimate, November 27, 1885, which is marked "Approved by Mr. White," specifies in part: "To designs for third story front...glass to be double thick French for inside and Venetian and antique in the borders to cost $2.20 per square foot," Some stained glass for the house was also among the items supplied hy Herter Brothers.

The largest commission for art seems to have gone to Thomas W. Dewing, A letter from him to McKim, Mead & White, dated February 20, 1885, states: "I propose to paint the frieze of the Ball room...for the sum of $3,400. The painting to he done in oils, on canvasses of the dimensions given, three sides to contain not less than six figures of children on each side, and the fireplace side not less than eight figures of children. I am to deliver the painted canvasses, ready to he attached to the permanent frames fitted for the spaces..in Baltimore."

G. W. Maynard, another artist, painted murals for Mrs. Garrett's bathroom and decorated its ceiling, the estimated price being about $1,000. In the account just mentioned, however, $2,100 is listed as due to Maynard, so he may have executed other projects about the house. A letter from McKim, Mead & White to Mrs. Garrett, in 18B6, remonstrated with the Garretts' slowness in paying bills and spoke in particularly urgent terms of this poor artist's need for quick remuneration.

The Endolithic Co. did "painted marble work" in Mrs. Garrett's bathroom.

Gas fixtures were installed by the Archer & Pancoast Manufacturing Co. and C. Y. Davidson, but right from the beginning electric light was under consideration. A letter from the Edison Company for isolated lighting, dated October 24, 1885, proposed alternative systems, one the erection of a power line from Mount Clare and the other an independent boiler for the house. A blue print of the proposed boiler accompanied the letter. Apparently the latter plan was adopted, for some years later an electrician was killed in an accident which seems to have involved such a system.

Most of the furnishings were ordered through McKim, Mead & White, who were evidently in charge of this interior decorating. The Garrett Papers preserve bills for a vast amount of furniture, largely of French origin. Jules Allard Fils, of Paris, shipped much of this and their long itemized statements include a small number of items entered as "smuggled goods" — fabrics sent concealed in the seats of certain benches.

The American firm, A. H. Davenport, also supplied furniture, particularly for the bedrooms. E. Greey (sic) & Co. and the Japanese Manufacturing and Trading Co. contributed oriental objects; Hiss & Co. supplied some furniture and silks; W. & J. Sloane provided carpets; and Muller furnished "tapestry hangings." Some items were also ordered from Cottier & Co.