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Handicraft Club (Truman Beckwith House)
The Beckwith House ranks with the Sullivan Dorr and Benoni Cooke Houses ( PR75 and PR47) as one of the best preserved among Greene's more ambitious Providence residences. This house is in fact based on the Cooke House, which had been completed during the previous year. Here Greene elongated the more cubic quality of the brick box for Cooke into a rectangular volume. He organized service and stables as he had done for Sullivan Dorr: the service wing set back from the main block of the house, to which the stable area is joined as an ell. As in the Dorr House, too, Greene angled this front south to the sun. The attenuated Ionic porch and door with fanlight and side lights overlaid with lead ornament, the embellished window centered in the second story, and the distinctive stepped lintels over windows all reappear as variants of the same features in the Cooke House. However, the Cooke House has lost the three stages of decorative fretted and paneled parapeting which once capped the roof of the entrance porch, eaves, and monitor. Here this parapeting, of which Greene was so fond (perhaps overly so), has been restored after disappearing in the 1920s.
The comparison of Greene's carpentered stick and panel ornamental treatment can be measured against the more sculptural and monumental balustered parapets in Edmund Willson's nearby Pendleton House ( PR83.3), with their exquisite profiling subtly varied between the two levels. Willson's entrance, its porch, and the stair window above are both broader and more lavish in treatment; the stepped marble lintels over his windows are more complicated in their Greek key patterning. Indeed, the breadth and suavity of the Pendleton House, informed by Willson's knowledge of Salem's Federal style and his training in Beaux-Arts academicism, call attention to the plainer, more pinched and provincial qualities of Greene's work. His ornamentation seems to be more an attempt to dress up plainness than to provide Willson's finishing grace. As though to prove the fact, Greene left the interiors of this house, where one expects the committed ornamentalist to be even more indulgent, typically spare, if elegant. (The Dufour landscape wallpapers in some rooms are twentieth-century installations of paper removed from the Corliss-Carrington House [ PR96.4].) Yet there is an intensity about the Beckwith House as an image, due partly to the sure proportioning of all elements, partly to very directness of the ornamentation, that makes it the more indelible of the two. The price of Willson's greater sophistication may be that the Pendleton House “fits in” so comfortably that one too easily passes it by and overlooks its quality. The Beckwith House captures our attention with the force of Greene's discovery, as he reached out to regional versions of the Federal style, making his own synthesis and building so much in his personal manner that his work came to characterize the Federal moment in Providence. At the end of his career, Willson reached back in Pendleton House to epitomize in a worldly manner a composite memory of Greene's house as the essence of Providence, the city where both architects realized the bulk of their accomplishment.
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