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Abraham Block

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c. 1830; 1933, 1946 facade remodeling, Lewis Sheldon Newton; 1956, Roland Whittier 111 Church St., City of Burlington

The Abraham Block is an instructive example of a building as an artifact of urban change. Viewed from College Street, its now gray west wall reveals the parapet-and-wall-chimney silhouette of what began as a typical Federal commercial block. Domestic in scale and built as a saddle shop, the structure was acquired in 1886 by Morris Abraham, who opened a cigar store at its Church Street corner. In 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, Morris's nephew Hyman W. Abraham commissioned Burlington architect Newton to design a Moderne storefront for the northern three bays of the Church Street facade. Based on a store he had seen on Fifth Avenue in New York City, Newton modernized the Abraham block with gleaming black Carrara structural glass and extruded aluminum trim. In the early 1930s, this was the epitome of modern commercial design and Newton's scheme was featured in Architectural Forum in 1934. Before World War II, the wall above this storefront was clad in cream-colored enameled steel panels with black accents; enlarged, square glass-block windows; and top panels lettered with the Abraham name. In 1946 and 1956 the remainder of the Church and College street facades were similarly clad, the lettering extended across the full facade by alternating it with new panels (not quite matching in color).

The Abraham Block was also lauded in Architectural Record (July 1935) as an example of the national “Modernize Main Street” movement, a New Deal program that exhorted merchants and property owners to update their premises to attract scarce customers and prime the local economy. Amazingly, with all the changes that have taken place on Church Street, the structure, still owned by the Abraham family, has not fallen prey to uninformed attempts to “early it up.”

Writing Credits

Author: 
Glenn M. Andres and Curtis B. Johnson
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Citation

Glenn M. Andres and Curtis B. Johnson, "Abraham Block", [Burlington, Vermont], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/VT-01-CH8.

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Vermont

Buildings of Vermont, Glenn M. Andres and Curtis B. Johnson. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013, 146-146.

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