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Charles and Mary Richter House, “Le Maison Granit”

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1911, Parkinson and Dockendorff. 55 Underwood Ave.

This house recalls the industry that made Montello—granite quarrying. The walls are of local granite, and the initial resident, Richter, who trained as a stonecutter, owned the local quarry for many years. For almost twenty years, the Montello Granite Company had been cutting rock from “The Hill,” a massive granite pile looming over the downtown area, by the time Richter bought the business and reorganized it in 1898. He promoted the material as the nation’s hardest and most compact granite, possessing beauty and durability. Uncut, it was chocolate-pinkish in color, flecked with specks of black and white; when polished, it took on a rich red luster. Montello granite decorates the Wisconsin State Capitol (DA20) in Madison and was used to build a memorial to General Custer in South Dakota’s Black Hills and Civil War monuments at Vicksburg, Mississippi, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and Chickamauga, Tennessee. Most famously, Montello stone was used for Ulysses S. Grant’s Tomb in New York—an honor that must have made Richter, an active Republican, especially proud.

Appropriately, in 1911, when Richter asked the La Crosse firm of Parkinson and Dockendorff to design his house, he had them veneer the brick load-bearing walls with large granite cobbles, hewn from The Hill. The rough, unpolished surfaces of the rounded stones, laid in an irregular pattern, give the walls a natural, rocky appearance. But the architects made the house even more striking by skillfully coupling the plasticity of the materials with the formality of the Colonial Revival style. The facade of the two-story house is symmetrical, centered on a prominent central entrance porch, whose Tuscan columns—highly polished to show off the glittering brilliance of the Montello granite—support a segmental-arched copper-roofed portico. First-story windows feature flat-arched stone lintels with exaggerated keystones. A one-story sunroom extends from the house’s southeast side, its walls formed by a continuous band of windows, divided into pairs by wooden pilasters.

The interior features elaborate woodwork, including a sweeping entrance-hall staircase and, in some rooms, floriated molding along the edges of the ceiling. Another highlight is a brick and granite fireplace in the living room, flanked by built-in bookcases surmounted by art-glass windows. The architects also installed a number of labor-saving devices, including a central vacuum system and a clothes chute running from the second-floor maid’s room to the basement laundry room.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Marsha Weisiger et al.
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Data

Citation

Marsha Weisiger et al., "Charles and Mary Richter House, “Le Maison Granit”", [Montello, Wisconsin], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/WI-01-MQ1.

Print Source

Buildings of Wisconsin

Buildings of Wisconsin, Marsha Weisiger and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017, 396-396.

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