“The Finest in the State” The Architecture of Stickney and Austin, Part 1

Revere Beach Reservation

Revere Beach Bathhouse, Courtesy: Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Conservation and Recreation Archives

In a review of Italian Gardens by Charles A. Platt, Landscape Architect Charles Eliot writes that “our public has still to learn that only by designing buildings and their surroundings as one harmonious composition can a happy result be secured in either the formal or the picturesque style [of landscape design].[1]” The review best captures and reflects the ideals of Charles Eliot and his interest in architecture enhancing and complementing the natural environment. Eliot believed that ordinary citizens were the guardians of natural scenery and that they should consider themselves true trustees of nature.[2] As a fierce advocate for open spaces for the enjoyment of everyone, Eliot believed that his work with a public commission should and would benefit all levels of society including ‘the common people’, ‘the ordinary people’, and the ‘crowded populations.’[3]  In 1893, as a result of his tremendous vision, the Metropolitan Park Commission was established, launching in local stardom the careers of two extraordinary architects, Frederick W. Stickney and William D. Austin.

The scholarship on the work of Stickney and Austin for the Metropolitan Park Commission is lacking. Their work in designing facilities for recreation in the metropolitan areas of Boston played a role in reflecting the ideals and social classes of the time. Through the examination of the possible driving influences behind the work of Stickney and Austin for Revere Beach Reservation, much light can be shed into the men behind the architecture and the people who sought leisure in these places.

The Metropolitan Park Commission originally consisted of 12 cities and 24 towns which comprised the metropolitan area of Boston.[4] In a letter written to Governor Russell in 1890, indicating a pressing need for open spaces and of the possibility of a metropolitan system of parks, Charles Eliot urged the governor to include remarks on metropolitan parks in his forthcoming address to the 1891 session of the General Court[5]. The eloquence and persuasiveness of Eliot led to the creation of the first metropolitan system of parks in America.[6]

As a landscape architect and consultant to the Commission, Eliot believed that one of the first goals of the Commission was to make the acquisition of ocean areas a priority.[7]Revere Beach, just north of Boston, became one of Eliot’s first successes with the Commission of which he commented “the present condition of this beach is a disgrace.”[8] The Metropolitan Park Commission not only did manage to protect and preserve the natural scenery of Boston, but also commission Stickney and Austin to design facilities which further enhanced and harmonized with the surroundings, reflecting the social classes of Boston for whom these public lands were set aside for.

For the architecture of Revere Beach, Eliot envisioned “a row of buildings which most eventually face the public beach throughout its whole length and should compelled to conform with exactness to this long and grand sweep.”[9]

Revere Beach Police Station, Stickney and Austin. Courtesy of Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Conservation and Recreation Archives

Stickney and Austin designed eight bathing pavilions, a Bandstand, a Bathhouse, a Police Station, and the Superintendent’s House. The architecture of Revere Beach reflects the influence of the Italian Renaissance Revival which evokes “a Mediterranean flavor for this seaside reservation.”[10] One of the first buildings to be completed at Revere Beach was the Bathhouse which opened in time for the summer season.[11]  “The gigantic bathhouse to be put up for the accommodation of the bathers at Crescent Beach” soon became one of the grandest and most celebrated buildings on the reservation.[12] The first of three buildings planned by the commissioners for Revere Beach, it was constructed of brick with terracotta trim and terracotta tile roof topped with an elaborate, multistoried windowed cupola. It contained a central administration building, an office, a laundry, a steam plant, a toilet room, and a detention area. Unfortunately, the bathhouse was demolished in 1962 to make way for a more “modern” facility which was in turn demolished a few years later for a highway.

Superintendent's House, 1905, Revere Beach. Courtesy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Conservation and Recreation Archives

The Police Station at Revere Beach, completed in 1899, follows the Italian Renaissance Revival influence observed in the Bathhouse. Designed with an imposing 62-foot campanile bell tower used to survey the beach, the Station also featured an arcaded brick façade, a granite base course and molded terracotta tile caps for the roof.[13] The development of Revere Beach as a reservation for the people represents a change in America in the beginning of the 20th century which is reflected not only in the social class that frequented the Beach, but also in the buildings of Stickney and Austin. The result of “developing the public property for the advantage and comfort largely of the poorer classes” is in recorded in the large number of the working class who resorted to Revere Beach to enjoy the outdoors.[14]

The architecture of Stickney and Austin is best summarized in an article published in the Boston Daily Globe in 1895 in which the newspaper praises and refers to The Norman School Building in Lowell, designed by the firm as the “envy of all of Massachusetts.” The Globe writes that “Lowell will have one of the best equipped normal school buildings in the State.”[15] It is clear that the author was praising the school building as one of the finest in the state, even at its initial stages of design, but the artistic skills of the architects behind the building place Frederick Stickney and William Austin among the finest architects in the state of Massachusetts in the first part of the 20th century.

Both of these architects were graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture and had been exposed to the works of Stanford White, Peabody and Stearns, Hartwell and Richardson, and Carrere and Hastings as well H.H. Richardson. As architects, Stickney and Austin not only managed to designed most of the structures for the Metropolitan Park Commission, but also for the City of Boston, shingle style houses in Maine and mansions for the wealthy in Long Island. They proved with their work for the Metropolitan Park Commission that they could design in a variety of architectural styles capturing the vision of Charles Eliot of designing buildings and their surroundings as one harmonious composition. Their architecture reflected the social classes of the time and at Revere Beach this is captured in the massing of the structures and the grounded “feeling” projected in the Police Station and Bathhouse. Revere Beach was the ultimate destination for the working and poor classes of Boston while Nahant Beach, another reservation acquired by the Commission became the destination of Boston’s upper class.

(Nahant Beach will be discussed in the next post)

This post was adapted from a research paper I wrote on the architecture of Stickney and Austin for the Metropolitan Park Commission. The seminar which inspired the topic was on the architecture and planning of Boston taught by Professor Keith Morgan at Boston University.

[1] Charles W. Eliot, Charles Eliot: Landscape Architect (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999), 549.

[2] Leah A. Schmidt, Images of America: Revere Beach (Portsmouth, NH: Arcadia Publishing, 2002), 11.

[3] Keith N. Morgan, Introduction to Charles Eliot: Landscape Architect, by Charles W. Eliot (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999), xxxvi.

[4] Norman T. Newton, Design on the Land: The Development of Landscape Architecture (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971), 330.

[5] Ibid, 323.

[6] Ibid, 323.

[7] Leah A. Schmidt, Images of America: Revere Beach (Portsmouth, NH: Arcadia Publishing, 2002), 11.

 [8] Charles W. Eliot, Charles Eliot: Landscape Architect (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999)

 [9]Ibid, 535.

[10] Keith N. Morgan, “National Register of Historic Landmark Nomination Form Revere Beach Reservation,” (National Park Service and the Massachusetts Historical Commission, December 18, 2000), 19.

[11] Ibid., 19.

[12] “To Accommodate 1000,” Boston Daily Globe, March 12, 1897, 2.

[13] Leah A. Schmidt, Images of America: Revere Beach (Portsmouth, NH: Arcadia Publishing, 2002), 11.

[14] “Boston’s Park System,” Boston Daily Globe, June 4, 1895, 8.

 [15] “Finest in the State,” Boston Daily Globe, June 30, 1895, 24.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. T D Cederholm says:

    I am interested in the relaxed moments, such as joint summer rentals of Walter Gropius and members of The Architects Collaborative. I am especially interested in learning more about 1937 when many of them congre-gated on Planting Island in Msrion MA.

    1. Anulfo says:

      The Cape has many modern houses which speaks to the number of architects that spent many summers collaborating and enjoying the beauty of Cape Cod. I should look into this more and write a post on Modernism on Cape Cod.

  2. Catherine says:

    Thanks for the info on Stickney and Austin! I had come across Mr. Austin’s name while doing some research and wanted to learn a little more about him. Appreciate the good work!

  3. Kate says:

    I have been doing some research on Frederick Stickley because I am currently living in one of his magnificent creations. I am from Lowell as Mr Stickley but I wanted to know his parents names and where they were born. His work can be seen throughout Lowell as Gothic masterpieces. Does anyone know if he married or what his Father’s name was? Not much on internet except for Wikepedia.

    1. Anne Surchin says:

      Frederic Stickney’s parents were Daniel and Betsy Sitckney. The Boston Society of architects has a file on him as does the Lowell Historic Board. I wrote extensively in my book, Houses of the Hamptons 1880-1930, on the Water Mill, Long Island residence “Rosemary Lodge”, which he designed for Reverend Henry Rose of Lowell.

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