Falmouth, MA – Local architects and historians agree, the villages of Falmouth offer some exceptional representations of late 19th and early 20th century architecture to be embraced and cherished.
Thanks in large part to our town’s tradition of historic preservation and conservation, visitors and residents can still capture a glimpse into a bye-gone era of whaling ships and horse drawn carriage when mansions of immense wealth were constructed as summer retreats allowing their owners to escape the city to beat the summer heat.
The Airplane House
One of our most prized architectural possessions is the Juniper Point House, better known as The Airplane House on Juniper Point Road in Woods Hole.
The house was designed by noted architects Purcell and Elmslie, who were contemporaries of Frank Lloyd Wright and studied with him under Louis Sullivan.
Situated at the tip of Juniper Point, a narrow peninsula fully surrounded by the sea, the home features a commanding view of Martha’s Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands.
Manuscripts featuring the original 1912 drawings label the home “Bradley Bungalow,” as it was constructed as a summer residence for Mrs. Josephine Crane Bradley as a gift from her father, Mr. Charles R. Crane.
Originally, the client intended to purchase a three-room portable cabin from a magazine advertisement and have Purcell & Elmslie make some alterations.
As Purcell conducted his interview with the Bradley’s to determine what they wanted, the pre-fabricated house plan was rapidly left behind.
The new design was nicknamed “The Airplane House” by the firm and it has been know as such ever since.
The site was extraordinary. Located on the spur of a rocky peninsula of Juniper Point, the structure was to be placed at the raised tip of the land, full face to the sea with Martha’s Vineyard on the horizon.
Elmslie perched the body of the house on the small rise, with two flanking wings spread outward above the open air porches. Exterior surfaces were finished in cypress shingles, while the interior of the house was warmed by a golden-hued oak paneling and woodwork.
Mr. Charles E. Orr, Principal at Hutker Architects, Inc. of Clinton Avenue, Falmouth, recently toured the home and was struck by how ornate details filled the walls, ceilings and floors.
“Most of the furniture was built into the walls and the furniture was specifically designed for each space,” said Mr. Orr.
In the living room, huge wooden beams radiate out from a central fireplace and guide your eye to striking views of Quissett Harbor and Vineyard Sound.
Mr. Orr described the bedrooms on the second floor to be lined up featuring the view and said that although they are surprisingly small for today’s standards, they are efficient with dressers built into the closets so that no space was wasted.
“The interior and exterior materials have stood the test of time and weathered beautifully,” said Mr. Orr. “This is a testament to the continued use of cedar for exterior trim and shingles that still happens today.”
Beatrice Bunker, Principal of BAB Architecture of Falmouth said the Airplane House is her favorite architectural structure in all of Falmouth.
“I love the vast horizontal lines of the structure with its daring second floor cantilevers and wide roof overhangs,” she said. “The building appears to have just landed on the knoll, giving it a very light and airy appearance despite its overall size and hovering roof lines.”
Ms. Bunker said the simplicity of the cross shaped floor plan with its massive central fireplace, represents the hearth and anchor of the building.
”The beautiful brick fireplace with its large arched opening, is surrounded by open spaces with expansive rows of windows, creating a sense of freedom that connects the interior with the landscape outside.”
The plan provides for wonderful cross ventilation and natural light to penetrate the building, blending nature with architecture.
“I also fell in love with the structural trusses, which not only serve the purpose of supporting the roof and wind loads but became part of the ornamental features and aesthetics of the building,” Ms. Bunker said.
“Every part of this house, from the basic walls and roofs to the very last detail of every built-in, are in harmony and perfect proportion.”
Architects Purcell and Elmslie took the wind loads and harsh weather conditions of that site into consideration when they designed the home.
Massive hold downs, similar to the ones we now need to install to meet current building code, were installed from the roof rafters all the way down to the solid rock of the peninsula to assure proper stability and the roof construction, with smaller exposed shingles and extra water proofing materials, provided the extra layer of protection that was needed for the site but uncommon at that time.
“The construction methods applied proved to be successful after the 1938 hurricane left the house almost entirely undamaged,” she said. “To me this house represents one of the best examples on how a building can be so much part of a site and at the same time be an architectural statement.”
She wished that the house was open to the public, so everyone could experience a day inside one of the most spectacular spots in town.
National Academy of Science Building
At the other spectrum of style is the J. Erik Jonsson Center of the National Academy of Science on Quissett Avenue in Woods Hole.
Originally a private summer residence and purchased by the Academy in 1975, the Center now welcomes a variety of scientific, educational, and corporate meeting groups.
The property boasts magnificent views of Quissett Harbor and Buzzards Bay and can accommodate groups ranging in size from 5 to 100.
Mr. Orr enjoys that the National Academy of Sciences Building features curved glass turrets, swooped shingled overhangs, and unique divided light window patterns.
“There is a lot going on in this design,” Mr. Orr said. “This is a quintessential example of the Shingle Style with all the little moves and details you would expect.”
According to a history of the estate, in 1884 Mr. James Marshall, a stockbroker who lived and worked in New York City and who had summered at the Quissett Harbor Hotel in Woods Hole, purchased property on the harbor on which to build a summer cottage for his family.
After completing the estate which included the Carriage House and a sizable dwelling (now the Wheeler House) and enjoying 8 summers in that house, the family desired a larger, more formal residence.
The original house was moved at the end of the summer season in 1906 by workers using wench horses and an earthen ramp to a location on a hill opposite Quissett Avenue slightly to the right of the drive as you exit the Center.
This was a challenging feat for the day and made more exacting by the fact that it was moved with the furniture, family belongings and stone chimneys intact.
The new house was a replica of the earlier one, with enlarged rooms, the addition of the rear porch and rooms above, formalized fireplaces, added servant’s quarters and pantries, and many decorative and ornamental features.
“Completed in just 11 months, the residence was ready when the family arrived the following July. A remarkable accomplishment made possible by the availability of the ships carpenters in surplus as a result of the fading whaling industry and the resulting reduced ship building.”
For Falmouth architect Jill Neubauer this seaside cottage on Sippewissett Avenue causes her to slow her car every time she drives past it.
“I don’t know who owns it and have only admired it from afar,” Ms. Neubauer said. “To me the size and detailing is perfect.”
Ms. Neubauer is Principal of Jill Neubauer Architects on Depot Avenue, Falmouth. She said the home is a timeless representation of a classic Cape Cod cottage and that one can learn a great deal about design studying this house.
“It has a few tricks up its sleeve,” Ms. Neubauer said. She explained that the dormers pull all the way down to the outside walls, which normally is unattractive, however Ms. Neubaeur believes this design works because of the large overhang so one does not perceive that the dormers are full.
“This house speaks to me,” she said. “It’s saying come relax here; you will be happy here; and you will have time with your children.”
The Candle House
On Water Street in Woods Hole stands the Candle House, a favorite building of Mr. Andrew Borgese, Principal at Integrata Architecture and Construction on Palmer Avenue.
“This building is a remnant of the village Whaling Heritage,” Mr. Borgese said.
According to documents from the Woods Hole Historical Collection Whaling was carried out from the village of Woods Hole from 1828 to 1864. The Candle House is the only remaining landmark of midnineteenth-century whaling in Woods Hole.
The Candle House was constructed in Woods Hole in 1836 at the height of the whaling industry and was the site at which whale oil was made into spermaceti candles. The building was also used for a store and a supply house.
With the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania in 1858, the whaling industry declined and this activity ceased.
In 1903, the land and the Candle House were bought by the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) for $7000 and is currently used for the administrative offices of MBL, where fisheries management and conservation efforts continue at present day.
*Published work. Written for inaugural issue of "Simply Falmouth" magazine. Summer 2013. "Outstanding Architecture" (pp. 34-40)