by Michael R. Allen
As I navigate the city, I am always on the lookout for storefront additions to historic homes. Regular readers will recall some recent posts of mine celebrating the sometimes-ungainly but always-intriguing vestiges of a city teeming with commercial life. The example above is located on the 2800 block of Lafayette Avenue just east of one that I chronicled seven months ago (Just Another Vacant Building?, December 21, 2007). That example was one of the prevalent types that stand in front of the parent house.
This one here, located at 2819 Lafayette Avenue, is of the gentler type. Built on the side lot of a stately single-family residence, the one-story flat-roofed addition creates more square feet of space on one level than the sort placed directly in front. I’m sure the builder’s concern was with the economy of the structure, but the end result led to an addition that left alone the lovely front elevation of the Romanesque Revival house next door, built in 1893. That move proved fortuitous, as the front elevation retains original its limestone porch, granite details and wooden windows. The addition itself, probably built in the 1930s, is complementary without being dull. Spaced courses of pale brick, a continuous soldier course over the storefront opening and a framed frieze of angled brick offer simple but forceful masonry expression. We still have dozens of these additions left, and each one is a unique compromise between cost and ambition, change and history, old and new. These additions remind us that cities are creatures built for growth, and “historic” architecture is a tangle of buildings — including historic buildings that block other, prettier historic buildings buildings.