A GARDEN CITY FOR THE MAN OF MODERATE MEANS
Edward Hale Brush
The Craftsman 19 (February 1911):445-451.None of the many biographical sources provide information about Brush. The National Union Catalog lists two books by an author with that name, of which Iroquois Past and Present (1901) is probably by the person who wrote the article below. Brush also wrote a dozen or more articles before 1918--mainly on subjects related to public art--for these periodicals: Current Literature, Scientific American, Review of Reviews, World's Work, World To-day, Sunset, and International Studio. At least one other article by him appeared in The Craftsman, the leading American journal providing news of and encouragement to the artis and crafts movement.With the building of a garden city in America we are brought to a consideration of the value of such a movement in combatting our nation-wide cry for individuality of expression. Probably our inane attitude toward individuality, our absurd national egotism has been made more manifest in architecture than in any of the other arts, and yet, as a matter of fact, since we have given up imitating good architecture we have very largely devoted ourselves to designing bad buildings. We have seemed to regard startling eccentricity as genius and whimsicality as originality, at the very least, and so going about our undisciplined individual ways we have dotted our pleasant country landscapes with houses showing so little thought in construction or adaptation or appropriateness that the result is embarrassing to contemplate.
Brush here refers to Forest Hills Gardens as a "garden City." In doing so he followed many others in equating Ebenezer Howard's concept of a self-contained, diversified community with a well-designed, low-density suburban neighborhood. His laudatory article examines the results of a philanthropic effort by the Russell Sage Foundation to show that good design could be achieved even for neighborhoods designed for other than the wealthy. Brush's essay should be read in connection with that by the architect of Forest Hills Gardens, Grosvenor Atterbury, some of whose words Brush quotes in the selection below.
We seem to have overlooked the fact that the purpose of expression is to have something to express. A train of cars is not run primarily to prove its capacity for motion, but really to carry something. And the actual value of affording opportunity for the individual is that unhindered he may express wise purpose and sincere understanding, not that he may unhampered prove to a suffering world his lack of thought and failure to appreciate that the right to express is absolutely involved with the power to express beauty.
There is a vast difference between the individualist and the egotist, and by their works shall ye know them--apart. Of the individual conception of real beauty we cannot have too much in architecture. On the other hand, we must welcome most heartily an attempt like the Garden City at Forest Hills, Long Island, to prove the importance of establishing a standard of beauty in town building, and of guaranteeing that standard to the public by placing the building in the hands of artists of imagination and training. This most significant, if not the first, garden city in America was born of the desire of Mrs. Russell Sage to devote a part of the large fortune left her.
The question will naturally arise as to what opportunity the individual will have in this "model town" for the expression of his own particular ideas in home building. According to the prospectus, the individual will have his opportunity, within limits. The company will not build the whole town. It will leave a large part of the tract to be built up by the individual purchasers of plots, exercising a sufficient guidance over their choice of plans and development of their land to ensure a general harmony with the admirable architectural scheme devised as a standard for the entire community. On this point Mr. Atterbury himself says:
"While a very large proportion of the land area to be developed will undoubtedly be sold without building improvements, the Homes Company, in order to set a standard and control more surely the architectural character of the future town, has planned to erect and hold, certainly for a time, a large number of dwellings. To this end designs have been prepared for an initial operation contemplating different groups of buildings, involving an expenditure in land improvement and building construction of a million and a quarter dollars. The majority of the buildings to be erected in this first operation, which will be largely confined to the more expensive and central property, are in the form of contiguous houses; the detached and semi-detached types of dwellings of various grades and sizes being necessarily possible only on less central and lower-priced portions of the property. The different types of buildings included in these groups cover as wide a range as is permitted by the economic conditions, which necessarily determine also their distribution and location on the property. Adjoining the railroad station and forming the Station Square are three- and four-story buildings containing stores, offices and restaurants, and in the upper stories small non-housekeeping apartments, for both men and women. From this center out toward Forest Park, which bounds the property on the southeast, the houses are planned to correspond to the varying values of the lots, as determined by their size, location and prospect, the larger single-family dwellings containing ten or twelve rooms, the smaller four or five. While they will vary greatly in size, arrangement, cost and architectural treatment, an attempt will be made to make them alike in their domestic and livable character. From an architectural point of view our greatest opportunity will lie in that general harmony of design which is possible only where the entire scheme of development is laid out and executed under a system of cooperation by the various experts engaged in it."
Not only will Forest Hills Gardens be educational along architectural lines but it will establish a precedent and inaugurate methods along certain practical channels of real-estate operation. It is proposed in this experiment to formulate regulations for the distribution of real estate which may be accepted by operators handling property of similar character throughout the country, with consequent elimination of waste in energy and money. A matter which has not in the past received much consideration.
As to the details of the architectural scheme perhaps one can obtain the best idea through the classification of the buildings into groups as follows:
Group One. Station Square, including the railroad station and a group of buildings adjoining containing shops, offices, a restaurant and accommodations for some three hundred or four hundred people, consisting mainly of small non-housekeeping apartments for men and women, in connection with which there is provided a squash court as well as a certain number of small studios.
Group Two. A block of small single-family houses, with thirteen feet frontage, two or three stories in height, containing four rooms and bath.
Group Three. A block of single-family houses of seventeen feet frontage, two stories in height with attic, seven to nine rooms and bath.
Group Four. A block of ten single-family houses, with seventeen feet frontage, two stories in height and containing five rooms and bath.
Group Five. A block of single-family houses with twenty feet frontage, two stories and attic in height and containing six to eight rooms and bath.
Group Six. Three blocks of single-family houses, with twenty feet frontage, two stories in height with attic and containing eight to ten rooms and two baths.
Group Seven. Three blocks of single-family houses with twenty-six feet frontage, three stories in height, containing ten to twelve rooms and baths and toilets.
Group Eight. A block of workshops and flats, twenty feet frontage, two and three stories in height, the former containing workshops or stores with three rooms and bath above, the latter workshops and stores on street level and six rooms and bath in upper stories.
Group Nine. A row of semi-detached two-family houses on shallow lots of fifty feet frontage, containing two stories, each unit consisting of six rooms and bath all on one Door
Group Ten. A row of semi-detached two-family houses on lots of twenty-seven feet frontage, two stories in height, each unit containing five or six rooms and bath all on one floor.
The drawings reproduced here speak for themselves as to the attractiveness and architectural impressiveness of Mr. Atterbury's plans for the buildings of the above groups. As may be seen, the arrangements afford considerable latitude for differences in income taste, number in family and habits of life among the prospective residents and yet preserve the harmony of the scheme from both architectural and operative points of view. It is not going to be a town where a low-paid mechanic or day laborer can afford to live and in view of the ill-advised and unauthorized announcement that it was to be a workingman's colony there may be some regret or disappointment at this. But the members of the Sage Foundation hint that in future the funds in its possession may also be used to provide better housing for wage-earners of this class. The homes at Forest Hills will, however, be within the means of well-paid mechanics, workers on small salaries, etc.
The type of dwelling architecture in the garden city needs for its effectiveness the shrubbery and flowers, the frequent open spaces and the curved street lines which will be noticeable features of the village. The center of the town will have that air of dignity and solidity observed or felt in many old-world cities but usually lacking in America. The shops and business resorts of various kinds will take their places as appropriate parts of the picture, not marring the landscape but contributing to the general attractiveness of the town as well as being of value from the point of utility.
The graceful lines of the winding streets will not only help to preserve the rural aspect of the village and be more pleasing from the aesthetic standpoint, but they will also add to public convenience by affording a more direct means of circulation. The reduction of minor streets to a width appropriate to their character results in economy in road construction and saving of land. This saving will enable the company to provide more public open spaces and more space between the houses or groups of dwellings. The latter, instead of continuing in solid blocks from one street to another will be broken up into smaller units. The spaces between the blocks, together with a setback from the street, will give a general feeling of openness to the entire village. Thus, though on account of the nearness to Manhattan a certain degree of density of population will be economically necessary, the general aspect of things will be more like the real country than is customary in places where prices of land are correspondingly high.
The idea of the Homes Company management is to rent a certain proportion of homes, but to afford every encouragement to the homeseeker to acquire ownership of the property. Terms of sale will be as low as may be consistent with a safe business proposition, where the funds invested are expected to earn only what they would in a savings bank. The buyer may exercise his discretion as to employing his own builder or having the company do the construction. All grading, paving, planting, parking and sewerage construction will be done by the company.
If the expectations entertained at Forest Hills Gardens can be realized the Sage Foundation will succeed in providing healthful and attractive homes to many people, will demonstrate that tasteful and natural surroundings pay in suburban development, will encourage more economical methods of marketing land and will suggest imitation of its methods in many particulars. The latter point is perhaps the most important of all. Who can say how far-reaching the effect may be?
Selected, scanned, edited, provided with headnotes, and formatted as a web document by John W. Reps, Professor Emeritus, Department of City and Regional Planning, West Sibley Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA. Tel: (607) 255-5391, Fax: (607) 255-6681, E-mail: email@example.com To Top of Page To Homepage