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Old Posted Jan 8, 2013, 4:01 PM
Viktorkrum77 Viktorkrum77 is offline
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Location: Saginaw, Michigan
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Cornice molding that makes no sense

I realise this may be more a carpentry topic, but this was the best place I could find to post this.

This was a house in Detroit called the Wilson-Mabley house, located on Edmund Street off of Woodward. It was built in the 1880s in the neo-baroque style, which was a rarity at the time. It was modeled after Le Palais des Tuileires in Paris. It was torn down in the 1960s.

As you can see, the house had a decorative balcony. The balcony appears to have been wood structure and non-occupiable (we have no clue what those boards are between the balcony posts, please feel free to offer any ideas I'd appreciate that).

Now, the only other existing photo of the house was in the 1960s and here we can see that the balcony was removed (sometime after 1921 according to Sanborn Maps). But what makes no sense is that the cornice molding continues across the entire facade! Underneath what was the balcony! Now, this house was a rooming house in the 1920s and converted to an apartment building with a massive addition on back. There was no logical reason then to preserve the house and details were stripped off on houses all around this neighborhood (this photograph suggests the entire tower roof may have been taken off). But why would there be cornice molding where there was a balcony? Why isn't there a gap?

One explanation was that the balcony was removed and the owners had the cornice molding matched to fill in the gap. But this house was a rooming house by those days and so this doesn't seem to make sense for a landlord.

The other explanation I can offer is that it was easier in those days for a mason to do his work (it appears all of the cornice molding was solid masonry) all the way across the facade then to create gaps. After his work was done, the carpenter just covered it with the balcony.

This is where I'd like to pick your brains. Has anyone seen something like this happen before? Do any of these theories make sense or is there a better theory? I know another house in the same neighborhood where this appears to have happened as well, but that is a more complicated situation. The cornice molding on the house above, the Wilson-Mabley house, remains a mystery to me. Thank you!
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Old Posted Jan 8, 2013, 4:26 PM
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Tony Tony is offline
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I think this might get more responses in the Architecture forum.
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Old Posted Jan 13, 2013, 5:41 PM
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ardecila ardecila is online now
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Two guesses:

1 - After the balcony was removed, the owner did indeed continue the cornice across with a new piece of some kind. The second photo shows that the infill piece is not straight, but zigzags a little. This is consistent with the kind of low-budget, shoddy workmanship you would expect in a declining neighborhood. The original cornice was probably stone or plaster; the infill piece was probably plaster or painted wood.

2 - the cornice had a corresponding molding lining the ceiling of the balcony. When the balcony was removed, this would have been exposed, save for two small gaps where the balcony structure tied in.

The odd items in the first photo are possibly sun shades (which would make sense if the balcony faced south). They could also potentially be easels; it was common for well-to-do people to paint in their leisure time.
la forme d'une ville change plus vite, hélas! que le coeur d'un mortel...
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