Friday, May 6, 2011

One General Protest and Two Head-Houses

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

I found two interesting pieces of information while going through the American Architect and Building News archive.
The first appears in the January 19th, 1889 issue of the magazine.
Amongst the write-ups for building plans, something entitled, "General Protest" caught my eye.

Fig. 1: "A General Protest Against Improper Conditions of Competition"

The document begins with a general description of a resolution being passed in the Massachusetts Senate outlining the terms in which an architect is to be compensated for submitting a design for the extension of the State House. The arguments of the protesters are as follows:

"The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has, by its Commissioners, advertised for designs for the State-House extension, said designs to be furnished in open competition. The conditions of the competition, as announced, have evidently been framed without due regard to the best custom in the conduct of such matters, the sole end and aim of which should be to secure to the State the best service by making sure that 'the best men shall take part; that they shall be encouraged to do their best; that the best they offer shall be selected; and that the author of the successful design shall be employed as architect, provided the building is built and he is competent.'
The conditions announced are faulty--
First. In that they are not drawn up in accordance with the best custom, and no assurance is given that an expert adviser will be employed to aid the Commission in their choice.
Second. That no assurance is given that the successful competitor will be employed, but, on the contrary, it is distinctly stated that all premiated competitors are to relinquish all ownership in their plans to the State, without any further claim to compensation or employment.
Third. Even if the first prize in the competition were as it should be, the execution of the building, the actual prizes offered would still be entirely insufficient compensation to the authors of the drawing placed second and third.
For all the above reasons, we, the undersigned architects, citizens of the State of Massachusetts [and elsewhere], protest against this form of competition, which, in our opinion, is not for the best interests of the State or of our profession, and we therefore decline to enter it:" 

Amongst the names of protesting architects, I found H.M. Francis, the sole undersigned from Fitchburg.

As I comb through more issues of AABN, I'm going to keep my eyes open for any updates to this protest.

The second item I wanted to write about was found in the December 15, 1900 issue of AABN.

Fig. 2: Part of the cover design for the December 15, 1900 issue of American Architect and Building News
As a young researcher still learning finer points of historical inquiry, it has been very tough getting used to dead-ends in research. A tough lesson for any scholar and any writer is quite simply that the first draft of anything is usually never stellar. A difficult lesson I've been learning in the past few weeks, with specific regards to H.M. Francis (and architects in general) is that they often submitted designs for numerous buildings that were either never built or built to someone else's design. The incident that will trump this feeling of defeat is coming across something new and unexpected. When I started the initial Francis inventory last summer, nearly everything was new to me. I had lived in Fitchburg for nine years, but did not establish a firm set of "direction" within the city. I knew few landmarks, and just about all of them were erected in the past fifty years. At the end of the summer, when I completed the first draft of the inventory, I felt confident that perhaps I had covered maybe 70% of Francis's designs. When I go through these new resources (like MACRIS and AABN) I feel like a detective on the case of forgotten information and untold stories. This evening, I made a "break" in my Francis case by locating a very small listing in the December 15, 1900 issue of AABN.

Fig. 3: Two Head-Houses for the Laurel Street Railway Subway
At the bottom of the page, in a section titled "Building Intelligence: Advance Rumors" I found a little snippet about plans for two head-houses to be built for the Laurel Street Railway Subway. I was initially amused by the section's name, "Rumors" and how it added to my "history detective" persona in this "document sleuthing." I went through my inventory from last summer to see if maybe I had encountered this listing before, but I had not. Here was a new addition for the inventory! A very small, very limited explanation of two "head-houses." Head-houses are part of the passenger terminal where tickets and baggage can be stored. They are separate from where passengers embark and disembark the trains.
The listing read:
"Fitchburg, Mass. -- Architect H.M. Francis has made plans for two head-houses. 10' 4" x 23' 6" for the Laurel Street Railway Subway."

Every small lead of information ultimately leads to more hours of research and more questions to be asked. But thanks to snippets and "Rumors", stories and places that are beyond current memory can be brought back to light.

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