Beaux Arts store buildings are record of Gilded Age in Lancaster [architecture column] | Architecture


From bungalows last month to Beaux Arts this month! Although these two styles were popular in the same period, they are literally and figuratively worlds apart in their origin and their appearance.

The bungalow was an American invention to provide an affordable housing option, whereas the Beaux Arts (Fine Arts) style hailed from Paris and was intended for the wealthy and privileged. Representing a unique marriage of the classical design elements of Greek and Roman architecture, the style is characterized by strong symmetry, massive proportions and playful sculptural qualities.

In the early 20th century, young, aspiring American architects sought to receive their formal training in Europe — specifically at the 350-year-old university of Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Dedicated exclusively to the arts of painting, sculpture and architecture, it was here that the masters like Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir received their education.

The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 propelled and popularized the Beaux Arts movement in the United States with its gleaming white structures and electric lights, earning it the nickname “White City.” Some of the most notable national examples of Beaux Arts architecture are Grand Central Station in New York City, the Marble Cottage in Newport, Rhode Island, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Locally, the former retail stores of Watt & Shand, Groff & Wolf, Reilly Brothers & Raub, Keppel’s Confections, Louis Weber & Son, Keplinger Furniture Store and the original Byers & Co. on North Queen Street represent superb examples of a style that requires little examination.

HG Architecture Beaux Arts Keppel's Wholesale Confectionary-1913 N Queen Street.jpg

The Keppel Building, a former candy factory built in 1913 on North Queen Street, was designed by C. Emlen Urban. Its Beaux Arts characteristics include glazed terra cotta tiles and Greek keys.

All of the buildings cited have the following design elements in common: white or buff-colored facades, strong symmetry, decorative and textured walls, sculptural stonework, cartouche, consoles, dentils, cornices and flat roofs.

The bright exteriors are achieved by using white glazed brick or terra cotta tiles. These materials not only reflect light but also self-clean by shedding dirt and airborne debris.

Lancaster city had two 20th-century architects that excelled in delivering excellent examples of this European inspired style: C. Emlen Urban (1863-1939) and Henry M. Bartholomew (1876-1931). Both architects understood the language and materials that left a lasting and positive impact on the streetscape of the city.

HG Architecture Beaux Arts Watt & Shand  1898 -1938 1 .jpg

The preserved facade of the 1898 Watt & Shand department store building, which now houses the Lancaster County Convention Center on Penn Square, displays Beaux Arts characteristics including buff narrow-gauge Roman brick with cast-stone decorative elements including lion heads, cartouche, columns and cherubs.

The Great Depression concluded the Beaux Arts movement; its opulence was viewed as insensitive and out of touch with reality. By 1930, it was all but obsolete; however, the structures remain as a reminder of a Gilded Age that once existed.

HG Architecture Beaux Arts Bausman 5.jpg

The 1906 Bausman Building on West Orange Street has Beaux Arts characteristics including white glazed brick and glazed terra cotta tile, a rusticated base, dentils, consoles and a broken pediment with cartouche and a flat roof.

Is the Stevens School considered Beaux Arts style?

It is actually a hybrid of Beaux Arts and French Renaissance, a style to be discussed in a future column.

What is a cartouche?

A decorative convex sculptural oval element used ornamentally or bearing an inscription.

What is a console?

A type of scroll-shaped bracket with an S-shape profile projecting from a wall; often below a cornice or balcony.

 This column is contributed by Gregory J. Scott, FAIA, a local architect with more than four decades of national experience in innovation and design. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows. Email

Back to top button