John Shearer: The Chattanooga Mansions Designed By Pringle And Smith, Part 1

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 - by John Shearer

The Pringle and Smith architecture firm of Atlanta designed a number of large and aesthetically pleasing homes in Riverview and on Lookout Mountain.
 
Although some of them can be found only after a few turns on secluded residential streets, they are still well known among many interested Chattanoogans for their classic, pre-World War II style presented on a larger-than-average scale.
 
And, of course, they are also known because the residents of some of them over the years have included such prominent Chattanoogans as Cartter Lupton, Scott Probasco Sr., Hardwick Caldwell, Hugh Maclellan and even U.S.
Sen. Bob Corker.
 
Despite the conspicuous homes’ familiarity to many Chattanoogans, a coffee table book about the home’s architect, Francis Palmer Smith, apparently received little attention locally when it came out in 2012.
 
Yet the University of Georgia Press book, “The Architecture of Francis Palmer Smith: Atlanta’s Scholar-Architect,” by Robert M. Craig, offers a detailed and intimate look at the homes through descriptions, photographs, and vintage architectural drawings.
 
The Riverview homes the firm designed are at 1513 Riverview Oaks Drive (years ago known as 1704 Riverview Road), at 1649 Minnekahda Road, at 1712 Minnekahda Road, at 1609 Edgewood Circle, and the now-razed residence at 1615 Woodland Road, where another home has since been built.
 
Those on Lookout Mountain are at 203 East Brow Road and 523 Fleetwood Drive.
 
The book also includes some detailed information on the Baylor School buildings the firm designed: the original chapel, the original part of the Guerry Hall dining facility, and Trustee Hall.
 
Dr. Craig’s book also features plenty of text and pictures of the firm’s other homes, buildings and churches in Atlanta and elsewhere.
 
This article will look at some information on the architect Mr. Smith, as well as some of Dr. Craig’s architectural descriptions on the Chattanooga buildings found in the book. A second article in the near future will look at some of the people who have lived in the homes, as well as some memories of the homes.
 
Just as these well-crafted local homes and buildings designed by Pringle and Smith were not built in a day, neither was the book produced overnight. But that was due to the detailed research and that Dr. Craig was busy with other projects, he said with a laugh in a recent telephone interview.
 
Dr. Craig, an architecture professor emeritus at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, said the book’s fruition came about in 1995, when he was working on a book about Art Deco architecture in the Atlanta area.
 
He had borrowed a sketch of a Pringle and Smith skyscraper from Henry Howard Smith, the son of Mr. Smith and an architect as well. During a subsequent conversation, Mr. Smith suggested another book idea.
 
“I was finishing that when he put a bug in my ear about doing a book about his father,” recalled Dr. Craig.
 
However, Dr. Craig ended up getting delayed with a number of projects, including doing a couple of books with noted Atlanta architect John Portman. That architect also designed a building familiar to Chattanoogans -- the glass-sheathed former Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Tennessee headquarters in downtown Chattanooga.
 
But Dr. Craig eventually was able to get the Smith book together, and he published it in 2012. In part because of the delay, Dr. Craig was able to visit a number of the Pringle and Smith homes and buildings in Chattanooga as well as in Atlanta and such other cities as Rome, Ga. With some of them, he was even able to get tours of the homes, while in others he was at least able to photograph them from the outside.
 
Besides a biographical overview of Mr. Smith, the book also includes detailed architectural descriptions of many of the structures, including the ones in Chattanooga.
 
According to Dr. Craig’s book, Mr. Smith was born in 1886 in Cincinnati and in college attended the University of Pennsylvania as an architecture student under Paul Philippe Cret. Mr. Cret had studied the beaux arts style in Paris.
 
Known for such characteristics as arched windows and doors, classical detail, raised first stories and symmetry, the beaux arts style would influence Mr. Smith, who loved medieval and classical styles in his architectural designs.
 
In 1909, Georgia Tech was looking to start an architecture program, so it contacted the prestigious Penn school, and the person respected educator Warren Laird recommended to head it was a young Francis Smith.
 
During that first year, Mr. Smith and a drawing instructor were the entire department. But what it lacked in quantity, the program made up for in quality, as some of Atlanta’s best-known architects from the 20th century – such as Philip Shutze -- came out of the program. It, of course, grew greatly under Mr. Smith’s leadership.
 
Mr. Smith also designed some of the Georgia Tech buildings, including the John S. Coon Mechanical Engineering Building and Whitehead Memorial Hospital.
 
While some architects connected with a college or a firm may be more academic or business-oriented in their style, Mr. Smith was at heart an architectural artist.
 
“He was very much the talented designer,” Dr. Craig said. “That’s what he wanted to teach. Tech gave him free hand to work in design.”
 
This gift for drawing homes and buildings in an aesthetically pleasing way became apparent even more after he joined with Robert Smith Pringle from 1922-34.
 
According to Dr. Craig’s book, they became acquainted through noted Atlanta architect W.T. Downing. Before his tragic death in 1918 while trying to cross a street in Philadelphia, Mr. Downing designed such Chattanooga structures as the Hotel Patten (now Patten Towers), the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club clubhouse, the older buildings at Baylor School and UTC, the Ashland Farm home of the Z.C. Patten family, and Coca-Cola bottler J.T. Lupton’s Lyndhurst mansion in Riverview.
 
Despite his large portfolio of homes and buildings in Atlanta, some could say Lyndhurst, which was torn down in 1960 and once had an address of 1700 Riverview Road, was his magnum opus. He was known for presenting classical or medieval styles in a unique way, and that was apparent with Lyndhurst and some other Chattanooga buildings.
 
In fact, Mr. Downing had an office in Chattanooga for a couple of years while Lyndhurst was under construction, Dr. Craig writes, and Mr. Pringle manned it. Mr. Smith had also done drafting work for Mr. Downing when he could take a break from his Georgia Tech duties, and he met Mr. Pringle, a native of South Carolina, through Mr. Downing.
 
Exactly how Mr. Downing first met either the Patten or Lupton families and became their architect of choice is not completely known. Dr. Craig surmises that it was perhaps the fact that Mr. Downing was already an architect for a number of prominent Atlanta families and had published a book. The Atlanta/Chattanooga Coca-Cola connection may have also been a reason.
 
The fact that Pringle and Smith had worked for Mr. Downing helped them make the contacts that led to commissions for homes for Lupton relatives and other Chattanoogans, and contracts for Coca-Cola bottling facilities in numerous cities.
 
The two younger architects definitely did not disappoint their local clients, either. In fact, some could argue that the Chattanooga homes Pringle and Smith designed were among their greatest residential architectural works, just as Lyndhurst was for Mr. Downing.
                                    
They show an example of Mr. Smith’s ability to use a lot of creativity and plenty of different styles, often in a singular home, as was popular among a lot of architects at the time.
 
“There was an orderly quality to his work and an interest in craftsman detail,” Dr. Craig said. “There’s a level of beauty that results from all that.”
 
Regarding the information and descriptions Dr. Craig provides about each home, he writes that the home built for original owner Fred Lupton (at 1615 Woodland Road, commissioned in 1926-27), had apparently from the start featured weathered walls to hint of “vanished, even if not ruined, past glories.”
 
Classifying it as a Georgian Revival home, he writes that the white-colored home featured “a freestanding colossal tetra-style portico more than 38 feet wide with 20-foot-high columns.”
 
Interestingly, the fancier side faced the Tennessee river, and a visitor coming down Woodland Road from Minnekahda Road would have seen the more modest side. The estate was also known for its serpentine wall by the street.
 
The book includes a vintage photograph of the porch side of the home, where Mr. Lupton’s wife, later Mrs. Emma Thomasson, continued to live until her death in 1980, well after his passing in 1938.
 
With the Scott Probasco Sr. home (at 1609 Edgewood Circle and dated 1930), Dr. Craig writes that Pringle and Smith “brought to a climax their Colonial domestic work with a synthesis of 18th and 19th century elements that embraced Georgian, Federal and Greek Revival architecture.”
 
He also writes that this home, which is also known for its beautiful front yard, postdated the infamous 1929 stock market crash by just a few months. As a result, it would be the last of Pringle and Smith’s “truly grand houses of the period in any style.” Three photographs of the home taken by Dr. Craig accompany the text.
 
Later owners of the home – which in 2012 sold for $4 million – have included tire, appliance and television dealer Bill Penney, North American Royalties/Wheland Foundry official Gordon Smith Jr., Gordon Smith III and the Billy Oehmig family.
 
A few pages later, Dr. Craig talks even more glowingly of some of the other Pringle and Smith homes in Riverview. “The English medieval domestic architecture of Pringle and Smith found its most magnificent expressions in the ‘ultimate manors’ designed for three Chattanooga clients who commissioned houses in 1927 and 1928.
 
“They achieved a new richness, both inside and out, that reflected the wishes of clients wealthy enough to pay for larger houses that were lavishly ornamented and constructed of varied materials treated at new dimensions of craftsmanship and architectural detailing,” Dr. Craig continues.
 
“The houses, in the luxurious suburban neighborhood of Riverview, were built by members of a family whose wealth was directly linked to Coca-Cola bottling operations.”
 
He was referring to the homes of Cartter Lupton at 1513 Riverview Oaks Drive and commissioned in 1928, the J. Frank Harrison home at 1649 Minnekahda Road from 1927, and the home for Mrs. D. Manker Patten at 1712 Minnekahda Road, commissioned in 1928-29.
 
Of the Mediterranean-style Cartter Lupton home, which has been added onto in recent years and was later resided in by Joe Schmissrauter Jr., Kurt Schmissrauter and John O’Brien, he goes into much complimentary detail about almost every room. He then concludes, “Overall the residence is picturesque in its interior juxtapositions of history, in its service wing rambling off obliquely, and mostly in its exaggerated and rustic sandstone trim, which appears almost painted around windows and arches.”
 
Included with the Lupton home descriptions are an exterior photograph, a 1928 sketching and a 1928 interior photograph.
 
Dr. Craig devotes parts of an impressive five pages and multiple photographs and sketchings to the Frank Harrison Sr. home at 1649 Minnekahda Road.
 
“Pringle and Smith brought an especially varied materiality and tectonic richness to Annehaven,” Dr. Craig writes. “Essentially brick with stone trim, the house is a conglomeration of masonry, half timber and stucco, slate roofs, terra-cotta chimney pots, leaded glass, open arcaded porches and loggias, stone-carved ornaments, and high, elaborate chimney stacks.”
 
He also said Annehaven calls to mind streetscapes in Kent, England, and that it resembles the Cartter Lupton home in that major rooms are organized on cross-axial lines with vistas of various important focal points.
 
To go with all that nice architecture, the hillside home also has one of the stateliest lawns in Chattanooga.
 
By the end of the 20th century, Annehaven already had enough rich history to complement its aesthetics and architecture. After later serving as the home of the related Coca-Cola bottling families of Paul B. Carter and Frank Harrison Jr., Gordon P. Street Jr. of North American Royalties/Wheland Foundry bought it in the 1970s. But then in 2000 it became the home of current U.S. Sen. and then-future Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, who had been a real estate developer.
 
Dr. Craig describes the Mrs. D. Manker Patten home just up the hill at 1712 Minnekahda Road – where real estate official/Southern Saddlery executive Robert S. Long and the C.G. Mills family of the Olan Mills photography family later lived -- as orienting major rooms to the garden behind it. Also, each face of the home is different, he writes.
 
Of the two Lookout Mountain houses, Dr. Craig wrote complimentary words of the 523 Fleetwood Drive home first lived in by Tennessee Stove Works president L. Hardwick Caldwell Sr. The author says that, even if the home and similar residences were slightly smaller in size than some of the Riverview homes, Pringle and Smith still achieved “equally evocative images of home” with the structures.
 
He said the Fleetwood Drive home – later lived in by such residents as Bobby Caldwell and Hardwick Caldwell III -- has an entrance between two frontal gables. He added that the gables “stand like non-identical twins refusing to dress alike, one being brick faced and the other freckled by splotchy fieldstone.”
 
The home originally built for Provident Life Insurance executive Hugh O. Maclellan on East Brow Road was actually designed just by Mr. Smith in 1939, after the firm’s end due to the retirement of Mr. Pringle in 1934 and his death in 1937 at the age of only 54.
 
Dr. Craig writes little of that home, simply calling it a colonial revival. Later residents of that home have included George Campbell, Leslie Coffey and George Tollett.
 
The three Baylor School buildings Mr. Smith or Pringle and Smith designed are the chapel in the late 1920s, Guerry Hall in 1931 and Trustee Hall in 1936. Dr. Craig wrote that Trustee Hall greatly resembles Pringle and Smith’s Chi Psi fraternity house at Georgia Tech.
 
The author also praises the courtyard at the school framed in part by the three buildings. Of the setting, he said, “The courtyard formed by these three Pringle and Smith buildings at Baylor is intimate and only semi-enclosed, but it alludes to, nevertheless, the quadrangle traditions of Oxford and Cambridge.
 
“Without arcaded cloister walks, Baylor’s courtyard is linked less explicitly to medieval cloisters,” Dr. Craig continues.” The campus speaks of learning and devotion, and with its chapel, secular refectory and dormitory, Pringle and Smith’s Baylor is in the spirit of a monastic community for young scholars.”
 
Dr. Craig also includes three interesting architectural renderings of Baylor. One shows the chapel with a tower in a place different from where it ended up being located, another illustrates the chapel joined with a building that was never connected to it, and the last drawing depicts another building that was never built.
 
Mr. Smith would go on to practice architecture for a number of years after Mr. Pringle left the firm. And before his death in 1971, he would leave behind many buildings, churches, and, of course, homes that critics would consider beautiful and elegant.
 
But nowhere are his homes likely considered any prettier than in Chattanooga
 
He and Mr. Pringle had the talent to execute masterfully the wishes of these original clients, whose families mastered the world of business. And today, the structures are still beloved homes, perhaps even more so because they hint of a long-gone romantic era of the past.
 
As Dr. Craig wrote when talking about Annehaven and the D.M. Patten home, these were dream houses patterned after the old medieval manor houses built with quality craftsmanship.
 
“All demanded a large commitment of money from the client and an extensive knowledge of detailing from the architect,” he said. “At its best, the partnership between architects and clients produced extraordinary dream houses.”
 
(Author Dr. Robert Craig welcomes opportunities to do book signings or speaking engagements in the Chattanooga area when his schedule allows. He may be contacted via email at rob.craig@coa.gatech.edu)
 
Jcshearer2@comcast.net

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