Fun with George and the Bureau of Missing
an exploratory compilation of the work of local Victorian architect
George T. Pearson (1847-1920) (in progress).
"HOUSE OF MR. F. J. KIMBALL, SCHOOL LANE, GERMANTOWN -- WINTER VIEW," by Joseph Pennell
from "New Germantown & Chestnut Hill," in Lippincott's Magazine, April 1884, p. 325.
PART OF A GENERATION that emerged in the 1880s -- sometimes cast jibingly as "art-chitects" -- Pearson was a prodigiously inventive force. He favored dramatically posed asymmetries, surprising curves and angles, patterns in brick colors, windows of insistently contrasting forms, and a remarkable willingness to combine varied historical languages, often all in a single building.
In 1887, after seven years of independent practice, he had reportedly already designed "about three hundred houses of all classes" and was acclaimed "an architect of great artistic feeling." His career was only just beginning, and he probably more than matched that output over the next two decades. His designs were frequently published nationally, with major buildings in Virginia, Ohio, and Florida, but he was most prolific locally, particularly in Germantown and Mt. Airy.
The greater proportion of those 300-plus early houses and probably a good share of the later ones remain unknown to us, as our knowledge of Pearson's work is still rather scattered among unresolved hints, references, and visual suspects -- even as some of his buildings have begun to fade from the scene though demolition and unsympathetic alterations. This is an opportune time to gather all available evidence and seek out his designs. So over the last couple of weeks there has been "reverse charette," visiting the usual suspects, combing the streets and the documentary sources to try to find George.
The May 2006 Event: On Saturday, May 20, 2006, participants were able to follow a map posted here marking at least a dozen extant Pearson buildings in the Germantown area, some for drive-by ogling and at least a few where for visit to the interiors in specified time blocks that day. At 1pm, there was a brief group presentation on Pearson and his works at the Germantown Historical Society, 5501 Germantown Avenue, illustrating some of the GTPs to be seen nearby, and some further afield.
A Painful Coda: An article by architecture critic Inga Saffron, "Historic house deserves better from university," appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on 18 May 2006. reporting that Philadelphia University President James P. Gallagher was not at all disposed toward preserving "Red Gate," the Kimball house shown at the top of this page and long used as their student union. Gallagher preferred the idea of presenting potential donors for a new building with a vacant grassy lot as "a pretty nice sales opportunity." It turned out that the school had held a demolition permit since the previous year, and within a few weeks of the Pearson-fest, Philadelphia University tore down Red Gate.