Four Easy-To-Find Architectural Styles In Lafayette Square

The historic designations given to Lafayette Square by both the City of St Louis and the National Register of Historic Places lend an enforced permanence to how the Square looks. Popular recognition of the authentic and increasingly rare Victorian Age style in our buildings ensures their survival. There are many forms, and combinations of styles in our architecture, but following are four major types. When you have relatives or guests in from the suburbs, and want to give them the straight scoop on what the heck is a mansard, here is a brief field guide. 

We often refer to our homes as “Victorian”. Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 till her death in 1901. For architectural reference, it’s helpful to consider the time period, rather than England or its ruler. Of the four styles we’ll take a look at, the Federal style originated in the U.S. and preceded Victoria, though associated with the others through popularity at the time of design. The Queen Anne style began in Victorian England, Second Empire in France, and Italianate….well, yep.

Lets start with the earliest:

FEDERAL 1780-1820 

This style features brick walls, multi-paned windows and louvered shutters. Examples are frequently smaller than buildings of later styles. An important feature is the gabled roof sloping toward the street, sometimes with projecting dormer windows. Here, the lintels (above the windows) are a flat arch stone or brick. This configuration causes the doorways to be smaller than in other styles, as the lintels support the building weight above windows and doors. An arched lintel would distribute that weight more effectively. The simple facade lends a street of similar buildings a European old-world charm.  







ITALIANATE 1840-1880 

This style, at least in a commercial context, utilized cast iron columns and beams to carry more load, allowing for large windows. Some of our early residents like TJ Pullis, Jacob Christopher and William Simpson made hay with similar commercial fronts; examples are abundant in South St.Louis. The buildings themselves are often simple brick, and feature a projecting bracketed cornice of wood or metal at the top. Just below the cornice is often corbelled brick (“corbelled” is like a projecting decoration in stairstepped brick) which is also noticeable in the decorative hoods over the windows.








These buildings are fairly easy to identify, and there are many in Lafayette Square, reflecting the  heritage of the area and its French namesake. It was also in vogue at the time our early mansions were being designed. The distinguishing trait is the sloping mansard roof at the top of the facade. I’m told that in France the mansard was taxed like a roof, not a whole floor, so proved economical that way. The mansard often had slate shingles and dormers, overlooking an ornately bracketed cornice. The facade itself could be heavily decorated with arched windows and bold window hoods. Various materials would often make up the facade; brick, stone, wood, cast iron and stucco. Refined yet colorful paint schemes were used to further heighten the decorative effect.   








QUEEN ANNE 1876-1900 

The latest and “most exuberant” of the Victorian styles, this features a wide range of decorative elements and treatments, often in the same building. Frequently one will find stone, metal, brick, terra cotta and tile on the same facade. This is topped by a simplified bracketed cornice. There is a high level of technical craftsmanship in these buildings, and mass produced elements like cast iron columns, sheetmetal, and large plates of glass were used. Turrets, especially at the corners, and bay windows were common. All these elements create a picturesque and richly textured character.





Of course this doesn’t nearly cover the range of historical architecture in Lafayette Square. No short shrift is intended toward our Romanesque, German Gothic, Greek Revival and Antebellum styles. We have all that, and the Flounder too.  Rich stuff for another day. Oh, and please recognize that many of our homes and businesses have styles that cross boundaries, like integrating mansards AND bay windows. No worries – that’s just the cross pollination that occurs when architects get creative. The basic design elements left to time form new compounds and make Lafayette Square all the more fascinating.

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