Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Mansard Roof Houses in Jamaica Plain

I just added another slide show to the site. It makes things a little busy, and perhaps too slow to load, so I'll think about rotating the three of them through one at a time. I tried to choose houses that gave the variety of house styles found under Mansard roofs. The Mansard style of roof came from France. It had a long history in France, but became popular in Paris during the Second Empire of Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III). The story is that in Paris, buildings were taxed on the basis of floors (storys) "under the roof." Since the Mansard style had one full floor within, and not under (below) the eaves of the sharply sloping roof, that top floor was not taxed. One would think that the French tax collectors would have seen through the ruse, but that is the story as it comes down to us.

The style moved to England in the 1850s, and to the United States a decade later. The classic exemplar of the style would be the Second Empire building. Generally designed by trained architects, a Second Empire house consists of a suite of stylistic elements - many shared with the Italianate style - topped off by a Mansard roof. To be clear, while all Second Empire houses have Mansard roofs, not all houses with Mansard roofs are Second Empire. Once builders learned to construct Mansard roofs, they began putting them on top of houses without the rest of the elaborate Second Empire stylistic elements. The houses in the slide show run the gamut from High Second Empire to worker's cottage. For a while during the early 1870s, it seems as if no newly constructed house in Jamaica Plain was safe from having a Mansard roof dropped on to it. Some older houses actually had Mansard roofs added to them, to keep them in the latest style. When we see a house dated from the early 1800s with a Mansard hat sitting on its head, we know the house has had some major reconstruction done.

You'll find beautiful restored Mansard houses on Sumner Hill, Chestnut avenue and Burroughs street, and rows of simple worker's homes on Seaverns avenue and Jess street. Although brick wasn't often used in Jamaica Plain, there are brick row houses on Greenough avenue and a lonely singleton on Rockview street (all of the above appear in the slide show).


  1. Wow, it's just like the aristocrats' mansions during the French Empire, made simpler to cater to the needs of ordinary Americans. It simply shows how people from different forefathers and times interconnect with each other when it comes to architecture.

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