Gardens to Gables

The Backseat Files: The Most Beautiful Oriel in the World, Lexington, Kentucky

I went to a lot of museums growing up – but the most compelling exhibits that lingered with me were the streets I traveled down, whether walking around my small hometown, or watching in rapt attention as a traveler in the backseat. One of those memories from the “backseat files” involves the grand historic houses along North Broadway in Lexington, and a very tall and narrow house that always intrigued me. Built in the last quarter of the 19th century, the most distinctive feature of the 2.5 story brick dwelling is the projecting oriel bay on the south side, which contains the staircase.

The view that always fascinated me on the trip out of Lexington back home.

The view that always fascinated me on the trip out of Lexington back home.

The black and white symphony of this oriel, pierced by four arched windows, a grid work of panels and bands, and a delicate scroll at the top, seemed to hang precariously over the sidewalk to my 8-year old eyes. Unlike the brick and stone of the rest of the house, this portion was clad in pressed metal panels – described as “iron clad” in 1901. I always hoped the traffic light would  change so we could sit at the intersection for a while, and I could drink in the giddiness of this house. My mother, a student of historic architecture herself (and a former history teacher), patiently answered my questions from the drivers seat, and told me that the cantilevered section likely contained a staircase.

The very slim facade of the house.

The very slim facade of the house.

Frank Hulette, a bricklayer, built this house and several others on North Broadway – but this is the only one to feature such a striking feature such as the oriel staircase. All of his houses, however, emphasize masonry, highlighting Hulette’s craft with brick. I know a lot more about architecture now than I did way back when – but I still always smile when I pass this house, recalling the joy it gave me so many years ago. History and art is where you find it, and appreciating it and finding the wonder in our built landscape has made my life immeasurably richer.






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19 Thoughts on “The Backseat Files: The Most Beautiful Oriel in the World, Lexington, Kentucky

  1. Georgeanne Edwards on April 20, 2016 at 10:33 am said:

    What an absolutely beautiful house! How did I miss “seeing” it over the years? Thanks for the reminder of what’s right before our eyes everyday!

  2. Thanks for another great article. I am going to go and see this house. Have you ever been inside? Would love to see the staircase and pictures of the oriel from the inside!

    • Janie-Rice Brother on April 20, 2016 at 2:24 pm said:

      I have not, but the house is for sale for right, and the listing may have interior photos.

    • Janie-Rice Brother on April 21, 2016 at 2:56 pm said:

      I haven’t – I’ve just ogled it from the exterior. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. ginny daley on April 20, 2016 at 11:43 am said:

    I love this house too! And I was always fascinated with it as a kid riding around with my granny in the 60s, then again as a college student living downtown in the 80s. But only recently did it really sink in that this is such a thin house for all the large scale features. A true gem!

  4. Melissa Young on April 20, 2016 at 12:12 pm said:

    I’m pretty sure I went to a party here in the early 1990s. I don’t recall much about the inside, except maybe a second-floor kitchen, which suggests it had been divided into apartments. I do remember a band featuring Paul K that played Velvet Underground covers. It is certainly a distinctive house.

  5. Jim McKeighen on April 20, 2016 at 1:31 pm said:

    This was the first house I ever bought. It was 1975 and had been abandoned for a year after being condemned. It previously had been 8 apartments with 28 residents. The 2 basement rooms had sheet vinyl on dirt floors; these rooms had a toilet in the corner. The other 6 apartments shared 2 baths. Only 1 window was in the place and it had major structural problems. In fact, I had to borrow $20,000 on a personal note as there was “red lining” back then & no one would make a mortgage. My banker was called on the carpet over the personal loan on a house everyone thought should be torn down. I was broken in to 5 times the first year. I had to live there with no plumbing in order to get insurance. I visited with neighbors for bathroom breaks & water to use had to be brought across Broadway in buckets. I got water after 6months & a temporary bathroom & had a construction electric meter with 2 outlets while “camping out” in the 1 room with a window. I was 24 years old & from California. Not into guns, I was taken aback after my first break-in when a neighbor brought me a pistol to “fire warning shots” to prevent future break-ins. The shock was the policeman taking the report of my missing items turned and said “just don’t shoot down Broadway”. For a while I thought I had made a mistake. The stairs are oak & very nice. This was the 2nd house on the lot, the first was a circa 1868 one story shotgun. Frank Hulett’s specialty was using hard pressed red brick & later purpose molded brick. He would build a house, live in it for a year or 2 then do it again.

  6. I just checked and the house is not listed on LBAR, so no interior photos.

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