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 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.
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.