Ayer-Shea Residence

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Ayer-Shea Residence, National Register of Historic Places

The house was built for Winslow B. Ayer in 1892 at the northwest corner of Johnson and 18th Streets in the Nob Hill District in Portland, Oregon, It was designed in the Colonial Revival Style by Whidden and Lewis, Portland's leading architects of the period. From the 1880s to 1930, the residential area surrounding 19th Street was among the most fashionable in the city, but modern-day commercial-industrial development has encroached on its periphery.

Two tall brick chimneys with flared tops rise on either side of the core of the house occupied by the stairwell. Each facet of the hipped roof is broken by a dormer, those on the street elevations being pedimented gable-roofed types with double-hung sash with six over six lights. Each elevation is trimmed with an elaborate cornice—not a full entablature—including modillions, bed molding and fret molding. Typical window openings are trimmed with classical architraves, those of the ground story having added height created by plain inset panels. All first and second story windows have shutters and are fitted with double-hung sash. Those lighting front rooms have one over one lights. Those lighting rooms in the rear of the house have two over two lights.

The principal facade is organized with strict bilateral symmetry and has two distinctive features. The more prominent of these is a pair of semicircular window bays which are reminiscent of the cylindrical bow windows of the Sears House (1816) in Boston by Alexander Parris, though they are somewhat Richardsonian as well. The other distinctive feature of the Ayer-Shea House facade is the cylindrical portico with its two freestanding columns of the Tuscan order which is reminiscent of the portico of Benjamin Latrobe's Ashdown House (1793) in Berkshire, England. Originally, the Ayer-Shea Houseportico had a balustrade with square balusters and urn finials atop the osts. While the Colonial Revival was based on such Adamesque archetypes, the Ayer-Shea House is more eclectic than it is academic. It clearly reflects the contemporary work of William M. Whidden's former employees, McKim, Mead and White--foremost exponents of the Colonial Revival Style.

The two-and-a-half-story, weather-boarded frame structure is among the earliest houses in the Colonial Revival Style to have been erected in the city. The architects were William M. Whidden and Ion Lewis, who were trained at MIT. While Whidden launched his career with the New York firm of McKim, Mead and White—foremost exponents of the Colonial Revival, Lewis was associated with Peabody and Stearns in Boston. Only the Trevett-Nunn House and the Milton W. Smith House—both completed in 1891—are earlier buildings in the Colonial Style still standing in Portland. Both were designed by Whidden and Lewis, and both have been entered into the National Register. The house of 1892 was built in the fashionable Nob Hill residential district for Winslow B. Ayer, wealthy lumberman and patron of the arts who occupied the property until 1904, when a Jacobethan Style house—also by Whidden and Lewis—was completed for his use nearby. The subject property was occupied by successful plumbing contractor John F. Shea from 1915 to 1926. With its hipped roof, symetrical facade, lapped weatherboards, and shutters; its classical portico and cornice, oval window, and pedimented dormers with double-hung sash with six over six lights, the Ayer-Shea House embodies the distinctive characteristics of the Neo-Adamesque, or Colonial Revival Style. Moreover, it is a distinctive example of its style in Portland and Oregon as a whole because of its facade with formally-placed, two-story semi-circular window bays and cylindrical shaped portico which are reminiscent of Federal period archetypes by Benjamin Latrobe and Alexander Parris. Nevertheless, the house is essentially a reflection of the contemporary work of McKim, Mead and White. At least one house similar in organization and many details—namely, the three-story brick masonry Lathrop House in Chicago, Illinois-was produced by the New York firm in the same year.