Patrick W. McClane, Debra. A. McClane. The Architecture of James Gamble Rogers II in Winter Park, Florida. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004. 200 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8130-2770-8.
Reviewed by Astrid Whidden (Department of Art, Palm Beach Community College)
Published on H-Florida (July, 2005)
James Gamble Rogers: The Architect of Winter Park, Florida
The idea that Florida's architecture from the early-twentieth century appears nominal within the scope of national trends continues to be refuted by texts such as this one on James Gamble Rogers. Set within the context of a growing historiography on Florida's building programs, this text adds an additional dimension to the factors which created Florida's eclectic architectural aesthetic. The grand structures of Addison Mizner, the planned city of Coral Gables and the Art Deco movement in Miami drew much of the scholarly interest on Florida's architecture to the southeastern portion of its peninsula. With the McClanes' research on Rogers, the available material on this topic becomes more inclusive. This well-researched text will delight the novice interested in architecture as well as the more knowledgeable reader.
The authors of this text bring with them a practical as well as an aesthetic approach to evaluating the architect under scrutiny. Patrick McClane works as an architect, he also practiced with Rogers's firm, while Debra McClane's background includes work as an architectural historian as well as a contributor to preservation projects; both of their backgrounds become obvious while reading this text. They have a solid understanding of all of the aspects which make up the evolution of a particular architect's style as well as the realistic necessities of working with clients. The preface of the text lays out the format of the book and acknowledges the contributions of others who have tackled the topic of Florida's architecture. For example, they cite Donald Curl's Mizner's Florida (1985) when describing the influences on Rogers as he began his career in the State. This work follows Rogers's career up to World War II, which the authors acknowledge as representing a small portion of the architect's efforts in Florida. But McClane and McClane correctly see this period as being within the scope of their projects as they hoped to show "Rogers's genius for designing intriguing and inspiring spaces that exhibit a well-honed sense of proportion and style" (p. xvi). The authors used a variety of sources including the personal papers of Rogers as well as his architectural plans which helped to reveal the man who created the buildings which give Winter Park a unique look. This text provides the first in-depth analysis of Rogers thanks to the diligence of the authors.
The text follows the development of Rogers's career based on various influences. These influences included the work of his uncle, James Gamble Rogers I, who worked as an architect in Chicago and then on the East Coast of the United States. The authors chose to include a short history on Rogers's uncle to show how this family encapsulated the diverse trends of early-twentieth-century architecture. It was a family endeavor because Rogers's father also practiced architecture and it was he who moved to Florida bringing James Gamble Rogers II to the State.
From his earliest interest in the subject, Rogers received encouragement to pursue this career. Unfortunately, he never achieved his academic goals as he had to leave Dartmouth College during his third year due to a family emergency (p. 13). This set the stage for his growth as an architect who appeared open to the eclecticism which characterized architectural motifs in America before World War II. As the authors note, Rogers's most well-known structures were the ones built in his interpretation of a Spanish Eclectic style (p. xvi). The authors also relate the individual circumstances of some of the most important works done by Rogers. The trials and tribulations of satisfying customers while trying to maintain the integrity of his own ideas would be a familiar story to any practicing architect. In addition, McClane and McClane include an appendix which catalogs the structures attributed to Rogers found in the Winter Park area. This section would allow anyone interested in Rogers's work to visit the city and see many of his early works. The history of Rogers's life as well as the analysis of some of his works make this an important text when considering the full implications of architectural motifs found in Florida.
While this text serves as another link in the diverse history of Florida's built appearance, it also makes it apparent that the relationships between the assorted building programs in the Florida in the era discussed were tenuous at best. The architects who worked in Florida prior to World War II depended on their own interests to further their careers as their numbers were low in comparison to other parts of the eastern seaboard. Rogers fits this paradigm as he created a variety of structures in Winter Park whose feasibility as solutions to Florida's specific environmental problems could be questioned. For example, for his own house, named Four Winds, Rogers designed a French Provincial style country home (p. 58). How well does its high pitched roof, seen in the photograph of Four Winds, function in Florida's climate? The use of photographs as well as architectural plans helps to elaborate on some of the ideas and observations made by the authors on Rogers's accomplishments, but some of the plates either do not match the descriptions (p. 31) or there are no references to the plates and figures at all. But, these minor oversights do not detract from the contribution this text makes to the understanding of Florida's architectural heritage.
James Gamble Rogers II left his mark on the appearance of the city of Winter Park. McClane and McClane widen the sphere of interest in Florida's architecture by including an architect who designed structures more suited to the masses who arrived to the State in the early-twentieth century. He also worked on the grand buildings of the region he served, but his homes did not approach the scale of the Mizner buildings found in South Florida. The scope of his career and the interest he took in his adopted city made him an architect with an investment in the future of Winter Park. He lived there until he died and his long illustrious career deserves the attention that these authors have focused upon him.
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Astrid Whidden. Review of McClane, Patrick W.; McClane, Debra. A., The Architecture of James Gamble Rogers II in Winter Park, Florida.
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