Sunday, February 19, 2012

James Kemble School for Utica School Board

In May of 1880, Joseph Silsbee appeared at a hearing before the Utica School Board regarding the plans he submitted as part of an architectural competition for a new public school for the City of Utica.   A year earlier, he had "lost" a similar competition for the Prescott School in the City of Syracuse.  Motivated by the outcome of that competition, he seemed concerned that unfair bias would be given towards buildings that were less than the stipulated budget amount of $10,000, as he felt was the case of the Syracuse competition.  He and other architects had submitted plans for buildings in that competition for the stipulated amount only to be beaten out of the project not by a better designed building but one that was cheaper.

Silsbee's concerns from Syracuse were unwarranted in Utica.  What Silsbee didn't know was that his proposal was the only one submitted.  It seems that Utica architects were not interested in the project and no other architects of the region seemed to take interest either.  Fresh off the Syracuse competition, he submitted a simple, yet finely detailed building design that seemed to be a big departure from the more rectilinear Italianate structures that dominated school construction in Central New York.  Given how soon it was between the two competitions, it would be interesting to know what Silsbee's proposal for the Prescott school was.  Unfortunately, no drawings of the entries exist.           
The image above is one of the very few that we have of this demolished building.  It was a two story brick structure.  The building once stood at the corner of Kemble and James Streets in Utica.  The double gabled roof on James Street was one remarkable feature of the building.  The ample-sized window area were another.   A carefully detailed porch and entry on the Kemble Street side of the building, concealed by a tree in the image was also a remarkable feature.  The lower story, with its huge arched windows was made of brick and the upper story was a mixture of brick and terra cotta trim and accents.  The original design featured stone but terra cotta was substituted due to cost concerns.  The larger portion of the building that extends down Kemble Street was an addition from the early 1900's.   

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