Sunday, October 6, 2013

Home for Theodore Dissel

Without a doubt, the largest and most elaborate mansion designed by J. L. Silsbee on Syracuse's James Street was the home for Theodore Dissel. 
By the time work started on the home, in 1879, Silsbee had established himself as a gifted home designer with a series of homes in the Queen Anne Style. The Dissel home was viewed as unique in its day because it was his first grand home in this style that was made of brick and used terra cotta, instead of stone, for much of its detailing. It was also huge, rivaling many of the other mansions already constructed on the street. The home is no longer standing but we know enough about it and have enough imagery to piece together what it was like. 

The rooms on the first floor were organized around a large central hall with a two-story staircase lit by windows with art glass. The two primary rooms on this floor were the Library and Dining Room. Both were finished in cherry and had elaborate wood detailing and built-ins. A huge veranda extended around the south and west sides of the home, from which could be seen dramatic views of downtown and the Onondaga Valley. On the northwest corner of the home was a large glass conservatory that had direct access from the dining room, inside the home.  
As it was the most picturesque and lavish street in the city, the Detroit Publishing Company took several photographs of James Street and several are concentrated on what is currently the 800 block. One of these, the the Library of Congress Collection, shows a view looking west, towards downtown and you can see the the W. Snowden Smith Residence and Dissel Residence on the right-hand side. The Smith home was a unique Swiss Chalet style home designed by Cincinnati architects Nash & Plympton in 1890.    
The overall view gives you an idea of the kind of landscape that these homes sat in and the detail of the photographs allows you to see some elements of the architecture that are missed in other photos. Though you don't get a good idea of the overall appearance of the Dissel home, you can see how the brick surface came alive with banding, ornament and brick patterning. One element that I was immediately struck by was the elaborate roof line and unique flower-like elements capping the corners of the roof cresting. 

 Theodore Dissel was in business with clothier, Alonzo Yates. They formed A. C. Yates & Co. in 1877. Yates passed away in 1880 and Dissel formed a partnership with Jacob Martens. He continued his business at the corner of Franklin and Water Streets until his death in 1888. Sadly, he didn't have many years in his opulent mansion.
Dissel was a conspicuous art collector and patron of the arts. He was on the board of the Syracuse Arts Club. His home was home to a large collection of paintings and was host to arts fundraisers and lectures. His home was demolished in 1972. Below is an image of the home from the Harley McKee collection at Syracuse University that appeared in a thesis by Thomas Pulfer from 1980 alongside an image of the site today.      

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