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James Crathern House(1892-94)
1572 Doctor Penfield Avenue [32 MacGregor Street], Montreal, QC, Canada
Residential, Urban house [detached, basement, 2 floors, attic]; stone
Client: James Crathern
Description: Born in 1830 in Montreal, James Crathern joined Crathern & Caverhill, wholesale dealers in hardware, in 1854. That firm, founded in 1837, was joined later by J. B. Learmont (127) and took the name Caverhill, Learmont and Co. from 1884. Crathern was a director of the Canadian Bank of Commerce, the Saint-Lawrence Sugar Refining Co. and the Dominion Coal Co. He was also president of the Kewatin Flour Milling Co., of the Merchants Cotton Co., Saint-Henri, of the Royal Victoria Life Insurance Co., as well as a Governor of McGill University and a member of the governing committee of the Royal Alexandra Hospital (249).
Crathern and Learmont gave instructions to Edward Maxwell to build two residences on July 12, 1892. It would be the architect’s third and fourth residential commissions, after H.V. Meredith House (165) in January 1892, and that of Edward Clouston (55) in March. Both houses were to stand side by side on MacGregor Street (now Doctor Penfield Avenue) and shared similar plans with significantly different exteriors. Plans were strongly inspired by the N.L. Anderson House in Washington, designed by Henry Hobson Richardson, the influential Boston architect whose firm was continued from 1886 by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, employers of Edward Maxwell between 1888-1891. While the Learmont House repeats integrally the Anderson House plan, Maxwell simply reversed it for the Crathern House. The façades present a rugged red sandstone facing. The Corncockle sandstone provided by masonry contractor Peter Lyall was the best variety available in Scotland at the time. The main elevation balances a three-storey bay window capped by a conical roof and an entrance porch under semicircular arches resting on short columns in the Richardsonian manner.
Like many houses to come, the ground floor layout centres on a large hall from which all other main rooms and the grand staircase are accessed. Chambers and additional bedrooms are located on the first and attic floors. The kitchen and most services occupy the basement, in keeping with the typical bourgeois household of the time. The Crathern and Learmont houses are typical of Edward Maxwell early residential work, illustrating his talent in organising rough and smooth masses with fine decorative elements and featuring his well-known bay windows, towers and entrance placement. They also bear witness to his urban design interest, manifest in his ability to develop both properties in harmony with the context.
Edward and William Maxwell designed a second house for James Crathern on MacGregor Street in February 1909. At 40 feet wide, it was faced with brick, had a bay window on the main façade and a slate Mansard roof. The ground floor had a drawing-dining room on the left with the kitchen beyond. A smaller living room with fireplace and bay window were to the right. Upstairs, the house included five bedrooms, two bathrooms and a sitting room on the first floor, with three more bedrooms and a bathroom in the attic. This house was demolished about 1963.
Since 1955, the Consulate of Switzerland occupies the older Crathern House; it had been the property of the McArthur family (pulp and paper industry, chemical products) for some time before. The Caverhill-Learmont store at 451-457 St-Pierre Street in Old Montreal still functioned as a hardware as of 1999; it is currently bring converted to condominiums.
Holdings: Urban house (detached, basement, 2 floors, attic); stone
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