A Virtual Tour, c. 1927

By 1927, Salisbury House neared completion. The Weeks family had moved in the previous year, although the house would not be fully finished until 1928. During this year’s interim, a photographer captured images of the new home’s interior. These photographs, particularly when paired with exterior construction images, make a fascinating early study of the property.

The Weeks family, as we do on our tours today, welcomed visitors to Salisbury House in the Great Hall.

Great Hall_3

The iconic painting,  The Brothers LaBouchere, still dominates the center of the hall, though much of the additional furnishings have been removed today to accommodate our various public events and rentals.

From the Great Hall, visitors typically made their way down the east hallway to the Common Room.

East hallway

Here in the east hallway hung a painting of special importance. The large-scale piece hanging on the right is Joseph Stella’s Tree of My Life, painted by the artist in 1919-1920. The Weeks family originally acquired three Stella works on a scale similar to Tree of My LifeThe Birth of Venus (1922) and The Apotheosis of the Rose (1926), which both can still be seen at Salisbury House today. Tree of My Life, however, was sold at auction at Christie’s in 1986 for $2.2 million.

Lush furnishings, including ornate drapery, also appeared in the Common Room in 1927. However, the custom-made Steinway grand piano, which was later a centerpiece of the room, had yet to arrive from New York.

Common room_3

Common room

Lucky guests were also able to visit the library, which remains an extraordinary experience today.

Library_2

Note the empty shelves behind the hanging tapestry in the middle background above. By the time the Weeks family left Salisbury House in 1954, the library collection had expanded even beyond the library shelves. Eventually, locked cabinet doors were added to the bookshelves adjacent to the fireplace below.

Library_3

Guests invited to stay for the evening would have likely spent time in the Dining Room as well…

Dining Room

…followed by their morning coffee in the Breakfast Room. A portion of Stella’s Apotheosis of the Rose is visible on the right, where it still hangs.

Breakfast Room

To view the second floor of Salisbury House, guests in 1927 would have used the main staircase located just off of the Great Hall.

Main staircase hall

Not long after this photograph was taken, the Weekses added an elaborate runner to the stairs that included their family crest. A sixteenth-century suit of armor eventually replaced the chair pictured here as well.

Upon arriving at the top of the staircase, Carl and Edith would have retired to their bedrooms in the east wing of the house. Edith’s sumptuous bedroom suite, including a dressing room with adjacent bath, reflected her preference for French decor.

Edith dressing room

Edith’s bedroom was equally lovely.

Edith bedroom_1

Edith bedroom_2

Carl’s bathroom and bedroom – adjacent to, though not connected, to Edith’s rooms – displayed a much more masculine aesthetic.

Carl bathroom

 

Carl bedroom

The balcony, down the hallway from Carl’s and Edith’s suites, offered a fantastic view of the Great Hall.

Balcony hall

Great Hall_4

A small guest bedroom was accessed from the balcony hall.

Porch Room

Continuing westward down the hallway, the Queen Anne bedroom appeared on the left.

Queen Ann_2

Queen Ann_1

The four bedrooms for the Weeks boys – Charles, William, Hud, and Lafe – were on the west end of the second floor. Hud’s room, for reasons that are lost to us now, included two beds.

Hud's bedroom_1

Lafe’s room was the smallest of the boys’ bedrooms.

Lafe's Bedroom

Before our tour of Salisbury House c. 1927 draws to a close: a stop in the Indian Room. This space, located in the basement level of the house, was decorated with Carl’s extensive Native American collection. It was also, or so we are given to believe, used by the boys for some seriously raging parties.

Indian Room_use

Despite the fact that we are separated from these photographs by nearly a century, we are extraordinarily fortunate that much of the fine artworks and furnishings collected by the Weeks family remains intact today. Be sure to stop by and enjoy a tour c. 2015!

 

Bricks, Mortar, & Men

Workmen broke ground on Salisbury House almost a century ago. Beginning in 1923, truckloads of brick, mortar, barrels, and beams navigated the steep rise of the hill atop Tonawanda Drive.  Over the next five years, the Weekses’ grand new home took shape. Local photographers captured in-progress images of Salisbury House at different stages of the project.  These shots were primarily taken at a distance, and typically showcased the building’s stately dimensions. However, closer inspection of these photographs reveals the ordinary, work-a-day experiences of life at a 1920s construction site.

The photograph below from December 1923 shows a view of the garage taken from the west. At first glance, the photograph suggests little more than mud, building detritus, and desolation.

12.8.23

A closer look reveals action and purpose. Men stride across the half-finished garage. On the left, a man in a hat and overcoat, closely followed by an associate, looks north. Behind them, two more men continue their labors.

12.8.23_men detail_super close

The far left side of the photograph also includes details of men at work. Look closely at the corner of the structure in the foreground:

12.8.23.more men_construction detritus

12.8.23.more men_construction detritus.close of men

Two years later, thanks to the efforts of these men, a substantial amount of progress had been made. By March 1925, the main footprint of Salisbury House was apparent. The garage – featured prominently in the images above –  is barely visible on the far left side of this photograph.

3.23.25.b_

Though the exterior walls have taken shape, a closer look at this image shows a house far from complete.

3.23.25.b_south door detail.

The east wing of the house extends only to the first floor.  Carl’s and Edith’s bedrooms remain but a twinkle in the architects’  eyes. There is no trace of the sixteenth-century, half-beam ceiling in the Great Hall.  Daylight and oak trees crown the room instead.

3.23.25.b_south door detail.2

A view of the north entrance tells a similar story.

3.23.25.a

The application of the famed flint-work on the Tudor wing of the house appears in progress on the left side of the frame.

3.23.25.a_men detail

The two men in this photograph illustrate the human realities of building Salisbury House. The man on the right was possibly an architect from Boyd & Moore, the local firm responsible for the design and build of the house (perhaps even Byron Bennett Boyd or Herbert J. Moore). As for the man on the left – perhaps a crew foreman? Their markedly different attire certainly suggests differences in occupation and/or class.

3.23.25.a_men detail.2

Progress marked the entire property in this spring of 1925.  Below, the northeast approach to Salisbury House neared completion.

Undated_driveway

Our homburg (or fedora?) -wearing gentleman from above appeared again:

Close up bosses

The three men in the foreground dwarf the workmen (at right in the full-sized photograph) who continued to toil away while the bosses posed for the camera.

Working men detail

Another wonderful detail appears in this photograph. The driveway slope dominates the image’s middle distance, with the majestic silhouette of Salisbury House beyond. Near the crest of the rise, a sign appeared at the base of a tree.

Flower sign

Flower sign_up close

WILD FLOWERS IN IOWA ARE GETTING SCARCE                                                                                                             ONLY THE UNINFORMED GATHER THEM

This sounds like Edith’s doing, as she was an enthusiastic gardener.  To modern-day sensibilities, the sign suggests a vague similarity to the current mania for pet-shaming signs. If this sign were hanging around the neck of one of the Weekses’ canine companions – perhaps after a dig through the Salisbury gardens – they would have had an instant meme on their hands.

Four months after these photos were taken, the progress of construction was documented again. A view from the southeast corner of the property indicated that the workers had been busy during the summer of 1925.

8.5.25.b.

Still, as yet there were no windows in much of the house, including the Common Room and Edith’s Suite.

8.5.25.b.closer

At this point, the Weekses were two years into a five-year, three-million-dollar project.  The pane-less windows, a cluster of barrels, and pile of dirt at photo’s right edge were visible reminders of the work still underway.

8.5.25.b_barrel detail

The view from the north in August 1925 also showed both the great distance already traveled by the Salisbury House builders, and the sizable amount of work left to finish.  Here, the cottage appeared mostly finished – with windows, even! – and a tar-papered roof was in evidence.

8.5.25.a

Still, the main section of the house remained windowless.

8.5.25.a_detail

Makeshift scaffolding and ladders also appeared. Although no workmen were featured in this particular photograph, evidence of their labor remained in the objects they left behind.

8.5.25.a_ladder wheelbarrow detail

A comparison of photos separated by almost a century  offers an amazing study in contrast.

South Collage_Really Use

Collage_North view

Collage_Driveway

Collage_south elevation

Collage_cottage_use

Five years after the first truckloads of bricks and mortar rumbled up Tonawanda Drive, Salisbury House was complete.  The total cost of building and furnishing the home – three million dollars in the 1920s – would be about forty million dollars today.

A local pastor read a blessing during the laying of the house’s cornerstone in 1925. Nelson Owen, the rector of St. Paul’s Church, urged the Almighty to “bring this home to a happy completion.” For Salisbury House – still standing, still magnificent – the preacher’s benediction rang true.

letter.small

The Cadillac of Water-Closets: Sanitation at Salisbury House

“If Salisbury House does not feel one hundred years old on the day that we finish,” Carl Weeks once intoned, “then we have failed.”   Happily, Weeks’ goal  was beautifully realized upon the completion of his new home in the 1920s.  Certain portions of the house, however, were decidedly modern.  The bathrooms of Salisbury House – all sixteen of them – reflected the detailed attention to high-end furnishings that made the Weekses’ home, in Carl’s words, “a harmonious association of the centuries.”

The Weeks family were among the “one-percenters” of the 1920s.  Indoor toilets remained limited for most folks until after World War II.  The outhouse, not a flush toilet, represented the most common form of sanitation for much of the population, particularly in rural areas.

2000.40.575Rural Iowa outhouse, c. 1930s. Special Collections,
State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines
 

Indeed, sanitation for most people in the early twentieth century did not look dissimilar to the situation as it stood for much of recorded history.  A hole in the ground sufficed for centuries. Public latrines, for example, were not uncommon in classical Rome.

RomanLatrines at Dougga  (http://www.flickr.com/photos/prof_richard/7759983358/)

Despite the occasional existence of surprisingly complex sewer systems in the classical and premodern eras, the preferred method of excrement disposal for the masses remained al fresco.  Most people unceremoniously dumped waste out windows or doors into the open sewers of city streets.  Passers-by were well-advised to remain alert.

The late sixteenth century saw a significant advancement in the field.  Sir John Harrington, plumber to the stars, created a water closet prototype for the benefit of Queen Elizabeth I in 1596.   Nearly two hundred years later, Scotsman Alexander Cummings secured the first patent for a flush toilet.

toilet

Rendering of Cummings’ design http://www.robinsonlibrary.com/technology/engineering/biography/graphics/bramah4.gif

By the nineteenth century, various historical processes spurred the development of the modern waste disposal system.  Industrialization, urbanization, advancements in the fields of medicine and epidemiology, and the rise of social movements aimed at urban reform, among others, laid the groundwork for contemporary sanitation methods.

A new industry sprang up to meet the public’s needs.  Around the turn of the twentieth century, a variety of companies vied to become the public’s preferred purveyor of all things plumbing.  Here in the United States, the Meyer-Sniffen Company of New York emerged as a rising star. Their 1884 Catalog “D” contained a dazzling array of faucets, sinks, toilets, bathtubs, and other accouterments.

Cover and title
 
 

Tubs.Shower

What set Meyer-Sniffen’s wares apart from the average products installed by Joe the Plummer c. 1920?  John Christou of George Taylor Specialties, a vintage faucet and valves company in New York, explained the appeal of Meyer-Sniffen in a 2002 interview for Old House Journal.

“Without regard to cost or consumer, Meyer-Sniffen equipment appears to be purposely heavy—not so much as to be better mechanically than their competitors,” he remarked, “but to be different.”  According to Old House, the company’s plumbing products were “unmistakable: massive but rich with voluptuous curves and thickness.”   Further, Christou continued, “parts that other manufacturers would nickel plate, Meyer-Sniffen would make out of pure nickel.”  Much of Meyer-Sniffen’s product line centered on providing high-end clients with high-end finishes.  “No matter how many years a mansion, club, or hotel staffer polished this faucet,” concluded Christou, “they could never wear off the shine.”

The company’s products appealed to Carl Weeks.  Leaving aside his affection for “voluptuous curves” in a context entirely apart from plumbing, Weeks likely responded to the quality and durability of Meyer-Sniffen.  Although many of the original fixtures of Salisbury House have been removed during the years since the Weeks family lived here, the remaining pieces are fine examples of the company’s workmanship.

On the second floor of Salisbury House, each of the seven bedrooms bedroom includes an en-suite bathroom.  We first noticed the Meyer-Sniffen trademark on the toilet in the porch room bath, just off the balcony in the Great Hall:

MS Toilet

An earlier version of this “Vortex Special” toilet was, in fact, pictured in their 1884 catalog.  Among several options pictured, the offerings shown here include both a standard and ornate finish.

Toilet MS

The tanks were not wall-mounted as shown at Salisbury House in the 1920s, but otherwise the style remained similar.

The Weekses also employed a bit of classy camouflage for the bare toilets.  It’s possible that all the bathrooms in the house originally contained the wicker and wood toilet covers pictured below.  The remaining examples now appear in the baths in the Queen Anne guest bedroom (left) and Edith’s suite (right).

SH toilets

The bath fixtures that have survived the years also attest to the durability of Meyer-Sniffen. The sink ensemble in Edith’s suite (top) and the fixtures in the Queen Anne bath (bottom) are still in remarkably good shape.

Fixtures

The installation of first-rate tubs, toilets, and hardware would have themselves alone assured the superiority of Salisbury House bathrooms.  However, the Weekses were not done.  Deftware, the finely-crafted tiles made in the Netherlands, were incorporated into the tile walls of several baths.  The Delft tiles embedded into the walls of the baths in William’s room (top), the Queen Anne room (middle), and Edith’s suite (bottom), are pictured here.

Delft

So much about the Weeks’ home remains extraordinary.  Its architecture, artwork, rare books, artifacts, and the plumbing – yes, the plumbing – testify to the breadth and depth of the Weekses’ vision.   On your next visit to Salisbury House, take a closer look at these Cadillacs of water-closets.  

 
 
 
 

Objects Come Home to Salisbury House

After a recent Chamber Music event at Salisbury House, two of our guests approached Deputy Executive Director Cyndi Pederson and offered her an envelope, asking her to open it while they were there. Much to her delight, the envelope contained a yellowed Christmas Card with an image of the Salisbury House north (front) door, signed by Carl and Edith Weeks, who built this house and amassed its extraordinary collections.

Cover of a Salisbury House Christmas Card, circa 1945.

Cover of a Salisbury House Christmas Card, circa 1945.

It was very kind of our guests to return this card to the House whence it originated, and we are grateful to them and so many others who have helped the Salisbury House Foundation recover lost or forgotten objects over the years. I have written before on this blog about the importance of objects in interpreting and presenting the human history of this and other historic properties, and new objects — while seemingly insignificant on their own — can often provide important insights when placed in their proper physical and chronological position.

While this card has no date on it, we can confidently state that it was mailed in the mid-1940s, because we have enough other images and data points to know that Carl and Edith habitually included the names of whichever of their four sons happened to be living at Salisbury House when they signed seasonal cards, so this piece is very likely from after 1940 (when Lafe left Salisbury House) and 1941 (when Hud and his wife moved into the Caretakers’ Cottage). Each and every small item like this provides us with another data point to track and hone our analysis of the family and their history here, and sometimes a single additional piece of information can provide a “eureka” moment to answering big questions or uncovering momentous matters.

Christmas greetings from Carl and Edith Weeks, after their boys had moved out of Salisbury House.

Christmas greetings from Carl and Edith Weeks, after their boys had moved out of Salisbury House.

One of the interesting aspects of having objects come home to Salisbury House is that it leads us to ponder the manner in which they left. Some of Carl and Edith’s art collections, papers, photos and memorabilia have been passed down to family members. Some art work was donated by Carl and Edith to sites such as the Art Center and Scottish Rite Consistory in Des Moines. Papers were donated by sons Hud and William to The University of Utah, documenting young Carl’s travels in Southwestern Utah around the turn of the 20th Century, while other papers relating to the Armand Company and books from Carl’s erotica collection now reside in the Special Collections Library at the University of Iowa.

Many objects left Salisbury House because Carl and Edith were both admirable, regular, well-traveled correspondents with a huge number of friends, acquaintances and admirers, so there are no doubt countless letters, cards and other ephemeral materials packed away in attics, trunks, antique shops and private residences around the country, if not the world. We have a mysterious 1930 note to Carl in our collection from Edith Bolling Wilson, widow of President Woodrow Wilson, thanking him for his “kindness in sending me the small package.” What was in the package? And what story would be able to tell if it came home?

What "small package" did Carl mail to President Wilson's widow? And what if it came home?

What “small package” did Carl mail to President Wilson’s widow? And what if it came home?

Other objects left the House when the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) had its headquarters at Salisbury House from 1954 to 1998, and renovated parts of the property to make it work for their purposes. The kitchen and scullery, for example, were dismantled and converted into office spaces, so the stove, refrigerator and dishwasher that were once used to feed Carl and Edith’s family members and guests have disappeared into the haze of history, barring a few photos. We do, however, have some original kitchen cabinetry stored in an attic and some counter fixtures that spent years rotting in a farmers’ pasture, and we have recently been contacted about a possible Salisbury House kitchen sink that’s installed in a currently unoccupied home. We hope that sink and other similar objects might come home as we work to restore the historic kitchen to at least an accurate facsimile of its original configuration, and that such a restoration effort will roust other lost objects from their hiding places.

Perhaps the most controversial object to leave Salisbury House was Joseph Stella’s monumental painting, Tree of My Life, which was sold by ISEA in 1986 to raise funds for much-needed deferred maintenance on the property. It is now in the hands of a private collector with a bequest intention to a major art gallery, so it is not likely to come home, ever. And at a very bottom line basis, the Salisbury House Foundation itself was created to ensure that such trade-offs never have to be made again, by creating new philanthropic and operational revenue streams to care for the house, so that its objects may stay here, in perpetuity, for the cultural and educational benefit of the public.

As we mature into our role as an established and trustworthy operator of an exceptional historic house museum, more people are demonstrating their willingness to bring their own Salisbury House or Weeks Family objects back to us, either to be donated into the permanent collection, or to be properly researched and digitally documented for our archives, to help us better tell our story to the next generation of visitors.

Do you have any of the objects that left Salisbury House? They could be papers, furniture, paintings, books, photographs, house decorations, fixtures, Armand or related commercial products, or other objects that we don’t even know exist at this point. If you have some of them, we would certainly love to talk to you about having them come home, maybe just for a short visit and study, or maybe even for good, as a philanthropic donation to the Salisbury House Foundation.

You have our word that they will be in good hands, and that they will be cherished, studied, and celebrated as important parts of the extraordinary Salisbury House history. Who knows what “eureka” moment they might bring?