The thing that fascinates me most about Second Empire style (most identifiable by those mansard roofs) is how quickly it went from huge popularity to disfavor in the United States. Second Empire, which drew from contemporaneous French building fashions, was the dominant residential style in the United States 1860-1880. It was also used in a variety of public buildings and schools. In fact, it was used for so many public buildings during the Grand administration that it has been jokingly referred to as the General Grant style.
Second Empire style fell from fashion almost as quickly as it appeared. Despite the useful qualities of a livable attic space, Second Empire seems almost allusive today, particularly on the West Coast. You can catch examples, however, in places like schools (which generally don’t have the funds to stay on-trend, a characteristic that saved some Second Empire buildings when many were being torn down).
University of Nevada, Reno, (UNR) has a beautiful example of Second Empire style in Morrill Hall. Morrill Hall, constructed in 1885, was the first building built at UNR’s current location in northern Reno. When first built, the stately brick building housed the entire university. Today it serves as space for the alumni office and university press. It stands tall at the south end of the quad, surrounded by the campus’s oldest trees, each year watching new students navigate to their classes and seniors graduate on the stretch of lawn behind the back porch.
Sources an Further Reading:
I turned to my bookshelf for this one and referenced the trusty McAlester. See: A Field Guide to American Houses.
Washington’s Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation has a page about Second Empire style with an emphasis on the Pacific Northwest. Check that out here.
One of my early blogs was about the mansard roof and Second Empire style. My blog has changed a lot since then, but my opinions haven’t! Check it out: What Do The Louvre and Fast Food Have in Common? (That Burger King, on Market Street in Ballard, has since been demolished.)