Style Summary: American Foursquare

The American Foursquare is more of a house form than a house style—the nearly perfect “cube” shape was quick and economical to build, and easy to embellish with detailing in a variety of styles. The Foursquare became popular nationally in the mid-1890s and persisted well into the 1930s. It is common to find Foursquare houses with Colonial Revival, Renaissance, Italianate, Classical, Craftsman, or even Mission-styled details. The Seattle “Classic Box” is a highly embellished local variant of the Foursquare house that is found across the city, with many stellar examples in the Capitol Hill and Queen Anne neighborhoods.

The Foursquare was also popular with homebuyers. The floor plan of four primary rooms on the main floor (sometimes with a center hall) and four bedrooms on the second floor, was flexible, roomy, and efficient. Large windows made for spaces full of light.

Image courtesy of Old House Journal

Ballard has its share of Foursquare houses; some fancy, but many that are plain as befit Ballard’s working-class origins. No matter; the square shape and symmetrical facades are pleasing enough on their own even without a lot of architectural detail. Typical features include: 

  • Two or two-and-one-half stories with a shallow hipped roof and hipped roof dormer(s)
  • Full-width entry porch supported by columns or piers and with an off-center front door
  • Extended second floor bay windows at the corners of the house
  • Large, sometimes grouped, windows

Because the form of the house is so distinctive, we’ve grouped Ballard’s Foursquare houses together, noting the style of architectural detailing for each as appropriate. The Mapping Historic Ballard (MHB) work revealed ten Foursquare houses built between 1904 and 1918 within the Select 160, and we are still discovering more that are worthy of documenting in a future phase of work.

A Box is a Box is a Box…

These drawings show the basic box form embellished in three different ways:

Craftsman-detailed Foursquare

Prairie-detailed Foursquare

Classically-detailed Foursquare

These advertisements from Seattle architect Victor Voorhees feature two versions of the Foursquare, one with a stone porch and the other with a wrap-around porch. Both have extended 2nd floor bay windows, and multiple hipped roof dormers.
The Sobey House, #28 on our survey shown below in the 1930s and today, was built in 1905 by architect Victor Voorhees. It is highly embellished with a combination of Queen Anne and Italianate details including leaded glass windows, deep eaves with decorative brackets, volute porch brackets, and a balcony with balustrade.

House #85 is less detailed, but no less pleasing in its symmetry and quiet elegance.

House #3 from 1908 departs from the typical hipped roof dormers and features a gable roofed dormer and matching pediment over the front entry. These features, plus the narrow round porch columns make this a good example of a Colonial Revival Foursquare.

Other examples of the American Foursquare style on the Select 160 list include #25, #26, #27, #56, #111, #151, and #156.

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