Building Description Crocker Art Gallery and Annex, Sacramento California

The exterior of the Crocker Art Gallery is stylistically related to the Babson work on the Hastings house. It shows again Babson's fondness for the Mannerist 16th-century Italian formal sources, and is designed with a dignity and assurance that are startling in 19th century Sacramento. The salient central section of the facade is related to the Baroque emphasis of the contemporary Capitol building (1861-74, by a variety of architects); however, the strong, classicist pediment at the top gives a purist flavor to this otherwise Mannered Baroque design. Hie quoins are obviously Renaissance or Georgian in inspiration and the windows, with pediments on consoles in the first story and pushed-up cornices in the second (plus a broken pediment or cornice in the center) echo exactly the Michelangesque character of the house's ornamental detail; the porch with its fading Gothic flattened arch in the center is virtually a copy of the eastern porch of the house. The details, the materials (brick and mastic wall surfaces, granite and iron sills, the wooden porch, and the wooden cornices, with cast lead ornamental details) are the same as Babson's slightly earlier work in revising the Hastings' house, yet the aggressive but tempered Baroque projection of center of the northern facade, and the extraordinary finesse of the western side of the building with blind niches and tall windows (north and south, five bays; west and east, seven bays, although actual openings vary from level to level and side and side), hovering between Mannerist ambiguity and Baroque decision, reveal Babson as a remarkably sophisticated American architect here more completely master of his total effect than in a revision (as in the house).

Cast iron shutters, folding into the thickness of the wall, cover each window. The mastic surface was originally painted to allow contrast of walls and ornamental detail; it now is a uniform rose--gray. The condition of all exterior surfaces is excellent; no important losses are apparent on any wall, although a few of the cast lead bases on the console-modillions of the main cornice have fallen off. The roof was of slate and two freight carloads were used to make it. The cast iron cresting and chimneys have been removed. A fire escape is on the east wall.

The exterior of the former Judge E. B. Crocker house is a neutral plaster envelope, with a few feeble Mannerist and Greek classicist details, mirroring the old house exterior. Although the complete lack of architectural character of this "Annex", as seen today, serves to enhance the brilliant design of the Art Gallery, there is a lack of total relationship which is unfortunate.

The mimeographed history of the Gallery, prepared by the staff, contains the following information about the interior: "At the time of its construction, the building was believed to be fireproof. It is now protected by an elaborate system of automatic fire detectors as well as automatic sprinklers in the packing room. There are three floors, the basement, the main floor, and the upper floor, of which the main floor is the most elaborate.

The main floor includes the vestibules, the ballroom and the Library, as well as subordinate halls, an office, and a parlor that is now used by the director as an office and study. The vestibule, which is entered from the front porch, owes its elegance to the richness of the woodwork, to the curved staircases on either side, to the elaborately tiled floor and particularly to the vista through the ballroom into the library. The woods used are black walnut, mahogany from Honduras, some bird's-eye maple, and laurel relieved by myrtle, a rare wood that is found in the Holy Land and in Oregon. The quality of the cabinet work of the doors (said to have cost $1300.00 each) and staircases is due to the long apprenticeship required of the craftsmen that were hired by Mr. Crocker. The heavy brass on the stair treads, elaborately decorated by patterns of nailheads, suggests that Judge Crocker employed marine technicians. Unfortunately, no records remain. The walls and ceiling of the vestibule were richly frescoed. The tiles were imported from Stoke on Trent, England.

Between the vestibule and the ballroom ie a small hallway in which are hung the portraits of Mrs. E. B. Crocker, who donated the Gallery to the City of Sacramento in 1B85, and that of her daughter, Jennie Crocker Fassett. Mrs. Fassett has added many of her treasures to the Gallery collections. One of the interesting details in the hallway is the deep red fresco, which was the original color of the ballroom. Hie doors between the hallway and the ballroom, as well as those into the library, are remarkable examples of fine cabinet work and beautiful woods. It was said that 'those doors alone cost enough to build what would be considered a desirable residence by a person of moderate means. The hinges are covered by a decorative brass plate.

The ballroom is the most picturesque room in the building. The contrast of the blue Corinthian columns and pilasters against the rich woodwork and the delicate walls is an outstanding decorative effect. While originally the walls were frescoed, a deep red ornamented with gold, recently they have been covered with a silvery silk textile. The floors are an elaborate parquetry of Spanish cedar and white fir. As the present floor is the second, one may speculate that the first was worn out in dancing the square dances which were so popular in the seventies and so admirably suited to the ballroom. The ceiling which vies with the floor for attention is cleverly designed, and elaborately decorated and frescoed. The light well was an afterthought, added soon after the construction of the building. Electric lights replace the gas lamps originally installed. The cabinets and niches on the south wall were used to display the objects of art collected by Mrs. Crocker. At the time of the presentation of the Gallery to the City, the ballroom was used as a museum, and later Mr. W. F. Jackson, the first curator, used it for his art classes. It is now used for receptions, teas and concerts.

The library is preserved almost as it was originally except that the walls have been covered by monk's cloth to form a suitable background for pictures. The elegant bookcases are said to have cost more than $3,000.00 in the days when cabinetmakers received but a few dollars a day. The tiling of the floor is similar to that of the vestibule. The mantle piece was evidently added at a later date because it is different in motif and cuts across earlier panels. It may be observed that the tiling belongs to a later decade (only one fireplace in the Gallery).

The upper floor of the building was planned for the exhibition of paintings.

The vestibule at the head of the staircases carried the decorative features of the lower vestibule to the upper story. The domed ceiling and the skylight add to the decorative effect of the tiled floors, frescoed walls, and rich woodwork.

The main gallery is thirty feet wide by seventy-two feet long. Beside the elegant doors the only decorative feature is the large well which lights the ballroom. The floating ceiling beneath the skylight was a usual feature in galleries of the Late Victorian period. The electric lighting which has been installed in recent years has been carefully planned by experts.

Formerly from the pipe line, used as a support for pictures, to the wainscoting, the walls were covered with pictures as closely spaced as the patches in a crazy quilt. Now, the walls are covered with monk's cloth. (The Victorian hanging was recreated c. 1952 by Don Birelli Baird.)

On either side of the main gallery are long galleries that were joined by a narrow gallery at the rear, forming a large U-shaped gallery. The rear section of this gallery has now been converted into a storeroom. (Pine woodwork, grained to imitate mahogany; pine and fir beams, with plaster pieces between floor joists for insulation).

The basement was formerly used for recreation. It contained a billiard room, a skating rink and bowling alleys (hard-grained wood). At the rear of the building was a furnace room and a laundry. The basement is now used for storage, a shipping room, and workshop. A gas furnace that supplies low-pressure steam for the radiators replaces the earlier furnace, which, in its day, was considered very modern. A vault was built in the basement at the opening of the Second World War. In it were stored the finest of the paintings and the drawings.

The former home, now the "Annex", contained six chimneys, with fireplaces at various levels (five chimneys in house proper; one in service wing); the filling of openings on the ground floor dates after 1922. Again the mimeographed history has the important details; "The house had a hallway along the major axis of the building. The hall was divided, the front hall being separated from the rear hall by a pair of Corinthian columns, which are still in place. As is shown by marks in the plaster, the staircase which led to the second floor, was on the south side of the rear hall. At the end of the hallway was the covered porch which was used as a greenhouse for exotic plants. The hall was elegantly but simply furnished, and fine paintings hung on it walls.

As was commonly found in the mansions of those days, the living rooms were on the right side of the hallway (the northern side). There were two parlors and behind them (a hall and a) dining room. The walls of the living room were handsomely decorated with frescoed panels, liberally ornamented by gold leaf, and separated occasionally by long mirrors such as are found in the gallery today. From the center of the ceiling, which was decorated with frescoed moldings, hung a crystal chandelier. Beyond the second or rear parlor was (a hall and) the dining room.. Among the furnishings of the dining room were sideboards, really a safe for Judge Crocker's business papers, and the etagere. At present, the old dining room contains many pieces of furniture and bric-a-brac which belonged to the Crocker family. The dining room was connected with the kitchen in the basement by a dumb waiter.

On the south side of the hallway were Judge and Mrs. Crocker's bedrooms. Little is known of these rooms. As may be deduced from the pipes in the basement, a bathroom was added, probably outside the south wall of the building. The rear bedroom probably had a door and possibly a window opening onto the covered porch which was used as a hothouse.

The basement was divided between the kitchen and the servant's quarters. The tile (from Man and Co., Benthall Works, Brosely, Salop: Baird) which was taken from the basement indicates that the servants lived in luxury.

The second floor was occupied by bedrooms, probably with sitting rooms between. The positions of these rooms can be determined by the mantel pieces, which are still in place. In reconstructing the building it was found that the old home had two roofs. The earlier roof was covered with a later more elegant one, probably excellent means of protecting the bedrooms from the heat of the sun.