Saturday, December 29, 2012

At Home in Rochester: William E. Rice House

Current view of 120 E. University Drive
If you travel on East University Drive in downtown Rochester, you have passed the William E. Rice house, but you may not have realized it. This house has stood at 120 East University since 1906, but the structure is hidden from view today because it has been sandwiched between two modern-style additions which make it appear, from street view, to be a contemporary commercial building.  Step across the street or walk down the East Alley, however, and you will notice the architectural features of the American foursquare-style house peeking out from between the additions.

William E. Rice was a carriage mechanic and blacksmith who had a shop on the East Alley at the south end of his lot on what was then known as East Fifth Street. In 1906, he and his son, Lee, manufactured concrete bricks for the construction of a new home on the north end of the lot. The 1907 booklet  Beautiful Rochester tells us this about Rice and his house:
1907 view of 120 E. Fifth (now E. University Drive)
William E. Rice is engaged in the wagon and carriage repair and blacksmith business in his own shop on East Fifth street. Mr. Rice is a good workman and has an extensive business in his lines, always aiming to give satifaction to his customers. Last year he completed a fine cement brick residence on East Fifth street, every brick of which was made by himself and son.
The concrete house was very popular during the first decade of the twentieth century, as mail order catalogs sold hand-operated brick and block forming machines that the typical homeowner could operate to manufacture his own building materials.  Concrete homes were widely advertised as durable, fireproof, and maintenance free, and many of the kit and mail order house catalogs of the time offered multiple plans for such structures.  There are examples of these houses dotted throughout Rochester's older neighborhoods, and a collection of several of them can be found on the first block of Griggs Street.

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