NNE of Salem, MA

The Portland customhouse is a testament to the city’s importance as a maritime center.  The gentleman who designed the marvel, Alfred Mullett, also acted as supervising architect for the US Treasury building and the Pioneer Courthouse in Portland, Oregon.

Many of the structures in the Old Port are traditional New England clapboard homes, so the granite customhouse looks invincible.

It falls into the high-renaissance or neo-baroque category.  The vocabulary of classical forms is appropriated and put to use in a more free and sculptural way.  Hence, the dynamic chiaroscuro effect, the deeply recessed windows, the engaged columns, the immense modillions, and the gratuitously large balusters.

Classical architecture is more restrained, regal, disciplined.  The customhouse is still disciplined, but it’s more emotional, voluptuous.  Part of what makes the building so compelling is the stark contrasts between void and volume; it has the effect of making it less static.

The frosting on the cake is the Mansard-roofed tower perched atop.  It betrays the American partiality towards French architecture.


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