1.18.2010

Loved and Lost: Burnside House

Oh, readers, just as there are short relationships that end and never quite leave you, there are houses you live in briefly that imprint themselves forever. In my life, the most distinct was certainly the few months I lived in Burnside House with my dear friend Keiko. Later, we lived together in Rome:



Here she is on the sill of an upper story of the Palazetto Cenci, where we lived and studied. But the apartment we kept and our time together in Providence were easily some of the happiest months of my life. We lived here:



How I love this house. Everything about it is ideal, even the address -- Keiko, a great lover of mathematics, thought it was predestined: 314 Benefit. But really it runs along Planet Street, thus names for the discovery of some heavenly body from the crest of the steep hill. There are two entrances, one on top of the other (servants vs. Burnsides):



Burnside is a curious name, no? General Burnside, who served in the Civil War, built the house shortly after the war. By all accounts a horrible, if nice, general. According to Bruce Catton in Mr. Lincoln's Army, "... Burnside had repeatedly demonstrated that it had been a military tragedy to give him a rank higher than colonel. One reason might have been that, with all his deficiencies, Burnside never had any angles of his own to play; he was a simple, honest, loyal soldier, doing his best even if that best was not very good, never scheming or conniving or backbiting. Also, he was modest; in an army many of whose generals were insufferable prima donnas, Burnside never mistook himself for Napoleon. Physically he was impressive: tall, just a little stout, wearing what was probably the most artistic and awe-inspiring set of whiskers ..."

More about those whiskers ...



the term "sideburn," an inversion of his name, was coined to describe them. I felt obligated to sport them while living in his house, but I never really pulled it off with the same aplomb. He is said to have loved his horses. This is their house:



They were lifted by elevator to the upper level, and washed in a bathroom lined entirely in copper. If only my bathroom were lined entirely in copper ... sigh. My bedroom was once the General's smoking parlor, and lined entirely in rosewood paneling:



Messy, decrepit and exquisite, I miss that house every day. A few weeks ago, ALL of the iron fretwork had been removed from the house, and I just about jumped out of my skin, but it was returned recently, freshly cleaned, sealed and painted:



And I miss you, Keiko! Japan is cool, but visit why don't you.

8 comments:

Allyson said...

That is amazing! I love war history and generals and stories about both of them. I would have lost my shit living in that house!

Mlle Paradis said...

Beautifully written and who knew? Burnside:Sideburns!????!

P.K said...

What an amazing house, and an interesting post. It must have been a dream living there.

kiki said...

Wow! That is a gorgeous house! Do you have more shots of the interior?

findingfabulous said...

Even I miss it now

Melinda

Marc said...

Many thanks for this post, I lived in the Burnside House for three years (ending exactly ten years ago) while I was a student at RISD. I loved it. The building has a special place in my heart like none other. I threw many parties there, ranging from elaborate dinner parties to raucous and disorienting orgies. There was never a dull moment. I loved climbing through the hatch and on to the roof. I loved being so near campus and, of course, rolling down Planet St. to the Cable Car Cinema.

Your photographs are gorgeous and really do the building justice. I've heard it's the most photographed building in Providence, but your photos are special. You clearly know the history of the building (as almost everyone who lives there does) and clearly captured the essence of the place.

Thanks Again!

boliyou (I {heart} Rhody) said...

I found your post while researching Burnside House. I'm so glad it's been renovated, and sorry you're not there to enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

It most of been nice to live with someone. I live by myself and it can be quiet at times.

-Zane of ontario honey

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