Buildings by Bauhan
A Look at Princeton’s First Preservation Architect
By Anne Levin | Photographs of the Bauhan Collection Courtesy of the Historical Society of Princeton.
As part of an occasional series on Princeton’s architectural history, we look at one of its most prolific architects, Rolf W. Bauhan. But to call Bauhan “prolific” is an understatement. The man considered to be Princeton’s first preservation architect designed more than 70 local buildings and renovated or restored another 150.
Bauhan, who lived from 1892 to 1966, was known for fine craftsmanship and integrating historical styles with the needs of modern living.
“Rolf Bauhan was one of the most prolific architects whose work is still remarkably visible in the Princeton landscape,” says Stephanie Schwartz, curator of collections for the Historical Society of Princeton, which mounted a major exhibit of the architect’s work two decades ago. “Bauhan defined the aesthetic of several Princeton neighborhoods, and Princeton’s strong emphasis on revivalist architecture owes much to his legacy.”
There are Bauhan buildings all over Princeton. With its decorative half-timbering and patterned gables, Terrace Club, one of Princeton University’s eating clubs, embraces Tudor style. Other buildings credited to Bauhan reflect a Norman influence.
“Rolf Bauhan was one Princeton’s great architects in the second quarter of the 20th century,” says preservation architect Michael Mills, who is familiar with Bauhan from working on one of his buildings. “His domestic architecture was well designed and crafted, and on a par with that of other better known architects working in Princeton at the same time, such as Ralph Adams Cram and Charles Klauder. He has been under-appreciated and only recently has there been a greater awareness of his work. Having worked on code improvements to his Manor House at Princeton Academy, I can attest to his attention to historic precedent and his finely-designed architectural details.”
The houses Bauhan designed or renovated, most in Colonial Revival style, are a major part of his legacy. “Rolf Bauhan was part of that mid-20th century movement that saw the American country house as a refined and gracious setting firmly grounded in history,” says Princeton-based architect Michael Farewell. “More important than inventing new spaces for living modern life was the acceptance of a carefully considered, living tradition. These well-crafted houses have survived the style wars with elegance and grace.”
Colleen Hall, a real estate agent at Callaway Henderson Sotheby’s International Realty, lives in a house from 1820, with a guest house that Bauhan designed in 1928. Hall and her family have lived on the property at Mercer Street and Springdale Road for 40 years.
“I grew up in Princeton, and I probably walked by the house every day,” she says. “When we bought it, I didn’t even know who Bauhan was. But his son donated all of the architectural drawings to the Historical Society, and I got all of the plans for our house. It was really neat to see what he had done to the main house — adding some bathrooms and great details, like diamond-paned French doors. He just did an amazing job.”
The guest house was built during the residency of a family named Colt. As Hall tells it, “They had gone to a wedding in Canada with their young daughters, both of whom got polio. One of them died. When he built the guest house, Bauhan put in a fountain, with two cherubs representing the girls. The bigger room downstairs had beams so they could put in a trapeze and other equipment for the surviving daughter to exercise.”
Born in New York City on the first day of 1892, Bauhan was a member of Princeton University’s class of 1914. His roommate was football and hockey star Hobart “Hobey” Baker, and the two motorcycled through Europe where they joined the aviation section of the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps in World War I. Tragically, Baker was killed.
After the war, Bauhan was the first person to earn a master of fine arts degree from Princeton’s School of Architecture in 1921. He joined noted New York architecture firm Delano & Aldrich two years later, and opened his own office in Princeton in 1924. Among his extensive output were buildings for Princeton University, The Hun School of Princeton, Trinity Episcopal Church, and an experimental housing project for Princeton University faculty members overlooking Lake Carnegie.
Bauhan was a consultant on the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg. He restored Morven, Tusculum, and worked on the historic Bainbridge House. He was the architect of Mountain Lakes House, located in the middle of the 75-acre Billie Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve, originally owned by Edgar Palmer and now the headquarters of Friends of Princeton Open Space.
Izzy Kasdin, executive director of the Historical Society of Princeton, recalls a recent visit from one of Bauhan’s descendants, who is a builder in Virginia. “He was visiting Princeton and he came by to look at our collection of Bauhan’s documents. He was really interested in his drawings of moldings and things like that, because he wanted to incorporate that into the houses he was building,” she said. “I love that there is that connection.”
Bauhan designed buildings as far away as Maine, Colorado, and Puerto Rico. But it is in Princeton where his influence is strongest. “Bauhan’s buildings in Princeton are timeless,” says Kasdin. “And we’re lucky that so many private homeowners and institutions have painstakingly preserved them as reminders of an influential architect and craftsman in our community.”