The Historic Brewster-Burke House Gets a Touch of the French Quarter

The Historic Brewster-Burke House Gets a Touch of the French Quarter

In The Bevier Memorial Building at Night: Another Dimension of Claude Bragdon, George took us to South Washington Street in downtown Rochester.

Today, George again looks at South Washington Street.

Photography and text by George Cassidy Payne

On the corner of Spring St and South Washington St, Rochester, NY, stands one of the finest examples of the Italianate style in the city. Featuring a hipped roof with cupola and an entrance porch with carved Moorish Revival ornamentation, the Brewster-Burke House was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 .

Today, the French Quarter Cafe is located inside this historic building.


Date Built: 1849

“The Brewster-Burke house has a chhattri porch with a scalloped ogee arch and quatrefoils cut out in the spandrels. The brackets are oversized and are an s and c scroll shape with interesting spirals cut out. Candelabra columns are also included, but these are far more angular and have deep fluting that make them look like grass bundles. The windows have lintels with simple triangles. A monitor caps the roof and a long wing to the side has a porch that mimics the central porch. The house ends in a structure with three pointed Gothic arches, that served as a summer kitchen and carriage house according to the plans, demonstrating the stylistic link some theorists of the period found between Indian and Gothic architecture. Throughout the house has ironwork balconies on the windows, while the main porch has a fantastic wooden balcony with exotic finials on the posts. The side seems to have had a porch that was as fantastic as the main porch with carved ornament, but this has disappeared along with an exceptional fence, pictured below from HABS. The house was threatened many times with demolition but has been saved mostly intact, despite some losses.” (

Moorish style

A long-lasting Islamic Iberian style created by the ruling Moors who invaded from North Africa and were brilliant woodcarvers and leatherworkers. Little furniture was used or survives from this era, in which richly covered cushions were important, but it was part of the Muslim world inspiration for a 1856–1907 revival.
The Brewster-Burke House is a prime example of how this revival traveled far beyond the Muslim world to influence the architectural sensibilities of Europeans and Americans working in the mid 19th century.

Original Owner: Henry R. Brewster

We wander through old streets, and pause before the age stricken houses; and, strange to say, the magic past lights them up.– Grace King, French Quarter Guidebook


Italianate Style

” Emphasizing the rambling, asymmetrical character of Italian farmhouses, the style easily fit into the informal, rural ideals of picturesque movement. Because of the increasing complexity of American building types by the 1850s – from train stations and commercial buildings to townhouses, apartments, and suburban homes, the style was modified to fit a building’s particular function. The style’s use for many of America’s main-street commercial buildings provides for one of America’s most distinctive symbolic landscapes of midwestern town centers. Like Gothic Revival, Italianate and its cousin, the Italian Villa style, was heavily promoted and popularized by Andrew Jackson Downing by the 1850s as the preferred suburban country house. By the 1860s, Italianate overshadowed Gothic Revival as America’s most popular romantic style.” (


Architect/Builder: Merwin Austin

AUSTIN, Merwin (1813-1890) was a successful architect in Rochester, N.Y. from 1845 until 1869 who executed several important works in Port Hope, Ont., a popular summer destination for visiting Americans who lived directly across Lake Ontario. Born in Hamden, Connecticut, he joined his older brother Henry Austin (1804-91), the eminent architect of New Haven, Conn., when the latter opened an office there in 1837. Merwin Austin moved to Rochester at age 31, and by 1850 had established a local reputation there with his Greek Revival design for the Monroe County Court House, Rochester, 1850.


Subsequent Uses: owned by William Burke, the Rochester Public Health Nursing Association, and Rochester Institute of Technology Graphic Arts School before becoming Landmark Society Headquarters in 1970.

The villas of Renaissance Italy inspired the Italianate style. It was popular from the 1840’s to the 1880’s. People who preferred Italianate homes wanted their residences to look like they had been added onto over the course of several centuries, so the houses were often composed of a series of rectangles.



The Landmark Society purchased the property in 1970 and it was designated as both a city landmark and by the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Child, Jonathan, House & Brewster-Burke House Historical District

In New Orleans…..You can’t separate nothing from nothing. Everything mingles each into the other…until nothing is purely itself but becomes part of one funky gumbo. – Mac Rebennack A.K.A. Dr. John, Musician



Everything in New Orleans is a good idea. Bijou temple-type cottages and lyric cathedrals side by side. Houses and mansions, structures of wild grace. Italianate, Gothic, Romanesque, Greek Revival standing in a long line in the rain. Roman Catholic art. Sweeping front porches, turrets, cast-iron balconies, colonnades- 30-foot columns, gloriously beautiful- double pitched roofs, all the architecture of the whole wide world and it doesn’t move. – Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Vol. 1, 2004


This house was an example of the mid 19th century transition from the classical to the romantic style of architecture.


The Bevier Memorial Building at Night: Another Dimension of Claude Bragdon

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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