PINK STUCCO IN THE LAND OF RED BRICKS - The Creation of Casa Maria, A Mediterranean Enigma in Albemarle County

Gervasoni, Spencer, Architectural History - School of Architecture, University of Virginia
Crane, Sheila, AR-Architectural History, University of Virginia

This thesis investigates the creation of Casa Maria, a sprawling Mediterranean style house constructed from 1919 to 1921, located in Greenwood, Virginia. Casa Maria is unique: it is the only Mediterranean Revival house in Albemarle County, and its architectural design is credited to renowned landscape architect Charles Gillette, who never designed another building in a career of 2,500 commissions. This perplexing architectural attribution and noteworthy stylistic departure from the regional norm have remained unquestioned. In turn, this project asks: What were the motivations or inspirations behind Casa Maria? And who was really involved? Instead of leaving these questions unanswered in the face of missing architectural sources, which apparently were lost in a fire decades ago, this thesis orients to biography and social conditions as primary lenses to understand Casa Maria and its creation. By constructing a biography of Mary Thomas Williams, the house’s unstudied original client, her extensive global travels, experience as an unmarried, independent woman, close friendship to Charles Gillette, and a pivotal moment of domestic upheaval emerge as essential, overlooked influences on the estate’s commission and conception. A comparison of Casa Maria to the Mediterranean style works of William Lawrence Bottomley, renowned collaborator of Gillette, strongly suggests his involvement or influence, and makes the case for including Casa Maria within Bottomley’s portfolio, not solely Gillette’s. In conclusion, this thesis not only adds an overlooked project into the well-studied body of work of one of Virginia’s most lauded architects, but also illuminates how a series of largely forgotten, nuanced social conditions intersected in the creation of a unique Mediterranean vision.

MARH (Master of Architectural History)
Mediterranean, Mediterranean Architecture , Greenwood, Virginia, William Lawrence Bottomley, Charles Gillette
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