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  • Claire Cothren Winn

"New" in Natchez


517 Duncan Avenue


“Modern” is not a word often used to describe Natchez, Mississippi. If anything, the oldest city on the Mississippi regards itself as a showplace of the antebellum south, home to hundreds of amazing examples of Greek Revival, Victorian and other classical architectural styles. But, just outside of downtown proper sits a unique example of modern architecture – a contemporary ranch built by architect Forest Honderich in 1952. The home sits on Auburn Avenue, a wide street facing the golf course at Duncan Park, and is surrounded by more traditional style family homes. The only other example of modern architecture in the area is the home’s neighbor, which was also built by Hondreich, reportedly for his mother.


519 Duncan Avenue, also designed by Honderich


“Modern” is not a word often used to describe Natchez, Mississippi. If anything, the oldest city on the Mississippi regards itself as a showplace of the antebellum south, home to hundreds of amazing examples of Greek Revival, Victorian and other classical architectural styles. But, just outside of downtown proper sits a unique example of modern architecture – a contemporary ranch built by architect Forest Honderich in 1952. The home sits on Auburn Avenue, a wide street facing the golf course at Duncan Park, and is surrounded by more traditional style family homes. The only other example of modern architecture in the area is the home’s neighbor, which was also built by Hondreich, reportedly for his mother.


Honderich's wife Inez, original Spam Queen (photo courtesy of www.austindailyherald.com)


He worked in Natchez for many years as an architect, a contractor and a city building inspector. The homes at 517 and 519 Duncan Avenue are the only two that can be officially attributed to him in Natchez. He passed away in 2009 at the age of 93 in Green Valley, Arizona.

Honderich’s home is currently owned by Russell and Stephanie Butts. They are the 4th owners and have resided there since 1997. The home is about 2,000 square feet and has 4 bedrooms anmd 3 full baths with a ½ bath in the full basement. While the Butts family have made some cosmetic changes, the interior plan and exterior form have remained unchanged, a testament to the functional plan of the home. While there might be some that disagree, I will refer to the style of this home as “contemporary ranch” based on the characteristics outlined in “The Ranch House in Georgia: Guidelines for Evaluation,” a booklet prepared by New South Associates for Georgia Transmission Company in 2010.


The study of ranch homes is relatively new in the United States. Because they are so plentiful in number across the nation, they are often overlooked and considered, “outdated.” But, as the ranch house reaches the 50-year requirement for consideration on the National Register of Historic Places, the style has seen a resurgence in popularity and appreciation for its practical plan and simple styling. The Ranch house, with its long, one story elevation, exploded in popularity in the United States in response to a population boom after World War II. The style originally developed from Spanish and Mexican Colonial homes in the American territories. Ranch homes continued to evolve throughout the early 20th century in America thanks to designers like Cliff May, who popularized the style with wealthy. Developers across the nation quickly realized the functionality and cost benefits of the ranch style, and built subdivision after subdivision filled with the practical family homes for middle class America.



The elements of Honderich’s ranch house that make it distinctive are also what make it contemporary. The home actually features a full basement that Honderich once used as a darkroom, but the house is built into the existing hill to give the illusion of a single story. The driveway is cut into the hill and continues to an incorporated carport. The front elevation is long and horizontal, but is broken by the cantilevered vertical wall of glass on the right half. The elevation is broken again in the middle by a further projecting cantilevered wall in which the front door is set back into.



Thick mullions between the fixed glass windows further emphasize this projection, and the rest of the house features a flat plane of brick broken by a corner tripartite window. The main entry receives the most emphasis on this elevation, while the glass wall displays the “public” family space, and the “private” bedroom space is enclosed behind a solid, flat brick wall. I actually found the full open glass wall to be odd as many contemporary ranch homes often have almost solid walls across the front for privacy – but I was told there was originally a wooden screen in front of this glass cantilever, though no photos exist of this feature. While the vertical glass demands attention, the horizontal effect is still achieved through the pattern of the fenestration and the mortar joints between the bricks, which are raked considerably in the horizontal joints but left almost flush in the head joints.



Notice in this photo the original color of the brick before it was painted, a red brick typical of a ranch home. The roofline is another interesting feature. Instead of the typical low gable or hip roof, Honderich’s home features an almost broken gable roof over the front half of the house, connected to a flat and lesser sloped roof in the back.



The roof also accommodates clerestory windows in the living space, kitchen and one of the bedrooms. While complex, this roofline allows for plenty of natural light in the home and contributes to the horizontal look of the front elevation with its generous overhang. The large slablike chimney extends slightly above the roofline on the right end of the home, which also features an original iron screen with a circular pattern.


Side elevation from the rear – Flat roof over the master bedroom with corner windows



Through careful attention to detail and some creativity, Honderich was able to created a functional and stylistic home during the time the ranch house was still developing.

Honderich continued his attention to detail on the interior of the home. Aside from a kitchen renovation and some cosmetic changes, the interior of the home remains almost unchanged. Another feature of the contemporary ranch Honderich employed is an open floorplan. One enters the home on a lower level that the main living space, but the lower foyer area is completely open to the space.


Entry on lower level


On the main level, the living and dining spaces are connected in one open area. While walls separate the kitchen, it still functions as a part of the space and the family area flows very nicely, much like the floorplans of today.


View into the living room from the dining room


The ceiling in the living area follows the roofline and features exposed beams. The wood floors are original but the red brick of the fireplace was painted and the mantel added.


View from top of entry stairs into the dining area, with a view of clerestory windows. Kitchen is to the left with a door from the entry landing and into the dining room.


Renovated Kitchen. Backdoor located beyond refrigerator leads down exterior stairs into carport.


All of the “public” areas are located together at the front of the house, except for one bedroom and bath that is directly off the living room to the left of the entry. A hallway behind the dining room and kitchen leads to the other bedrooms and baths. One of my favorite features of this home is the bathrooms. They have been left almost entirely intact and feature original mirrors, sconces, towel bars, and built in vanities.


Main hall bath sink


Main hall bath vanity area


While some may consider 517 Duncan Avenue to be “outdated,” the Butts family loves the home and plans to enjoy the functional, unique home for many years to come.

Note: I was unable to tour 519 Duncan Avenue, but as you can see from the photo, the home features similar lines to that at 517 but with more traditional ranch lines. The two homes compliment each other and are landmarks in the Duncan Park area.


Window detail of 517 Duncan Avenue looking towards 519 Duncan Avenue


“Guidelines for Evaluation: The Ranch House in Georgia”

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