What do a carousel horse, Theodore Roosevelt, and a lighthouse have in common? Look closely at the drawing below from the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) of the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial – can you spot two Roosevelts?
There is, of course, the large drawing of the Roosevelt statue featured at the memorial on Theodore Roosevelt Island, but to the right, just below a map of the city of Washington, D.C., there is another tiny Roosevelt, as seen in this detail:
The former President’s upraised right arm indicates which direction north is on the map featured just above it! (The background of the arrow is also the plan of the plaza where the statue stands.) This is just one of the many decorative north arrow designs I came across by accident while browsing drawings in the HABS collection. Once I spotted one, it became a bit of a treasure hunt to see what others I could find, and see what different inspirations the architects, students and others used to jazz up the required symbol. HABS, along with its sister projects, the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) and the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) document America’s built environment as well as its historic landscapes, often in a combination of measured drawings, photos and historical reports. This important task certainly doesn’t stop those creating the drawings from adding beauty and whimsy into their documentation.
And yes, a carousel horse and a lighthouse are used in the same way in the two drawings below. The first is for the Dentzel Carousel at Glen Echo Park in Maryland and the pole of the carousel horse points directly north while adding a bit of flair to a reflected ceiling plan:
And here we have a drawing of the Au Sable Light Station in Grand Marais, Michigan where the lighthouse is used to indicate north on the site plan. The lighthouse is used as part of what is more often seen on maps and referred to as a compass rose. The north arrow you sometimes see on architectural drawings and the compass rose on maps are very close cousins, both providing a clear indicator of north. Sometimes the other three cardinal directions are labeled too, rather than just implied, as in the example below.
While browsing through the collection to look for more unique north arrows or compass roses, I came upon examples that incorporated decorative features from the building, such as stone carvings or mosaic tiles. Others used symbols such as the eagle on the Presidential seal for drawings of the White House or a specific grave marker from Mount Calvary Cemetery in Pennsylvania. I’ll include these examples and more below, and instructions at the end of the post to go on your seek and find mission!
In the following three examples, the decorative element used with the north arrow is featured elsewhere in the set of drawings for the structure documented. Select the link in the caption for the name of the building to go to the full survey record and look through all of the drawings to try and spot the inspiration!
If you are so inspired, go on a treasure hunt of your own to see if you can spot more unique designs in the north arrow, and share in the comments what you find!
- Hunt through the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
- Search tips:
- Try browsing by subjects or geographic locations.
- Add the word ‘drawing’ to any search to return surveys that include measured drawings, as many only include photos.
- Filter your search results by selecting the Surveys Only box just below the search blank to allow browsing full surveys before looking at individual drawings.
- The north arrow usually appears on the first or second drawing of a set, and the inspiration might be anywhere!
- Search tips:
- Read more about HABS/HAER/HALS in previous Picture This blog entries:
- The compass rose has a centuries long history in maps, and the north arrow on architectural drawings serves a similar purpose. Explore just a few examples of compass roses on maps from the Geography & Map Division of the Library of Congress. There are thousands more that you will find just by browsing maps!