The variety of architecture in Wyoming gives our community its charm and sense of history. One local architect, Walter Cordes, designed over 40 homes in Wyoming during the 20th century, with an impressive range of styles.
His work is still widely admired by today’s architects. Rod Sidley, a respected Wyoming architect and resident, has researched the buildings of Walter Cordes and says “Cordes has had more effect on Wyoming than any other architect before or since.”
This article is the fifth in a series about Wyoming’s architectural variety. Documents and references at the Wyoming Historical Society were the primary sources of information for the story.
Walter Cordes (1896-1983) was born into the lumber and architecture business. His grandfather, William Cordes, owned the Cordes Lumber Mill in Carthage, and his father, Harry, was an architect. Walter grew up in a farmhouse at 715 Springfield Pike (this home was lifted onto railroad tracks in 1930 and moved to its current location on Dorino Place). After serving as a pilot in World War I, Cordes returned home to join his father’s architecture and construction firm. His first design was the English Cottage Tudor Revival at 510 Springfield Pike.
Tudor Revival and Colonial Revival styles were very popular in the decades between WWI and WWII. Sidley states that “Cordes was very adaptable: He could design Colonial Revival or Tudor Revival homes, which are very different in composition and inspiration, and do them well. Each home exemplified the style with balance and elegance.”
Prior to World War I, very few people owned automobiles. The Victorian homes of the late 1800s and the Tudor, Colonial Revival, American Foursquare, and bungalow homes of the early 1900s have detached garages built decades later. As affluent homeowners acquired cars, architects had to tackle how to design garages to integrate with the design of the house. The garages in homes designed by Cordes appear as detached shapes that became connected to the main house, without distracting from it.
Cordes ultimately developed his own style, which Sidley describes as the “Ohio Valley version of the New England Colonial, with the appearance of a house being built over time.” While each Cordes’ home is unique, there are a few elements that repeat in his designs.
Many of his homes have a steeply pitched roof. The garage-house connectors frequently have a row of tiny windows, like pigeonholes in a gabled dovecote. On several Cordes’ homes, the lower edge of the second story is ornamented with geometric shapes resembling inverted cannonballs or finials.
Cordes was impressive for the variety of his architectural designs and for a career spanning five decades. While the majority of his projects were residences in Wyoming, Cordes designed homes and commercial buildings throughout Cincinnati. He designed three high-rise residence halls for the University of Cincinnati in 1964. The university’s 2000 Master Plan recommended tearing down the three dormitories, and Sawyer Hall was demolished in 2006. In 2008 the remaining buildings, Morgens Hall and Scioto Hall, were re-evaluated and deemed sound. As described in an article on UC’s website, “A High-Rise with High Style,” an interior redesign and exterior facelift with thousands of glass panels revived Walter Cordes’ buildings and prompted multiple awards for style and sustainability.
An example of Cordes’ contemporary architecture close to home is our Wyoming Public Library. Wyoming’s public book collection was housed in the Civic Center until it was destroyed by fire in 1948. Less than 600 books were saved, and were kept at the Hartwell branch library until the current library was built in 1959.
For more information about Walter Cordes, stop in the Wyoming Historical Society to view “The Visible Legacy of Walter Cordes,” a presentation by Rod Sidley and Brandon Cordes to the Wyoming Historical Society in 1996.