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Lamont Young (1851-1929)
The following three items appeared separately in the Around Naples Encyclopedia on the dates indicated and have been consolidated here onto a single page.
entry July 2003Lamont Young (1); urbanology (6)
and Utopian Naples
An interesting tribute to the visionary, Lamont Young:
a mural of his 1883 plan for an urban rail line for Naples
adorns the walls of a modern metro station.
Imagine yourself in a gondola, gliding along a delicate waterway, now and again passing beneath a quaint wooden bridge. Trees line and shade the footpaths on either side of the canal, and gentlemen and gentleladies are out strolling along the banks. Gracious villas are set back from the water's edge, and the faint melodies of late summer are in the air. Your spirit quickens a bit as the narrow waterway makes a final gentle bend and opens onto the majestic Grand Canal, lined by stately façades and crossed by picturesque bridges as it carries pleasure craft out—to the Bay of Naples!
Grand Canal? Bay of Naples? But, surely, we are in Venice. Not exactly. We're in the Venice Quarter of Naples, part of an unfulfilled utopian scheme to change the city in the years before the turn of the century.
Change is nothing new to Naples. Like medieval manuscripts written upon and erased over and over again, there has been new upon old in this city for a very long time. From the earliest Greeks to the present day, different civilizations have come and gone in the Bay of Naples and each has left its mark; the city, with a life of its own, has outlasted the single cultures that have formed her.
It is still possible, for example, to find in Naples the intricacy of a medieval town, traversable only on foot and only by one who truly knows the way. The curved streets still conceal the secrecy and surprise of the Middle Ages, when you would turn a corner and find the small market or church hidden away. Moving forward in time a bit, you then find the imposition of Baroque order upon medieval clutter. When King Ferrante of Naples in 1475 characterized narrow streets as a danger to the state, he was but giving political voice to the new Baroque aesthetic of the straight and wide avenue, the open square and the imposing façade.
The Naples that we see
today, then, has very visible traces of a long
history, but the shape the city has taken in this
century is largely the result of things done or left
undone in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Following the unification of
Italy, Naples lost its role as a capital, and
was faced with deteriorating social and hygienic
conditions. Class differences and the inability of
the city to plan and execute long-term urban goals
put Naples behind other Italian cities in preparing
for the new century.
Enter upon this scene in the 1870s a Neapolitan born of a Scottish father and Indian mother, Lamont Young, one of the most fascinating characters in the history of utopian urban planning. His plan, approved by the Naples City Council in the early 1880s, had it come to fruition, might have made the peaceful vignette of the opening paragraph reality instead of fantasy.
"Utopian" has come to mean
"impractical," but Young was quick to insist that
his ideas for the Naples of the future were workable
and economically beneficial. The key to Young's
ideas on how to deal with the problems of
urban sprawl—already evident in the Naples of the
1870s—was good mass transportation. A number of
factors convinced Young that underground transit was
the solution. For one, building new streets was
difficult due to the layout of the city between the
sea and hills. Young foresaw chaos if all traffic in
a city such as Naples, with the same surface area as
London and Paris, but twice their populations,
stayed above ground. He rejected the piecemeal urban
expansion of the city and the gutting of the
historic center as a solution to the problem, since
it involved impractical large-scale removal and
relocation of the inhabitants. Instead, he
favored a gradual and planned expansion away
from the center—a "suburbanization"—by means of a metropolitana,
an underground train system, which he would design
entry Feb. 2003
Young's "castle" (photo, directly below)
is going to be restored. It is a quaint
piece of Victorian Gothic architecture set on the
cliff of Pizzofalcone, the original cliff of
Naples that overlooks the Castel
dell'Ovo and the small harbor of Santa Lucia.
When it was planned in the early years of the
20th–century, it really would have overlooked all
that; however, by the time it went up (1922)
construction along the seaside road led to the
pitiful sight of a "castle" from which there was no
view at all except of the splendid backs of hotels
now directly in front of—and considerably higher
The castle was one of
three or four such buildings put up by Young along
the same unusual lines, highly criticized at the
time as being not in keeping with the traditions of
Neapolitan architecture. One of Young's other
castle-like Victorian Gothic structures in the
Chiaia part of town, above Parco Grifeo, even
features an artificial crack high up on one of the
towers (photo, directly above), meant to
simulate great age or, perhaps, a lightning strike.
All of these buildings would be at home on the
covers of gloomy novels about moors, fog and frail
update Aug 2016
The building shown directly above, Lamont Young's home on Pizzofalcone, has had a gloomy history, which, however, may now be taking a turn for the better. First of all, Young named the villa for his wife, Ebe Cazzani, and technically it is still called Villa Ebe. Second, Lamont Young, distraught at the turn his own life had taken (his plans for the city had been rejected, and his own view of the sea from the historic height of Greek Naples was now closed to him forever by block after block of new high-rise hotels thrown up by the risanamento—in short, he was a failure) committed suicide by pistol-shot in the villa. The premises decayed over the decades, somehow survived WWII but continued to decay. The arson attempt to destroy the premises in 2000 was serious and was almost the death knell for Villa Ebe. Yet, on the verge of demolition, it was saved: good-hearted volunteers, private organizations and the city got together to save it. For the last two years, work has been going on to restore "The Gardens of Villa Ebe," to restore the interior and turn it into a tribute to its architect. The practical but quaint (if that is the word!) (pictured, above left) switch-back ramp leading up to the villa has already been renamed the rampe Lamont Young (number 8 on this map). God, I hope they don't screw this one up.
entry Mar 2009The Aselmeyer Castle
From the above items about the general life and career of architect Lamont Young. You will gather that none of Young’s grandiose plans from the 1880s—not the metropolitana, not the Venice Quarter, not the grand seaside resort in Bagnoli—none of that came to fruition. It all shattered against the risanamento, the great and drastic urban renewal of the city in the face of the terrible cholera epidemics of the 1880s. At best, we have handed down from Lamont Young, a few individual buildings, the most impressive of which is the Aselmeyer Castle on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele (C.VE), in these photos.
Young had to give up on his sweeping plans to rebuild entire sections of the city once it became clear that the city council was going ahead with the risanamento. He, thus, concentrated his efforts on putting up some individual buildings that still stand today. In 1895, Young acquired the rights to build on sections of the C.VE. (At the time, that street was almost bucolic and nothing like the mass of buildings you see today.) Even then, his plans reached well beyond what actually wound up being done. For example, he had come into possession of the Villa Lucia in the Floridiana park in the Vomero section, high above the C.VE. He proposed joining that property to the C.VE with an elevator: you would have his Villa Santa Lucia at the top and a new hotel, which he proposed to build, at the bottom.
After all was said and done, he had to give up his plans for the new hotel (although construction was partially completed and even today serves as a conference and reception hall. (It is named for one “Bertolini,” who acquired the building from Young in the early 1900s.) Young had to settle for simply putting up as his own residence on the C.VE, the building seen in these photos. It was built in 1902 and sold two years later to banker, Carlo Aselmeyer, whose name the building still bears. (More correctly, the name of the building is Castello Grifeo dei Principi di Partanna.) Young moved away to the small isle of Gaiola on the Posillipo coast.
Architecturally, the building is, quite simply, English Gothic (“Dracula Victorian,” as they say) as are most of Young’s other works. (An exception is the Neo-Renaissance Grenoble Institute on via Crispi.) That was the greatest criticism levelled against him—his buildings don't look as if they belong in Naples. (Well, that was the second greatest criticism; the big one was that his sense of “city” was not Neapolitan; it involved the new concept of “urbanization” —moving people out of the center of town (using his never-to-be-built metropolitans as the primary people mover). That may not have been Neapolitan, but that is, however, what eventually happened, anyway, with the invention of the automobile, with or without Lamont Young.) A fair criticism would be that he thought Naples could eventually live from tourism. New 20th-century industry played no role in his thinking.
In any event, the Aselmeyer Castle still exists but has been kept up only marginally at times. It has long since been sub-divided into many different apartments and suffers from the same problem that all condominiums do in Naples: you can’t get everyone to agree on major repairs. The building has also been architecturally defaced by two additions on either side of the main entrance: cream-colored, smooth blocks of junk not in keeping with the rough-hewn stone of the rest of the building.
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