By Emily Briselli
One look at the unique and diverse homes situated through the Highlands District immediately immerses anyone and everyone in a world where people live, grow, and love in homes that have and will foster this community for years.
Many of these homes that we know and love came to be thanks to prominent State College architect Philip Hallock (January 6, 1914-March 7, 2013). Hallock crafted various homes throughout the State College area, some of which can be found in the heart of the Highlands District. Each home possesses a variety of unique architectural elements equally influenced by traditional architectural elements and Hallock’s own genius and personality.
Hallock most often designed Mid-Century Modern style homes, three of which were constructed in the Highlands District: one at 201 West Prospect, one at 284 East McCormick Avenue, and one at 522 Waring Avenue.
The distinguishing traits of Mid-Century Modern homes, aspects such as clean lines, simplicity, and natural integration of simple shapes, are reflected in Hallock’s homes, but often with a unique variation. Hallock was said to be fond of geometric patterns, especially those incorporating squares. The use of cinderblock, stone, and brick throughout both the exterior and interior of Hallock’s homes provide symmetry while still appearing natural and clean.
Additionally, Hallock often made use of balconies, overhangs, and cantilevers, which are protruding beams or structures secured to the house or anchor at only one end. Cantilevers give the illusion of less support than there truly is, and add personality to the space. Hallock used these cantilevers in a traditional way, creating overhangs of rooms and roof elements, but also added his own flair to the typical style. He sometimes took elements of the home such as a dining table or interior overhang, and cantilevered it to add a unique touch.
Hallock also had the unique ability to work on empty lots that added additional challenges to construction. He was known to build residences in rocky areas or steep slopes, frequently using the features of the land and incorporating them into the home.
Hallock’s home at 201 West Prospect perhaps best captures the personality of Hallock both architecturally and overall, as he built it for himself and his wife, Kitty. This home is thought to be the first Mid-Century Modern style home in the area post-World War II, and is situated on a lot which was once a quarry. Not one to shy away from a rocky, sloped landscape, Hallock actually used rocks from the abandoned quarry to construct the exterior of the house, and included many interior rock walls as well. The rock walls add Hallock’s signature geometric element to the home, which he then built upon with shelves directly in the walls and long, rectangular windows to open up and most efficiently utilize the space. Hallock also chose to cantilever the dining room table of this home, and did so directly on the chimney. Elements such as a built-in sofa, eclectic combination of brightly painted designs on the walls, and exposed ceiling beams all manifested Phil and Kitty’s own personalities shining through in the interior of their home. This house was expanded upon in 1973, with the new additions partially absorbing the original structure. A screened-in sunroom, new master suite, additional dining room, den, and workshop were all added to the home.
Hallock’s second Highlands construction, built in 1954, sits at 284 East McCormick Avenue and is easily identifiable by the over 100-year-old white oak tree situated on the rear of the property. Sticking with Hallock’s theme of building on atypical or challenging properties, a large rock ledge runs directly through the property and under the home, which caused Hallock to create only a partial basement to avoid it. Similar to the West Prospect home, Hallock chose to place exposed beams on the ceiling in the great room as roof and ceiling support. The house originally featured a front porch, but this was enclosed to expand the living area directly connected to it. The large shade provided by the oak tree inspired Hallock to build a large patio on the back of the house, showing yet again Hallock’s ability to add elements unique to the lot given to him rather than trying to create a “cookie cutter” home. Hallock also distinctly sectioned off this home, choosing to separate living, dining, and leisure areas. He fashioned divider walls that also function as closets and storage, as well as a semi-hidden entry from the dining area to the bathroom. With the theme of using space efficiently, Hallock added built-in shelves to the bedrooms, coupled with sliding windows that pull the space together.
Hallock’s third and final home built in the Highlands District can be found at 522 Waring Avenue, where it has been since its construction in 1955. Hallock crafted an open floor plan on the first floor for maximum convenience—as it was built for a retired couple. Much like his other homes, this house features elements intended to open the space. Large windows allow natural light into the great room, and a wing wall divides the living space without entirely closing it off from other rooms. Just as in his other homes, Hallock includes built-in bookcases, a built-in buffet, and makes use of many natural materials, in this case wood. Hallock also incorporates his traditional touch of geometry with a wing wall composed of bricks that conceals the patio behind the home. Unique to this home, however, is the cathedral ceiling in the master bedroom. This is something not seen in any of Hallock’s other Highlands homes.
In using a traditional Mid-Century Modern style but tweaking and adding to it slightly for each home, Hallock’s desire to create homes aptly suited to those living in them is quite clear. He designed his own home in a way that he and his wife enjoyed as not only an architectural masterpiece, but as a reflection of their own personality and preference. He constructed a home with the needs and desires of a retired couple in mind, and he crafted another with the idea to incorporate the nature and wonder of the large oak tree on its property. Hallock took what he was given and made it his own, combining the traditional and the unique to cement his place as a key player in State College history and community.
Emily Briselli is a Penn State sophomore from Hershey, PA majoring in Digital and Print Journalism with a minor in History. She is passionate about local history, and enjoys researching to learn about the interconnectedness of communities and the stories behind those who helped to build them. If you want to contact Emily, she can be reached at email@example.com.