The three century history of Hispanic rule in California ended in 1845 when the last Mexican governor’s was driven out.
Shortly after California became a state the Victorian era was the predominant architectural style for the next fifty years beginning with relatively restrained Italianate style of the 1860’s followed by the Mansard and Stick-Eastlake modes and culminating in the monumentally bombastic Queen Anne homes of the 1880’s. This style would incorporate a hodgepodge of various historical motifs with considerable amounts of applied machine made ornament of every description, all in one house.
As to be expected a backlash against the excesses of the Victorian age developed. This started in England mid-century as a revolt against the industrial age and appealed for a return to a simpler, craft-based society. In the United States, this philosophy provided the basis for Craftsman tradition, the Mission Revival and still later, the Spanish Revival.
Only in the final years of the Victorian era did the preservation California’s Spanish heritage be considered worthy of recognition and appreciation. In 1884 the restoration of the badly deteriorated mission at Carmel began. There followed an enthusiastic campaign to restore the remaining California missions, most of which had laid in ruins for decades. Eventually there was also a newfound appreciation of domestic architecture and haciendas of the original Spanish land grants, some of which were restored.
One of the foremost proponents of California Spanish Colonial architecture was Charles Lummis who founded The Landmark Club & became the city editor of the Los Angeles Times.
In 1895 he assumed the editorship of the illustrated monthly “Land of Sunshine” which became the mouthpiece of Lummis’ personal crusades, that California’s architecture should be based on the States Spanish Colonial legacy. Lummis believed that architecture should return to the romantic roots of early California living in harmony with the land, & building with indigenous materials and leading a life of harmony and simplicity. In many ways Lummis’ ideas are similar to the European Arts and Crafts movement.
The Mission Revival Style became popular about the turn of the century and incorporated such features as stucco walls, curving parapets at exterior walls or gables known as espadanas, false bell towers, known as campanaries, quatrefoils, arcades and arched openings. This style adapted itself to a surprising variety of building types such as powerhouse, factories, apartment, bungalow courts, and single family homes.
Mission Revival suffered from low budget speculative builders. Excessive use of espadanas over the more expensive arcades. Arched openings were flattened to obtain wider openings and were frequently placed in porch walls with only a single stud thickness as opposed to thicker walls typical of adobe. Roofs were not tile but flat and hidden behind an espadanas parapet with a tile cap. Windows were not recessed as they would be in an adobe building and they were double hung harkening back to the Victorian.
The Mission Revival style had a largely exhausted itself by 1910. The best residential works of Mission Revival were in the past and would be soon overshadowed by the arrival of the popular Craftsman Bungalow.
The Craftsman Bungalow was a wood sided singles or shiplap with a large front porch, and a simple yet efficient floor plan. There were several companies at the time that not only sold the plans for the house but included the lumber and all the pieces and parts with detailed instructions so that he individual could build their own home. The popularity of the Craftsman style along with the relatively low cost made the bungalow the dominant residential style during the mid to late teens.
At this time the influence of Spanish Architecture was in decline but in 1915, to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal, the Panama California Exposition in San Diego was built. The eastern architect Bertram Goodhues’s Spanish Baroque designs with their clay tiled plazas, cool fountains, shady arcades and careful attention to classic European details were a world away from the dowdy Mission Revival and glum Craftsman that the public had grown used to. Here at last was a style perfectly suited, not only to Southern California’s Mediterranean climate, but also to its optimistic disposition.
Although the bungalow remained the nations favorite home style up until the early 1920’s , there was a resurgence, at this time, of Period Revival Styles such as Colonial, Norman and Tudor but Spanish Revival soon proved to be the most popular and adaptable especially in Southern California.
The notable Spanish Revival residential architects of the 1920’s include George Washington Smith, Reginal Johnson, Stiles O. Clements and Wallace Neff. Significant architecture features of the period include wrought iron railings, balconies, garden pools, patios, window grills, outside stairways, open beam cathedral ceilings and arched openings and arcades.
Numerous commercial or institutional projects were built during this period ranging from churches to office buildings. An example would be the Million Dollar Theatre in downtown Los Angeles designed by Albert C. martin or the Hearst Castle Designed by Julia Morgan.
Many of the larger commercial projects could be classified as Spanish Baroque in the Churriguesque style with the florid richness and exuberance of the Spanish architecture of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Also used in commercial and some higher end residential work is a uniquely Spanish decorative style called Plateresque which featured effusive use of curvilinear surface ornament creating a striking contrast with adjoining plain surfaces.
The Andaluisian Style from Southern Spain was a more suitable pattern for small scaled modestly priced homes in direct competition and which eventually prevailed over the craftsman bungalow.
The popularity of this style was a radical break from the formal and monumental classic designs that inspired Goodhue. The informal asymmetrical massing of architectural features was quickly absorbed into the Spanish Revival movement by the late 1920’s and ultimately played a dominate role in shaping domestic Spanish Revival architecture.
With its irregular design and proportions Andalusian easily adopted the characteristics features of decorative ironwork, painted tile, and coarsely ornamented wood members which easily integrated into conventional wood frame and stucco construction.
By the mid 1920’s futuristic styles such as Art Deco & Streamline Modern were outshining English Cottage, Norman, and Spanish Revival designs that had flourished. This International Modern Style survived well into the postwar era. By the late 1940’s, with the exception of commercial architecture the popularity of the modern residential style declined and gave way to the Western Ranch style. It can be argued that a Western Ranch is nothing more than a hacienda at heart with cedar shake roof and a little bit of wood siding.
One of the foremost architects of the Ranch style is Cliff May (1908-1989) whose Spanish Revival homes of the early thirties remain the finest of the genre and also is credited with bringing the Ranch into prominence.
It is interesting in this modern era to observe that many newly constructed homes currently on the market have mission tile roofs, classic stucco details including arched openings, and maybe a little bit of wrought iron. Well, it appears that what goes around comes around.
First of all I make no pretence in acting as a learned historian regarding Craftsman and Bungalow architecture, but after 40 years of architectural practice in the San Gabriel Valley I would like to make certain comments as to the unique and significant aspects of these styles which are different and sets them aside from the Craftsman architecture developing in the rest of the country at the turn of the 19th century.
The Arts and Crafts movement began in England with the prolific writings of John Ruskin and William Morris who stressed the virtues of hand made goods as opposed to the machine made items of the industrial revolution. Gustav Stickley in New York was one of the first Americans to adopt the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement shunning the Victorian and Classical style in favor of simple unadorned handmade basic structural forms.
In the Pasadena area the Arts and Crafts style was being adopted by Ernest Batchelder the tile maker and designer, Highland Park’s Arroyo Guild, including William Lees Judson the Stained glass artisan and founder of the USC College of Fine Arts, and of course the architectural firm Greene and Greene that opened their offices in Pasadena in 1894.
The work of Charles and Henry Greene has come to represent the soul of the Craftsman Movement with its simplicity and meticulous attention to materials and detail. Starting with the Gamble House plan, where rooms on the first floor open up onto a terrace and the second floor bedrooms open onto an unscreened sleeping porch. The extension of the living space to the outdoors was a revolutionary concept at the time and could be interpreted as a celebration of our temperate climate sans mosquitoes.
Charles Greene, the prime designer in the firm, was said to be under the spell of Japan. The Asian influence can be seen in the corbelled bracing design of the Blacker House similar to many Japanese temples, the cloud lift which is of a centuries old Chinese design, the use of heavy carved structural members, the integration of building and nature, the extension of beams and rafters beyond the roof eave line or columns and the use of the picture rail above the door window openings around the perimeter of the room. The 6” high by 1” thick member serves to unify the various interior elements of a room such as the doors, windows, fireplace, inglenook and built in furniture. Above the rail is plastered freeze to the ceiling. This also has the effect of making the room seem larger.
The Greenes used several interesting details in wood joinery such as strapping several wood members together with a metal strap and clevis. Wood beams of boards where spliced together with a scarf off set or Z splices and square keepers with all edges sanded round. Perpendicular board intersections where mortised with round peg keepers. Board corners where joined with finger joints rather than a simple mortise. The ends protruded beyond the intersecting face with all edges sanded round. First floor parapet walls used indigenous river rock, quite often with a Clinker (partially vitrified) cap. Hardware and light fixtures had a distinctive Craftsman design which to this day is duplicated and in demand.
The cost of the Craftsman home with its beautiful detailing and the use of many exotic woods were just a little beyond the average home builder’s budget. Thus keeping with some of the same characteristics and techniques of the Craftsman home, a more modest design evolved referred to as the Bungalow.
The term Bungalow evolved from an East Indian hut called a Bangala which was anglicized into the word bungalow. In England the term came to describe compact no frills resort of vacation housing. In America the bungalow came to represent an affordable, practical, fashionable home greatly influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement.
The popularity of the Bungalow movement spanned the teens and twenties and swept various parts of the country particularly trend setting California. The typical Bungalow floor plan started with a generous front porch which could act as outdoor seating area. The front door opened to a living room with a fireplace located along an exterior wall. This room was intended to be the main living area for the family and for receiving visitors. Quite often the living room opened directly into the dining room with a cased or framed opening for visual separation and frequently had a built in buffet. Next was the kitchen with built in cabinets including a cupboard. These kitchens were laid out so that it had enough room for a small informal dining area, a new concept in the kitchen design. To the rear of the kitchen was a screened laundry porch which led to the back yard and garage. Bed and bathrooms were to the side or rear of the forgoing function or on the second floor. The plans generally where compact and quite functional.
Although the above described is quite common there was considerable variation in the style often incorporating classical and Victorian motifs. Southern California was different in this respect with less influence in the traditional style and in some cases influenced by the Mission style. Due to no snow loads the roof has a lower slope with strong horizontal lines. Structural elements were simple and strait forward. Rather than beam or rafter tails having classical or birds mouth profile, they where strait cut with rounded edges and often projected beyond the roof eves or post supports. Parapets, pilasters and fireplace using indigenous river rock was a significant feature of the architecture in the Pasadena area. Large entry porches sometimes extending across the entire width of the house was an endorsement of outdoor California living.
It is difficult to say who was responsible as the major influences in designing the multitudes of bungalows across America. In most cases we really don’t know. Of course there were some instances of custom built one of a kind bungalows attributed to an architect, but such cases are not common. Many of the bungalow designs were the creations of unnamed designers, architects, or anonymous underpaid draftsmen, which were marketed by the use of plan books whose complete plans including details and specifications and were sold by numerous sources such as Sears and Robuck and Montgomery Ward for as little at ten dollars. Another innovation arising from the plan book was complete packages of carefully labeled house parts including structural elements, built in furniture, fixtures and finished millwork all meticulously labeled so that handy home owners could build their own houses for as little of $1500 ordered by mail.
There was no uniformity of style in the plan books they spanned the gamut of architectural influences from Victorian to Classical. Needless to say there was quite a bit of plagiarism between plan books. I personally remember a project where we where designing a remodel to a bungalow. The Cultural Heritage Commission protested that this house was a possible Gustav Stickley original. I found no evidence of this in the city records, but in looking though a plan book offered by Henry L Wilson a noteworthy Los Angeles architect, entrepreneur and publisher in the teens and twenties, I found a house plan and elevations which matched the house I was working on. I called this to the attention of the commission to no avail, they dismissed the information I had gathered from the plan book stating that the house might be a significant copy of a famous architects work.
Our offices are located in South Pasadena home to many Bungalow homes. To the north is Pasadena which is a treasure trove of numerous fine Craftsman and Bungalow style homes. We have done a considerable amount of work in the area as regards to restoring and remodeling these homes. Historically the dining room and the kitchen were separated from the back yard with a utility porch, laundry, half bath, mud room, etc. A common complaint from our clients have is that the house does not face or take advantage of the back yard and the primary family living area is separated from the kitchen. The modern trend is that the kitchen is the social center of the house and opens onto a family room. Our designs take this into consideration. A goal is to have the family room open onto an exterior terrace which often incorporates an arbor or pergola into the design.
The goal should be to seamlessly blend the original design with the new without destroying the character and function of the house. A specialty our office has won several awards in. In order to accomplish this, a designer must understand, appreciate and perhaps love the simplicity, efficiency and the details of the Arts and Crafts movement as a manifest in the American Bungalow.
As I frequently mention to my clients; the easy projects have already been done. On top of the scarcity of buildable land or remodelable buildings, the last 20 years has seen the rise of numerous new governmental departments or agencies such as historical preservation, cultural heritage, design review, environmental protection, natural resources (trees) along with the traditional agencies such as zoning, planning, fire department, public works, and of course building and safety.
Although we are usually successful in obtaining the necessary approvals from various departments, such approval will require additional time and expense for city fees, public hearings, and our costs. An example is an addition that we are currently working on for a single family residence that is on the historical inventory of our city. We have been warned by the Cultural Heritage Commission that there is the possibility that an environmental impact report will be required. Such a report would very expensive and time consuming. We therefore have retained the services of a historian with a very favorable track record in the city. The historian would prepare a report with comments and recommendations. With this report submitted to the city I feel very confident that our design would be approved by the Cultural Heritage Commission.
The foregoing is just an example of what a property owner might expect. The moral of the story is that this type of work is not for an amateur but would require the services of a skilled and experienced professionals.