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Styles: Part III


Mediterranean Revival

Popular in San Francisco in the first decades of the 20th century until World War II, Mediterranean Revival is an umbrella term that reflects diverse European traditions and was used in the design of both grand homes that sought to convey an imposing presence, and modest, but still impressive, rowhouses. Mediterranean style structures tend to suggest a relatively massive quality with symmetrical primary facades, a rectangular floor plan, and Classical, Spanish or Beaux Arts details and gardens. An eclectic style, the Mediterranean Revival is based loosely on 16th century Italian palazzo architecture, fused with elements of Spanish and Moorish architectural idioms with a touch of French influence. The popularity of the style was due in large part to the promotion by real estate developers and regional boosters who sought to convey a California cachet associated with Mediterranean resorts. The style was well-suited to the California climate. Exterior colors were mostly sunshine hues and warm earth tones: whites or ochres, pale pinks, yellows and grays that reflected the California light.

Typical character-defining features of the Mediterranean Revival style are low-pitched hipped roofs covered in arched red clay tile, stucco wall planes, either smooth or roughly textured, carved brackets, arcaded porches and arched door and window openings, commonly infilled with wrought iron grilles. Balconies and other elements made of cast iron are also typical. Exterior ornament and detail varies building by building, but may include ornate doors and enriched door surrounds often mimicking stone. Proponents of the style such as Willis Polk, Julia Morgan, and Arthur Brown Jr. looked to European inspiration as an alternative to the Victorian styles of the previous century. The style is found in nearly all San Francisco neighborhoods, but particularly, Presidio Heights, Pacific Heights, Sea Cliff, Russian Hill and the outer western "garden suburbs," St. Francis Wood and Forest Hill, neighborhoods designed by the influential, early landscape architect Mark Daniels (1881-1952), as well as among the Sunset and Richmond Districts.

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Monterey Revival

In the 19th century Californians sought to define an indigenous style by looking back to Spanish-influences and the historical precedents of early building in the West. This search led to the later emergence of one of California's few indigenous architectural styles, the Monterey Revival style, which became popular between 1925-1955. The Monterey Revival style can be traced to a house built in 1837 by Thomas Larkin in Monterey. Larkin constructed a residence, which fused the basic two-story New England colonial house with local adobe construction. The innovation of the Larkin house was its two-story composition, as opposed to previous California structures built by the Spanish, which had been of a single story. The Larkin house employed a deep roof overhang to protect the fragile adobe with double-height covered galleries or porches on the exterior, another innovation that came to define the Monterey style. Other architectural features of the Monterey style are a fašade-spanning balcony accessed from the interior by glazed doors, a balustrade or framing of simple squared wood posts, wood shingles or arched red clay tiles over a low-pitched gabled roof, and a dominant rectilinear character.

The Monterey Revival style incorporates the features mentioned above, together with paired windows, false or fixed shutters, and recognizable details of the Spanish Eclectic and Colonial Revival styles. Monterey Revival style structures are usually two stories with a different cladding material for each floor, an L-shaped plan and a cantilevered second-story balcony. Exterior wall surfaces can be finished with either stucco or horizontal wood boards reflecting the fusion of the Anglo and Hispanic styles that are the roots of the Monterey Revival Style.

Better suited to larger lots, the style is seen in the western "garden suburb" neighborhoods of San Francisco, such as Westwood Highlands, St. Francis Wood, and Forest Hill.

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Mission and Spanish Colonial Revivals

The Mission Revival was born in California in the 1890s and reached its heyday during the 1910s and 20s. Celebrating the architecture of the Spanish missions, this easily recognizable style features smooth stucco wall planes, parapets in the distinctive espandana gable, large squared pillars, arcaded porches or loggias, round or quatrefoil window openings, and the ubiquitous red tile roof. Mission Revival residences generally exhibit a low-pitched roof, hipped or flat. Some examples of Mission Revival architecture even include elements taken directly from old Spanish Mission churches, such as bell towers, buttresses or battered walls, and elaborate arches, especially above doors, porch entries and main windows. More elaborate examples of the style can include an asymmetrical shape with cross-gables and side wings, but these examples begin to merge with the more elaborate Spanish Colonial Revival. True Mission Revival architecture is characterized by simplicity of form and surface ornamentation limited to a plain horizontal stringcourse or curved half-round molding emphasizing arches, gables, and balconies. By the 1920s, architects were combining Mission styling with features from the Craftsman and Prairie movements to achieve freer, more eclectic effects.

Slightly overlapping and somewhat parallel to the Mission Revival style is the more enduring Spanish Colonial Revival style. The Spanish Colonial Revival emerged from the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915 and was popular through 1940, though derivative idioms are used to the present. Spanish Colonial resembles the earlier California Mission style houses in many ways. While Mission architecture romanticized the simple Spanish churches of colonial America, the 20th century Spanish Colonial style proved to be more far reaching. Exuberant and expressive, this new fashion borrowed from the entire history of Spanish architecture, from Moorish to Byzantine to Renaissance and featured carved doors, spiral columns and pilasters, tiled courtyards, carved stonework or cast ornaments, and patterned tile floors and wall surfaces. This style is distinct from (but can be confused with) the more generic term, the Mediterranean Revival style.

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The "Marina Style" house is ubiquitous in San Francisco and is found throughout the City, though the style first took hold in the Marina District where it was used as the prevailing architectural style for the design of apartment buildings and one- and two-story single-family homes and flats. The Marina district was built in the 1920s and 1930s on the site of the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915.

The typical Marina style residence is characterized by a garage opening at street level, a row of windows that nearly spans the width of the fašade at the first floor, and an entrance set to the side of the main elevation. Traditionally the garage is the width of a single car, with double doors, which are sometimes glazed. Above the garage and spanning the width of the main elevation is a wall plane with a high proportion of glazing, usually in the form of a bowed or angled bay window, a series of ganged windows or arched window openings. Wall planes above street level can be flat as well as bowed. Marina houses can be spare in detailing or ornamentation can incorporate historicist details. Typically flat roofed, common exterior materials are stucco-finished facades with red clay tiles used as ornament at the roofline. The use of these materials suggests that the Marina style derives from the somewhat more grand Mediterranean style.

The typical pattern of attached Marina houses fill the lot line creating a harmonious rhythm on a scale pleasing to pedestrians. The Marina style floor plan has the living room overlooking the street with the bedrooms at the rear. Large rear yards are typical. A unique building style and type, Marina houses are typically and singularly San Franciscan.

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Art Deco and Moderne

The terms Art Deco and Moderne are often confused. The Moderne style evolved from Art Deco. Though their origins are similar, the ornament is quite distinct. The Art Deco style was introduced at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. Influenced by the Bauhaus movement, both styles are rooted in the post-World War I era as modern architecture emerged, embracing a new way of thinking about architecture which rejected most conventional thought about design and ornamentation.

Art Deco flourished during the 1920s and 1930s, whereas Moderne styling was prevalent in house design in the 1930s through the 1940s. Art Deco is distinguished by frets, zigzag detailing, chevrons and geometric or stylized floral motifs usually set in low relief in decorative panels. The Art Deco style was common for apartment buildings where entrances were elaborately decorated, but was rarely used for single-family residences in San Francisco.

Moderne styling was more influenced by the International style and was somewhat more austere than Art Deco. Coming to the fore in the era of the machine and celebration of the automobile, the Moderne style conveyed an overall effect of progress toward the future. Moderne styling was well suited to California where it conveyed optimism in America's potential and the belief that the machine and technology was the way to the future. The Moderne idiom features streamlined styling, often as three parallel incised lines in smooth stucco wall surfaces, flat roofs, stripped down ornament, rounded corners, and an asymmetrical fašade composition. Typically one-story over a garage, houses with Moderne detailing were built during the 1930s until WWII throughout the City, though they are more commonly found in neighborhoods such as Upper Noe Valley and the Sunset. In San Francisco the Art Deco and Moderne styles were more famously used for non-residential building types, the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Building, 450 Sutter, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Common materials for both styles are stucco finishes, glass block, and wraparound metal windows.

Credits: Many thanks to Chris VerPlanck and Katherine Petrin for their many hours writing this section.

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