Throughout the second half of the 19th century, California, like all Western states, looked to the East Coast for architectural ideas. But around 1890 that changed – Californians suddenly realized that they had a rich heritage of their own to draw inspiration from. In particular, there was a renewed interest in California missions, the religious outposts built by Franciscan missionaries while the region was still under the Spanish rule.
Wishing to give their state a distinctive regional flavor, California builders used these old missions as a model for a new architectural style –Mission Revival. And for the first time in American architectural history, the West started “exporting” its building ideas to the East.
The Mission Revival style is instantly recognizable by its red clay tile roofs, smooth stucco walls (usually white and devoid of ornamentation) and deep window and door openings. A feature that makes this style especially easy to identify is a cantilevered section of a wall that forms a roof “visor.”
Porches and balconies are also common, supported by square pillars and columns that form arches. Decorative elements are made of wood, iron and tile, but are used sparingly. The interiors are characterized by rough plaster walls, coved ceilings and curved corners. Some examples of this style also feature a courtyard.
The world first found out about the Mission Revival at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where the California Building was a hit. The Southern Pacific and Santa Fe Railroads quickly adopted the new style for their train stations, hoping to “theme” the Southwest for their travelers. The business community liked the idea and applied the Mission Style to hotels, banks and other public buildings. Residential builders then followed suit; the new style was perfect for small bungalows and large mansions alike.
The popularity of Mission Revival lasted until around 1915, when it gave way to a more formal and elaborate Spanish Colonial style. While the Mission Style was most popular in the Southwest, many fine examples can be found throughout the country.
Starting in 2003, this blog series ran for 11 years. Click on the images below to read some of the posts.