Architecture Spotlight: Spanish Colonial Renaissance Evokes LA’s Golden Age

With their red-tiled roofs and stucco walls so common that they are now part of the landscape, the houses of the Spanish Colonial Revival exploited the climate, local materials and an idealized view of history to become the signature style. from southern California.

Borrowing and amplifying the simpler mission style of the 1800s, Spanish Colonial displays ornate carvings and plasterwork, wrought-iron window grilles and railings, and heavy use of tile: terra-cotta floors and risers. Vivid Malibu or Catalina staircase, fireplaces and fountains. The houses embrace the exterior; even the smallest lots manage to squeeze through postage stamps.

The style “resembles the spirit of California,” because of its interior-exterior harmony – admittedly also seen in Craftsman and Mid-Century Modern homes – but also because of its nod to history. regional, said Kimberly Bahnsen McCarron, a board member for the Southern California Section of the Society of Architectural Historians.

The genre really took off after 1915, when the organizers of the Panama-California Expo in San Diego chose to construct the fairground buildings in the Spanish colonial style. They and their chosen architect, Bertram Goodhue, eschewed Greek or Roman grandeur for influences from Spain, Mexico, and the missions. Within Balboa Park, said Goodhue, they have built “a city in miniature… intended to recall the glamor, mystery and poetry of ancient Spanish times.”

An architecture magazine of the time declared that the style, although unknown to the rest of the United States, was “historically and logically appropriate” for the San Diego Fair, which more than 2 million people attended. .

Then, after a 6.8 magnitude earthquake destroyed downtown Santa Barbara in 1925, the city’s rulers chose to unify the reconstruction in the Spanish colonial style. Around the same time, San Clemente founder Ole Hanson decreed that his entire community would be built this way.

The adaptability of the genre has contributed to its success, McCarron said. The arches, carved wood and ornate tiles at play in mansions or public or commercial buildings could be recalled for small single-family homes and modest bungalow lots.

When engineer Ramon Grijalva and his wife bought their 1926 Spanish Colonial Revival style home in Whitley Heights, Los Angeles four years ago, they wanted “something with character, something with personality.” We wanted something that said ‘LA’ ”

“Every nook you look at is its own little cameo – barrel ceilings, Juliet balconies. It’s just cool, ”he said.

According to the LA Office of Historic Resources, the ubiquity of Spanish Colonial Revival style homes in Whitley Heights – and the cachet of their residents, including Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson and Marlene Dietrich – led to the style’s popularity in all of Los Angeles.

The gaze extended even further, conveyed through Santa Fe railroad stations, in the evocative art of Orange Crates and Douglas Fairbanks’ Zorro films, said Michael Burch, an architect based in La Cañada Flintridge and specialized in Spanish colonization. Unsurprisingly, the style appeared in former Spanish Florida and Texas, but Burch said he’s even seen it on Cape Cod.

“The Spanish colonial revival has really captured the hearts of the people,” he said.

“And why not?” he added. “It’s deeply romantic.”

But after World War II, the nostalgia fell into disuse, and in the 1960s and 1970s the Spanish colony reached its peak, Burch said, with designs turning tokenism and kitsch. In the 1990s, homeowners began to appreciate older homes again, and intact versions continue to sell for a higher price.

Meanwhile, new developments such as Crystal Cove and Shady Canyon in Orange County are selling at seven figures, or more – nostalgia for the heyday of architecture nearly a century ago, which was itself nostalgia for the days of Alta California.

The popularity endures, said Marcello Vavala, associated with the preservation of LA Conservancy, as the Spanish colonial revival echoes not only the legacy of Old California, but also the prosperity and glamor of classic Hollywood.

“The style as it flourished in the 1920s and 1930s really became linked to the identity of Los Angeles,” said Vavala. “It is really reminiscent of this golden age in the city’s history.”


Style: Spanish Colonial Renaissance

Features: Low pitched red tile roofs, stucco walls, multi-paned windows, interior courtyards, wrought iron fittings, decorative tiles, arched windows or doors

Places to find them: Santa Barbara, Palos Verdes Estates, Ojai, Rancho Santa Fe, San Clemente, San Marino, Pasadena, Glendale, Beverly Hills, California Heights in Long Beach and Whitley Heights, Carthay Circle, Carthay Square, Windsor Square, Spalding Square, Hancock Park, Leimert Park, Hyde Park, Los Feliz and the Miracle Mile North neighborhoods of Los Angeles

Renowned architects and builders: George Washington Smith, Bertram Goodhue, Carleton Winslow, Wallace Neff, James Osborne Craig and Mary McLaughlin Craig, Paul Williams, John Byers, Reginald Johnson, Gordon Kaufman, Myron Hunt, JJ Plunkett, Richard Requa, Winsor Soule , Lutah Maria Riggs, Julia Morgan


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