Red Tile Style: America's Spanish Revival Architecture

Overview

Virtually no other form of American architecture is as widespread or as popular as the Spanish Revival style. From bungalows and mansions to gas stations and government buildings, its influence—and its fans—can be found everywhere. Yet there has never been a single comprehensive survey of this diverse category of design.

In Red Tile Style, Arrol Gellner describes the rich history and fertile permutations of Spanish Revival architecture. Packed with more than 250 lush color ...

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Overview

Virtually no other form of American architecture is as widespread or as popular as the Spanish Revival style. From bungalows and mansions to gas stations and government buildings, its influence—and its fans—can be found everywhere. Yet there has never been a single comprehensive survey of this diverse category of design.

In Red Tile Style, Arrol Gellner describes the rich history and fertile permutations of Spanish Revival architecture. Packed with more than 250 lush color photographs taken by Douglas Keister, this handsome volume ranges from the style's origins in the Spanish colonial churches of the Southwest to its emergence as a commercial form in late-nineteenth-century railroad stations to the nationwide explosion in popularity sparked by the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in San Diego. Learned, lucid, and pleasing to the eye, Red Tile Style explores the far-reaching Spanish Revival influence in today's architecture in all its variations and adaptations. For the serious student and architecture fan alike, this book is truly a landmark.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670030507
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/21/2002
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 595,533
  • Product dimensions: 8.92 (w) x 11.28 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Arrol Gellner, a residential architect, lives in Emeryville, California.

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CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCCI"N

THE SPANISH WEST

The earliest incarnation of Spanish Revival architecture in America comes down to us, not from Spain, but through the West's own Spanish Colonial heritage. Spain's first voyage to Alta California was made by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in 1542, and though he claimed the territory for the Spanish crown, his report regarding the colony's prospects apparently left the monarchy unimpressed. With no lure of gold to stir interest, California languished.

In 1579, an English expedition headed by Sir Francis Drake rather rudely claimed California for Queen Elizabeth I. There was no Spanish response to this affront until the voyage of Sebastián Vizcaíno in 1602, but thereafter, Spain's interest in the nascent colony began to rise. In 1769, Gaspar de Portolá established a colony on San Diego Bay in the process of searching out the harbor of Monterey.

Accompanying Portolá's expedition was a man destined to have a lasting impact upon California's history, both architectural and otherwise: the Spanish Franciscan missionary Junipero Serra (1713-1784) (ILLUS xxx). Born Miguel José Serra in Majorca, Spain, Serra taught philosophy at the college at Palma for fifteen years. In 1749 he was sent to America, where he spent the next two decades in Mexico teaching, proselytizing, and working among the native Indian population of the Sierra Gorda.

When Portolá's expedition reached San Diego in 1769, Serra remained behind, and on July 16, he founded Mission San Diego de Alcalá, considered by many the birthplace of modern California history. Portolá's party ultimately returned to San Diego having failed to locate Monterey's harbor. Serra was among those determined to organize another attempt, and this expedition duly reached Monterey the following year. There Serra founded Mission San Carlos Borroméo del Carmelo, established his headquarters, and remained as president of the Alta California missions. Not long afterward, he moved the mission to nearby Carmel-By-The-Sea, where he would spend the rest of his life. Under Serra's presidency, seven more missions were founded in comparatively short order: San Antonio de Padua and San Gabriel Arcángel (both in 1771); San Luis Obispo (1772); San Juan Capistrano and San Francisco de Asís (both in 1776); Santa Clara de Asís (1777); and San Buenaventura (1782).

LAYING THE FOUNDATIONS

The string of missions founded by Serra, as well as others throughout the West, combined ecclesiastical, agricultural, and frequently defensive functions in a straightforward and easily repeatable format. The original California mission of San Diego Alcalá, for example, formed a presidio consisting of perimeter structures accommodating barracks, storehouses, and livestock corrals; the mission chapel occupied only a modest portion at the center of one side. In 1774, however, the religious function was separated from this group, with the mission chapel being reconstructed on a separate site six miles inland.

Perhaps the finest mission of the Spanish Colonial era is San Xavier del Bac (ILLUS sp056), the "White Dove of the Desert", whose snow-white domes still rise majestically from the desert floor nine miles south of Tucson. The Spanish Jesuit missionary and explorer Eusebio Francisco Kino first visited the desolate site in 1692; he returned to lay the foundations of the original church in 1700, naming it in honor of Saint Francis Xavier, the Basque Jesuit missionary known as The Apostle of the Indies.

The present structure was begun in 1783 under the administration of Father Juan Bautista Llorenz, and was not completed until fourteen years later. Unlike most mission churches, the interior volume of San Xavier del Bac is not spanned by roof beams, but rather by domes in the Byzantine manner. The elaborate, naively painted decoration of the interior emulates that of Mexican churches of the late Renaissance (ILLUS spc22), which in turn were based upon Spanish Renaissance examples.

For the most part, the missions constructed in the West and Southwest were considerably more chaste than San Xavier del Bac; yet it was precisely this quality of simplicity and naiveté that proponents of the Mission Revival would eventually find so refreshing compared to the turgid works of the Victorian era.

SPAIN'S CONTROL OF THE SOUTHEAST

Spanish rule in the southeastern United States was equally far-reaching, if slightly shorter-lived. In April 1513, Juan Ponce de Le"n landed near present-day Saint Augustine, Florida, and claimed what he believed to be an island for the Spanish crown. The explorers Pánfilo de Narváez and Hernando de Soto eventually determined that Florida was in fact a peninsula, and accordingly expanded Spain's claim to include most of the Southeastern United States. In fact, however, Spanish settlement of the region was virtually nil until the French made incursions in 1562 and again in 1564. This alarmed the Spanish crown sufficiently to commission the ruthless Pedro Menéndez de Avilés to drive them out, and led to Spain's founding of Saint Augustine the following year.

With the Florida peninsula having neither precious metals nor even much arable land, Spain's interest lay mainly in its strategic position athwart the Straits of Florida, through which the Crown's treasure-laden ships sailed from the south. By the early 1700s, however, Spain's control of the territory came under increasing pressure from the rapidly expanding British colonies to the north, a situation which worsened after the founding of Georgia in 1733. The French, who had designs on the region's fur trade, were also giving Spain troubles by the mid-1700s. In 1763, Spain lost the Floridas altogether after siding with France in its inevitable war with England. After twenty years of British tenure, however, the Florida territory was once again returned to Spain under the terms of the Treaty of Paris. Yet by this time, the steady influx of Anglo settlers had decided the region's future. In 1819, after years of political wrangling, Spain ceded Florida to the United States in return for the assumption of a $5 million debt. Thanks to the intervening twenty years of British presence and Spain's earlier departure from the region, the traces of the Spanish colonial era would be far less evident in Florida than in the West. By the time the state assumed its modern boundaries in 1822, American settlers were flooding in, and Anglo architecture would predominate until the arrival of architect Addison Mizner almost a century later.

THE : OF SPANISH RULE IN THE WEST

By the 1830s, the Mexican Republic's control over its territories in western United States had also begun to unravel. In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase gave the United States a common border with Texas, and Mexico's lands to the west were increasingly coveted by the U. S. during subsequent decades. One of the most famous battles of this period took place at the mission of San Antonio de Valero, better known to history as the Alamo (ILLUS spc32). The mission had been founded by the Franciscans in 1718, and was later converted into a fortress; the Alamo, from the Spanish word for cottonwood, was built as a chapel sometime after 1744. In December 1835, the mission was taken over by the Texas revolutionaries. Two months later, 150 men, later aided by 32 volunteers who slipped through enemy lines, attempted to defend the structure against a Mexican army numbering several thousand. A siege began on February 24, 1836.

On March 2, at a convention called at Washington-on-the-Brazos, Texas declared its independence from the Mexican Republic. Four days later, the siege of the Alamo culminated in hand-to-hand fighting within the walls of the storied old fort. The revolutionaries, including the likes of James Bowie and Davy Crockett, were wiped out virtually to a man, yet their defiant stand inspired new resolve among the Revolutionaries. Six weeks later, the Texans defeated the Mexicans at San Jacinto, famously crying "Remember the Alamo!"

California, too, declared its independence from Mexico in 1836, though the last Mexican governor was not driven out until 1845. The following year, the Bear Flag Republic was established at Sonoma.

The annexation of Texas to the United States in 1845 precipitated Mexico's final struggle for its former lands in the guise of the Mexican War. The three-century history of Hispanic rule in the West finally drew to a close with the war's end in 1848, when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded some two-fifths of Mexico's territory to the United States.

THE STARTING GUN

Still, the West might have long remained an undeveloped backwater were it not for a chance event. In 1839, the Swiss-born frontiersman and trader John Augustus Sutter (1803-1880) established a vast colony called New Helvetia in California's Sacramento Valley; it prospered within just a few years. Sutter frequently used his wealth and power to assist other newcomers to California, including the survivors of the infamous Donner Party, yet he could scarcely have imagined the ironic role fate would assign him in fostering California's growth. In 1848, on the American River just north of Sacramento, Sutter's business partner in a sawmill venture, James W. Marshall, happened across a few nuggets of gold in the mill's tailrace. Within a year, the news had set off a mad crush of prospectors from across the United States, ruining Sutter and New Helvetia in the process.

The discovery of gold materially increased California's value to the United States, and the drive for statehood had already begun by 1849. In 1850, after the obligatory congressional squabbles, California became the 31st state of the Union.

VICTORIAN VALUES

Shortly after California's admission to statehood, the florid architectural taste that would characterize the next fifty years was already becoming evident. In 1851, England's Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations was held in London's Hyde Park, where it was famously housed in the celebrated Crystal Palace. The Exhibition made plain that the Industrial Revolution, which had already affected the nature of industry, economy, and social structure, was now poised to revolutionize aesthetics as well. The design of the objects on display, whether stoves, clocks, or furniture, were typified by a confused Victorian eclecticism that combined a hodgepodge of stylistic periods. To the vast crowds swarming the Crystal Palace each day, the Exhibition was simply a cracking good show; to social critics, however, it seemed a harbinger of aesthetic and social decline.

By the time of the Great Exhibition, it was already apparent that the phenomenal advances of the Industrial Revolution had come at a dreadful cost. The wholesale transfer of labor from cottage to mill quickly brought about ghastly living conditions in the crowded, smoke-palled cities of the new industrial age. And though the rise of industry had put a vast range of goods within reach of the working class, it had simultaneously deprived them of the niceties of clean air, clean water, and decent housing.

For some, the antidote to these woes lay in a return to the past. Among the most influential exponents of such thinking was the architect Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852). In his Contrasts, published in 1836, Pugin not only argued for the primacy of Gothic architecture as an applied style, but sought to inspire a complete revival of the Gothic building methods of the Middle Ages.

In 1849, the English critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) published The Seven Lamps of Architecture, in which he argued that art is based upon national and individual integrity and morality. Two years later he amplified this view in The Stones of Venice, which argued that Venice's Gothic architecture represented domestic virtue, while its Renaissance works reflected corruption. Ruskin likewise applied his equation of aesthetics and morality to the problems of the machine age, insisting that the decline of art and architecture was a reflection of the ugliness and waste of modern industry.

Influenced by Ruskin's writings, the poet and artist William Morris (1834-1896) also sought to revive the medieval decorative arts by returning to the craft methods of the Middle Ages. In 1859 Morris collaborated with architect Philip Webb on the design of his home at Bexley Heath, known simply as the Red House ( ILLUS sba24). Recalling the directness and simplicity of 14th century monastic architecture, the Red House proved enormously influential among architects disillusioned with Victorian eclecticism.

In 1861, in reaction to the growing debauchery of aesthetics by industrialism, Morris founded what would become the famed decorating firm of Morris and Company. In 1891 he published his influential Notes from Nowhere, in which he contrasted the poetry and beauty of the Middle Ages with the ugliness of the industrial age.

Pugin, Ruskin, and Morris were each eloquent in condemning the coarseness and materialism brought on by the Industrial Revolution. Though all three romanticized the medieval past to a degree bordering on delusion, their appeals for a return to a simpler, craft-based society nevertheless had a profound impact on the aesthetic of the dawning twentieth century. The Arts and Crafts movement they helped found would ultimately prevail over the rudderless aesthetic of the Victorian age, providing the philosophical grounding for the Craftsman Tradition, the Mission Revival, and still later the Spanish Revival.

For the balance of the nineteenth century, however, the worst nightmares of Pugin, Ruskin, and Morris did in fact come true. Art and architecture sank ever deeper into the morass of eclecticism, spurred on by the widespread availability of machine-made ornament of every description (ILLUS r185). Clearly, there would be no retreat to a pre-industrial age. Yet by and by, the spread of the Arts and Crafts Movement would bring an appreciation for hand craftsmanship back under the rubric of fine architecture, and hence providing a climate in which the Spanish Revival could flourish.

By the time of Ruskin's death in 1900, the frenetically decorated Victorian styles had held sway for fifty years, progressing through increasingly florid Italianate, Mansard, and Stick-Eastlake modes. The trend culminated in the outrageously bombastic Queen Anne homes of the 1880s, which drew appreciable ridicule even from contemporary critics. After a generation of ornamental excess, Victorian architecture had left a sour taste on many palates.

THE TIDE TURNS

Not surprisingly, the new architectural ideals that arose in the waning years of the 19th century were diametrically opposed to those of the Victorians. There was a resurgent interest in nature and hand craftsmanship inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement, as well as a demand for simpler floor plans by household advocates who decried the impracticalities of Victorian design. Applied ornament and sham finishes such as graining and faux marble were condemned in favor of natural materials used frankly.

As early as the 1880s, the renowned East Coast architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White began experimenting with houses that were free of the usual ornamental encrustations, and were clothed in plain shingles instead. By the late 90s, similar houses were already supplanting their Victorian brethren. The co-called Shingle Style would prove the East Coast's last great contribution to residential architecture; California's population surged during these years, and the greatest opportunities for architectural experimentation naturally followed. As the turn of the century approached, the West had already assumed the leading role in residential design.

THE MISSIONS REDISCOVERED

The Victorian styles had been grounded in simultaneously naive yet bombastic interpretations of Classicism, often seasoned with a taste for the exotic—a mixture in which the primitive architecture of the Spanish Colonial era had no place. Nor was there any particular sentiment among Victorians that the missions, ranchos, and other remainders of Spanish rule might be of architectural or historical value. Only in the final years of the Victorian era would the moldering remains of Spain's colonial era would be considered worthy of preservation.

The architectural remnants of Spanish rule first achieved some measure of acknowledgment in 1883 when, in a move prefiguring the West's interest in its Spanish Colonial history, the State of Texas purchased the Alamo as a historic site. California followed suit a year later, when restoration was begun on Mission San Carlos Borroméo del Carmelo (ILLUS sba16), Junipero Serra's erstwhile headquarters. There followed an enthusiastic campaign to restore the remaining California missions, most of which had lain in ruins for decades. Eventually, there was also a newfound appreciation for the more ordinary Spanish Colonial domestic architecture typified by working estates such as Rancho Los Alamitos near Los Angeles (ILLUS sp084). The belated drive to recover California's Spanish heritage soon came to include the haciendas of numerous Spanish land grantees, and a number of these decaying adobes were "restored" to states their masters could only have hoped for.

In 1890, San Francisco architect Willis Polk introduced a short-lived but influential magazine called Architecture News that featured drawings and written accounts of California mission buildings. Two years later, the head of the Los Angeles Public Library, Tessa Kelso, founded the Association for the Preservation of the Missions. Following her departure from Los Angeles the next year, the organization languished until 1895, when Charles Lummis (ILLUS xxx) reorganized its membership into the Landmarks Club.

The Harvard-educated Lummis was a true American original. Born of New England Puritan stock, he was working for an Ohio newspaper in 1884 when he hit upon the notion of traveling to Southern California—on foot. The journey took 143 days, and later became the the subject of his book A Tramp Across the Continent. Once in Los Angeles, the restless Lummis for a time assumed the city editorship of the Los Angeles Times. He eventually suffered a nervous breakdown and departed for New Mexico, where he lived with the Pueblo Indians for several years. In 1892, having evidently made a full recovery, he joined an expedition to South America.

In 1895, following these already considerable adventures, Lummis recast Kelso's sleepy Association for the Preservation of the Missions into a far more potent organization—but not before he had assumed editorship of the illustrated monthly Land of Sunshine, a magazine of Southern California boosterism that one F. A. Pattee had begun publishing the previous year. Land of Sunshine became the mouthpiece of Lummis's personal crusade for a native Californian architecture, which he and a relative handful of others felt should rightly be based upon the state's Spanish Colonial legacy.

In his articles for Land of Sunshine, Lummis made it clear that the appropriate architectural style he envisioned for California was rooted in the West's Spanish Colonial architecture, not that of Spain proper. He pointed out that adobe construction was scarcely known in Spain, its use having arisen mainly in Spanish America, where the native soil's peculiar qualities allowed it to be mixed, baked under the sun, and fashioned into cheap, durable, and well-insulated structures.

But advocating adobe construction was not Lummis's primary aim. Rather, he espoused a spiritual return to the lifestyle of the Spanish Colonial era, and was instrumental in fostering the romantic notion of the Californios living in harmony with the land, building with indigenous materials, and leading a lifestyle of simplicity and ease. In many ways, Lummis's ideas paralleled those of the contemporary Arts and Crafts Movement in Europe, which advocated a return to the imagined simplicity of medieval times. In view of this, it is less surprising to find that Lummis's own home, El Alisal (ILLUS sp104), departs markedly from his own Mission Revival preachings. Begun in 1897 and completed in 1910, the home's campanario and bell make a cursory nod toward the Mission style, but seem more deeply rooted in Lummis's pueblo experiences and even more notably in the Craftsman tradition. Adobe and stucco are altogether absent; instead, the house is built of poured concrete faced with stones from the nearby Arroyo Seco.

—from Red Title Style by Arrol Gellner, photographs by Douglas Keister, Copyright © November 2002, Viking Press, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission."

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