Monday, October 1, 2018


Goodhue's temporary Exposition buildings of 1915 were so
popular that they were eventually rebuilt in permanent
materials. They remain a beloved feature of San Diego's
Balboa Park to this day. (Image courtesy of TripSavvy)

Author's note: If you're a fan of Spanish Revival architecture and would like to read more about it, check out my book Red Tile Style, with a detailed text and hundreds of beautiful photos by my co-author Douglas Keister.

In 1915, visitors to the Panama-California exhibition in San Diego’s Balboa Park were dazzled by architect Bertram Goodhue’s Spanish Baroque fair buildings. His romantic stucco confections, with their ranges of shady arcades, tiled fountains, and graceful wrought-iron ornament, were a smash hit with fairgoers long used to the to the fussy artifice of the Victorian era. And while the fair buildings were temporary, their effect was permanent: They ignited a love affair with Spanish Revival architecture—first in California, and later across the nation—that continues to this day.

Bertram Goodhue, architect.
Although various tortured derivations of Spanish Revival architecture are still offered by tract developers down to the present, the style's real heyday began with the Exposition and only lasted until the eve of World War II. Yet the homes of this period remain among the most charming, well-crafted and l livable ever built, and are especially suited to areas of the country whose climate can take advantage of their close communion with the outdoors.  

In California, the early generation of Hollywood movie stars were among the first to fall for the Spanish Revival; in Florida it was a class of moneyed industrialists and financial barons.  Throughout the 1920s, they commissioned huge haciendas whose construction required legions of craftsman to produce roof tiles, ironwork, and hewn and carved beams.

Mar-a-Lago, the monumental 1927
Spanish Revival mansion built for
cereal heiress Marjorie Post—
now a National Historic Landmark,
and famous in its own right long before
You-Know-Who moved in.
By 1925, the style had reached the mainstream, and variations of the style were appearing throughout California, Florida, and the Southwest. Although such houses were never built in the same quantities as the contemporary Bungalow style, they stood out by dint of their charming design. Their red tile roofs didn’t hurt, either.

Those half-round clay roof tiles, whose shape originally came from the raw clay being formed over the tilemaker's thigh, are the most obvious hallmark of Spanish Revival homes, and are found not merely on roofs, but also on chimney tops. Others traits include rough stucco walls imitating adobe, and round arches used in porches and windows.  And of course, there’s that beloved detail of Spanish Revival architects—bits of clay pipe used as attic vents. More elaborate houses may also feature clay tile porch pavers, hand-painted ceramic tile accents, and occasionally, lovely little tiled fountains a la Goodhue’s Exhibition. 

Clay tile floors, dark woodwork, arches, and plenty of
doors to the garden characterize the best
Spannish Revival interiors.
Inside, you’ll find the same palette of materials, plus lots of dark, heavily-scaled woodwork. Spanish Revival interiors were quite innovative compared to earlier styles. They were among the first homes with vaulted or beamed ceilings (usually confined to the living room), and also frequently featured dramatic changes of level. Rusticity was the keynote, along with an exotic Mediterranean charm that no other style could lay claim to.  

Spanish Revival homes featured a close communion with
the outdoors that remains unmatched by other home styles
to this day. (Image courtesy of Homedit)
The floor plans also featured a refreshing connection to the garden that’s rarely been matched since. Paired French doors in the major rooms often lead onto inviting little patios, and in larger examples, stuccoed garden walls are used to create private courtyards.

Shortcomings? Only a few worth mentioning. In order to emulate the look of adobe construction, Spanish Revival windows tend to be on the smallish side, sometimes resulting in unusually dark interiors. The dark-stained floors and woodwork accentuate the effect.  But please, oh please—don’t whip out the ol’ paint brush to lighten things up per the usual design magazine' advice—these shadowy interiors are an integral part of the Spanish Revival style.  

Lastly, less expensive Spanish Revival tract houses often have false roof tiles cleverly concealing an often leak-prone flat roof. And that, as the Spanish say, can be mui problemo.

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