Craftsman homes and bungalows in Southern California

The Pasadena area is a treasure trove of numerous fine Craftsman and Bungalow style homes. After you see enough Craftsman homes you begin to appreciate and perhaps fall in love with the simplicity, efficiency and the details of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Craftsman architecture was developing in the United States at the turn of the 19th century. In Southern California the Craftsman movement evolved quite differently in many respects. These unique differences, details and styles make Craftsman Architecture special to us here in Southern California.

The Arts and Crafts movement began in England with the prolific writings of John Ruskin and William Morris who stressed the virtues of hand made goods as opposed to the machine made goods of the industrial revolution. Gustav Stickley in New York was one of the first Americans to adopt the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement shunning the Victorian and Classical style in favor of simple unadorned handmade basic structural forms.

In the Pasadena area the Arts and Crafts style was being adopted by several local artisans; Ernest Batchelder the tile maker and designer, Highland Park’s Arroyo Guild, including William Lees Judson the Stained glass artisan and founder of the USC College of Fine Arts, and of course the architectural firm Greene and Greene that opened their offices in Pasadena in 1894.

The work of Charles and Henry Greene has come to represent the heart and soul of the Craftsman movement with its simplicity and meticulous attention to materials and detail. The historic Gamble House featured rooms on the first floor that opened onto a terrace and the second floor bedrooms that opened onto an unscreened sleeping porch. The extension of the living space to the outdoors was a revolutionary concept at the time and could be interpreted as a celebration of Southern California’s temperate climate.

Charles Greene, the prime designer in the firm, was said to be under the spell of Japan. The Asian influence can be seen in the corbelled bracing design of the Blacker House which was common in many Japanese temples. He featured the cloud lift which is of a centuries old Chinese design and the use of heavy carved structural members integrating the building and nature. The beams and rafters often extended beyond the roof line accentuating the design. The use of the picture rail above the door and window openings around the perimeter of the room unified the various interior elements of a room such as the doors, windows, fireplace, inglenook and built in furniture. The plastered freeze above that rail to the ceiling had the effect of making the room seem larger.

The Greenes used several interesting details in wood joinery such as strapping several wood members together with metal straps and clevis. Wood beams where spliced together with scarf off set or Z splices with square keepers with all edges sanded round. Perpendicular board intersections where mortised together with round peg keepers. Board corners where joined with finger joints rather than a simple mortise. Beam ends often protruded beyond the intersecting face with all edges sanded round. First floor parapet walls used indigenous river rock, quite often with a Clinker brick cap. Hardware and light fixtures had a distinctive Craftsman design which to this day is duplicated and in demand.

The cost of the Craftsman home with its beautiful detailing and the use of many exotic woods was just a little beyond the average home builder’s budget. Thus keeping with some of the same characteristics and techniques of the Craftsman home, a more modest design evolved referred to as the Bungalow.

The term Bungalow evolved from an East Indian hut called a Bangala which was anglicized into the word bungalow. In England the term came to describe compact no frills resort or vacation housing. In America the bungalow came to represent an affordable, practical, fashionable home greatly influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement.

The popularity of the Bungalow movement spanned the teens and twenties and swept various parts of the country particularly trend setting California. The typical Bungalow floor plan started with a generous front porch which could act as outdoor seating area. The front door opened to a living room with a fireplace located along an exterior wall. This room was intended to be the main living area for the family and for receiving visitors. Quite often the living room opened directly into the dining room with a cased or framed opening for visual separation and frequently had a built in buffet. Next was the kitchen with built in cabinets including a cupboard. These kitchens were laid out so that it had enough room for a small informal dining area, a new concept in the kitchen design. Bed and bathrooms were to the side or rear of the forgoing function or on the second floor. The plans generally where compact and quite functional.

Although the above described is quite common there was considerable variation in the style often incorporating classical and Victorian motifs. Southern California was different in this respect with less influence in the traditional style and in some cases influenced by the Mission style in the San Gabriel Valley. With Californian’s temperate climate and no snow loads the roofs where allowed a lower slope with strong horizontal lines. Structural elements were simple and strait forward. Rather than beam or rafter tails having classical or birds mouth profile, they where strait cut with rounded edges and often projected beyond the roof eves or post supports. Parapets, pilasters and fireplaces using indigenous river rock were a significant feature of the in the Pasadena area. Large entry porches sometimes extending across the entire width of the house where an endorsement of outdoor California living.

It is difficult to say who was responsible as the major influences in designing the multitudes of bungalows across America. Needless to say there was quite a bit of plagiarism between plan books. In most cases we really don’t know. Of course there were less common instances of custom built one of a kind bungalows attributed to an architect but many of the bungalow designs were the creations of unnamed designers, architects, or anonymous underpaid draftsmen. Plans were marketed by the use of books whose complete plans including details and specifications and were sold by numerous sources such as Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward for as little at ten dollars.

An innovation arising from the plan book was what became known as “Kit Homes”. These “Kit Homes” where complete packages of carefully labeled house parts including structural elements, built in furniture, fixtures and finished millwork all meticulously labeled so that handy home owners could build their own houses for as little of $1500 ordered by mail.

There was no uniformity of style in the plan books that spanned the gamut of architectural influences from Victorian to Classical. You can see direct copies of Gustav Stickley homes right here in Pasadena. The house on your block might be a significant copy of a famous architects work. Next time you stroll down the historic streets of Pasadena don’t forget to appreciate the beauty and the history of the homes amongst you.