What kind of house do you live in?
By Christopher Radcool Reynolds
D.Esign is like a time capsule. It captures the aspirations of the moment it was done. I’m obsessed with historical design because it tells a visual story of our human experience.
Knowing what to look for is a great way to see the history of San Francisco in his homes. In the earliest styles, you can see the city grow from a scruffy frontier settlement to a cosmopolitan city. Each era had its own look. The turn of the century aesthetic depicts SF’s struggle with the advances and losses of industrialization. Changes came quickly over the last century. The modernist design reflects technological and social upheavals that have changed the city’s cultural and physical landscape.
Here are the architectural styles of the houses in San Francisco. What kind of house do you live in?
W.When the gold rush speculators arrived in 1849, the look of the day was Italianate, a movement that sought to restore the look of the farmhouses and mansions of the Italian countryside. The main decorations of these houses are the brackets on the roof line and the hoods over the windows and doors.
SF’s earliest Italians were just flat-fronted boxes, like the buildings you’d see in old western cities, as the city really was back then. As San Francisco’s complexity and framing techniques increase, multi-story octagonal bays become an important element of this style. Italians were once ubiquitous, but most burned down in 1906.
Examples of Italian homes are west of Divisadero and south of 20th Street in Mission.
San Francisco was once surrounded by ancient forests. When the industrial revolution began, the city was ready for a style that made use of its natural resources. Redwood forests have been reduced to two by four. New frame practices used standardized wood. The houses showed more complicated facades and roof lines. Once built, every surface imaginable was covered with machined decorations to create geometric patterns.
“Stick”, the name of this style, embodies a tragic irony. Basically, the houses are built from sticks and decorated – starting with the ancient redwood forests to a manicured forest of patterned houses.
Floor houses are common in areas untouched by the 1906 fire, such as the Western Addition, Noe and Eureka Valleys, Mission and Potrero Hill.
In one hot second, San Francisco went from being a distant outpost to a world-class industrial city. The residents wanted to flaunt all their new money with opulent houses. The designs were free, precious and pretty for everyone. Queen Anne houses are fanciful and exaggerated. They have myriad combinations of bay windows, towers, and ornate roof lines. The trimming of these houses is more feminine and noticeable. Like the Painted Ladies on Alamo Square, they drip in swarms of flowers and shine in gold.
Extravagant examples of Queen Anne’s homes can be found in Ashbury Heights, Alamo Square, Cow Hollow, and Pacific Heights.
During the turn of the century, most of the western world wanted to see itself as a direct extension of ancient Rome. The Franciscans, however, saw themselves as something new: modern.
The Franciscans had to work out the tension of being ambassadors of Western culture while living in a modern world. Enter the Edwardian home where women from industrialists in Togas used to chat. Though less opulent than the former Queen Annes, the more masculine Edwardian homes borrow details from ancient temple architecture. Edwardians had fewer interior walls and larger “grand rooms”.
Edwardian homes are heavily concentrated in areas that were rebuilt after the fire, such as the SOMA, Downtown, and Mission neighborhoods.
Through industrialization, the Franciscans faced the harsh reality of modern city life and romanticized the simple country life of the city’s founders, the missionaries. The mission style was an attempt to turn back time. It enlivened the appearance of Spanish missions, which were barely decorated on clay and stucco facades.
Key elements of the missionary style were reinterpreted in the late teens as “Spanish Colonial,” which is the most influential style in California today. It was used by tract developers to romanticize the western border. That nostalgia became a must-have marketing ploy for selling homes to people in the Midwest who wanted a slice of glamorous, sunny California.
Mission houses are located in Glen Park, Sunset, Richmond, Outer Mission, and Noe Valley.
At the beginning of the 20th century, companies and machines produced everything. People feared that traditional handicrafts would be lost on the assembly lines. The craftsman’s house is not processed; It’s handcrafted by skilled artisans. The movement enlivened the trades by bringing them to art status. The Craftsman style house has no additional decoration. Instead, it advocates creating a home for art in its own right.
The irony of this style is that the movement elevates the status of handcrafted houses as better than bulk houses. But as in today’s artisanal and small hipster culture, only the rich could afford it.
Craftsmen’s houses were built outside the city center. You can find them in Glen Park, Sunset, Richmond, Outer Mission, and Noe Valley.
With a handle of steel and an unbridled enthusiasm for industry, the buildings of the 1920s scratched the sky. Art Deco houses are heavily decorated in geometric patterns that play the verticality and give the illusion of a building disappearing into the sky. They have modern or machine-age materials such as chrome, glass and steel. These buildings are all about optimism and technology.
As an embodiment of capitalism, this style was mainly used for commercial buildings, but some Art Deco homes can be found in Pacific Heights, Sunset, Marina, and Sea Cliff.
When families came to California to escape the Dust Bowl, the developers came up with a big idea. They discovered that they could make a lot of money by buying up the tracts of land outside the city center and building a variety of nearly identical houses. In order to achieve maximum profit, common floor plans were repeated over and over again like on the assembly line. The 1930s marked the beginning of the trend of subdivision that changed the entire American landscape.
Developers relied heavily on hype – the San Francisco Chronicle wrote glowing articles about the new homes (while selling ad space to the developers themselves). And constantly changing stylized facades or new models helped keep the excitement (and profits) going.
These homes are ubiquitous in the Marina, Sunset, Richmond, Excelsior, Visitation Valley, Hunters Point, Bernal Heights, Noe Valley, Potrero Hill, and Glen Park.
The desperation of the Great Depression made the common man dream of traveling to exotic places. Films like The Wizard of Oz captured the nation’s longing to leave a dreary existence behind by escaping to more colorful places. The 1930s was all about luxury high-speed travel. Aerodynamic details for trains and the horizontal decks and rails of luxury ships inspired the house of Streamline Moderne. The low, long silhouettes are reinforced with horizontal details at every opportunity, and rounded corners are reminiscent of the bow and porthole of chic yachts.
Streamline Modern Homes are located in areas that have recently developed such as Sunset, Excelsior, Outer Mission, and Noe Valley.
The Depression made capitalism look really ugly. Socialism looked pretty cute. The world was ready for an aesthetic movement that embodied the new collaborative idea. International style was introduced as a style for the whole world. The 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island featured this minimalist architectural style that was inspired by technology rather than history. The idea was to leave individual cultural identities behind and exist as one world. The international home drops any decoration that is not useful. Nobody had ever seen such simple square shapes. Today many say they look like boring boxes, but at the time the clean lines were revolutionary.
International homes can be found in Noe Valley, Sea Cliff, Twin Peaks, Upper Market, Laurel Village and Golden Gate Heights.
In the 1950s, almost everyone believed that very soon we would all be living like the Jetsons. New materials have made modern houses out of this world. With few walls and tons of glass, it was hard to tell where in and out started and where they ended. You could drive your Desoto right into your house in the rocket ship style and enter through the “carport”, a little over the “space port”. By 1950, there was virtually no land to build on in San Francisco. That is, with the exception of the windswept peaks, which were previously considered too hostile to make a living from. But new technologies made houses weatherproof and areas were finally open to developers. Who had to go outside with views like that?
Mid-century modern homes can be found in Diamond Heights, Twin Peaks, and Golden Gate Heights.
Minimalism seemed subversive at first, but for the kids of the baby boom it was boring, monotonous, and predictable. Modern homes were viewed as simple boxes, and it was time to think outside the box.
San Francisco was the epicenter of radical change. Civil rights, women’s liberation, and the sexual revolution mixed things up. Free love, drugs and rock and roll permeated youth culture. This spirit allows styles to blend together. Like an architectural electric kool-aid, this style looks rather strange, impossible, surprising, or awkward.
Postmodern homes were built wherever individual lots remained undeveloped, such as Sunset, Golden Gate Heights, Diamond Heights, Bernal Heights, or where obsolete industrial buildings were replaced – Potrero Hill, Mission, SOMA and Mission Bay.
Illustrations by Eli Myers.