San Francisco Architecture: Victorian to Edwardian to Post-Modern

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Do you know the difference between a Victorian and an Edwardian home? Many people assume that the centenarian homes in San Francisco are Victorian, but a slew of other styles grace our streets, including Tudor Revival and Edwardian Craftsman. If you know what to look for, you can see the story of San Francisco in its homes. In the earliest styles, you can see the growth of the city from a scrubby frontier settlement into a cosmopolitan city. Every era had its own look. Turn of the century aesthetics show SF’s struggle with the advancements and losses of Industrialization. During the last century, change happened quickly. And modernist design reflects technological and social upheavals that transformed the city’s cultural and actual landscape.

Here’s a guide, adapted from The Bold Italic, to help you understand San Francisco’s diverse architecture.

Italianate: 1840-1890’s

When the speculators of the gold rush arrived in 1849 the look of the day was Italianate, a movement that tried to recreate the look of the farmhouses and villas of the Italian countryside. The main decorations of these homes are the brackets at the roofline and the hoods over the window and doors.

SF’s earliest Italianates were just flat-fronted boxes, like the buildings you’d see in old western towns, which the city really was at the time. As San Francisco and framing techniques became more sophisticated, multi-story octagonal bays become an important element of this style. Italianates were once ubiquitous, but most burned down in 1906.

Examples of Italianate homes remain west of Divisadero and south of 20th Street in the Mission.

Flat+front+Bush+St+bestFlat Front Italianates
Look for: 

  • False front extending above a flat or pitched roof
  • Top cornice held up by multiple brackets
  • Plain, lapped siding
  • Simple window hoods

 

 

 

 

Italiante+row+on+Valencia+MissionSlanted Bay Italiantes
Look for:

  • Slanted bay windows
  • Tiny Juliet balcony over the front porch
  • Classic columns around front door
  • Rounded, bulky cornices extending above roof line

 

 

 

                                                                     

Stick: 1860’s-1880’s

San Francisco was once surrounded by ancient old-growth forests. As the industrial revolution powered up, the city was ready for a style that used its natural resources. Redwood forests were reduced to two by fours. New framing practices made use of standardized lumber. Homes began to feature more complicated facades and rooflines. Once built, every imaginable surface was covered in bits of machined trim to create geometric patterns.

“Stick,” the name given to this style, embodies a tragic irony. Basically, the homes are built of and decorated with sticks – starting from the ancient redwood forests and ending in a neat forest of patterned homes.

Stick homes are common in neighborhoods that were untouched by the 1906 fire, such as in the Western Addition, Noe and Eureka Valleys, the Mission, and Potrero Hill.

P1020643+Stick+Row+on+Laguna-1San Francisco Stick
Look for:

  • Squared off bay windows
  • Straight lines
  • Gabled roof
  • Repetitive use of small decorative trim

 

 

 

                                                                     

Queen Anne: 1880’s-Late 1910’s

Victorian_Queen-Anne_1In one hot second, San Francisco went from being a faraway outpost to a world-class industrial city. Its denizens wanted to show off all their new money with opulent houses. The designs were a free-for-all, precious and pretty. Queen Anne homes are fanciful and over the top. They feature countless combinations of bay windows, turrets, and decorated rooflines. The trimming of these homes tends to be feminine and flashy. Like the Painted Ladies on Alamo Square, they are dripping in swags of flowers and shining with gold.

Extravagant examples of Queen Anne homes can be found in Ashbury Heights, Alamo Square, Cow Hollow, and Pacific Heights.

Queen Anne
Look for:

  • Gabled roof
  • Decorative shingles
  • Rounded or arched windows
  • Tower or turret
  • Decorative finials or weathervanes
  • Stained or leaded glass
  • Elaborate 3-D plaster or machine carved decorations

                                                                     

Edwardian: 1900-1910

san_francisco_edwardianDuring the turn of the century, most of the Western world wanted to see itself as a direct extension of ancient Rome. San Franciscans, however, saw themselves as something new: modern.

San Franciscans had to work out the tension of being ambassadors of Western culture while living in a modern world. Enter the Edwardian home, where wives of industrialists could entertain in togas. Though less opulent than earlier Queen Annes, the more masculinely trimmed Edwardian houses borrow details from ancient temple architecture. Edwardians had fewer interior walls and featured larger “great rooms.”

Edwardian homes are highly concentrated in areas that were rebuilt after the fire, such as in the south of Market, downtown, and Mission neighborhoods.

                                                                     

Mission: 1920’s-Present

3908c8fe0f969564712b0b23ec259694Industrialization made San Franciscans face the harsh reality of modern city life and romanticize the simple rural lives of the city’s founders, the missionaries. Mission style was an attempt to turn back time. It revived the look of Spanish missions, which had little decoration on adobe and stucco facades.

Key elements of Mission style were reinterpreted beginning in the late teens as ‘Spanish Colonial’, which is now the most influential style in California. It was used by tract developers to romanticize the western frontier. This nostalgia became an essential marketing gimmick to sell homes to midwesterners who wanted a piece of glamorous, sunny California.

Mission homes are found in Glen Park, the Sunset, the Richmond, outer Mission, and Noe Valley.

                                                                     

Craftsman: 1910-1920

san-francisco-bungalowBy the early 1900s, corporations and machines were producing everything. People feared that traditional crafts were going to be lost to assembly lines. The Craftsman home is not machined; it’s handmade by skilled craftsmen. The movement revived the trades by inflating them to art status. The Craftsman-style home has no added decoration. Instead, it champions the creation of a house into an art in its own right.

The irony of this style is that the movement elevates the status of handmade houses as being better than mass-produced houses. But like today’s artisanal and small-batch hipster culture, only the rich could afford it.

 Craftsman homes were built away from the city’s center. You’ll find them in Glen Park, the Sunset, the Richmond, outer Mission, and Noe Valley.

                                                                     

Art Deco: 1920’s

The-Doelger-Building-2012With a grip of steel and unchecked enthusiasm for industry, the buildings of the 1920s scraped the sky. Art Deco houses are heavily decorated in geometric patterns that play up verticality, and give the illusion of a building vanishing into the sky. They feature 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 a few Art Deco houses can be found in Pacific Heights, the Sunset, Marina, and Sea Cliff.

                                                                     

Early Suburban Tract: 1930’s and 1940’s

20th_ave_sanfran_photosAs families came to California escaping the Dust Bowl, developers had a big idea. They discovered they could make a ton of money by buying up the tracts of land outside the city center and building a multitude of nearly identical houses. For maximum profit, common floor plans were repeated over and over like an assembly line. The 1930s was the dawn of the subdivision trend that transformed 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 ever-changing stylized facades or new models helped keep the excitement (and profits) up.

 These homes are ubiquitous in the Marina, Sunset, the Richmond, Excelsior, Visitation Valley, Hunters Point, Bernal Heights, Noe Valley, Potrero Hill, and Glen Park.

                                                                     

Streamline Moderne: 1930’s

6253900075_118407b353_oThe desperation of the Great Depression left the common man dreaming of traveling to exotic places. Movies like The Wizard of Oz captured the nation’s longing to leave a drab existence by escaping to more colorful locales. Style in the 1930s was all about high-speed luxury travel. Aerodynamic detailing for trains and the horizontal decks and rails of luxury ships inspired the Streamline Moderne home. The low, long silhouettes are reinforced at every opportunity with horizontal details, and rounded corners evoke the bow and porthole of chic yachts.

Streamline Moderne houses can be found in areas that were the last to be developed, such as in the Sunset, Excelsior, outer Mission, and Noe Valley.

                                                                     

International: 1940’s

international_style_home_san_franciscoThe desperation of the Great Depression left the common man dreaming of traveling to exotic places. Movies like The Wizard of Oz captured the nation’s longing to leave a drab existence by escaping to more colorful locales. Style in the 1930s was all about high-speed luxury travel. Aerodynamic detailing for trains and the horizontal decks and rails of luxury ships inspired the Streamline Moderne home. The low, long silhouettes are reinforced at every opportunity with horizontal details, and rounded corners evoke the bow and porthole of chic yachts.

 

                                                                     

Mid-Century Modern: 1950’s-1960’s

4356-25th-StreetThe desperation of the Great Depression left the common man dreaming of traveling to exotic places. Movies like The Wizard of Oz captured the nation’s longing to leave a drab existence by escaping to more colorful locales. Style in the 1930s was all about high-speed luxury travel. Aerodynamic detailing for trains and the horizontal decks and rails of luxury ships inspired the Streamline Moderne home. The low, long silhouettes are reinforced at every opportunity with horizontal details, and rounded corners evoke the bow and porthole of chic yachts.

                                                                     

Postmodern: 1970’s-1980’s

Post-modern-architecture-san-franciscoThe desperation of the Great Depression left the common man dreaming of traveling to exotic places. Movies like The Wizard of Oz captured the nation’s longing to leave a drab existence by escaping to more colorful locales. Style in the 1930s was all about high-speed luxury travel. Aerodynamic detailing for trains and the horizontal decks and rails of luxury ships inspired the Streamline Moderne home. The low, long silhouettes are reinforced at every opportunity with horizontal details, and rounded corners evoke the bow and porthole of chic yachts.

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