Spanish Style Homes in the New World

01
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Homes With a Mediterranean Flair

Spanish mission style home in Phoenix, Arizona
Spanish mission style home in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Morey Milbradt/Moment Mobile Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

Step through the stucco archway, linger in the tiled courtyard, and you might think you were in Spain. Or Portugal. Or Italy, or northern Africa, or Mexico. North America's Spanish style homes embrace the entire Mediterranean world, combine it with ideas from Hopi and Pueblo Indians, and add flourishes that can amuse and delight any whimsical spirit.

What do you call these houses? Spanish-inspired homes built in the first decades of the 20th century are usually described as Spanish Colonial or Spanish Revival, suggesting that they borrow ideas from early American settlers from Spain. However, these homes might also be called Hispanic or Mediterranean. And, because these homes often combine many different styles, some people use the term Spanish Eclectic.

02
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Spanish Eclectic Homes

Spanish Colonial Revival Bungalow in San Jose, California
Spanish Colonial Revival Bungalow in San Jose, California. Photo © Flickr Member "Roar of the Four"

America's Spanish houses have a long history and can incorporate many styles. Architects and historians often use the word eclectic to describe architecture that mixes traditions. A Spanish Eclectic house is not exactly Spanish Colonial or Mission or any particular Spanish style. Instead, these early 20th century homes combine details from Spain, the Mediterranean, and South America. They capture the flavor of Spain without imitating any one historic tradition.

Typical Characteristics of Spanish-Influenced American Homes:

Virginia and Lee McAlester, authors of A Field Guide to American Houses, characterize Spanish Eclectic homes as having these features:

  • Low-pitched roof
  • Red roof tiles
  • Little or no overhanging eaves
  • Stucco siding
  • Arches, especially above doors, porch entries and main windows

Some Spanish style homes have these characteristics:

  • Asymmetrical shape with cross-gables and side wings
  • Flat roof and parapets
  • Or, a hipped roof
  • Carved doors
  • Spiral columns and pilasters
  • Courtyards
  • Carved stonework or cast ornaments
  • Patterned tile floors and wall surfaces
03
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Mission Style Houses

Mission style house
1890-1920: Mission & California Mission House Styles. Mission style houses have stucco walls, arches, and other details inspired by the Spanish mission churches of colonial America. Photo © 2005 Jupiterimages Corporation

In many ways, America's Spanish Eclectic houses that were built between 1915 - 1940 look similar to the slightly earlier Mission Revival houses.

Mission architecture romanticized the Spanish churches of colonial America. Mission houses typically have red tile roofs, parapets, decorative railings, and carved stonework. They are, however, more elaborate than the colonial era mission churches. Wild and expressive, the Mission house style borrowed from the entire history of Spanish architecture, from Moorish to Byzantine to Renaissance.

The Owls Club Mansion shown here is an especially elaborate example of Mission Revival architecture in Tucson, Arizona. Architect Henry Trost modeled the home after a design by Louis Sullivan. Completed in 1902, the house is decorated with geometric patterns, parapets with ornamental drainpipes, and other details inspired by historic Spanish mission churches.

Learn More About This House: "Owl-saving group buys historic Owls Club mansion" by Tony Davis, Arizona Daily Star at tucson.com, April 13, 2014

Spanish Eclectic houses are not usually as flamboyant as Mission Revival homes. Nevertheless, America's Spanish houses of the 1920s and 1930s reflect the same enthusiasm for all things español. Why the fascination for Spanish architecture? Read on...

04
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How a Canal Inspired Architects

Casa de Balboa in Balboa Park, San Diego
The Panama-California Exposition in 1915 inspired elaborate Spanish Revival architecture like Casa de Balboa in Balboa Park, San Diego. Photo © Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty Images

In 1915, gates to the Panama canal swung open, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. To celebrate, San Diego, California - the first North American port of call on the Pacific Coast - launched a spectacular exposition. The chief designer for the event was Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, who had a fascination for Gothic and Hispanic styles.

Goodhue did not want the cold, formal Renaissance and Neoclassical architecture that was normally used for expositions and fairs. Instead, he envisioned a fairy tale city with a festive, Mediterranean flavor.

05
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Fanciful Churrigueresque Buildings

Casa del Prado is a lavish re-invention of Spanish Baroque, or Churrigueresque, architecture.
Casa del Prado in Balboa Park is a lavish re-invention of Spanish Baroque, or Churrigueresque, architecture. Photo © Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty Images

For the Panama–California Exposition of 1915, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue (along with fellow architects Carleton M. Winslow, Clarence Stein and Frank P. Allen, Jr.) created extravagant, capricious Churrigueresque towers based on the 17th and 18th century Spanish Baroque architecture. They filled Balboa Park in San Diego with arcades, arches, colonnades, domes, fountains, pergolas, reflecting pools, man-sized Muslim urns and an array of Disneyesque details.

America was dazzled, and Iberian fever spread as trendy architects adapted Spanish ideas to upscale homes and public buildings.

06
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High Style Spanish Revival Architecture in Santa Barbara, California

The Spanish-Moorish Santa Barbara Courthouse was built in 1929, after the 1925 earthquake destroyed much of Santa Barbara.
The Spanish-Moorish Santa Barbara Courthouse was built in 1929, after the 1925 earthquake destroyed much of Santa Barbara. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Archive Photos Collection/Getty Images

Possibly the most famous examples of Spanish Revival architecture can be found in Santa Barbara, California. Santa Barbara had a rich tradition of Hispanic architecture long before Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue unveiled his vision of a Mediterranean skyline. But after a massive earthquake in 1925, the town was rebuilt. With its clean white walls and inviting courtyards, Santa Barbara became a showplace for the new Spanish style.

A landmark example is the Santa Barbara Courthouse designed by William Mooser III. Completed in 1929, the Courthouse is a showplace of Spanish and Moorish design with imported tiles, enormous murals, hand-painted ceilings, and wrought iron chandeliers. (See photos)

07
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Spanish Style Architecture in Florida

Designed by Addison Mizner, the Spanish style Fred C. Aiken House in Boca Raton, Florida was built in 1926
Designed by Addison Mizner, the Spanish style Fred C. Aiken House in Boca Raton, Florida was built in 1926. Photo by Ebyabe via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Meanwhile, on the other side of the continent, architect Addison Mizner was adding new excitement to Spanish Revival architecture.

Born in California, Mizner had worked in San Francisco and New York. At age 46, he moved to Palm Beach, Florida for his health. He designed elegant Spanish style houses for wealthy clients, purchased 1,500 acres of land in Boca Raton, and launched an architectural movement known as the Florida Renaissance.

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The Florida Renaissance

Boca Raton Resort in Boca Raton, Florida is characteristic of the Spanish Revival architecture that Addison Mizner made famous
Boca Raton Resort in Boca Raton, Florida is characteristic of the Spanish Revival architecture that Addison Mizner made famous. Photo by Archive Photos/Archive Photos Collection/Getty Images

Addison Mizner aspired to turn the tiny unincorporated town of Boca Raton, Florida into a luxurious resort community filled with his own special blend of Mediterranean architecture. Irving Berlin, W.K. Vanderbilt, Elizabeth Arden, and other illustrious personalities bought stock in the venture.

Addison Mizner went broke, but his dream came true. Boca Raton became a Mediterranean Mecca with Moorish columns, spiral staircases suspended in midair, and exotic Medieval details.

09
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Spanish Deco Houses

This Mediterranean Revival home is one of many that James H. Nunnally built in Mornigside, Florida.
This Mediterranean Revival home is one of many that James H. Nunnally built in Morningside, Florida. Photo © Flickr Member "Critical Miami"

Hispanic architecture also captured the imagination of candy baron James H. Nunnally. During the early 1920s, Nunnally founded Morningside, Florida and populated the neighborhood with a romantic mix of Mediterranean Revival and Art Deco houses.

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Spanish Houses Go North

Spanish Eclectic Bungalow in San Jose, California
Spanish Eclectic Bungalow in San Jose, California. Photo © Flickr Member "Roar of the Four"

The stucco walls and cool, shaded interiors make Spanish Eclectic homes best suited for warmer climates. Nevertheless, scattered examples of Spanish style houses - some quite elaborate - can be found in chilly northern regions.

Manifesting in a variety of forms, Spanish Eclectic homes were built in nearly every part of the United States. Simplified versions of the style evolved for working-class budgets. During the 1930s, neighborhoods filled with one-story stucco houses with arches and other details that suggested a Spanish Colonial flavor.

Compare this Spanish-inspired design with other Bungalow Architecture from the same time period. Although many of the features are similar, the influences of Spanish architecture are readily displayed in this San Jose home.

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East Meets West in the Monterey Revival

Monterey revival house, 1925, in West Palm Beach, Florida
Monterey Revival House Style, Ralph and Elizabeth Norton House (1925), West Palm Beach, Florida. Photo of Norton House by Ebyabe (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By the mid-1800s, the new country called the United States was becoming homogenized—integrating cultures and styles to create a new mix of influences. The Monterey Style developed in, you guessed it—Monterey, California. But this mid-19th century design combined the Western Spanish stucco features with the French Colonial inspired Tidewater style from the Eastern US.

The functional style first seen around Monterey was suited for a hot, rainy climate, and so its 20th century revival, called Monterey Revival, was predictable. It is a fine, pragmatic design, combining the best of East and West. Just as the Monterey Style blended styles, its Revival modernized many of its features.