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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Spanish Colonial Architecture

Growing up in California and now residing in the Phoenix area, I have been surrounded by beautiful homes, missions and buildings that have been influenced by the Spanish Colonial style.

Most individuals when passing by a structure that has white stucco walls, horseshoe arches, decorative ironwork and low pitched roofs covered in red tiles instantly associate it with Spanish Colonial, but it is so much more than these few elements.

To truly understand the Spanish Colonial Style one must travel back in time to Spain when it was under Moorish (Muslim) rule which occurred between 711 and 1492 AD. Towards the end of their rule, Moorish leaders built The Alhambra (The Red One) a palace/fortress located in Granada. The Alhambra is considered to be one of the world's greatest forms of Andalusian architecture. With its horseshoe arches, square towers, and extensive tile work one can see how it greatly influenced the early Spanish Colonial style.

In 1492 came of conquest of The Kingdom of Granada by Ferdinand and Isabella. Indeed it was within the walls of The Alhambra that Christopher Columbus was granted an audience with the royal couple which resulted in his discovery of America later that same year. After his heroic return to Spain came the extensive exploration and colonization of the United States by the Spanish.

With their arrival in the new world the Spanish brought with them their design ideals. Not having the same building materials available they began to look at the adobe structures built by the local people and combined the two styles which resulted in what we have now come to call Spanish Colonial. The oldest governmental building in America is the Palace of the Governors located in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Construction was begun on the Palace in 1610. It is one of the earliest examples of the style.

Spain also desired to spread Christianity to the local people and as a result many missions were built, often in the Spanish Colonial style. Below is the San Xavier del Bac Mission, also known as the "White Dove of the Desert". It is located in the Santa Cruz Valley just outside of Tucson. It was built in the late 1700's by Franciscan fathers Juan Bautista Velderrain and Juan Bautista Llorenz. The high towers, large dome and rounded parapets have a Byzantine and Moorish architectural influence.

The Spanish Colonial Revival style occurred in the early 20th century as a result of the opening of the Panama Canal. San Diego was the first U.S. port of call and the Panama~California exposition was created as a celebration of the opening. The city park was selected as the exposition site and the name Balboa Park was adopted. Bertram Goodhue was the supervisory architect and he advised using forms of neoclassical Spanish Colonial architecture. Indeed the buildings have a Spanish baroque feel.

The exposition opened on December 31, 1914 and over the next three years it was attended by over 3.5 million visitors who became enamored of the eclectic mixture of Spanish and Latin American architecture and desired to have it as their own.

Furthering the style was the town of Santa Barbara. In 1925 an earthquake leveled most of the downtown and surrounding areas. A decision was made by the city council that all new buildings conform to a Spanish-Moorish style of architecture.

While this home is a new build, architect Marc Appleton says that he was influenced by the great George Washington Smith. Smith is often credited with being the father of the Spanish Colonial Revival home. In Santa Barbara alone he designed over 80 homes many of which are now on the national register.

One home built by Smith in 1925 is the Casa Del Herrero (Home of the Blacksmith) located in Montecito, Ca. It is modeled after farmhouses that Smith had seen on his trip to Andalusia in 1914. The home is filled with 13th ~18th century Spanish furniture and is now a museum.

This is the home of Diane Keaton. It is a Spanish Colonial Revival bungalow built in 1927. Ms. Keaton is an avid proponent of saving the many Spanish Colonial homes built during this time, which are being demolished at a saddening rate. She has coauthored a book entitled "Spanish Romantica: Spanish Colonial and Mission~ Style Houses".

Indeed many celebrities favor the look of the Spanish Colonial home. This home has been occupied by such legends as Bette David and Edith Head. It is now the residence of Carrie Fisher.

This 1920's beauty belongs to Jamie Lee Curtis and her husband Christopher Guest.

This home, built by Richard Landry, has Moorish influences and features an 18th century gate of solid walnut surrounded by beautifully colored tile.

The Spanish Colonial revival style can be found throughout America, such as this gorgeous example in Schenectady, New York.

Though most of the examples are in California, the Southwest and Florida.

If you would like to experience Spanish revival beauty firsthand book a room at The Cloisters built in 1928. It is on located on tiny Sea Island, Georgia.

Next week a post will feature interior Spanish Colonial design.


Lu Lu's Fluffy Ruffles said...

Beautiful photos! thank you!
I too grew up in California and when I moved to the East Coast it was hard to adjust to the difference in architecture, but I adjusted and now love the East Coast style.
Everyone used to say 'you moved from California to here?????"
I said yes! California is beautiful but so is the East Coast its just a different type of beautiful.
Now when I go back to Cali for a visit I long for the trees, winding roads, rivers and Cape, cottage and farm style homes we have here.
Sandy said...


Hi Laura,
Nice display of information. I have designed lighting and iron for several of these homes, inclusive of Appleton and Landry. Your display and clarity of descriptions is refreshing. Call me as you need more resource info. I also sit on the education committee for the Institute of Classical Architecture- SC. best Wishes,
Gerald Olesker
CEO/ Founder Architectural Detail Group, Inc.

Think green these days. classical architecture can be built with Style & Sustainability

Shimmy Mom said...

I love your lessons. So fascinating. Those places are so beautiful. I can't wait for the insides next week.

Carrie said...

Thank you for this excellent review. I grew to love Spanish style houses when I went to graduate school in California.

Glenda~Many Fond Memories said...

This just happens to be a favorite style of mine. A home that is next to my parents home is in the Spanish style. I loved the large living area and dining area. Such charm. Large windows and hardwood flooring. If I don't fine a cottage someday, I hope it's this style.


Liz said...

You are a true professional! Great post. I am learning so much. I still would rather have a little english tudor than my track home spainish colonial.... But at least I appreciate it a little more. : )
Good history lesson!

Mimi Sue said...

I lived in Santa Barbara for about 10 years. In fact I met the mister there and 2 of my children were born there. Your pictures made me homesick for the beautiful architecture, gardens, and weather. Not to mention the ocean. We still have friends there. It's a wonderful place to visit. Mimi

kari and kijsa said...

What beautiful photos and lovely inspiration! So much wonderful information and great style!
Come over and see our giveaway of a book of another style-starts tomorow!

kari & kijsa

Kitty Scraps said...

This was very interesting and I learned a great deal from your post. Thank you for sharing!

Julie said...

These are beautiful. Being in FL we have a bit of spanish flair here as well. I don't like the bright orange roofs but I love some of the other features. :)

I gave you an award at my blog if you are interested! :)

The Berry's Patch said...

These homes are beautiful. I grew up around this type of architecture. I remember moving to Washington state and noticing the houses were all wood. I wanted to stop and ask someone why they didn't use :-)

Andrea said...

Gorgeous photos and so much wonderful information.

Miss Sandy said...

Breath taking beauty in this style of architecture and educational too!

Melissa said...


Beautiful architecture!

My mother in law lives in Tucson, so I get to visit and see some of the Spanish Colonial architecture.

It's exquistite.

Happy Friday!


Marina Capano said...

Beautiful photos! and nice house

visit me anytime....

Bella Casa said...

I'm in love! Wow, I need to visit CA just to see such beautiful homes like these! I have a poor poor example of a Spanish style home...but I'm in MI, so I guess what do I expect? lol

Thanks for such beautiful pics!


TRay said...

Wow! The's a travel tip: Buy tickets to tour the palace way, way, way in advance of your actual visit date. After driving 2.5 hours to get there from Costa del Sol, we were greeted with a sign that read, "Palace tours sold out. Garden tours only." ARRRGH! It was a Griswold's Family Vacation "Marty Moose" moment. The gardens ARE beautiful, but I am sure the palace is stunning. Sigh...another time...

Anonymous said...

I lived in SoCal when I was young and remember visiting Mission Santa Barbara. My heart lept. Since then I have loved architecture, especially Spanish/Med. I live in Austin Tx now and enjoy driving around looking at houses in this style. It seems that the "upscale" houses are such, not more symetrical northern european or american "craftsmen" style, etc. My interest in this architecture has led me to study history and food of the med. Thanks for rekindling my heart attack when I was young in SoCal.
- john r, Austin Tx.

Lorna Auerbach said...

The Andalusian house credited as built by Richard Landry was built by Lorna Auerbach, who also designed the interiors. It was featured in the January 2008 issue of Architectural Digest. The photographer, Erhard Pfeiffer should also be credited. The photograph was used without permission. Lorna Auerbach Designs, LLC

Laura Ingalls Gunn said...

In regards to all photo credits:

If you hover your mouse over the name of the designer, architect or owner, it will light up. Click on the highlighted link and it will take you to all the design and publishing information.
If no information is listed, the image is usually from my own personal collection.

June 4, 2009 3:05 PM

Brandt Lewis said...

I absolutely love the very first home pic. Can anyone tell me more about that one in particular? Architect, etc. I want to obsess. Lol