Trajan, Hadrian and other Roman emperors, philosophers, and poets were born in Hispania Provence, “Spain”, a region alike Italia Provence in culture, agriculture, and architecture.  Hispania continued Roman through the Visigoth occupation, altering little of its traditions and customs until the Moorish invasions of the VIII Century, and then the 800 years of resistance, of war against the occupying Moors until the Christian monarchs reconquered Spain, circa 1492.  Spain’s energy of conquest propelled expedition in search of gold sufficient to retake Rome’s African and Asian Provinces from Islam’s many caliphs, sultans, and pashas.  This was the cause for Isabella & Ferdinand’s funding of the 1492 expedition of Christopher Columbus, Christian knight, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Viceroy of the Indies (America).

The Spanish styles of American architecture incorporate the Roman, the Byzantine, the Moorish, the Gothic, the Italian and the Spanish Renaissance, and a few elements of the Aztec, the Mayan, and the Hopi, as in the Adobe.  A scan of American-Spanish architecture reflects a scan of American-Spanish citizens, varied in history, ascendence, interests, abilities and qualities.  For convenience, this review of American-Spanish architecture will be titled “Spanish Eclectic”, a 500-year gloss of distinct styles: the Spanish Colonials of Florida and the Southwest, the Spanish Missions, the Spanish Territorial of the early Republic, the Spanish Revival of California and the West, and Florida’s Spanish Invention, the current Spanish Renewal, clean and fine.


Spanish Eclectic Periods

Colonial, Territorial, Mission, Revival, Pueblo, Renewal

Spanish Eclectic

San Xavier Mission, constructed 1783-1797; Tucson, Arizona. photographer unknown


Spanish Colonial

(1520s–1780s in the East, 1520s–1840s in the West)

Spanish Eclectic

The Gonzalez-Alvarez House, St. Augustine, Florida, 1723, is the oldest house in St. Augustine, the oldest continuously inhabited Classive city in the United States.

Ponce de Leon in 1513 was the first to establish a settlement in North America, near what is now St. Augustine, named for the saint who composed The City of God.  Soon, in 1528, America’s first successful, continuous Spanish colony was established at Tampa, 100 years before the English colony at Massachusetts Bay.  Our first Florida houses learned from the Seminole and were built quickly over hardened mud upon a wooden frame to which palmetto-found curtains were attached, laid one above the other, as tightly as possible.  These were temporary shelters that might be rebuilt after storms, raids, and burning.

The Spanish settlements of Florida in Pensacola and St. Augustine were laid in Hippodamus’ grid plan, as in Piraeus, Athens.  Here within an enclosed yard were nestled houses that fronted the street.  These houses might sport a loggia or roof gallery.  An entrance door would be on the side or in the back. There might be a balcony or lanai.  The outdoor rooms faced the Southeast, to catch the breeze and to warm in winter’s sun.  Some houses were constructed of vertical, pit-sawn cypress plank nailed to struts.  Atop along stringers were cross poles that settled the cabbage-thatch roof; a hole in the roof let out the fire-pit’s smoke.  Some houses were constructed of tabby, oyster shell and sand bound by lime, later stuccoed smooth.

Antique postcard depicting the Palace of the Governors and Our Lady of Victory Procession Santa Fe New Mexico

Antique postcard depicting the Palace of the Governors and Our Lady of Victory Procession, Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The Palace of the Governors, 1610, is the oldest structure of Classive civilization in the Americas.

Alike Florida’s tabby, Spanish colonial houses of the Southwest were of clay adobe, mud mixed with a binding chopped straw, sun-dried, whitewashed in plaster.  Here too were the vertical plank doors, but with cypress shingles and rainspouts to draw water off flat roofs.

In time, some houses came to look much like our two-story suburban houses with hipped roofs, louvered shutters, second-story galleries, courtyards and fireplaces; the fogón, a bell-shaped fireplace was common.

Some houses became rather grand, became little fortresses, towns unto themselves, walled windowless on the exterior, opening like the Pompeian into an inner garden court surrounded by light-filled rooms where extended families and farmhands would reside.  Enclosed within the walls behind, sheded storage, the livestock barn, the poultry coop, the corral which was entered by a gate sufficient to allow the passage of a wagon and team.  These wall gates might be topped by a Roman arch, doored with broad carved wood, decoratively butt-hinged, punctuated by open spindles for sight and defense.

* The casa de campo is the farmhouse, the hacienda are the grounds devoted to livestock.  The casa de pueblo is the townhouse.


Spanish Territorial

(1820s–1890s in the West)

Spanish Eclectic

An Old Adobe House

As when the Spanish adopted the Seminole palmetto house, Anglo, Irish, German, African, and other pioneering Americans adopted the native mud-brick Spanish style of house.  From wagon trains and railroad trains through Santa Fe to San Francisco, Americans came to build a house and make a Western home.  Adobe houses, mostly, though too of sawn wood, a high-style Anglo-Spanish that layered wood-carved architectural details upon unadorned stucco.  True, the linked room-deep townhouses and the central court ranch houses persisted, yet increasingly, Palladian styles insinuated themselves into the West.  Both the central hall & parlor “Rancho”, and the four-square “Monterey” layered a civil dignity, a measured bi-lateral Anglo symmetry upon the tumbled asymmetry of the Spanish styles.  The encircling wood-piered galleries of the Rancho and the Monterey allowed a gentility common to plantations.  On occasion, a cooling wine cellar was dug beneath the house.  Outbuildings and simple houses allowed the mudbrick to show, naked of stucco and roughly sawn in door and batten.  In place of glass, a curtain hung behind decorative window grills.


Spanish Mission

(1895–1930, nationwide)

Spanish Eclectic

The Alamo, 1718, San Antonio, Texas.

From the tower the bells would sing in call to souls who would be redeemed, “civilized in the way of Christ” you might say.  Recall the human sacrifice, the Aztec, the Maya, the reaching into flesh to extract a yet-beating heart and all notions of cultural expropriation will come to silence.  Hear the bell of the tower, see the delightfully turning volutes, the saints in joy, the beautiful door through which you enter Paradise beneath the vault of Heaven, and there upon the altar not the bed of your sacrifice but the sacrifice of one who gave His life that you might more fully live.  Understand this and know the power of the Spanish Catholic Mission, the beauty of the style, its attraction, its persistence, and how this ecclesiastic style would be domestically adapted.

Spanish Mission culture (Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans, each unique in godly mission, in style) extended from the exploring 1530s to the pioneering 1820s when the revolutionary Mexican government discouraged missions and the monks, encouraged by grants of land favored families and inside enterprises.  From the 1760s into the 1780s a California governor promoted secular towns, the pueblos.  Little by little by pressure the energetic Missions became exhausted, became quiet, and the Spanish West faded.  Soon rickety wagons and rumbling boxcar trains delivered to old Mexico and to new California tens of thousands of busy, energetic Anglo-cultured Americans.  All-we-all are always on the move, the more so, these days.

Spanish Eclectic

A. Page Brown’s California Building, World’s Columbia Exposition, Chicago, 1893.

An 1890s nostalgia for a lost, picturesque past, the want of identity, the ambition of architects, and wealth from gold, wove a style from the frayed threads of the old Spanish West.  The new California style remembered a Mission architecture that never existed, a style suggesting tradition yet everywhere original, and soon the Anglo, Eastern architectural styles gave pride-of-place to the Spanish Western architectural styles, especially to the wholly original Mission.

Many enterprising architects adapted the Mission style to commercial and domestic buildings.  Famously, A. Page Brown in his California Building of The World’s Columbia Exposition (Chicago, 1893) showed to the world the Mission’s potentialities (27 million attended the exposition).  A Mission style house might be of adobe, concrete, or stucco, yet always it is boldly drawn in broad expanse of white, punctuated by arched openings, curvilinear roof gables, overhanging red tile roofs, and exposed rafters.  The style might be architect or contractor designed, so easy is the handling of elements, and the style lends itself to all manner of buildings, hotels, churches, picture-houses, gas stations, and every form of house.  The style might even be stripped to bare essentials, as in the simple designs of Classive architect Irving Gill.


Spanish Revival

(1915–1945, 2000–, nationwide)

Spanish Eclectic

Commerce and Industries Building, Panama-California Exposition, San Diego, 1917.

The Spanish Revival was more than its name “revival” suggests, the Spanish Revival was the creation of enormously talented, deeply educated, preternaturally skilled architects.  To see the style for what it was, “something new upon the earth”, you might witness old photographs of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition (San Francisco) and the 1917 Panama-California Exposition (San Diego).  So powerful was the aesthetic impact that the style sprouted from the soil of each American state, with the urging of architecture and home magazines, alike The Beautiful Home.  Not since the Greek Revival had our country been dizzied by an architectural craze.  From then until now, the Spanish Revival, alike the Greek Revival, has seldom slowed, though it was weakened when handled by confused Progressive architects, incompetent builders, and clueless designers.

Spanish Eclectic

The Cloister, Saint Simons Island, Georgia; Addison Mizner, architect.

You will notice that the Spanish Revival of California differs from the Spanish Revival of Florida, with gray areas coast-to-coast.  The West remembers a real, actual Spanish past of missions and pueblos and rancheros; each of these are forms from which the western house grows, “naturally” you might say.  The foremost architect of the Western California style is Bertham Governor Goodhue, a genius, an academic who co-authored Spanish Colonial Architecture in Mexico.  You might say, “Goodhue invents within tradition.”  The foremost architect of the Eastern Florida style is Addison Mizner (though I prefer Marion Sims Wyeth), a sophisticate, a raconteur who dazzled the ambitious elite with palaces of fantasy.  You might say, “Mizner invented a tradition.”  Goodhue, Mizner, Sims, and a hundred others created a uniquely American architectural style, the Spanish Revival, from the best of the Byzantine, the Moorish, and the European Renaissance.


Pueblo Revival

(1890s–1920s, nationwide, though mostly in the West and the desert)

Spanish Eclectic

Post Office and Government Building, Santa Fe, New Mexico, circa 1927.

A Boston architect, A.C. Schweinfurth, reintroduced the Pueblo Revival, tipped the hat, “Honored Hopi and Pueblo.”, you might say.  Many architects followed forth in houses flat of roof, round of corners, parapeted in walls reminiscent of a mission, or asymmetrical alike the Indian.  The walls are beige or white stucco, the roof tiles are red.  The style might be mixed in with other bungalows, those economical small houses which are easily adapted to one style or another, as in Los Angeles and Coral Gables.


Spanish Renewal

(2000 –, especially in the East, though nationwide)

Spanish Eclectic

Spanish Renewal, Palm Springs, California, circa 2000. photo credit: M. Curtis

I notice a difference between the eclectic Spanish Revival and the current iconic Spanish Renewal, the former enriches by expansion, by addition; the latter pleases by contraction, by subtraction; the former excites, the latter calms; both lend beauty, though the former exhibits more skill, the greater invention; even so, the current Spanish Renewal allows me to breathe.  You will find the Spanish Renewal in New Urbanist developments, Palm Beach to Palm Springs.


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When most Spanish, asymmetrical; when anglicized, a Palladian bilateral symmetry imposes strict order.  In the best examples, asymmetries are balanced in unity of variety.  Most occasionally, some Greek Order will be applied, though when Spanish the picturesque is the aim and purpose.  The style can appear wealthy, as in Palm Beach, middling, as in Del Ray.
Roof Features
Roofs might be flat or slightly pitched (no need to bear snow).  If pitched, made of barrel or “S” shape red clay tiles, a distinguishing feature of the Spanish and Mediterranean.  Decorative chimney caps like to show themselves inventive and high.

Sacred Garden, Mission San Juan, Capistrano

Sacred Garden, Mission San Juan, Capistrano

A few small windows cool the house, discourage direct sunlight.  Trabeated, most often with flat lintels over six-by-six windows, though window shapes might be arched, rounded, square, as suits the house aesthetic.  Often, iron bars are incorporated, a reminder of the days before glass was common.  Both doors and windows can be shuttered.
Structure and Materials
Walls are most often thick, textured and heavily stuccoed in white or in earth tones.  Dark, heavy wood doors starkly contrast the white stucco.  Decorative glazed tile might surround doors and windows.  Wrought iron might be used on balconies, porches, or over windows, as mentioned above.
Space and Floor Plan
Floor plans are inventive, ceiling heights vary, spaces are open.

Capistrano Mission Garden

Capistrano Mission Garden

Arches are prominent, as is the metal lantern light near a door of the main entrance.  The entrance might be at the base of a tower, within an arcade, or celebrated in the rich carvings of a door surround.
Ornament is most often stripped to bare essential, though grand houses sometimes brag lavish ornamentation in coats of arms and florid architectural element.
Most often white stucco, though earth tones and tropic green are sometimes suitable.
Courtyards fully or partially enclosed are common, as is the casita, a little guest house that will have a private entrance and unique personality.  Decorative pools and cooling fountains remember the pleasure gardens of the Moors and the Spanish kings. 


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Featured image: Villa Vizcaya. photographer unknown


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