THE words "Spanish Mission" bring to the mind but one thought, - a group of buildings scattered over Southern California. The buildings and the location seem to be synonymous; the one suggests the other. Instantly the mind pictures a warm and sunny climate, a group of palm and magnolia trees, in the shadow of which nestles a low and rambling building, covered with vines and rose bushes. Charming! we exclaim. Yes, charming beyond description, California, the land of sunshine and roses, and, as Stoddard says of Southern California, "we think of it, and love it, as the dreamland of the Spanish Mission".
The Spanish missionaries coming up from Mexico were the first to settle in California, having as their ambition the conversion of the Indians. They began their enterprise with rude adobe huts, but as they became prosperous and successful, these huts gave way to extensive buildings, constructed in the form of a quadrangle, surrounding an inner court. The best examples can be seen in the remains of Santa Barbara, San Juan Capistrano, San Fernando Rey, Carmel, San Gabriel, San Luis Rey and San Miguel. This mode of building around an open space, forming an inner court or patio, was brought over with the Spaniards from their native land. It was just the style of building best adapted to their needs, and frequently a number of patios were used as the demands required.
The home of Edwin G. Hart, San Marino, Cal. Lester S. Moore, architect.
Within these enclosures their cattle and herds were driven at night for protection, where they were safe from the savages and wild beasts. These settlements were in reality large ecclesiastical farms, with their cattle grazing on the adjoining plains and the grain growing in the surrounding fields. Here also the Indians were gathered and instructed in the art of civilization, religion, trades and farming. Isolated as they were in those days, it was necessary for each Mission to provide for its own wants; therefore, rooms and apartments of different kinds were set aside for their particular purposes, and all gathered together, as it were, under one roof.
The most prominent portion of the building from the exterior would be the church, with its dominating belfry, while around it would be collected the bedrooms or cells for the monks, the refectory, the kitchen, hospital, schoolrooms, workshops and sundry buildings.
This is, in short, the history and description of the so-called Spanish Mission style of architecture. These settlements were made by Spanish religious orders engaged in frontier work, and this class of men naturally would not bring with them artists or architects, so they built with the best talent and skill they had at their disposal, following the examples familiar to them, such as appear in Spain and Mexico. They naturally built simply and substantially, but in that simplicity lies all their charm and beauty. Large, plain wall spaces are characteristic of this type of building, and when man finished his work, Nature started to embellish it with her clinging vines and overhanging trees, transforming them all into a picture of charm and beauty. Any attempt at gorgeous enrichment and elaboration would have been fatal to the artistic and enchanting results.
The most characteristic points of this style of architecture can be described as a low building with heavy walls of adobe brick, covered with stucco; a low pitched roof, covered with tile, and wide, projecting eaves, casting the deep shadow so necessary in a sunny location; belfries, formed by the projecting of the walls above the roof, pierced with arched openings to carry the bells, while the inner courts were surrounded with arches, forming spacious and picturesque cloisters. The windows on the first floor were frequently enclosed with turned wooden grilles, a remnant of the iron grilles of Spain, and used for protection. The walls were of solid brick, covered with stucco, and have at times reached a thickness of six feet. Floors were frequently covered with large brick tiles, twelve inches square.
This style of architecture sounds very well, but how does it apply to the average modern suburban home? For the more northern climate where winds and storms predominate, and where the cold is severe, this style is not at all practical. There a building compact and sheltered is desirable, but where the sunshine abounds, and where winter is of short duration, this type of building is most fitting. In the South the Spanish Mission is at its best, but the architectural treatment when properly adapted to the conditions of the North, gives a most pleasing and happy result. Other types of buildings seem to have been the popular types to follow for surburban homes, many of which have become monotonous, while the Spanish Mission has been overlooked. This type is not splashy or elaborate, but can be enriched in a quiet way to great advantage.
What are the requisites of a private residence or home? In common, it could be described as a place for rest, a place to eat and a place to sleep, a place for thought, and a place to entertain one's friends. The question is, how best to accomplish this within reasonable means.
The Spanish Mission house has the advantage of being easy and simple of construction, void of the complications of building principles, as in many of the other styles frequently adopted.
This simplicity does not detract from its beauty; but when properly handled, simplicity can be relieved by the grouping of motives and by the planting of trees and shrubbery. The appearance of the building is one of quiet and rest, refreshing to the eye; its stucco walls are cool in summer, yet not oppressive in the winter. It has been said, "nothing is so much to be desired as repose in form and color," and the Spanish Mission gives it.