Saturday, March 9, 2013

SF Shingle Style Houses - Part II

The shingle style houses that made their debut on San Francisco's Russian Hill in the late 1880's soon began to appear in other parts of the city.  The style spread quickly across town toward the Presidio, eventually climbing the hills of Pacific Heights.  Most of the shingle style homes in San Francisco that were built from the 1880's through the 1920's were influenced by an architectural philosophy that came to be known as the "First Bay Tradition".  Bernard Maybeck is often cited as the architect whose work most typifies this tradition, which was even more influential in the East Bay, especially in and around Berkeley.  

The First Bay Tradition (as distinguished from the Second and Third Bay Traditions which were more modernistic versions of it) emphasized the use of natural materials that were undisguised.  For example, unpainted redwood, cedar, and oak as well as stone.  The tradition is often regarded as a predecessor of "green" or sustainable architecture.  It made free use of architectural motifs from all periods of history (Greek, Gothic, Renaissance, etc.), often combining several into a single structure.  On the exteriors, a "skin" of wooden shingles served to integrate these disparate elements into a cohesive whole. 

A nice example of the unifying quality of shingles can be seen in this rambling home on Pacific Avenue, right next to the Presidio gate.

Notice how the natural wood of the shingles helps the house to blend into the surrounding greenery (in contrast to the very un-rustic Georgian house next door).  The shingles also soften the wide variety of surfaces and asymmetry in the home.  We have to look closer to realize just how much is going on in this house: The gables are hooded at the top and sloping at the bottom, the upper stories project out over the lower ones, including a gambrel-shaped barn-like projection at the front. 

The facade includes a rounded tower-like structure that disappears into the barn-like projection, a bay window, and bayed dormers that sport their own little hipped roofs.  The overall effect is lyrical and organic as opposed to orderly and machine-made.  Like the bark of a gnarled and majestic oak tree, the shingles hold the various elements of the structure together.  This fanciful jumbling of eclectic features unified by a rustic shell works both on a very small scale as seen here:...

... and on a much larger scale as in this aparment block.

While a wide range of traditional elements and ornamentation can be incorporated into the shingle style, a few features are characteristic.  The windows of shingle style homes are often broken down into multiple small panes, which mimic the look of the shingles.  Often, only the top half of the window is multi-paned, while the bottom half is a large single pane.  This window style is called four-over-one or six-over-one, depending on the number of upper panes, and gives the appearance that the windows are always open.  In addition, windows often appear to be higher than usual, tucked up near the top of each story.  This adds to the overall sense of shelter and coziness that most people associate with this style.

Another characteristic feature of the shingle style is a varied and broken roof-line with the promiscuous use of dormers.  Windows go right on up to the peak of the roof, filling gables, breaking through the eaves, and popping out of the roof as dormers.  The rooms behind these windows are usually bedrooms or small studies with sloping, irregular walls.  These snug, intimate spaces with little windows offering the home's best views embody the tucked-away, hearth-and-home spirit of the shingle style.

The philosophy of The First Bay Tradition and this cozy quality of the shingle style were mirrored in a revival of the English cottage vernacular taking place across the Atlantic in the late nineteenth century.  Regarded as a return to the healthy peasant culture of a simpler time, this style was brought from England to San Francisco by architect Ernest Coxhead in 1889.  His first San Francisco house was the brick and half-timber home of James McCauley at 2423 Green Street, built in 1891.  Pictured here, both today and shortly after it was built, it is the house on the right.  Note the shingled dormers and the steeply sloped roof whose shingles comprise more than half of the home's facade.  Coxhead built a house for himself right next door, at 2421 (on the left).


This is a vertical townhouse in the San Francisco tradition, but notice how much simpler it is than the typical "painted ladies" of the day.  The asymmetrical window composition was especially unusual at the time.  The older photograph comes from Freudenheim and Sussman's excellent book, Building With Nature.

One of the best blocks for seeing the shingle style at its most "elevated" stage is the 3200 block of Pacific Avenue in Pacific Heights.  Here, at 3232 is another Coxhead house, this one showing the incorporation of more classic details and ornamentation.

Here we see a classic Georgian doorway with rounded pediment and sidelights, a Palladian-style window, and dentils (like rows of teeth) under the cornice.  Built in 1902, this is a bit of journey from his earlier, simpler cottage style.  In a break with convention, the stepped balcony above the door mirrors the interior staircase behind it.

Across the street at 3233 Pacific Avenue is the whimsical home built for Samuel Golinsky by Bernard Maybeck in 1909.  This home is classic Maybeck, incorporating traditional details like the triangular pediment over the door, but otherwise allowing imagination to take flight. 

The projecting wooden hoods above the second story windows suggest a large broken pediment to some.  Others (like me) see giant wooden eyebrows.  While the main gabled roof is broken by a side dormer, the first floor projects beneath a shed roof that mimics the slope of the street.

At the corner of the first floor entry wing are a pair of windows ornamented with gothic tracery in the shape of a backwards "S".  This is a favorite motif of Bernard Maybeck, and can be seen in many of his houses (Like the Roos House at 3500 Jackson or the Erlanger House at 27 Castaneda).  The serpentine verdigris drainspout is also typical of Maybeck's impish humour.

Right next door to the Golinsky house is one of my favorite shingle style homes in San Francisco.  This home typifies the "kitchen sink" ethos of the style. 

Starting at the top, notice the incredible variety in the roof line.  Here, on a relatively small house, we see a gabled roof, a shed roof, and a dormer. The window styles include lancet/palladian, side-lighted, and porthole.  There's even a brick-and-copper chimney stack tacked on for good measure.  Yet, the shingles manage to bring it all together (sort of).

The unifying quality of shingles can extend beyond a single structure to tie together several buildings arranged in a group or standing in a row, as can be seen when we step back from the houses on Pacific Avenue and see them as a collective.

This unified impression of a "townscape" is even more apparent in the attached townhouses across the street and slightly down the hill.

There are more shingle style homes around the city than initially meet the eye.  In many cases, the shingles have been painted over, either in traditional light or dark grey,

Or other colors, not so traditional.

The shingle style, with its emphasis on natural materials and handcrafted details, can be seen as a pre-cursor to the California Arts & Crafts style that was so popular in the decades before World War II.  Shingles showed a resurgence in popularity in the 1970's, with the culture's renewed appreciation of nature and handicrafts.

Examples of this resurrection of shingles can be seen in the large apartment complexes of San Francisco's Diamond Heights, and further north in places like coastal Sea Ranch.  These more boxy, modernist structures, however, are lacking in the sense of history, poetry, and coziness of the original shingle style.


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