The Bungalow

The bungalow was the major American middle-class housing innovation of those years, and the Golden State, "Bungalow-land," was said to be its birthplace. Odes were written to the California bungalow, characters in novels portrayed it as close to Nirvana: "Mama and me are planning to go out to Pasadena and buy a bungalow."

Although the prime years of bungalow promotion were 1905-15, the Los Angeles Examiner reported in May 1904 that every street in Pasadena had a bungalow, and Los Angeles and Hollywood abounded in the wide-roofed dwellings as well. The typical bungalow that came to dominate in the greater Los Angeles area combined timber construction and rustic siding or shingles with such mountain-camp references as fieldstone foundations or walls, cobblestone chimneys and piers -- sometimes randomly interspersed with protruding clinker bricks -- and, perhaps, log or pebble-dash accents.

Such "rustic simplicity," deemed the essential bungalow trait by one writer on Southern California domesticity, was reiterated inside. A masonry chimney breast or mixed-media surround (cobblestones, brick, rock, or tile facings) often served as the focal point of a wainscoted living room incorporating built-in benches and bookcases to create a compact but imposing fireside inglenook. The cavernous stone hearth of the Mount Lowe Alpine Tavern was illustrated in a 1909 House and Garden article on modern fireplaces that captured the old-fashioned home spirit of the colonial or preindustrial kitchen and living hall. Also featured in the article were a floor-to-ceiling rough clinker-brick model from the Los Angeles mail-order bungalow builder Henry L. Wilson and a Craftsman-like affair of tile, wood buttresses, and beams framing an overmantel mountain landscape. The latter fireplace treatment was the work of Carl Enos Nash's company, "artists as well as craftsmen," who favored scenic, matte-glazed Grueby and Rookwood tiles depicting forest, desert, and pastoral motifs in keeping with the bungalow's mission to maximize the charms of outdoor life. The living-room hearth was the most important emblem of the devoted though informal home life advocated by Charles Keeler and numerous reformer-idealists associated with the Arts and Crafts movement. Nash articulated this linkage between material environment and spiritual state: "As we sit meditating, watching the leaping flames and listening to the crackle of the fire, what can be more conducive to perfect contentment than a well designed fireplace?"

In January 1913 an account by Charles Francis Saunders in the West Coast magazine Sunset admirably distilled the interior and exterior hallmarks of the Californian indoor-outdoor house, along with the easygoing, wholesome way of life associated with it. "When you see a cozy one or one-and-a-half storied dwelling, with low-pitched roof and very wide eaves, lots of windows and an outside chimney of cobble or clinker-brick half hidden by clinging vines -- that is a bungalow, whatever other houses may be."

Sources:

From The Arts and Crafts Movement in California: Living the Good Life ,
Kenneth R. Trapp, editor, Abbeville Press, New York, 1993.

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Last updated 04-05-2003

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