[Noozhawk’s note: This article is one in an occasional series exploring Santa Barbara’s distinct architectural styles. Click here for a previous article on Santa Barbara’s Victorian architecture.]
Form follows taste. This statement is as true today as it was in the late 1800s when Victorian architecture was in full swing. It was during this period of the Victorian era that Santa Barbara saw the earlier Italianate and Gothic Revival fall out of favor, and the French Second Empire, and Stick styles enter the scene.
Santa Barbara, a booming 1880s Victorian town, was happy to embrace the latest and most fashionable architecture styles of its day.
When French was Hip
French Second Empire style was a mid 1800s craze that spread across the world as architects enthusiastically embraced the Paris of Napoleon III, the second emperor of France who massively transformed the city. Part of this transformation entailed the use of the distinctive mansard roof, which was originally used by the 17th century French architect François Mansart. This total-city makeover translated into the construction of 60,000 new buildings and was showcased in the Paris exhibitions of 1855 and 1867.
Enthused with the happenings in France, American architects of the 1860s and ‘70s began to put steeply pitched mansard roofs on their buildings. Italianate designs were instantly transformed into Second Empire by simply changing the roof. With the mansard roof came multiple dormers allowing upper floors to be easily habitable. Other differing details include Second Empire’s shallow eaves, decorative roof patterning and cresting, and sometimes simple windows (without fancy hoods).
Building a House of Sticks
Unlike the house of sticks made by the second of the Three Little Pigs in the popular fairy tale, most Victorian Stick houses have lasted the test of time. Mimicking the half-timbering of Medieval houses, the Stick Style is recognizable with its horizontal and vertical “stickwork” that divides the wall into separate panels. Compared to its contemporaries — Italianate and Second Empire — relatively few Stick houses were built. In Santa Barbara and especially in San Francisco, however, the style was very popular into the 1880s. This was due to the abundance of lumber and California’s building boom.
Stylistically, Stick architecture bridges the Gothic Revival to the later Queen Anne, and all three styles reference Medieval English building traditions. One core difference however, is that while Gothic Revival houses emphasized particular elements (windows, doors, cornices) set against the backdrop of the plain wall, the Stick Style began to treat the wall itself as decoration. This resulted in subdivided panels that were then filled with a variety of shingles or siding, giving the Stick Style much of its character. This quality also carried on to the Prairie Style and the Craftsman or “Western Stick” Style, which also celebrated wood construction.
The Birth of the Hybrid
Long before the Toyota Prius, residents of Santa Barbara looked to the hybrid to make a cultural statement. This hybrid however, was the hybrid of architecture styles. Rather than choosing only one style, such as Italianate or Stick, they would often choose a hybrid that combined details from both styles. For this reason there are relatively few pure examples of any one Victorian style in Santa Barbara. There are, however, many well kept and well-restored examples of Victorian hybrids.
In the next article, we will look at the most extravagant phase of the Victorian Era, the Queen-Anne Revival.