architecture: what style is it?





San Francisco architecture is a

feast for the eyes.


We have it all. Victorian, Edwardian, Mission Revival, Art Deco, the International Style, Mid-Century Modern and more.


During the numerous booms in our City's colorful history, talented architects were hired to create designs that continue to

make a statement.


These past couple of decades have brought us innovative works that now define the style of the early 2000's.

Queen Victoria

What is and is not a Victorian can be confusing even amongst San Franciscans.


It is very simple, really...

Queen Victoria was the longest reigning queen in history, from 1837 - 1901. Buildings built during this time period are Victorians, those that were not, are not.


More confusion is found in thinking that Victorian is a style. It is NOT a style, however, a time period in which a few distinct styles occurred here in San Francisco.


These categories are local in nature, recognizing that these terms may refer to different styles in other parts of the country and world. Primarily redwood "boxes" with predictable floor plans and fanciful facades, there are basically three types of Victorians of note in our City: Italianate, Eastlake (or Stick) and Queen Anne.

  • Italianate

    In their own day referred to as "London Roman", after the Italianate men's clubs along Pall Mall in London. Originally inspired by rural dwellings in Italy, San Francisco has a way of putting her own "spin" on things, thus the dramatic paint colors.


    Characterized by a flat roof line, heavy brackets, narrow windows and doorways. Toward the end of this time period, this style also had bay windows.

  • Eastlake / Stick

    This style gets its name from Sir Charles Eastlake, a prominent London furniture designer and author of "Hints on Household Taste". The book, which was the widely read and accepted tome on taste and behavior, taught restraint in design. His philosophy was not understood in the US and fanciful ornamentation became associated with his name here on the West Coast. During this time period, ornamentation became increasingly more elaborate. Numerous wood mills south of Market Street provided an endless array of turned-wood ornaments which were applied freely. More was better.

    It has a very "boxy" angular feel, with a lot of applied vertical wood, which is the origin of the "stick" reference.

  • Queen Anne

    The name was taken from architect Norman Shaw's designs in England and has no relation to the eighteenth century British monarch. During this time period the technology of bending wood and glass in volume allowed the softer, rounded shapes of this style.


    The Queen Anne is the quintessential San Francisco Victorian that everyone immediately imagines when hearing the reference. Rounded corner towers, enclosed porches, references to the classical past in ribbons, garlands, torches and beaded moldings are elements of this style.

King Edward VII succeeded Victoria and reigned from 1901 - 1910, defining the span of this period of styles.

As mentioned before in "The Victorian Era", Edwardian is not a style but a time period in which certain specific styles occured.


The "high" Victorians, with elaborate, sometimes wild, ornamentation peaked around 1888 here in the City. From that point on, there was a gradual move toward a more simple approach. This new restraint culminated during the "Edwardian reaction".


Less became better. Restraint and proper, sober design was the preferred statement of the wealthy conservatives.


These styles are "marked" by references to the classical past such as dentals and quoins.

'Art Deco' is a relatively new term, coined in 1968 by British historian Bevis Hillier to describe a style of design and architecture prevalent in Europe and America from the late 20's through the 1930's. In the years following WWI, designers in Western Europe began to create a new style with a consciously "modern" look. They took their inspiration from many different sources, among them the works of designers and architects such as Bertram Goodhue, Eliel Saarinen, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Viennese Secessionists. Other major influences included the art works fo exotic cultures (chiefly Mayan, Egyptian, Assyrian and African primitivism), and, the technology of the new Machine Age. As the hard-edged Industrial Age succeeded the elegant Victorian era, so Art Deco's emphasis on industrial and man-made forms evolved from the earlier Art Nouveau's natural imagery.


European designers applied this "new look" to object d'art, furniture, jewelry, and interior design, using it primarily as a style of decoration and ornamentation. Eventually, this new angular style was showcased at the famous 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes. The exposition was intended to display works of new inspiration and real originality," and promotional literature stated that "reproductions, imitations and counterfeits of ancient styles will be strictly prohibited." The emphasis was on the future rather than the past.

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