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Thursday, March 29, 2012


COOL & QUAINT-- What exactly is a bungalow? What defines a bungalow from just another old house?

Many are familiar with three terms: Arts & Crafts, Craftsman and Bungalow. Arts & Crafts denotes a popular social and architectural philosophy in vogue in Western civilization between the 1850s and 1930s. It was a revolt—in the architectural sense—against the overly ornate style of Victorian architecture often called “gingerbread.” Arts & Crafts philosophy called for fresh beginnings, simplification of living and a negative attitude toward the ills of industrial revolution. Arts & Crafts fit nicely in the Progressive Era of enlightened humanism that was popular a century ago.

Arts & Crafts homes were created on a more horizontal plane as opposed to the vertical look of Victoriana homes. The philosophy called for homes to have light and fresh air. Clear glass vs. stained glass. So the term Arts & Crafts connotes a style or philosophy embracing architecture, art, design and well-being.

Bungalow refers to a particular type of dwelling, one that has a very simple floor plan, probably a porch, lots of windows and is fairly inexpensive to construct.

Craftsman or Craftsman bungalow refers to a bungalow built in the Arts & Crafts manner.

Craftsman is also popular brand of tools sold by the Sears family of businesses. We’ve heard of Craftsman tools and in the early 20th century Sears & Roebuck sold complete home or bungalows out of their famous catalog.

Many homes in North Park were purchased via Sears & Roebuck by ordering a home kit by catalog (hence the term kit home) and the mega retailer would arrange to have it built on your lot. Several early lumberyards in North Park supplied the lumber for these “Craftsman brand kit homes.” Also, during the early 1900s, a furniture retailer Gustav Stickley founded a magazine called “The Craftsman,” which touted the Stickley brand throughout the nation. In San Diego, Marston Department store sold Stickley furniture. And, the Stickley brand was made in the Arts & Crafts mode.

So it is possible to own an Arts & Crafts Craftsman bungalow. And remember not all bungalows are Craftsman. But all Craftsman are bungalows.

Since we’re on a nostalgic bent, let’s email ourselves back to November, 1998, when North Park News published the following article by local historian/artist/author and Arts & Crafts lecturer, the late Donald Covington. Dr. Covington wrote the remainder of this blog article:

“Bungalow! What is it?”
If we are confused about the precise meaning of the term bungalow in today’s usage, it is no wonder. Every authority whom we consult has a slightly different explanation of its meaning. However, all agree on its origin: the East Indian vernacular cottage, the “hindi bangla.” The bangla was the traditional native hut of the state of Bengal; a small rectangular structure with hovering roof of thatch that overhung a peripheral verandah which helped to cool the open-planned interior. In the late 18th century, it was this simple, functional bangla which the young gentry, who followed the victorious armies into the Bengal, adapted for their use as civil servants of the British crown.

In the 19th century, the bangla or bungalow’s economy of space, simplicity of form and rustic charm inspired the English architects of the early Arts & Crafts movement. Adapted for a middle class American lifestyle in the 20th century, the bungalow became the favored Arts & Crafts house type in North America. But it was also adapted to other styles such as Spanish Colonial Revival, American Colonial Revival, Pueblo Revival, etc.

So to continue our exploration of the California bungalow here are a few more definitions written by notable authors, who specialize in the period and the genre.

“Bun-ga-low: a small cottage, usually of one story.” --(American Heritage Dictionary).

“[Craftsman bungalows] were the dominant style for smaller houses built throughout the country during the period 1905 to 1920. The Craftsman style [bungalow] originated in Southern California and its most landmark examples are concentrated there…” –(A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia and Lee McAlester).

“…what we mean by a bungalow is an artistic little dwelling, cheaply but soundly built, with a proper regard to sanitation, and plopped down in some pretty little spot, with just sufficient accommodation for own particular needs.” –(R.A. Briggs, Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 1894).
“The bungalow became an omnipresent builders’ house during the first decade of the 20th century. The type, with many variants, appeared as a low, gabled, one or one-and-a-half storied house with the front pitch of the roof extended so as to shelter a generous porch.” --(William H. Jordy: Progressive and Academic Ideals at the turn of the 20th century).

“In practice, the Craftsman bungalow departed considerably from the original Indian model. There were even two-story bungalows. But, especially in Southern California, a region for which the bungalow was ideally suited, the original spirit prevailed, insofar as the mild climate permitted a more thorough integration of the house with its immediate surroundings…” --(Alan Weissman: Craftsman Bungalow).

“…the E.J. Blacker and Gamble houses [in Pasadena], and other impressive examples designed by the Greenes, have…come to be known as the ‘ultimate’ bungalows because of an esthetic kinship with their smaller cousins.” --(Robert Winter & Edward Bosley: “Toward a Simpler Way of Life”).

“In America the term ‘bungalow’ came to mean an unpretentious single-story, or one-and-a-half story house with conspicuous roof and a big porch, located at a resort, in suburbia, or in a semi-rural area. Although t he brothers Greene made some very costly bungalows, the genre became identified with inexpensive housing.”
--(Richard Guy Wilson: “The Art That Is Life”).

“So, if forced to the wall for a technical description, we term bungalows as houses that are no more than one and a half stories, are typically space efficient and cozy, have simple lines that often lent themselves to precut kits, usually have porches and low-pitched roofs, and were designed to shelter families who lived without servants.” --(The Editors of American Bungalow Magazine).

“It was in Southern California that the bungalow, the apotheosis of William Morris’s notion of a proletarian art that he could never himself attain, found its true home. Here a young family on the make, a sick family on the mend, or an old family on meager savings could build a woodsy place in the sun with palm trees and a rose garden. The California bungalow, whatever its size or quality of workmanship, was the closest thing to a democratic art that has ever been produced.” (David Gebhard & Robert Winter: Architecture in Los Angeles).

And finally, a favorite bungalow definition offered to American Bungalow magazine by the eminent authority on Greene & Greene architecture, Randell Makinson, who was reported to have said that: “…the bungalow is not a house type at all, but a frame of mind for living.”

Sources: A version of this article by Thomas Shess and Donald Covington first appeared in North Park News.

About the Authors: Fine Arts Professor Donald Covington and his wife Karon were among the forefront of bungalow area writers and historians. They lived in North Park at 28th and Myrtle Streets. He is the author of “Burlingame: The Tract of Character,” an analysis of the homes within that early San Diego neighborhood.
Thomas Shess and his wife Phyllis founded both North Park News and its bungalow supplement called West Coast Craftsman in 1993. The newspaper continues to thrive in 2012. The couple lives on 28th Street.

Images: TOP: Bungalow in Benicia, CA.

LOWER: This Craftsman style home in San Diego with Japanesque features, including side gable roofs; overhanging eaves with exposed rafter tails and curved detailing; wood shingle siding; and a wrap-around porch supported by tapered half- height piers and wood anchor-like posts. Windows consists of large single pane fixed and single pane casement wood frame windows with divided lite uppers. The brick and stucco piers supporting the porch are common in bungalow design of this period.

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