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Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Craftsman Bungalow in the Historic Neighborhood of North Park.  Note the Asian theme.
Let’s keep historic bungalow neighborhoods safe from post modernism

ARCHITECTURAL CRITICISM--From the mid-1800s to the beginning of World War I, Craftsman Bungalow design was in its heyday.  That period is when many of America’s bungalows were individually commissioned by homeowners and hired master craftsmen to construct them.  San Diego neighborhoods like Point Loma, North Park and Mission Hills are examples.

By, the mid-1930s, American architect Frank Lloyd Wright championed the prairie style of custom residential design by marrying many of the design tenants of the Craftsman era with the Wisconsin-born architect’s contemporary statements. 

Today, Wright’s residential vision has lost little of its contemporary appeal despite the passage of time.  A prime example of how well Wright’s architecture has bridged Arts & Crafts era and today’s mainstream contemporaryism is a home in the southwest Pennsylvania woods that Pittsburgh department store magnate Edgar Kaufman, Sr. commissioned Wright to create 1933 and complete by 1935.
The Kaufman Residence at Fallingwater
Photo by Phyllis Shess, Pillar to Post, July, 2013

The world knows that home as Fallingwater.

What does a Wright design in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania have to do with modernizing San Diego bungalows in the 21st century?

It’s called building on a theme.  Jazz is an example of sometimes taking an established musical piece and reinventing it.  Homeowners wishing to modernize a bungalow should do so by staying within the original lines or themes of the Craftsman architectural genre.  Evolve your modernism don’t destroy it by putting a mini-skirt on grandmother.  

Wright’s Fallingwater is its own genre.  Many call the home built over a tumbling waterfall pure genius. The American Institute of Architects called Fallingwater it the acme of American residential architecture.   Wright may or may not deserve his genius label but he does deserve credit for blending established architectural themes from Asia and American/Euro Craftsman design into a newer prairie style residential art form.

Young architects looking for their first gig often buy a home in a historic neighborhood; level it (if codes allow) and build something to outdo another Frank named Gehry.

Yes, it’s a free country and Homeowners have rights, but why build a post modernism palace in a bungalow neighborhood?

Bungalow owners in North Park can modernize to the max, but by staying within the theme of Craftsman design create your own art form and advance your lifestyle.   For example, don’t replaster your bungalow to make it look like a Tuscan suburban estate.  Instead, keep the look fresh by repairing existing lines and using creative paint colors.

Building a home to the extent of the property line is strictly nouveau riche.  Building garage in front tract home that flourishes in Poway into North Park is pure ignorance.  Again, you do have a legal right to do what you wish with your property for the most part, but does that make it significant?  What does it say about your sensitivity to your neighbors, many of whom have spent decades championing our part of town into a historic district.

Modernizing kitchens and patios but maintaining the pattern of Craftsman design is what is cool when you live in a architecturally historic community.  Keep the exterior, living room, dining room and parlors as historically pure as possible.  Modernize within the design genre in the kitchen, bath, bedrooms, family rooms, patios and rear and side exteriors.

Remaking the exterior of your 1915-era bungalow to look like a post-modern palace doesn’t fit in bungalow communities.  There is a place for modern, post-modern, contemporary and mid-century in newer communities or areas already in transition.

Craftsman bungalow by master builder David Owen Dryden

North Park Craftsman Bungalow in the David Owen Dryden Historic District of San Diego

Craftsman style Bungalows in Historic North Park by master builder James Blaine Draper, 1916

The four bungalows in this post have been featured in articles by the author in American Bungalow Magazine.

Thomas Shess is the founder of North Park News and West Coast Craftsman. He is currently the Creative Director at San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles magazine.  

He has received five First Place Awards for Architecture and Design Reporting from the San Diego Press Club.  His recent articles have appeared nationally on the cover of Style 1900, Modernism Magazine and in American Bungalow, Old House Interiors and ASID Icon Magazine.  Locally, five of his features were cover stories for San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles in 2013.

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