ARCHITECTURE & GARDENS
Californians have always built in tune with their environment
Harmonious by Design
MISSION SAN CARLOS BORROMÉO DEL RÍO CARMELO
Also known as Carmel Mission, this historic church, above, was the second mission built in California, first established in Monterey in 1770 and moved to its current location in Carmel-by-the-sea in 1771. It was the headquarters of the California missions and home of Saint Junípero Serra until his death in 1784. His remains are buried here. It is one of the most authentically restored churches of all of the California missions, a National Historic Landmark, and on the National Register of Historic Places. Today it serves as parish church, museum and community center. Architecture in California and the lush public gardens that add grace notes to the Golden State began to take shape in the late 18th century, when the Spanish advanced north from Mexico City to the rustic, remote province of Alta California.
The California missions, 21 Roman Catholic churches built from 1769 to 1823, set the tone. The adobe-walled, orange-tileroofed churches erected by the Franciscan friars eventually formed the heart of major cities such as San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The missions’ gardens were strictly utilitarian, intended to produce food. Eye-pleasing garden design blossomed later.
Missions to Victorians
The missions influenced California architecture and design for years to come. The abundant open spaces, arches, tile-roofed buildings and breezy arcades of Stanford University’s main quad are legacies of the colonial era (stanford.edu). The ornately and eclectically elaborated Casa de Balboa, in San Diego’s Balboa Park, incorporates elements of the Mission Revival style (balboapark.org).
The 1927 San Gabriel Mission Playhouse is a direct architectural descendant of the missions (missionplayhouse.org).
Long, deep, narrow, high-ceilinged wooden row houses populated boomtowns like San Francisco. The Victorians were built from the 1860s to the 1910s. In the 1970s, the modest houses were reborn as gentrified, vibrantly hued Painted Ladies. Surviving California Victorians are especially numerous in San Francisco, clustered on Alamo Square and in the Haight-ashbury, Western Addition and Mission districts. Urban eye candy, they are featured on City Guides San Francisco Walking Tours (sfcityguides.org).
Arts & Crafts to Computer Contemporary
American Arts and Crafts became closely associated with California at the turn of the 20th century. The use of natural materials such as warm, burnished wood panels and beams, glass and stone reflected Californians’ deep feeling for nature. Such buildings, exemplified by the 1908 Gamble House in Pasadena, seemed to grow organically out of the earth. The cedar brown shingle wooden homes of Berkeley, featured on Berkeley Architecture Heritage Association walking tours, are pleasing examples (berkeleyheritage.com).
The streamlined power of early 20th century technology found mesmerizing form in the Art Deco style of the 1920s and 1930s. Perhaps the noblest example of functional Art Deco in North America is the 1937 Golden Gate Bridge. With its taut suspension cables, thrusting towers and trademark International Orange color, the Golden Gate Bridge dramatizes the energy, ambition and power of Art Deco (goldengatebridge.org).
The next breakthrough for architecture came around the turn of the new millennium with what could be called Computer Contemporary style. Here, too, the Golden State shines.
Frank Gehry’s brilliantly realized 2003 Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, with its swooping roofs and shining metallic skin, is a fantasia that couldn’t have been realized without sophisticated computers or built without modern alloys (laphil.com). The rippled gray-white surface and horizontal windows in the 2016 tower of the greatly expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art are of a piece with the contemporary, cutting-edge artwork inside (sfmoma.org).
Gardens North & South
Major formal public gardens blossomed in California in the early 20th century.
The splendor of Hakone Gardens, opened in Saratoga in 1915, showed the way. Hailed as the oldest Japanese and Asian estate gardens in the Americas and spreading over 18 hilly acres, serene Hakone Gardens is known for koi ponds, waterfalls and strolling and meditative walks (hakone.com).
In 1925, Casa del Herrero (House of the Blacksmith) opened in a decorative Spanish Colonial Revival mansion, a style still hugely popular in host city Santa Barbara. The estate is celebrated for its Moorish garden with its water fountain and hedged outdoors “rooms” (casadelherrero.com).
Both Los Angeles and San Francisco host distinguished public botanical gardens. San Francisco debuted the Strybing Arboretum in 1940 on 55 acres in Golden Gate Park. Now called San Francisco Botanical Garden, it is renowned for its rhododendron dell, magnolia collection, redwood grove and native California plants (sfbotanicalgarden.org). The Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden was opened in 1956 in aptly named Arcadia, with a lovely waterfall, Queen Anne cottage and garden of perennials (arboretum.org).
The Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden, opened in 1961, shows off an inspired profusion of blooms on winding Highway 1 at Fort Bragg. More major public gardens followed (gardenbythesea.org).
Among them: 654-acre Filoli, nestled in the hills of Woodside south of San Francisco. Debuting in 1975, Filoli is known for quiet paths and ponds, a charming rose garden, 250-year-old live oak trees and 16thcentury-style English Renaissance Garden (filoli.org). In 1993, the former estate of Polish opera singer Ganna Walska premiered near Santa Barbara as Lotusland, featuring fruit orchards, a succulent garden and a butterfly garden (lotusland.org).
WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL in Los Angeles, right; Hakone Gardens, a traditional Japanese garden in Saratoga, below; Victorian houses on Steiner Street across from Alamo Square, opposite bottom.