Spotting Architectural Styles in South LA

By David J. Barboza

I’ve just had the pleasure of reading A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia and Lee McAlester, which describes itself as a guide for identifying houses and placing them in their historic and architectural contexts. SurveyLA has already  released a couple of reports of its findings including for the South Los Angeles Community Plan Area. Several of the buildings found there provide an opportunity to explain how to spot different architectural styles in the field.

Queen Anne

A Queen Anne house.

According to the McAlesters, Queen Anne was a popular style from about 1880 to 1910. Queen Anne houses have steeply pitched roofs of irregular shape. You can see that in the photo above. The house has at least two gables at right angles and a section that rises above the gable behind the front facade. The roof section on the right side appears to be hipped. The porch roof has a pediment and a lower pitch than the portion above. In other words, the roof is pretty irregular. Queen Anne houses typically use one or more techniques to avoid a smooth wall surface. You can see above how the bay windows and the use of wood siding of different widths (and colors) above and below help to avoid the appearance of smooth walls. The porch is another identifying feature. Queen Anne porches can be partial or full width and usually have spindlework detailing such as the posts above. Finally, Queen Anne houses sport asymetrical facades, as does the example above: its left side is clearly not the mirror image of its right.


A Neoclassical fourplex.

The Neoclassical style was popular from about 1895 to 1950. To spot this style one looks for a full-height porch (check) with the porch roof supported by classical columns (check). The columns usually have Ionic or Corinthian capitals. You can tell that the columns above are Corinthian because the capitals look look leafy instead of like two parallel scrolls, one on either side (which would be Ionic). Another Neoclassical feature is a symmetrically balanced facade, which is present above.


A house in the Prairie Box style.

The Prairie style was born in the Chicago area and was popular from about 1900 to 1920. The architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright was critical in defining the style. Prairie houses have low pitched roofs with wide eave overhangs. The example above is true to the rule. The norm is a two-story house with a one-story porch or wing. The house above fits that pattern because of its one-story entry porch. Prairie details typically emphasize horizontality. You can see that above in the band of trim that marks the boundary between the first and second stories and the in the horizontal wood siding. The house above is a Prairie Box, as opposed to simply Prairie because it has a hipped roof, is symmetrical (except for the entry porch) and has a front (as opposed to side) entrance.


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