Just imagine California in 1848 without the skyscrapers and mansions. Visualize this vast state when it was part of the Spanish colony of New Spain – and simple churches built by Franciscan friars lined its coast from San Diego to San Francisco.
Unlike other parts of the country whose architecture was shaped by English styles such as the Queen Anne, Colonial, and Victorian, California, Florida, Texas and the Southwest developed definitive styles tied into their particular Spanish heritage.
By the late 19th century, the Spanish influence – with the help of the growing Arts and Crafts Movement – became firmly rooted in the country’s architectural landscape.
This stunning two-story, four-bedroom, 4.5-bath Southwest style home includes Spanish touches – a colorful courtyard, a stucco and brick exterior wall, arched entryway, and red-tile roof. The home also features a covered lanai, patio, balcony, family room, guest room, main level laundry, and media room (Plan #195-1001)
The interest in Spanish Revival architecture intensified when Arthur Page Brown designed The California State Building for the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Soon, other architects were hot on his heels with their hotel and office designs, including Frederick Roehrig (Hotel Castañeda, the first Mission Revival style building in New Mexico), Julia Morgan (Los Angeles Herald-Examiner Building) and Paul Williams (Arrowhead Springs Resort & Hotel in San Bernardino).
As the style evolved, architects in various areas of the country rendered their own interpretations in their building designs. With regional differences came different Spanish Revival styles - California Mission, which was dominant in the West Coast and Southwest; the Spanish Revival, mostly in the South (Florida, Texas), Pueblo Revival, Territorial and Monterey Style, and Mediterranean Style.
This article takes a closer look at Mission Revival Style and its charming and distinctive signature features.
Features of Mission Revival Style Homes
1. Stucco Exterior Walls
Designed after the early simple and austere Spanish mission churches built in remote small towns, Mission Revival style homes have smooth and unadorned stucco exterior walls.
Classic simplicity and elegance are illustrated in the stucco facade of this spectacular L-shape one-story Mediterranean style home built on 4,100 square feet of space. The four-bedroom home has an open floor plan, vaulted ceilings, courtyard entry, covered lanai, family room, and main level laundry (Plan #175-1102).
2. Arched Windows and Doors
Providing a dramatic contrast to the simple stucco exterior facades, Mission Revival homes feature arched windows and doors – most of the time in symmetrical patterns.
Check out the symmetry in the exterior of this stylish one-story Mediterranean home with its arched entryway and windows. The courtyard even features a pair of large and small trees that flank the driveway. The home has a covered front porch, lanai, exercise room, library, and swimming pool (Plan #133-1087).
3. Scalloped Parapets
Walls that rise vertically above flat roofs or extend to the edge of the roof serve as decorative elements for the main roof, dormers, or even a porch – called parapets – have a stepped and curved scallop appearance, one of the few ornate features of Mission style.
One of the many striking artistic elements of this five-bedroom, five-bath Spanish style home is a scalloped parapet that adorns the arched window on the second floor. The attractive residence includes a loggia, screened porch, spacious master bedroom with a fireplace, large walk-in closet, its own laundry room, tub, separate shower, and double vanity (Plan #152-1010).
4. One or Two Square Towers
Symbolizing the mission church and its bell tower, chimneys – and sometimes lookout towers with spiral stairs – are designed to look like bell towers to add an interesting vertical dimension to the Mission Revival home.
Many aspects of the Mission Revival style are evident in this classic one-story, five-bedroom, five-bath Spanish style home: Courtyard entry, arched doors and windows, red-tiled roof, and a pair of bell towers. The beautiful home also features a very roomy master suite, a study, exercise room, family room, and guest room (Plan #107-1020).
5. Courtyards and Gardens
With lush, colorful plantings and pergolas that add curb appeal, courtyards and gardens in the front and/or back give the home a breezy, warm, and welcoming atmosphere.
Typical of the Mission Revival design is this beautifully landscaped courtyard that leads to the arched door of a one-story, four-bedroom, 4.5-bath Florida style home. The lovely home also features an open floor design, vaulted ceilings, a family room, library, home office, mudroom, main level laundry, and a swimming pool (Plan #175-1131).
6. Low-Pitched Hip or Gable Roofs
More often than not, with red tiles and wide overhanging eaves to protect the home from the high summer sun, hip or gable style roofs with a low slope are traditional characteristics of Mission Revival, Mediterranean, and Spanish architecture.
This luxurious one-story Spanish style home with Tuscan touches features the signature red-tile hip roofs of the design. The stunning 3,424-square-foot home includes five bedrooms, four bathrooms, covered front and rear porches, a bonus room, and a family room (Plan #190-1009).
7. Round or Quatrefoil Window
Commonly found in art, architecture, design and traditional Christian symbolism, this decorative element is a symmetrical shape with four lobes or foils of equal shape. The quatrefoil often looks like a flower with petals that overlap slightly – and in Latin, it means four leaves. In the Mission churches, the quatrefoil represented the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
This quatrefoil design on the parapet adds an eye-catching focal point to an attractive 4,677-square-foot two-story Spanish-Southwest style home. Inside is a courtyard surrounded by a loggia, covered front porch, covered lanai, four bedrooms, three full baths, two half baths, guest room, and workshop (Plan #134-1414).
Like quatrefoil windows, this pair of round windows on the arched entry enhance the exterior facade of a one-story, five-bedroom Spanish style home. Inside the 4,355-square-foot residence are a library, den, kitchen with island range, family room, library, rear patio, and a master suite with a sitting area (Plan #107-1221).
8. Covered Arcades
Covered by roofs supported by large square pillars or columns, outdoor areas called arcades – similar to courtyards, patios, or even porches – are also distinct characteristics of Mission Revival and Spanish Revival homes. The arcades provide shelter from the sun and rain and keep the home cool during the hot weather.
This attractive covered arcade with square pillars leads to the arched entryway of a classic two-story Spanish Revival style home with 4,354 square feet of living space. The residence has an open floor plan and features a covered front porch, covered lanai, four bedrooms, family room, game room, and main-floor laundry (Plan #134-1172).
9. Understated Decorative Elements
While more intricate than those in the historic mission churches – decorative elements of tile, iron, and wood used in these homes are still understated and fairly simple.
Take a look at this front door of a spectacular Mediterranean style home with its wrought-iron details. The wood staircase features rails with the same wrought-iron accents. From the covered front porch, step inside the two-story, five-bedroom, six-bath residence and marvel at the tall ceilings, the glass-paned windows, balcony, den, dining room, library, family room, media center, and exercise room (Plan #195-1173).
How Mission Revival (California Mission) Style Began
Sometimes called California Mission Revival and the “counterpart to the Georgian-inspired Colonial revival popular in the Northeast,” Mission Revival was the first style from the West Coast to spread eastward to the Southwest and Florida.
It began in the late 19th century and reached the peak of its popularity between 1890 and 1915. By 1910, the Mission Revival had been adapted to a more common style that was ideal for boom-time neighborhoods.
The earliest Mission Revival homes were built in California. They embraced and celebrated the architecture of Spanish settlers with their widespread use of the motifs developed from the designs of the historic Spanish mission churches. The style includes arched doors and windows, arcades, chimneys or even lookouts designed to look like bell towers, red-tile roofs, stucco walls, and deeply shaded porches.
For the most part, Mission Revival homes are suited to areas with tropical or warm climates. It is the main reason they are predominant in California, Arizona, the Southwest, and Southern states.
A Brief Look at the Spanish Revival Style
And now, let’s explore the Spanish Revival or Spanish Eclectic Style, another example of the charm and romance of Spanish-influenced architecture.
Like Mission Revival, this style emerged in the late 19th century and recorded its best years in the early 20th century (from 1915 to 1931). Described as fanciful and romantic, Spanish Revival is also the most decorative of the various Spanish designs. It combines Mediterranean, Spanish Baroque, Moorish, and Gothic elements to create an exotic but unified appearance.
Among its traditional elements that are also reminiscent of the Mission Revival style are low-pitched clay tile roofs, round arch openings, porch arcade with columns, stucco over brick or adobe brick exterior walls, and carved wooden doors, decorative window grills of wood or iron, twisted spiral columns, multi-pane windows, and balconies or terraces. With its more elaborate decorative tile trim, twisted spiral columns, and wrought iron accents, it is quite different from the less ornate Mission Revival style.
Top: From the spectacular asymmetrical front facade to the clay-tiled gable roof, the large arched glass-paned windows, and the majestic arched entryway, this magnificent two-story Mediterranean-Spanish style home exhibits a number of its appealing signature features. The 7,587-square-foot dwelling with high ceilings has five bedrooms, six bathrooms, two half baths, a family room with a fireplace, home office, dining room, kitchen with an island peninsula and walk-in pantry, and fabulous outdoor living space with fountains and a swimming pool. Middle: Walk into this foyer of the Mediterranean-Spanish style home and be dazzled by the high ceilings, the round columns, and a dramatic winding staircase that showcases the intricate wrought iron and woodwork details that are characteristic of Spanish Revival architecture. Bottom:Another feature of the Spanish Revival style highlighted in this home office of the two-story Mediterranean-Spanish style home is the woodwork. Take a look at the floors, the built-ins, and the fireplace’s wood surround with the wrought-iron details (Plan #195-1216)
This stunning two-story, 3,005-square-foot Mediterranean-Spanish style home with four bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms checks all the exterior features of Spanish Revival architecture: courtyard, covered front porch, portico, stucco outer walls, gabled red-tiled roofs, arched entrances, arched glass-paned windows, wood and wrought iron railings on the covered porch and balcony, a decorative round window on the balcony roof, and twisted spiral columns (Plan #195-1138).
Spanish Revival style gained national exposure at The Panama-California Exposition 1915 in San Diego – thanks to architect Bertram Goodhue who stayed away from the Greek and Roman concepts and instead designed the fairground complex in the Spanish Colonial style.
The California Quadrangle launched the Spanish revival into the national consciousness. Located in Balboa Park, San Diego, the Quadrangle is part of the grand entry to the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. Along with the California Building and California Tower, the Quadrangle was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May 1974. The three structures are now home to the San Diego Museum of Man (photo credit: Balboa Park by Antoine Taveneaux under license CC BY-SA 3.0).
While Spanish Revival permeated the country during the height of its popularity, its impact was predominantly in California, where Spain had its early colonial settlements. And even when other styles pushed Spanish Revival into oblivion, it never lost its charm and appeal in California.
Today, the terra-cotta roofs, wrought-iron grill windows, stucco walls, and ornate carvings of the Spanish Revival style have become part of California’s landscape. With its courtyards, fountains, lanais, and balconies taking full advantage of the tropical climate in Southern California, the Spanish Revival home – similar to those of Arts and Crafts, Prairie, Craftsman, and mid-Century Modern architecture – creates a smooth indoor-outdoor connection.
As Kimberly Bahsen McCarron of the Society of Architectural Historians-Southern California notes: “The style seems like the spirit of California because of its indoor-outdoor harmony … but also because of its nod to regional history.”
As we move forward into the 21st century, we find that Mission Revival/Spanish Revival continues to captivate the architectural world with its timeless blend of Old World charm and modern practicality.
Footnote: The lead image in this article is a beautifully designed Mediterranean style home with Mission Revival/Spanish Revival influences. For more details on the four-bedroom, 4.bath residence, go to (Plan #175-1064)