Mission Home Architectural Style


Today’s home plans are usually watered-down, if very modern, versions of the original Mission style. They feature stucco siding and roofs made of red tile, along with at least one curvaceous parapet that would have been the envy of Alta California’s padres. They may also have square pillars or twisted columns, an arcaded entry porch and quatrefoil (shaped like a four-leaf clover) windows.

As homage to the original architecture, interiors of Mission-styled homes can be unremarkable. Plaster or stucco lines the walls; “rustic” ceilings are made of dark wood. Furniture is unadorned. The stark quality of the interior is sometimes brightened only by colored tiles or textiles.

And while the Mission revival itself did spread eastward across the country, that particular style of home is not a common sight locally. In Minnesota, Mission remodeling Minneapolis homes are significantly outnumbered by Spanish Colonials.

In Alta California (Spanish for “Upper California” in colonial times), 21 similar-looking missions were set up by Spanish missionaries from 1769–1823. The “padres” arrived from Spain or New Spain (Mexico), and were all of the Franciscan order. Mission chapels and other structures borrowed from the Spanish Colonial style, which itself was influenced by Spanish Baroque. The buildings tended to look alike because adobe (mud brick) was not a versatile building material; in addition, the construction skills of the missionaries and indigenous people were limited. (Also, there likely would’ve been more variety in Mission architecture had the Jesuits, with their intellectual prowess, been allowed to also establish missions in California; however, the prestigious order of Ignatius had been expelled from the Spanish Empire for gaining too much power.)

The desert climate of the Southwest necessitated most of the buildings having elongated eaves, overhangs and rounded roof tiles for protection against the elements. But since these men of the cloth desired their chapels to look like the elegant and ornate cathedrals of Europe, they created facades to create an illusion of grandeur. They couldn’t erect bell towers, so they hung bells over a wall. In fact, the parapet of the Alamo, which was basically a wall on the roof meant to protect (unsuccessfully) the “Texian” soldiers from the attacks of the Mexican army during the famous battle, has been a hallmark of Mission-style buildings to this day.

It is worth noting that, ironically, the forced simplicity and resulting humble quarters of the Mission style probably facilitated the missionaries’ efforts to convert the native population, if only because the latter could relate to that lifestyle.

The Mission Revival that was modeled after California’s Spanish missions began in the late 19th century. Schools and railroad stations especially — as well as residences — often used the style because it was easy to imitate. Ultimately, the Mission rebirth soon evolved into and was taken over by the more sophisticated Spanish Colonial Revival. Turn-of-the-century international expositions, most notably the Panama-California Exposition of 1915, inspired this new wave of Spanish Colonials.

By the 1920s, the Mission style began to lose its purity, as add-ons to those buildings and homes grew in popularity. These function-before-form structures often borrowed from other movements of the period, including Pueblo, Prairie, and Arts and Crafts. After its peak of popularity in the early 20th century, Mission architecture reappeared in the Fifties, often in the form of hotels. As a domestic form, it was still seen into the 1970s.

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