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Craftsman Homes: 'Simple Living and High Thinking'

April 16, 1989|LEON WHITESON

"It comes to me every day of my life that a home spirit is being awakened amongst us, that as a nation we are beginning to realize how important it is to have homes that we like, that we have been instrumental in building."

In these down-home phrases, Gustav Stickley, editor of The Craftsman magazine, promoted the Craftsman bungalow with its cedar shingle siding, deep roof eaves, ample porches, ground-hugging horizontal lines and dark, redwood interiors that swept Southern California between 1890 and 1920.

The Craftsman style "established an American architecture so fresh that it spread from Pasadena to all of Southern California, and then all over the country," Esther McCoy wrote in "Five California Architects."

At the height of its popularity the Craftsman house was so much in demand across the United States that some local architects set up lucrative mail-order operations that offered sets of plans for $1 "direct from Bungalow Land," as they called Southern California.

The most famous Craftsman houses of Pasadena were designed by brothers Charles and Henry Greene. So many Greene and Greene houses--the Gamble, the Blacker and the Duncan-Irwin--were built along the Arroyo Seco that they were given their own name, the Arroyo style.

Besides the Greenes, other architects who led the Craftsman movement in Southern California included Myron Hunt and his partner, Elmer Grey; Sylvanus Marston, Louis B. Easton, Arthur and Alfred Heineman, Frederick L. Roehrig and George Harris.

The Craftsman bungalow embodied the ideal of "simple living and high thinking" popularized by the late-Victorian Arts and Crafts movement in the United States and Britain.

The Arts and Crafts movement appealed to genteel middle-class people who, repelled by the whole idea of the noisy, dirty, intrusive Industrial Revolution, yearned to live a life of semi-rustic simplicity.

In the Arts and Crafts ideal, self-reliant family groups communed with nature or gathered around the fireplace in the evening and read poetry, played the piano, wove cloth or crafted timber for the houses they helped build with their own hands.

"The simple shingled bungalow, enriched with the most discriminating taste in painting and hand-crafts, was built by intellectuals . . . folksy in their attitudes toward family and the good life," historian Robert Winter wrote in "California Design 1910."

Retreating into the safe, warm cave of the family home, the breadwinner would find refuge at the hearth from the labors of the day out in the brutal working world.

"The little lady would be busy in the efficient white kitchen at the back of the house, concocting healthful dinners from garden-grown vegetables," Winter wrote.

"When she'd fed the family, she and her daughters might entertain the head of the household with an aria from Puccini, or a medieval madrigal, to soothe his soul."

Modest to Grand

The Craftsman bungalow --a word derived from the Hindi bangla, a house in the Bengal style-- ranged from the modest to the grand.

Many bungalows were designed and partly built by their owners. They were inspired by Stickley's belief that "Homes must be honest dwellings . . . (in which) every man has the right to think out the plan for his house to suit himself."

Charlotte Dyer, in a 1912 article titled "How I Built My Bungalow," declared:

"I decided not to engage an architect. I knew exactly what I wanted, and so often an architect will insist on incorporating his own ideas, and I just wanted us, my husband and myself, in the 'thought' of our home."

Tile maker Ernest Batchelder, whose ceramics graced almost every classic Craftsman house built before World War I, also designed and built his own home at 626 S. Arroyo Blvd., Pasadena, in 1909.

Used Arroyo Stones

Batchelder was attracted to the site by its mature trees and its location on the edge of the Arroyo Seco. The front porch frames a view of the magnificent 100-year-old oak that spreads its protective canopy over the low-pitched tar-paper roof.

Batchelder crafted a cedar-shingled bungalow graced by round river stones from the arroyo. A second-story porch was designed to catch the sweet breezes wafting in from the San Gabriel Valley's orange groves.

The living room, with its board-and-batten redwood wainscotting and Douglas fir sloped ceiling, is centered on the tiled chimney breast. The chimney is guarded by a pair of ceramic icons--a trademark St. Mark's lion for Batchelder and a harp for his musician wife, Alice.

The light from the windows on either side of the fireplace is softly muted. Chairs designed by Gustav Stickley sat waiting by the hearth for the evening family gatherings.

Dark Interiors

"I don't know why the Craftsman interiors were so dark," said Winter, who bought the Batchelder house in 1972. "Maybe it was as a relief from the bright Southland sunshine?"

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