When Bill Neill, an independent television producer, went to La Verne city officials two years ago for a permit to extend his porch, they didn't know what to tell him.
"They said, 'We don't have any specs on porches. We have them for patios, but not for porches. We don't know what a porch is anymore as far as the permits and building codes are concerned.' "
Facing few restrictions from the city, Neill went overboard, wrapping his covered porch almost all the way around his two-story 1906 early American farmhouse. He added a belvedere, or attached gazebo, off the country kitchen and a screened-in sleeping porch off a back bedroom.
Neill said his porch recaptures a way of life he knew as a boy in West Texas.
"The real pleasure for me growing up was to sit out on the porch on a cool evening to talk or make ice cream," he recalled. "You went out on your porch to escape the heat and visit with friends."
While Neill's porch is almost the size of Texas, the porch on Pamela and Robert Brady's new $180,000, 2,100-square-foot home in Highland is an 8-by-15-foot shaded area with just enough room for a redwood table and chairs and fragrant potted herbs of spearmint, sage and thyme.
Each morning, the couple uses the porch for a traditional English breakfast of eggs, bacon, scones and marmalade served on Wedgewood china.
"I had to have a porch," said Pamela Brady, who emigrated from England in 1988. "I was determined to create a place off the house where I could eat, unwind and enjoy my garden."
Originally, the Bradys' Centex Homes model in the Ridgepointe subdivision did not include a porch.
"We went back and customized some of our models with porches because our marketing research was telling us that's what our buyers wanted," said Judy Usik, marketing director of Centex's Southern California Division.
Just what is reviving the public's predilections for porches--whose space is neither indoors nor out, but always a friendly, protected place for all those who have shared its embrace--elicits a curious range of opinion.
Robert Gable, a professor of psychology at the Claremont Graduate School, says a return to porches symbolizes a search for novelty that surfaces in 30-year cycles.
"It's no different from shifting hemlines or the cuffs on a man's pants in fashion," he said. "In architecture, the range of salient features are limited, so we'll go back and recycle them."
Gable added that contemporary architecture is moving once again toward a global or communal perspective, and away from the greed and isolation popularly associated with the 1980s.
Similarly, Irene Goldenberg, a family psychologist with UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute, said the porch provides a safe place for social interaction outside the family.
"People want a soft, permeable boundary between themselves and their community," she said. "They want an entry or way to connect with the rest of the neighborhood, if only to evaluate their lives in terms of a larger system of values."
However, Robert Winter, author of "The California Bungalow" and an architectural historian at Occidental College, believes the rediscovery of the porch simply represents the public's response to an environmental crisis.
"People are afraid of the cancer-producing sun and the breakdown of the ozone layer," Winter said, "so they want a roof over their head when they're outside."
Architects and builders, whose task is to translate these opinions and trends into people-friendly projects, have their own views on the cultural shift toward porches.
Mike Woodley, a principal architect for Kaufman & Broad Home Corp., California's largest home builder, which is developing several Southland subdivisions with porches, believes the recession has dictated the renewed interest in porches.
"When times are difficult as they are now," Woodley said, "people tend to fall back on traditional elements."
Flat or falling home prices, he notes, are also forcing people to view their homes as places to live in rather than as commodities to sell or trade every few years.
"Homes represent investments in neighborhood, family and children," Woodley added.
And with children playing mostly in the street or front yard, where they can meet their friends, porches have become observation decks for anxious parents to watch over them.
Consequently, many architects accustomed to designing houses for adults are now taking their directions from kids.
Peter Calthorpe is a San Francisco architect and designer of the pioneering pedestrian-pocket town of Laguna Creek Ranch near Sacramento, which features several styles of porches in parklike neighborhoods.
Said Calthorpe: "If you think about the way kids are, they're very much involved in porch and front-yard-type activities. They hang around doorways and passages."
As porches draw parents and their children outside, the streets and the neighborhood also become safer, many porch enthusiasts say.