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The History of San Francisco Captured in Its Architecture

The growth of the city of San Francisco is captured within its architecture, thus creating a unique personality that describes this incredible place. Design becomes the way to go back in time and understand what was in order to make changes as you go forward. The city started out as a scrubby frontier town and today it is known as a destination city.

Captured in the architecture are reflections of the economic changes that the city dealt with, from gold rushes to industrialization, and now the new world of technology. If you want to see all the different eras of San Francisco architecture, then you need to start by walking through its amazing neighborhoods. Here are three types of architecture that are often associated with the rich history of San Francisco.

Golf Rush Italianates
During the Gold Rush, there was a connection between wealth and the look of Italian villas or farmhouses, known as Italianates. Part of what made these homes stand out are the main decorations, such as brackets at the roofline and the hoods over the doors and windows. These homes also included welcoming entrances and campaniles. The very earliest versions of these Italianates were flat boxes, reflecting the fact that it was still a Western settlement at that time.

Later, as framing and other building techniques became more advanced, then multi-story octagonal bays began to be added to these homes. Unfortunately, these older Italianates are rare, simply because so many were lost in the 1906 fire. If you want to see examples of this San Francisco architecture, check out the Mission neighborhood, west of Divisadero and south of 20th street.

Industrial Growth Reflected in Queen Anne/Edwardian Architecture
Growth and industrialization meant that San Francisco went from being a Western outpost into a world-class industrial city. Showing off their newfound wealth meant building opulent homes, and the Queen Anne design was fanciful and over the top as a result. There are dozens of combinations of windows, turrets, and feminine trimming.

Edwardian homes were seen as the masculine response to the Queen Anne, which meant the design reflected the details of ancient temple architecture.

These homes are often grouped with the Victorian era homes, which tended to fade out as the city moved into the 20th century. To find examples of these flashy and opulent homes, visit Ashbury Heights, Cow Hollow, the Mission, and Pacific Heights neighborhoods.

Mission Architectural Style

Industrialization had its drawbacks, making individuals long for a simpler time. The Mission style of San Francisco architecture reflects that desire to turn back time, reinterpreting the look of Spanish missions into something more modern. What made these homes stand out from the Victorian era homes is the simple design on the face, with minimal decorative features. These homes can be found in a variety of neighborhoods, including the outer Mission and Noe Valley.

These are just a small taste of the various architectural elements that can be found within San Francisco. There are walking and architectural tours throughout the city, so be sure to explore this unique element of San Francisco. If you are looking to incorporate some of these unique San Francisco architecture elements into your home’s design, contact us to learn how.

Freelance writer

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