‘Victorian’ Architecture in Alameda — the Stick Style

Designers of the Italianate style shaped wood to resemble stone. In the early 1870s, architects allowed wood to resemble wood rather than forcing it to look like stone. This gave homes a simpler style that contemporaries called “modern,” later redefined as “Stick.”
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‘Victorian’ Architecture in Alameda — the Stick Style

Three types of Stick-style houses have been identified: gabled roof, towered and townhouse. Each of these types had appeared in Alameda by the mid-1880s when this “modern” style had gained popularity. Decorative detailing — evident on Alameda’s Stick style homes — defines the style, whether with “characteristic multi-textured wall surfaces” or with “roof trusses whose stickwork faintly mimics the exposed members of medieval half-timbered houses.” Unlike the wooden elements that builders of Italianate style home shaped to resemble stone, the Stick style builders shaped porch posts, brackets and other support beams square with beveled edges. Read more about the Stick style on page 10.

Dennis Evanosky

In 1868, architects William Hoagland and John J. Newsom built an Italianate-style villa for Enoch Pardee at 11th and Castro streets in Oakland. Although they constructed the home using redwood, the architects wanted it to look as though they had built the home completely with stone. They added quoins to the sides of the structure and ordered carefully mixed paint the texture of stone.

One story says that Pardee himself supervised the mixing of the colors. He did not want his villa to look like it was made of wood. Pardee wanted the painters to produce a color that would belie the fine elegance of stone, even though his architects had not included a single stone in their plans.

That same year, architect Henry Hobson Richardson took the opposite tack on the East Coast when he built a home for himself and his family in Staten Island’s Arrochar neighborhood.. Unlike Hoagland and Newsom, Richardson clothed his house in clapboard, leaving no mistake that he had designed and built the family residence in wood.

In A Field Guide to American Houses, Virginia and Lee McAlester lauded the Stick style’s structural honesty. They pointed out, how¬ever, that “the applied stickwork, unlike true half-timbering, had no structural relation to the underlying balloon-frame construction.”

In a study he penned for Old House Online, Gordon Bock tells us that scholar Vincent Scully’s 1955 paper about the Stick style put the style firmly in the 20th-century landscape. Bock points out, however that Scully traced much of the Stick style’s all-wood construction and the visual effects it made possible to Andrew Jackson Downing.

The McAlesters identify three types of Stick-style houses: gabled roof, towered and townhouse. Each of these types had appeared in Alameda by the mid-1880s when this “modern” style had gained popularity. In 1885 Robert Smilie built a pair of gabled cottages on Park Avenue at San Jose. A year later, San Francisco real estate nabob W.T.S. Ryer hired architect George A. Bordwell to design a towered villa in the new style on Pacific Avenue. Then in 1887, Robert Harvey built a two-story town house in the style just across the street.

The McAlesters say that decorative detailing — evident on Alameda’s Stick-style homes — defines the style, whether with “characteristic multi-textured wall surfaces” or with “roof trusses whose stickwork faintly mimics the exposed members of medieval half-timbered houses.” Unlike the wooden elements that builders of Italianate style home shaped to resemble stone, the Stick style builders shaped porch posts, brackets and other support beams square with beveled edges.

The Stick style’s patterns and lines prevailed over the three-dimensional ornamentation found on Italianate-style buildings. The Corinthian columns with their pronounced acanthus leaves were gone. Fancy brackets beneath the cornice line gave way to plainer supports.

Stick-style homes featured wood siding, steep gabled roofs, over¬hanging eaves, ornamental trusses, decorative braces and brackets, and decorative half-timbering.

Architects and builders dressed some Stick-style architecture using ideas borrowed from Queen Victoria’s furniture designer Charles Eastlake. In the same year that Hoagland and Newsom designed the Pardee home and Richardson was busy building his family’s home, Eastlake published Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery, and Other Details. In the book, Eastlake favored hand-made furniture and decor or those made by machine workers who took personal pride in their work. This book was so popular that it went through six editions in the next 11 years.

Manufacturers in the United States used Eastlake’s drawings and ideas to make Eastlake style or Cottage furniture. Eastlake designed furniture with geometric ornaments, spindles, low relief carvings and incised lines. Eastlake felt that builders took his ideas beyond the pale when they applied his furniture designs to the exteriors of homes. Robert Smilie included Eastlake sunbursts on his Park Avenue cottages; Robert Harvey also includes Eastlake designs on this home across the street.

Some refer to the Stick style as the Eastlake style. But other than lending his spindles, sunbursts, flowers, comets and other fanciful designs to both the Stick and Queen Anne styles, Eastlake had little to do with these architectural styles. He often disavowed the use of his name to describe anything other than his own furniture designs.

According to the McAlesters, the Stick style links the Gothic Revival with the Queen Anne style. “All three styles are free adaptations of medieval English building traditions,” the authors say. Unlike the earlier Gothic Revival style, however, the Stick style “stressed the wall surfaces as a decorative element rather than as a plane.” This decorative element applied to the wall surfaces strongly influenced the Queen Anne style that replaced the Stick style. We’ll have a look at the Queen Anne style in the next installment.

Dennis Evanosky is the publisher the Alameda Sun. Reach him at editor@alamedasun.com.

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