Any community older than a few decades is usually made up of a wide range of housing types, and the older the neighborhood the more the variety that can usually be found.
Generally speaking, these vintage neighborhoods have an attractive appearance, especially if homes were built over a long period of time. Each era can have its own “in” style, and the diversity of design developed over time has an innate appeal to all (in contrast to the “cookie cutter” approach of building neighborhoods, a name given to suburban housing whose lack of character and variety results in an unappealing uniformity of design).
Monrovia annually marks its official origins as a city from May 17, 1886, the date when town site lots were first put up for public sale. Over the 126 years that have ensued since then, the city has become a melting pot of housing styles.
But due to the relative youth of the town compared to eastern U.S. cities built in the late 18th century, many housing styles that reach back over the past two centuries do not appear on the local landscape.
Second Empire (a style of Victorian-era houses), Greek Revival, Georgian and Italianate are styles virtually unknown in the West. (To see pictures of various housing styles located throughout the U.S., click here).
At the time Monrovia was founded, the housing style of choice was that of the Victorian era (as an example, the Queen Anne style), so named for England’s Queen Victoria, who ruled her country for 63 years and seven months, from 1837 until her death in 1901 (Queen Elizabeth II, the current monarch of England, will surpass that record of longevity in early 2016 if she continues on the throne).
The Craftsman and American Bungalow styles began to appear shortly after 1900, and, during the window of evolution from Victorian era to Craftsman, many “transitional” homes were built that incorporated elements of both Victorian and Craftsman styles.
The Spanish Colonial Revival home, which can be found throughout Monrovia, was most popular between 1915 and 1931. Following World War II, the ranch style and G.I. tract home began to dominate the landscape. Overlapping that was the Modernist style, which began in 1930 and continues to this day.
Here are some key defining characteristics of the three most common vintage housing styles in Monrovia:
- Victorian-era homes
These were often two-story buildings with 12-foot interior ceilings. Single-story “cottages” are often referred to as Queen Anne. Victorians usually have such large attic spaces that they can easily be converted to additional living space. Exteriors have “gingerbread” (decorative woodwork), turrets or towers, large window bays, wraparound porches with wooden railings and decks and tall windows with “wavy” glass, all of which present a rather complex facade.
Because of the time period in which they built, they may not have been appointed with indoor bathrooms; lighting was probably driven by natural gas; fireplace boxes were small (for burning coal); and kitchens would have been tiny by modern standards.
- Craftsman homes
Designed as a result of the Arts and Crafts movement, these homes looked to escape from the ornate, highly decorated interiors of the Victorian-era homes by simplifying design and using local materials.
In the Monrovia area that meant river-rock stone foundations quarried from the local mountains and river beds. Large overhanging eaves that shielded the interior from the hot valley summer sun, the use of natural materials, fireplaces with Batchelder tiles, built-in buffets, possibly a breakfast nook for eating in the kitchen, along with push-button light switches helped characterize this popular style.
- Spanish Colonial Revival homes
Largely a product of Florida and California, the homes were mostly single story. Walls were primarily of stucco, the red tile roofs were low-pitched, and the porches and balconies were usually small. Decorative ironwork and canvas awnings over windows were common exterior elements, and there might well have been a courtyard. Semi-circular arches over windows and doorways both inside and out helped define the form.
It is this variety of style nestled against the San Gabriel foothills that evokes surprise and delight from new arrivals to the Monrovia area. Vigilance towards and concern for these vintage neighborhoods by community members will ensure that their continued existence will be enable future generations to delight in their uniqueness, and Monrovia will continue to be considered a “gem” by visitors and residents alike.