History of San Francisco Bay Area Homes

Posted by Devon Shryock

The history of San Francisco Bay Area homes encompasses nine counties in the major metropolitan areas of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland. These nine counties are Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma. The bay area is renowned for its natural beauty and rich resources. Originally a center for rural life, middle and upper classes have flocked to the area and the region has grown to a bustling populace of 7.44 million.

The First Bay Tradition, from the 1840s- 1850s, was a period of early development in the Bay Area and was dominated by the architectural designs of the Victorian Era (1860-1900)

The first Victorian architectural style to appear in the Bay Area was the Italianate Style

(1840s -1850s) , also known as the Tuscan, Lombard, or Bracketed (named for the large and highly ornamental eave brackets that are a key feature of this style).

Italianate architecture features a low pitched or even a flat roof, sometimes a mansard orhip roof, with ornate cornice work, wide eaves, and ornamental brackets supporting them.

Bay Area examples are narrow and tall, designed to fit a stately house on a small area of land with as much as two or three stories on a basement foundation. Built to impress, other signature details of the Italianate style included grand entrances and intricate stair railings of turned wood or wrought iron, winding their way to balconies and porches.


The Italianate style was followed by a style called the French Second Empire (1855-1885).

This architectural style featured Mansard roofs, balconies, narrow, often arched windows, wrap around porches trimmed with other opulent French details. The signature identifying element of this style, is a high Mansard roof with dormers above a substantial cornice.


Next came the Stick style, or Eastlake style. (1860-1890)

Very few examples of this style exist today. This early American architectural style is characterized by its comparatively pared down design. Emphasis was in the structure’s siding, as the home’s exterior was clad in patterns and lines and flat ornamental details. Architectural elements were soffits and smooth fascia boards. The Eastlake designs were a little more ornate, with spindle details radiating at the gable peaks.


Shingle Style emerged in 1874 and continued to develop through 1910. Shingle style was expansive and airy, with many roof angles and sided in shingles. The design was rustic and natural, fitting into its landscape, and featured deep porches and eaves on several levels of the house.


The Queen Anne Victorian style was introduced in 1880 and was a dominant design until 1910. This style features grand porches that extend on one or two sides of the house, turrets, multi-angled roof lines, a front facing gable, wide entry stairs, lavish details are applied to the  exterior, dividing the stories with shingles, siding, and half timbers. Highly ornate spindle work, turned wood, and mouldings became widely available during the machine age, and were applied with a flourish during this highly romantic era. Polychromatic paint schemes were applied to accent each lavish detail. Many examples can be found in San Francisco on California Street, and the famous “Postcard Row” is in the neighborhood.


The Second Bay Tradition (1928-1942) rooted in San Francisco, The Greater Bay Area, and East Bay saw a turn toward a rustic, woodsy architectural style referred to as Redwood Post and Beam. The design is expansive, airy, irregular, fits into the landscape, and is planned around the site to get the best advantage of views of the Bay Area, it features large windows and gables, and exposed timbers. It is much like the Shingle Style, but the finishes are more raw and natural.


The Third Bay Tradition (1945-1980) Development during this sprawling period of growth for the Bay Area saw a modern hybrid of vernacular styles, codified by the design works of Donlyn Lyndon, and Charles Moore. The design ranged from elements based on the upright forms of the Folk American Farmhouse to the sprawling California Ranch, but with a cubist approach and lots of natural light. Sea Ranch is a famous example of this architecture that remains in place today.



Whether you have an architect in mind to mimic your favorite style, or are starting from scratch, S.E.A. Construction is here to help your design and construction dreams come true. Contact us today and we’ll get started!

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