Friday, September 4, 2009

Hodge Podge architecture--England's charm

I have just returned from a visit to my native England. The trip reconnected me with family and friends, and brought the opportunity to soak up the culture and the history that pull me back as though I am a tourist experiencing it all for the first time.
The long and venerable history remains palpable in the market towns throughout England, expressed in its architecture that stands, constructed over many centuries, with newer buildings that have emerged as trends or necessity dictated. They appear seemingly comfortable with their juxtaposition of architectural styles and chronological age, and represent the visual storied past of each market town.
Pre-World War II brick built homes, constructed to last, overlook half- timbered pubs, equally durable, that were built in the 17th Century. Noble Victorian county halls nod to Edwardian row houses and Norman churches from the 11th Century stand shoulder to shoulder with quaint 18th Century, thatched cottages.
With this long term perspective it is interesting to ponder how the village of Rancho Santa Fe, designed by architect Lilian J. Rice, will develop through the ensuing centuries, and how growth will add to its storied past.
When three million eucalyptus trees failed to grow to a railroad’s well thought out plan–due to several years of drought followed by the famed Southern California storm of 1916–the community of Rancho Santa Fe was conceived in the mind of Walter Edward Hodges, Vice President of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Company, according to archives held at the Kansas State Historical Society. The newly formed Santa Fe Land Improvement Company, organized and recorded in 1906 of which Hodges was president, turned its attention from trees for railroad ties to the development of lots for horticultural and residential development.
After Leone George Sinnard, a soils expert with experience of community development in Atascadero, California, mapped out the subdivision of two square leagues of prime lots and a winding road system that emphasized scenic aesthetics rather than safety, attention was turned to the design of the hub of the planned community–the village center. The architectural firm of Requa and Jackson was chosen to design the village on the strength of work completed in Ojai when Requa was partnered with architect Frank Mead.
Initially the village was named Pueblo Santa Fe, as noted on early blueprints from 1922. Requa assigned a gifted associate in his office, Lilian J. Rice, to use her artistry in the design of the initial buildings in what was called the Civic Center as conceived by Sinnard. A guest house was built that reflected both the pueblo style of architecture–characterized by a long adobe single story structure with exposed log support beams, flat roof and rough textured walls– and Spanish type, as reflected in the red tiled roof of the main entry way and its interior living room with heavy beamed carved ceiling and wrought iron balcony.
The guest house was built expressly for prospective clients and was renamed La Morada as the pueblo concept, favored by Sinnard who collected Southwestern pottery and baskets, as did U. T. Clotfelter, Vice President of the SFLIC, gave way to an eclectic Hispanic style. By 1923, Rice had complete control of the design and construction of the remainder of the buildings in the Civic Center as she agreed to stay on in the ranch as the lead project architect under the SFLIC with Sinnard as manager.
The garage block which incorporated both commercial and residential buildings, and a quaint wishing well structure that housed a single gasoline pump, was soon followed by the two storied mixed use apartments and retail space located on the north east corner of Paseo Delicias and La Granada. The concept of intelligent urban design in a commercial setting was successfully and tastefully mastered by Rice whose design concept made one indiscernible from the other. Her historic row houses, completed in December of 1926 after a trip to the Andalusian province in Southern Spain, were individually designed to the specifications of the owners and represent simplicity of style matched by eco-conscious design which emphasized indoor/outdoor living spaces.
The two story mixed use apartments and business offices, completed in 1928 by Rice, located on the South side of Paseo Delicias garnered an AIA honor award in 1933. Known initially as the Christiancy Apartments for George Christiancy who originally bought the property, the name was changed to La Valenciana Apartments as the project was sold to his nephew, Barton Millard, after the 1929 stock market crash, as recalled by Pete Ragan a family descendant. The structure is still a much loved iconic part of the village center, although recent in-fill has blocked the original front elevation from view.
As preparations for the construction of the Lilian Project move forward it is perhaps wise to think about England and her long history, with much of her past characterized by an admixture of architecture that represents the growth of society, its fashionable whims and its necessities. And what once may have been frowned upon as progress gone wild, it has now become its charm.