Victorian-Era Stick Style: No More Disguise

Photo by Dennis Evanosky

This pair of Victorian-era cottages on Park Avenue reflects the Stick style with their squared bay windows and decorative barge boards.

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 with stone. They added quoins to the sides of the structure and ordered carefully mixed paint to 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 one 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 at Arrochair on Staten Island. Unlike Hoagland and Newsom, Richardson clothed his home in clapboard, leaving no mistake that he had designed and built the family residence in wood. Richardson used wood with no attempt at disguise. In doing so, the renowned architect had tapped into Andrew Jackson Downing's philosophy of leaving wood unveiled and thus emphasizing what Vincent Scully calls its truth and reality.

"This (philosophy) was always given to structural and visual multiplication of the framing sticks," says Scully, who coined the term "Stick style" in his 1955 book The Shingle Style and the Stick Style.

In their time, these homes were called "modern" with words like Gothic, Swiss or English cottage used to describe the design inspiration. The Stick style grew from Downing's Picturesque Gothic ideals and flourished in house pattern books. Its proponents lauded the style's structural honesty. In A Field Guide to American Houses, Virginia and Lee McAlester point out, however, that "the applied stickwork, unlike true half-timbering, had no structural relation to the underlying balloon-frame construction."

The McAlesters identify three types of Shingle-style houses: gabled roof, towered and town house. 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.


Photo by Dennis Evanosky

Robert Harvey built his Park Avenue home in the “modern” style adding squared bay windows and dressing the home in geometric ornaments. The gable’s fish-scale shingles anticipate the Queen Anne style.

Two years later, Robert Harvey built a two-story town house in the style just across the street.

In the year between 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.

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 hood siding; steep, gabled roofs; overhanging 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 Hobson 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 town house 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, however.

He often disavowed the use of his name to describe anything other than his own furniture designs.


Photo by Dennis Evanosky

Architect George A. Bordwell designed this Stick-style villa on Pacific Avenue for a San Francisco real estate mogul.

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.

The next two articles will discuss the gaudy Queen Anne style that defines Alameda's Victorian-era landscape.

Contact Dennis Evanosky at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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