Victorian-era Architecture in Alameda — Queen Anne

File Photo

Victorian-era Architecture in Alameda — Queen Anne

Styles prevalent during the reign of Queen Victoria came to full blossom with the arrival of the Queen Anne style in 1876. Alameda Architect Charles Shaner, whose home in that very style is pictured at the right, played on important role in dressing Alameda in the style’s regalia. This included surfaces textured with decorative shingles, patterned masonry, and half-timbering. Ornamental spindles and brackets complement the style’s signature porches, while turrets or towers vie to echo another, long-past age.

Denis Staub designed the High Street home on the left in 1894. Even more gingerbread was on the menu when Alameda builder David S. Brehaut partnered with architect Charles S. Shaner to design and build the above gem on San Jose Avenue. Both homes boast signature Queen Anne-style front porches. (File Photos)

Queen Anne Style Crowns Victorian Era

The Queen Anne style reached its height of popularity with the open, spacious porch, one of its most striking features.

Dennis Evanosky

In 1876, the United States celebrated its 100th birthday with the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, which displayed new technologies on the ground’s thirteen acres. A 1400-horsepower steam engine no doubt mesmerized visitors. The George H. Corliss Co. designed the engine to power the exposition’s exhibits that included Charles Brush’s electric lights and the Otis Brothers’ elevators.

Exposition-goers gazed at locomotives, fire trucks, printing presses and mining equipment. They gathered around the latest inventions — some that we take for granted today. Christopher Sholes and Carlos Glidden displayed their typewriter with something many of us struggle with even in the digital age —Sholes’ QWERTY keyboard.

Alexander Graham Bell’s fledgling company demonstrated the inventor’s telephone. George Bernard Grant proudly exhibited his 12 x 6-inch calculator with its 400 moving parts. You could order one at the exposition, but with a price tag of $1,000 it was a rich man’s toy.

English architect Richard Norman Shaw used the exposition to introduce an architectural style that he called “Queen Anne” because he thought that it mirrored styles prominent in the early 18th century.

Although many question Shaw’s sketchy connection, the name has stood the test of time. The Victorian-era Queen Anne style had little to do with the British monarch who ruled Great Britain and Ireland from 1702 to 1714, however.

Widely published pattern books like George F. Barber’s The Cottage Souvenir Revised and Enlarged touted spindles and other flourishes we associate with the Queen Anne style today.

The style appealed to everyone: country folk who yearned for fancy city trappings and city dwellers who pulled out all the stops as they built lavish castles using Shaw’s ideas and Barber’s interpretation of them.

Architects combined conical towers, multiple gables and contrasting shingle patterns to create an elaborate, multifaceted architecture, according to Kristin Holmes in The Victorian Express.

In A Field Guide to American Homes, Virginia and Lee McAlester divide the Queen Anne style into four types: patterned masonry, free classic, half-timbered and spindled. Spindled is the style we most frequently think of when we hear the term “Queen Anne.”

These “gingerbread” houses boasted delicate turned porch posts and lacy, ornamental spindles. Some decorations on the homes, like sunbursts and meteors, are often called Eastlake because it resembles the work of English furniture designer Charles Eastlake.

The salient elements of Queen Anne-style homes also include angled bay windows and sometimes a tower or turret. (A turret is simply a tower without its own foundation.)

The Queen Anne style reached its height of popularity with the open, spacious porch, one of its most striking features. Many Queen Anne homes boast classic porches adorned with gingerbread trim, brackets, ornate spindles and spandrels, intricately sawn wooden balusters, fluted columns and turned and painted posts.

A reliable delivery system played an important role in Alameda’s real estate development.

The Central Pacific and the South Pacific Coast railroads — both owned by the Southern Pacific Railroad after 1885 — made not only the lumber necessary to build these homes more readily available, but affordable, mass-produced doors, windows, roofing, siding, and decorative detailing more readily available.

Architects and builders, like Charles Shaner and David Brehaut, whose crowning creation is pictured here, took full advantage of this system and helped dress Alameda in the Queen Anne splendor for which the Island City is still famous.

Dennis Evanosky is the publisher of the Alameda Sun. This is an excerpt from his book Alameda: An Architectural Treasure Chest, which is available online at, and at the Sun’s office, 3515 Encinal Ave. Suite J.