EXTERIOR architectural ornaments seemed to have become a matter of pride to Americans in 1850, after a remark made by famed British aesthete Andrew Jackson Downing, who hinted that Americans might lack “that refinement of manners which distinguishes a civilized from a coarse and brutal people.” He continued: “So long as men are forced to dwell in log huts and follow a hunter’s life, we must not be surprised at lynch law and the use of the bowie knife. But when smiling lawns and tasteful cottages embellish a country, we know that order and culture are established.”
American homeowners vied to prove their elegance. Look-alike houses erupted in a rash of “custom-designed” French mansards, false gables, fairy-tale turrets, Corinthian pediments, Moorish arches, caryatid pillars, bas-relief friezes, tasseled concrete swags, hooded oriels, curved bay windows, sunburst fanlights. And much more: Venetian shutters, spindled pergolas, fretwork balconies, stick trim, crenelated bargeboard, portrait corbels, scrolled brackets, Greek statues, stone lions, onyx horses, unicorn newel-posts, eagle finials, gargoyle downspouts, cherub masks, jade urns, heraldic tablets, sunflower plaques, ornate wrought-iron cupola-galleries and fire escapes.
Fortunately, so much detail was added that some has survived and can be found in salvage yards.
Sources for salvaged architectural ornaments include: Scavenger’s Paradise in Studio City (columns, downspouts, urns, plaques), Downtown Salvage in Los Angeles (stone and wrought iron decorations) and Architectural Salvage of Santa Barbara (a bit of everything from cupolas to corbels).
Sources for replicas: Stone Works in Hollywood (details from Buckingham Palace, Hearst’s Castle and Victorian brownstones), the Abaroot Manufacturing Co. in Torrance (hand-turned balusters, posts and gingerbread), J.P. Weaver in Burbank (ornate friezes), West Valley Woodworks in Chatsworth (custom exterior moldings) and La Haye Bronze Inc. in Corona (decorative metal grillwork).