Homes that were once the norm



Photographs by Melba Levick/Text by Marc Appleton

Rizzoli, $50


The California coastline is dotted with homes that survive the heyday of Spanish Colonial and Mediterranean architecture. The dignity and simplicity of the original residences will be instantly familiar to those who’ve traveled through Santa Barbara, Ojai or the Palos Verdes Peninsula, where the influence of Mediterranean architecture flourished.

The late historian David Gebhard, quoted in this book, wrote: “In the twentieth century there has been only one brief period of time and only one restricted geographic area in which there existed anything approaching a unanimity of architectural form. That was the period from approximately 1920 through the early 1930s, when the Spanish Colonial or Mediterranean Revival was virtually the accepted norm in Southern California.”

The two terms, often used interchangeably, have some technical differences, author Appleton writes. “Mediterranean is a broader term and implies not just influences from Spain, but potentially from many regions bordering the Mediterranean Sea,” including southern France, Sicily, Majorca, Morocco and Greece.

That kind of home-building -- the hand-hewn wood beams, hand-painted mosaic tiles, thick walls and exquisitely designed floors -- all disappeared because they depended on superb craftsmanship and on materials no longer affordable or even broadly available.

The Depression, industrialization and evolving tastes took their tolls. And those now fortunate enough to own authentic California Mediterranean homes are living in the last of that breed. For the rest of us, this book, with its lush photos of homes from the Palos Verdes Peninsula to Santa Barbara, will have to suffice.

-- Bettijane Levine