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Architectural Styles

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Although the Dry Creek area began life as an outpost of the Spanish and Mexican empires, its architectural traditions have always been firmly rooted in those of the American eastern seaboard. Only a very few buildings, exemplified by Madrona Manor and the Everett Wise Winery, were designed by architects. Most of the residences were built by local carpenters and builders, in later years from pattern books and style guides, and not as high examples of any particular style. In most instances they were vernacular interpretations that do not conform to pure academic categories. These vernacular buildings commonly combine elements from several different design types or historical periods. Generally a more reduced and simplified form of decorative treatment is displayed compared to high-style examples. Many defy precise classification and it is only possible to identify subtle influences and tendencies toward a particular style. However, no matter how ambiguous these vernacular buildings may appear in terms of style, they are, nonetheless, accurate reflections of the taste at the time of their construction as well as an important indication of the building techniques and materials of their day.  

It is this aspect, however, that provided the architectural styles in Dry Creek Valley with a compatibility not often found in major cities and commercial centers. Most of the homes constructed prior to the 1950s were of a harmonious style, shape, size, mass, and dimension. It has only been in recent years that massive “I’ve made it” homes have altered the congenial environment of the area.  

The first dwelling constructed in the Healdsburg region was that of Cyrus Alexander, who built his cabin of split redwood logs on the Sotoyome Rancho in 1842. The cabins of other early settlers were also apparently of split logs or adobe construction, none of which are extant  except for the 1840s Peña adobe, enclosed since the 1850s within the walls of the D.D. Phillips vernacular Greek Revival residence on Dry Creek Road. By 1850, however, a sawmill had been established on Mill Creek by William J. March and Samuel Heald, and the mill was soon turning out sawn redwood boards, making home construction much less exacting (Hoods 2007:20).


The first dwellings were simple vernacular adaptations of the Greek Revival style, with split pilasters and simple posts supporting their ubiquitous front, or wrapped, porches, long narrow windows and matching doors, and multi-light, usually six-over six, windows with simple architraves (Hoods 2007:21). The style goes by many sobriquets: homestead, vernacular, National Folk and its sub-groups: hall and parlor, gable front, side gable, pyramidal, or I-House (McAlester & McAlester 1984:88-101). For the purposes of this survey, however, the formal name for the architectural style was used, with a discussion of its vernacular adaptation, as recommended by Architectural Historian Sally B. Woodbridge, U.C. Berkeley School of Architecture, Emeritus.  

These ubiquitous first homes, which were built in cities and on ranches alike, exhibited the basic symmetry of that style, with gable roofs, horizontal siding, surrounding porches, and central entryways flanked by multi-paned windows. They usually had four rooms in the main portion of the house, with a shed-roofed kitchen attached to the rear. This style remained one of the most popular in Sonoma County from the 1850s to the early 1900s, with but a few variants such as more or less-steeply pitched rooflines, larger structures, second stories, and differing architectural decoration.  

Facades usually faced the primary street or road, with full-width or wrap-around porches supported by posts or pilasters. Barns and outbuildings, including hay barns, livestock barns, smoke houses, blacksmiths, sheds, privies, and other support facilities were almost always located to the rear of the residence, but sometimes to the side, or across the road.

Greek Revival (1825-1860)

By the late 1850s, with the advent of trained carpenters to the area, people began to build in a more formal and recognizable Greek Revival style. This was the dominant style of American domestic architecture during the period from the mid-1820s to 1860 (and later in the west),  when its popularity led it to be called the National Style. It flourished in all regions in the country, especially in those areas being rapidly settled in the 1840s and 1850s in California. Formal adaptations of the style began and ended with public and commercial buildings, and were popular in California through the 1920s. Residences, both large formal mansions, as in the southern U.S., and the ubiquitous simple vernacular dwellings of the developing towns and communities of the west were built in the style. The houses typically had front, side-gabled, or hipped roofs, horizontal board siding, a cornice line of main roof and porch roofs emphasized with a wide band of trim, cornice returns on the gable ends; and porches, either entry or full- width, supported by square or rounded Classical columns. The front doors were  centrally located, surrounded by sidelights and transoms, with more elaborate door surrounds. Fenestration was symmetrical, usually with six lights over six, double hung. The style  was spread by carpenter’s guides and pattern books, primarily Asher Benjamin’s builder’s guides. The decline of the style was gradual, especially in the rural west where it continued to be built as late as the early 1900s. There are several examples of this style in the Dry Creek Valley, primarily on Dry Creek Road.


Italianate (1840-1885)

The Italianate style was one of the dominant house styles in American between 1840 and 1885, but began much later in the west. The style began in England as part of the Picturesque movement, a reaction to the formal classical ideals in art and architecture that had been fashionable over the previous two centuries. The movement emphasized rambling, informal Italian farmhouses, with their characteristic square towers and hipped roofs. In America the informal rural models of Italy were variously modified, adapted, and embellished in a vernacular style that was adapted to the climate of the interior rural valleys, as well as the more formal lifestyle and cool climate of San Francisco. Traditionally, the style is characterized by a square or rectangular mass, with decorative detailing including formal window crowns (typically a triangular pediment), cornices, porches, and doorways. Although in the east they were almost always stone or stucco, in California they were built of redwood, but still with the typical horizontal belt courses and corner quoins. Popularized by the pattern books of Andrew Jackson Downing, by the 1860s the style had completely overshadowed his earlier Gothic cottages as the most dominant style in America. The decline of the style began with the financial panic and subsequent depression of 1873. By the time prosperity returned, the Queen Anne style had replaced it in exuberance. The streets of Healdsburg are lined with simple Italianate cottages, and a handful are also extant in Dry Creek Valley.

Queen Anne Revival (1880s–1890s)

Although derived in name, if little else, from an English architectural movement centered around architect Richard Norman Shaw, the local interpretation of the Queen Anne style was a purely American phenomenon. Queen Anne buildings are characterized by complex roofs of fairly steep pitch; combinations of siding materials such as lapped boards and patterned shingles; rounded and three-sided slant bays of one or more stories; towers and turrets; porches and balconies, sometimes rounded in configuration; and by the incorporation of ornamental  elements such as turned wood columns and spindles, sawn bargeboards and brackets, stained and leaded glass, and molded plasterwork. Examples range from small L-shaped cottages with a bay window on the projecting wing and a porch with a couple of columns and brackets on the perpendicular wing to two-and-a-half story “tower houses” with a profusion of architectural elements and ornamental embellishments. Carpenter Gothic was a variant that became quite popular with wood frame churches. Eastlake or Stick influenced houses of this era are generally similar in massing, with squared bays and a linear two-dimensional quality to their ornament. The Queen Anne style was utilized both for the large mansions of the commercial barons as  well as for hundreds of small homes and farms throughout the county. Pattern books, which enabled any house builder to construct a modern, sophisticated dwelling, were used throughout the area. Nine of these buildings are located on West Dry Creek Road.

American Foursquare (1898-1908)

A subclass of the Prairie style, found throughout the country with minor variations, the homes are recognized by their square proportions, often given a horizontal emphasis by roof or siding treatments; by the nearly always present hipped roof and dormer; and by a front porch either recessed or attached, spanning all or part of the façade. Columns suggestive of the classical orders, dentils, and traditional moldings, endboards treated as pilasters, and boxed cornices tied these homes to the tradition of the American Colonial Revival; they can also be referred to as a “Classic Box.” The one story cottage version was usually a modest box-like structure capped by a hipped roof. Usually a dormer, which was also hipped, was centered over the  façade, although a front gable over a three-sided bay was also a favored variation of the basic roof form. A front porch, often recessed into the façade, visually opposing a bay window, was a ubiquitous element. Eight houses in the study area were built in this style.


American Colonial Revival (1890s-1920s)

The American Colonial Revival style went through several phases, beginning in the late 19th century when such features as columns, dentils, gable ends treated as pediments, and double- hung sash windows were associated locally with the Queen Anne, Turn of the Century, and American Foursquare types. In the 1920s and 1930s, Colonial styling became one of the choices of the revivalist architect. Larger homes were usually two stories, with hipped or gabled roofs, wood or brick exteriors, and a symmetrical arrangement of features. Precedents included the southern plantation, especially Mount Vernon, with their two story porticos; the Georgian  and Federal homes of the Virginia Tidewater; the gambrel roofed homes of the Dutch Colonial settlements; and the tidy wood boxes of New England. Two story structures often featured a full- length portico and are generally referred to as Neoclassical. More common, however, was the Colonial Revival Bungalow. Usually built between 1920 and 1925, these one-story residences were side-gabled, wood-sided, with central entrances often treated as gabled porticos, and a symmetrical disposition of windows. One popular sub-type combined the more formal Colonial elements such as Tuscan columns and a central entry with the more rustic Craftsman vocabulary of exposed rafters and pergolas, resulting in the “Colonial/Craftsman: bungalows. Several homes were built on West Dry Creek Road in this style.

Craftsman (1900–1925)

The most popular residential architectural style of this era was the Craftsman home, which reflected the prosperity of California as a whole. This style was particularly suited to Southern California topography and climate, which was demonstrated by the use of outdoor spaces for relaxation, entertaining, and living. Pergolas, screened porches, and other shade-producing elements were designed into the properties to connect the houses to the landscape. It was during this period also that the strong commitment to street tree planting, especially of “borrowed” exotic trees such as palms, was established. The Craftsman movement, named  after a magazine published by Gustav Stickley, was the American counterpart of the English

Arts and Crafts Movement. In part a reaction against the excesses, both aesthetic and otherwise, of the Victorian era, Craftsman architecture stressed the importance of simplicity, of adapting form to function, and of relating the building to both its designer through the incorporation of craftsmanship and to the surrounding landscape through its hugging of the ground, massing, and siting. It was an outgrowth of the Shingle Style and certain variants were influenced by Japanese architecture.

The Craftsman bungalow was usually characterized by a rustic aesthetic of shallowly pitched overhanging gable roofs; earth-colored wood siding; spacious, often L-shaped porches; windows, both casement and double-hung sash, grouped in threes and fours; extensive use of natural wood in the interior and for front doors; and exposed structural elements such as beams, rafters, braces, and joints. Cobblestone or brick was favored for chimneys, porch supports, and foundations. The heyday of Craftsman design was the decade between 1906 and 1916; after that the Craftsman style was simplified, often reduced to signature elements such as an offset front gable roof, tapered porch piers, and extended lintels over door and window openings. In many cases, the Craftsman style incorporated distinctive elements from other architectural styles, resulting in numerous variations. Based upon the idea that a human habitation should harmonize with its surroundings, as well as with life indoors, the style made California with its moderate climate the perfect location for the establishment of the style. The Craftsman idea was broad enough to include farmhouses, suburban houses, mountain cabins, and commercial buildings, but by far its greatest application was for residential “bungalows.” This is the dominant historical architectural style on West Dry Creek Road. W.H. Chaney and George Day (and Day with partner William Guillie) were the primary contractors/carpenters of Healdsburg’s and Dry Creek Valley’s Craftsman homes.


Hispanic Styles (1915-1930s)

Beginning with the Panama Pacific Exposition in 1915, and continuing through the 1920s and 1930s, a romantic nostalgia for the Hispanic culture culminated in the development of the Mission Revival and Spanish Eclectic styles, both in commercial and residential architecture. Built of brick or stucco, with colonnades, arches, pillars, tile roofs, decorative tilework, flooring, and metalwork, these buildings supplanted the bungalows as affordable housing throughout California and the rural valleys. Interestingly, although some homes were built in this style in Healdsburg, none were constructed on West Dry Creek Road.

Instead of Hispanic styles, the dwellings built in this era in Dry Creek Valley were just simpler adaptations of the Craftsman style, usually those found in pattern books and purchased as kits from catalogs such as Sears Roebuck & Co., Wardway Homes, Aladdin, and others.


California Ranch (1935–Present)

This style originated in the mid-1930s with designs by several creative California architects and became the dominant style throughout America during the decades of the 1950s and 1960s. The  style is very  loosely  based on early Spanish  Colonial precedents  of  the  American southwest, modified by influences borrowed from Craftsman and Prairie modernism of the early 20th century. Asymmetrical one-story shapes with low-pitched roofs dominate. Three common types of roof forms are used: the hipped version is probably the most common, followed by the cross-gabled, and finally, side-gabled examples. There is usually a moderate or wide eave overhang, which may be either boxed or open, with the rafters exposed. Both wooden and brick or wall cladding are used, sometimes in combination. Builders frequently add modest bits of traditional detailing, usually loosely based on Spanish or English Colonial precedents. Decorative iron or wooden porch supports and decorative shutters are the most common. Ribbon windows are frequent as are large picture windows in living areas. Partially enclosed courtyards or patios, borrowed from Spanish houses, are a common feature. These private outdoor living areas to the rear of the house are a direct contrast to the large front and side porches of most late 19th and early 20th century styles.  

Shortly after World War II, Sonoma County, like most of California, experienced an era of unprecedented growth and development. Returning soldiers, and those who had been stationed in California and experienced its climate and scenery, moved to the area in droves. Financed by the G.I. Bill and aided by the readily available architectural materials developed for the war effort (aluminum siding and windows, plywood, composition shingles, and other mass-produced materials), the towns and rural areas of California saw the explosion of the California Ranch style of architecture. There are many such residences on West Dry Creek Road, but as the cut- off date for survey recordation was 1950, just a few of those were included in this report.