Utah History Encyclopedia


By Mark Hamilton
The domestic architecture of Utah is much like domestic architecture elsewhere in the United States. It has been based on existing cultural traditions or current trends in architecture rather than being original. It does, however, represent in material form the early pioneer heritage and the eventual merging of Utah with mainstream American society.

Prior to the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, domestic architecture of the Great Basin region was largely what could be termed "survival" or vernacular in style. What formal stylistic references did exist can be attributed to a few knowledgeable artisans. Designs were either derived from cultural traditions that were most often dictated by function or from current stylistic trends in architecture. The result was a certain sameness from community to community. However, with the opening of the region to the major centers of architecture following the completion of the railroad, there came a new architectural awareness. From 1869 to 1893 there was a gradual transition to more sophisticated forms of architectural expression. The influx of more style-conscious and affluent patrons and artisans helped bring about the transformation. By 1893, Utah was prepared to step into the mainstream of architectural trends but in a somewhat more conservative way and slightly delayed manner.

The study of domestic architecture in Utah can be divided into four periods: 1) 1847 to 1869; 2) 1869 to 1905; 3) 1905 to 1945; and 4) 1945 to the present.

Domestic Architecture: 1847-69. The early Mormon settlers brought from Nauvoo, Illinois, and elsewhere a tradition of domestic architecture based on the concepts of permanency and pragmatic functionalism. The first structures were designed for mere survival. They were common one- or two-room log houses that eventually would be replaced by more sophisticated wood, adobe, or rock dwellings depending on geographic location and available resources. These early dwellings could best be described as vernacular designs.

By the mid-1850s, dwellings began to take on a more refined appearance through the addition of design elements associated with the earlier Federal and Greek Revival styles. By the 1860s, the Gothic Revival cottage style with its steep pitched roof line, dormers, and decorative work made its appearance. These styles, along with the still popular vernacular forms, persisted well into the next period of domestic architecture, particularly in the less developed areas. European immigrants to Utah often adopted the older survival forms rather than the more current trends which were popular in architecture.

Domestic Architecture: 1869-1905. While Classical and Gothic forms remained popular, Victorian architecture found its way to Utah during this period; and by the late 1880s Victorian forms had begun to gain the upper hand. The inclusion of color and related design features of the Victorian style - Gothic, Romanesque, Italianate, and French - replaced the simplicity of Classical forms and the monochrome appearance of earlier styles. Victorian architecture (and its various stylistic forms) soon became commonplace in Utah as elsewhere in the United States.

The derivative Queen Anne Style, with its characteristic corner turret, open porch, asymmetry, and occasional round arches, was the most popular style of domestic Victorian architecture in Utah. It and other related forms - Eastlake, Stick Style, and Shingle Style - remained popular into the first decade of the twentieth century when it was eclipsed by more current trends.

Domestic Architecture: 1905-1945. England's Edwardian architecture (1890-1914) did much to shape the direction of architecture in America during the first quarter of the twentieth century. Its two associated movements were both derivative styles. The first, Neo-Georgian, was based on the architecture of Sir Christopher Wren, James Gibbs, John Vanbrugh, and Nicholas Hawksmoor. Its classical formalism found a ready home in the United States under the name of the Colonial Revival Style.

The second of the Edwardian forms came from the Arts and Crafts movement that took its lead from medieval architecture. The "free designs" of England's William Morris, Norman Shaw, Sir Edwin Lutyens, C.F.S. Voysey, and Scotland's Charles Rennie Mackintosh served as models for the English Tudor and French-Norman styles in the United States. The practical means for the dissemination of such styles was through popular magazines such as the Ladies' Home Journal or more sophisticated publications like the Architectural Record.

Of the three new styles, the Tudor was the most popular in Utah. Builders and patrons alike were attracted to its asymmetrical appearance, functional interior arrangement, and general low cost. Houses in this style were particularly numerous in the larger urban centers of the state. Colonial Revival and French-Norman house designs were much less popular. However, it was not uncommon for builders to use certain classical or medieval features of both styles, as well as other nondescript designs that frequented the state. This was a simple but common practice to upgrade the appearance of otherwise plain or vernacular designs.

The bungalow, part of the Arts and Crafts movement, became the most popular domestic design during this period. It was essentially an American-derived style made popular through the publications of Gustav Stickley and the architecture of Charles and Henry Greene of Pasadena, California. Its one- or one-and-a-half-story, rectilinear horizontal lines, expansive veranda or porch, and dormers became common. The frequent appearance of exposed timber and bracket work along the eaves and in the gable ends was reminiscent of the California bungalow, while the porch and hipped roof were characteristic of the Midwest Prairie Style. The use of clinker brick and fieldstone or cobblestone were less common than frame or standard brick in the bungalows. Two- or two-and-a-half story variants were also to be found, but today they are frequently associated with other stylistic movements even though they were commonly taken from bungalow pattern books then on the market.

Other less popular styles also appeared during this period. From the Southwest came the Spanish Colonial (Mediterranean Revival), Mission, and Pueblo revivalist styles. The Santa Fe Railroad, the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in California, and a host of regional architects, along with numerous local and national publications that exploited the romantic aspects of this architecture helped popularize. In Utah, however, the Mediterranean forms were not as well received as they were in the Southwest. Examples of all three styles exist but are scattered throughout the state. Their characteristic adobe-like stuccoed exteriors, arched windows and entrance ways, and curvilinear pediments immediately distinguish them from other more common styles. Cubic forms as well as beam ends that project from upper walls separate the Pueblo Style from the other two.

The Prairie Style of Frank Lloyd Wright found a more comfortable home in Utah. Credit for its popularity can be given to Taylor Woolley, a native Utahn. Prior to his returning to Utah in the early part of the century to practice architecture, Woolley had worked in the Oak Park studio of Frank Lloyd Wright. He was employed for four years as a designer/draftsman, with a fifth year spent traveling with Wright in Europe. As a consequence of these experiences, the low single-story buildings with extended eave-hipped roofs made their appearance in Utah. A number of formal Prairie Style homes were built in the state along with numerous bungalow-type designs that exhibited one or more Prairie Style features.

A concern over the quality of domestic designs developed in the United States during the late 1920s and 1930s. In an attempt to improve the architecture of residential dwellings, the Architect's Small-house Service Bureau was created. House designs and plans were prepared by the Bureau for those who were interested. It provided a service not unlike the present "house plan" books. The efforts of the Bureau essentially helped to promote the standardization of domestic designs and unintentionally helped to entrench the already strong prejudice in favor of eclectic/revivalist styles. This direction towards continued historicism was further strengthened during the depression years of the 1930s. Those of wealth, who were often seen as the trendsetters, continued to build in traditional forms of architectural expression.

However, the federal government, through the United States Public Works Administration (PWA) and its associated agency, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), also employed architects who enjoyed a certain freedom or latitude in their designs, to design public buildings and monuments. Their ideas sometimes included "modernist" ideas indicative of particular futuristic trends. WPA Moderne, as it has come to be known, is grouped with the earlier "zigzag," or Art Deco, and Streamline Moderne of the 1920s to form the Art Moderne movement. Each developed from commercial, public, or government adventures, with only Streamline Moderne being adaptively used for domestic architecture.

Streamline Moderne architecture was an outgrowth of the general movement in industrial design toward "streamline" products ranging from toasters to locomotives. The "slick" machine image was expressed in architecture through smooth walls with one or more rounded corners, flat roof, and asymmetrical block massing. Glass block windows or walls, round windows (portholes), and subtle horizontal metal strips in the walls and cornice area add to the industrial streamline appearance of the buildings. Even though Streamline Moderne enjoyed only limited success in Utah, it was certainly more popular than the International Style.

The contributions of the European "International Style," as defined in the exhibition of that name held in the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1931, did much to influence modern architecture in America and was a key factor in promoting the ideas of Germany's Walter Groupius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as well as Le Corbusier of France. The immigration to America and eventual nationalization of Groupius, Mies, and others helped popularize the characteristic cubic massing, white flat walls, near flush windows, and flat roofs of the International Style. However, Utah did not embrace this new direction in architecture as much as did other areas in the United States. A few examples do exist, however, and these often bear a close resemblance to the later works of California's Irving Gill and Austria's Adolf Loos.

Domestic Architecture: 1945 to the Present. After World War II, Utah continued its established tradition of following existing trends in architecture. Besides the common low-cost tract homes found in developments, and other repetitive "spec" designs, the California Ranch Style with its long and low profile was the most popular style during the 1950s and early 1960s. Like the bungalow before it, the Ranch Style in Utah took on a more substantial appearance through the frequent use of brick veneers. The Wrightian hipped roof was often used along with flagstone and prominent chimneys. Derivative forms of the Ranch Style appeared with an appropriate real estate soubriquet such as the "Swiss Chalet" or generic "Rambler."

The split-level design became the bungalow equivalent of the 1960s and 1970s in domestic architecture. Along with the federally financed "23-5" designs, it dominated the domestic scene. Larger and more expensive designs appeared, but, like their predecessors, they also followed the same eclectic/revivalist tradition or "bigger is better" approach of domestic architecture. Thus, historicism can be seen as the norm for domestic architecture in Utah. This is true of current as well as traditional styles as all derived from existing national or international movements.