Mission Revival Style

The Mission Revival architectural style was one result of a preservation movement that began in the 1880s.

“Emblematic effects” include the arcaded porch, parapets, blind arches, and tiled roof on a Tucson house built in 1907.

Douglas Keister

Early Spanish colonial architecture in California and the Southwest consisted of fortified churches, not houses. Spanish Baroque designs, filtered through Mexico, were built in adobe with Pueblo influence. So the Mission Revival of the early 20th century was a peculiar, phase-one rendition of the Spanish Colonial Revival: designers and builders adapted recognizable motifs from church buildings, most notably the mission dormer or roof parapet (think of the Alamo). Baroque ornament, an arcade, and the occasional mission-church bell tower made their appearances. Elmo Baca wrote that it might be useful to define Mission as the Western Craftsman style.

This is a rare bungalow-size example with a particularly pretty bell tower. The house is in Santa Barbara.

The Mission Revival was one result of a preservation movement that began in the 1880s, and was popularized by the Southern Pacific Railroad’s decision to build Mission-style depots all over the Southwest. Mission houses are most common in California and the Southwest. (Occasionally you’ll see a ca. 1915–1920 Foursquare, perhaps in a far-flung state, with a tile roof and a curvaceous roofline over the dormer.) The geometric style lost momentum by 1920. (By contrast, the Spanish Colonial Revival that spread to Texas and Florida was in full swing through the 1930s.)

On a house in Santa Monica, that wildly baroque window is reminiscent of highly carved, Spanish ornament.

Elmo Baca

The Mission Revival coincided with the American Arts and Crafts movement. Gustav Stickley wrote extensively about the preservation of the California missions, introducing the architecture to a national audience in his magazine The Craftsman. The movement embraced indigenous construction as well as Native American pottery and textiles.

A related style, the Pueblo Revival, had a limited run early in the 20th century. Confined to the Southwest, it featured flat-roofed or parapeted adobe or stuccoed buildings with sugar-cube massing.

The HALLMARKS

PARAPETS fancifully interpret the coped rooflines of mission churches.

SMOOTH STUCCO mimics plastered adobe construction.

RED TILE ROOFS are ubiquitous in the revival, though tile was rarely used on actual early churches.

SPANISH BAROQUE ornament, particularly rose windows, Moorish arches, and carvings, highlight facades.

BELL TOWERS are sometimes included, or alluded to in the shape of the building.

COURTYARDS, along with lush plantings and pergolas, are common in the California Mission style—where an Asian influence is felt in the revival.

Rustic materials including tile and iron, earthy colors, and simple forms suggest the strong affinity between western Mission Revival and the “mission” style associated with the A&C movement.

Tim Street-Porter


By Patricia Poore

Patricia Poore is Editor-in-chief of Old-House Journal and Arts & Crafts Homes, as well as editorial director at Active Interest Media’s Home Group, overseeing New Old House, Traditional Building, and special-interest publications. 

Related Posts

Product Recommendations

Here are some supplies and products we find essential. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.

Product of the Week


© Copyright 2021 Home Group, a division of Active Interest Media. All Rights Reserved.
P.O. Box 20730 Boulder, CO 80308