Precedents and Context

Architectural pattern books have existed since Palladio. The earliest American ones, essentially copies of British books, were aimed at novice carpenter/builders, who acquired them to educate themselves and find ideas.

By the 19th century, as America expanded, house pattern books proliferated. Among the most popular were A.J. Downing’s The Architecture of Country Houses (1852) and Palliser’s American Cottage Homes (1878).

In California builders and architects published house “pattern books” that were in actuality catalogs of and publicity for their works, such as Picturesque California Homes (1884)by the brothers Samuel and Joseph Newsom, and Wolfe & McKenzie’s Book of Designs (1907).

John Cotter Pelton, Jr.'s Cheap Dwellings of 1882 was different. A local architect interested in better housing for the urban poor, he created a series of plans for inexpensive homes at the request of the San Francisco Evening Bulletin. These were published between 1880 and 1883, a time when San Francisco was growing rapidly and there was very little housing for the working class. Pelton’s 12 plans were subsequently gathered in a book published by the newspaper in 1882.

Despite opposition from architects, house plan books became a means of meeting the demand for more housing. Eventually, even opponents such as California Architect and Building Review began to publish plans for workers’ cottages.

By the early 1900s several other factors contributed to a proliferation of pattern books published by architects or architectural/building firms from both San Francisco and Los Angeles. The publishing industry, formerly centered on the east coast, was well established in California; innovations in the industry made printing less expensive; a rise in personal salaries gave many more Americans a reasonable hope of home ownership; a change in the regulations controlling mortgages allowed for the first time mortgages on homes, not just farms; the expansion of streets and trollies; and the 1906 earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area resulted in major rebuilding and expansion to the East Bay.[1]

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[1] See Building by the Book: John Cotter Pelton's "Cheap dwellings" of San Francisco, California 1880-1890 by Christopher Patrick Ver Planck, Thesis (M.A.),University of Virginia, 1997.


Precedents and Context