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San Buenaventura Conservancy

P.O Box 23263

Ventura, CA 93002

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"Historic Preservation is about managing change, not preventing it."
Linda Dishman, L.A. Conservancy, quoted from L.A. Times, 07.10.10

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Ventura's Architectural Styles



Founded in 1782 with the building of the San Buenaventura Mission, the city of Ventura grew through the decades in a straight line eastward, due to its geographical limitations of the hills and the ocean.  This unique growth pattern (as opposed to the more common star or radial layouts of most cities) enables one to travel from the Mission to the far East End and literally see the styles of each generation of growth emerge. 

The other distinctive, identifying sense of place Ventura can lay claim to is that it is only one of two California Mission towns whose mission is still in the heart of the original Downtown, San Luis Obispo being the other.  Ventura is the only coastal town whose mission is on its Main Street.

As in every habitable portion of North America, the area now called San Buenaventura was originally inhabited by Native Americans, with the Chumash Indians being its largest contingent.  However, almost all remaining evidence of their culture today are sub-surface archaeological artifacts.  Therefore, it is the existing fabric of the Mission that is the easily traceable beginning of “style” in the city of Ventura.

Developmental Periods-Timelines of “Style”

All cities trace their stylistic evolution to developmental events or periods that shaped their growth.  The definable periods of significant developmental growth for the city of San Buenaventura are:

NOTE: It is common for developmental periods and styles to overlap each other and used as infill through successive decades.  It is also common for types of styles to borrow elements from each other, which is why a structure can contain influences from many styles.

Adobe – Worship and Housing   1782 to 1859

Starting with the Mission, the earliest building material and type of construction was that of hand-hewn adobe brick, made of earth and straw.  The surrounding “village” that emerged around the Mission was comprised mostly of adobe housing and commercial buildings. That last example of the earliest residential adobes closest to the Mission was the Angel S. Escandon adobe located in what is now the 200 block of East Main Street.  It was demolished in 1926 to make way for the Nash Auto Sales Garage located at 230 E. Main.

Developmental Periods

The Mission Period – 1782 – 1834
Mexican Period, Secularization, Ranchos – 1824 – 1848
Area Concentration - The concentration of adobe dwellings (both residential, commercial, and the Mission) was within a three-block area both west and east of the Mission.  There are only three extant examples within this area today.  The only other structure within city limits is the Olivas Adobe, constructed in the late 1840s.

Adobe Church:  Characterized by buttresses with thick piers, arcades, ornamental towers.

Example: San Buenaventura Mission

Adobe Residence Characterized by thick adobe walls, square or rectangular footprint, thatched or tar roof (tiles later addition from the 1840s), porches.

Example:  The Ortega Adobe and the Olivas Adobe

Adobe Commercial Building: Characterized by thick adobe walls, narrow rectangular footprint, flat roofs with parapet, enclosed with brick veneer.

Example: Building located within current addresses of 248, 254, 256 E. Main Street.

Wood and Brick – Pioneer Development 1850 to 1880

The earliest framed buildings in San Buenaventura were simple box shaped, clapboard structures.  Architectural detail was extremely simple, varying from post to split pilasters.  Main Street began to emerge with wooden false fronts mixed with long rectangular narrow brick buildings as early as the late 1850s.  China Alley and the early storefronts on East Main Street visible in J. C. Brewster’s documentary photography of Ventura from the 1870s to 1909 represent this style.  William Dewey Hobson is credited with building the first brick building in the county, the building known for many years as the Cohn store on West Main Street opposite the Santa Clara House, in Ventura. The use of brick for commercial structures, particularly within the Downtown core, remained popular until the late 1920s.

Developmental Period:

Construction Transcontinental Railroad – 1869 – late 1870s
Southern Pacific Railroad through Santa Clara Valley – 1886 – mid 1890s
City Beautiful Movement – 1893 – late 1920s
Oil/Automobile Land Boom – 1920s – late 1930s
Area Concentration There are no remaining examples of the wood storefronts that lined Main Street, unless they are encased beneath later facades.  However, there are a large number of original brick commercial buildings along Main Street that are extant.  These date from the 1870s to the 1920s and can be traced through Sanborn Maps.

Commercial Brick Buildings:

Both sides of Main Street from the Mission to Chestnut.

South side of Main Street from Ventura Avenue to Olive Street.

The Romantic Period – Early Prosperity – 1860 - 1890

As the town grew, the national trend of the Romantic Period began to influence construction in Ventura. The styles associated with the Romantic Period are Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Exotic Revivals, and Octagon.

Developmental Period

California Statehood/Township Incorporation – 1848 – 1868
Construction Transcontinental Railroad – 1869 – 1870

Area Concentration - The concentration of these styles is primarily in the Downtown Core as development did not push beyond Cemetery Memorial Park until the 1920s.  There are some scattered, smaller examples on the Westside Avenue area.  This period style is concurrent with the Victorian Era. 

Gothic Revival Style: Characterized by pointed arches, delicate split pilasters, arched porches, and pointed arched windows. 

Example: Ventura Landmark #28, Southern Methodist Episcopal Church (Victorian Rose Bed & Breakfast).

Italianate Style: Characterized by straight front buildings without any sizable projections or recessions.  Columns, if present, are primarily confined to porches and windows.  The most prominent character-defining element is a cornice along the entire front of the building. 

Example: Ventura Landmark #21, the Franz House

The Victorian Era – The Beginning of Sophistication 1860 – 1900

The term “Victorian” is often referred to as a style, but it is actually an era that represents many styles.  Britain’s Queen Victoria ruled from 1837 to 1901, however, in American architecture, the styles that were popular during the last decades of her reign – 1860 to 1900 – are referred to as “Victorian”.  They encompassed many styles, which were called Second Empire, Stick, Stick Eastlake, Queen Anne, Shingle, Richardsonian Romanesque, Folk Victorian, and other variations.

Developmental Period:

Construction Transcontinental Railroad – 1869 – 1870s
Southern Pacific Railroad through Santa Clara Valley – 1886 – 1890s
Beginning:  City Beautiful Movement – 1893 – 1920s

Area Concentration - This period style is mostly concurrent with the Romantic Period (1860 – 1890).  The largest concentration of extant examples is within the Downtown Core, scattered throughout the Westside Avenue area, and some rare examples in Midtown.

Second Empire: Characterized by a mansard roof.

Example:  Landmark #68, Josiah Keene Residence

Stick Eastlake: Distinctive pattern ornamentation produced by chisel, gorge, and lathe with porches, fretwork fascias, window and door trims resembling furniture.

Example:  Landmark #47, Jack Roos House

Queen Anne: Characterized by irregularity of plan, massing of color and texture, brick on ground story, shingles with decorative edgings, elaborate chimneys, corner turrets, and bay windows.

Example:  Landmark #59, David S. Blackburn House

Stick Style: Characterized by wood frame structure with exposed framing as part of aesthetic design.

Example:  Very few true examples extant.  Landmark #65, Judge Ben T. Williams with modifications.  E. P. Foster House on Avenue, prior to remodel in 1940s.

Folk Victorians: Characterized by simplicity of frame house with porches having spindlework detailing and symmetrical facades.  Frequently farm houses and small residential dwellings.

Example:  Early Gould farm house, 37 S. Crimea.

Richardsonian Romanesque: Characterized by castle-like appearance, rough-faced, squared stonework cladding, towers with conical roofs, asymmetrical façade.

Example:  Bank of Ventura, corner of California and Main: demolished.  Mary Mitchell house within Mitchell Block Historic District has influences.

Eclectic Architecture – 1880 to 1940

From the 1870s to the early 1920s the primary development of San Buenaventura stayed within the confines of the Downtown Core from the Westside Avenue area to the edge of Cemetery Memorial Park, geographically bordered by the Sanjon Barranca.  Main Street from Ventura Avenue to Chestnut was the primary commercial district and the surrounding areas were developed as the residential districts for the merchants and business persons who worked in the Downtown.  It was a live-work environment.

In the 1920s, the discovery of oil and the affordability of the automobile created the largest developmental growth period in the history of the city.  Whole blocks along Main Street were filled in with new buildings that offered goods and services to the expanding population.  The residential areas pushed eastward with the Hobson Heights and Buenaventura Tracts being among the earliest to provide housing.  Concurrently, the Ventura Avenue area was developed with small, affordable housing for the oil field workers.

The Eclectic Period of architecture is overlapping of many eras, but it draws on the full spectrum of architectural tradition.  Outlined below are the styles as they developed in the city of San Buenaventura as the town’s development pushed eastward. Because the period called Eclectic Architecture covers a span of 60 years, this section will be broken down by time periods and styles related to developmental growth and areas of the city.  There are three main branches of styles with sub-types within this period:

Anglo-American, English, and French Period Houses

Colonial Revival         1880 - 1955

Neoclassical                1895 - 1950

Tudor                          1890 - 1940

Chateauesque             1880 - 1910                

Beaux Arts                  1885 - 1930

French Eclectic           1915 - 1945

Mediterranean Period Houses

Italian Renaissance     1890 - 1935

Mission                        1890 - 1920

Spanish Eclectic          1915 - 1940

Monterey                     1925 - 1955

Pueblo Revival            1910 - Present

Modern Houses

Prairie                         1900 - 1920

Craftsman                   1905 - 1930

Modernistic                 1920 - 1940

International               1925 - Present


Anglo-American English and French Period Structures

From 1880 to the 1920s, six styles emerged in varying forms that borrowed heavily from English and French influences; Colonial Revival, Neoclassical, Tudor, Chateau-esque, Beaux Arts, and French Eclectic.

Developmental Period:

Southern Pacific Railroad through Santa Clara Valley – 1886 – 1890s
City Beautiful Movement – 1893 – late 1920s
Oil/Automobile Land Boom – 1920s – late 1930s

Area Concentration - Downtown Core, Surrounding Residential, Some Commercial Adaptive Reuse, Westside Avenue, Some Residential, Some Commercial Adaptive Reuse, West End Midtown, Some Residential, Some Commercial Adaptive Reuse

Colonial Revival Began 1880 and became popular when “manifest destiny” was at its peak in the early 1890s, with Americans looking backward to their colonial heritage. Characterized by the multi-column porches and doors with fan lights and side lights.  Example: Landmark #97, the Arnold House, with a concentration of this type on Santa Clara and Ash Streets.

Neoclassical Began around 1895 and was the forebearer of the Beaux Arts Style with hipped roofs, Ionic or Corinthian capitals on columns and symmetrically balanced windows and center doors, sometimes including a curved portico.

Example: Landmark #61, the Blackstock House with neoclassical influences.  A demolished structured, formerly nicknamed “Pinky” located where Reardon’s Funeral Home parking lot is now, was an excellent example of this style.

Tudor Emerged in 1890 with its deeply pitched roof, side gables, and decorative half timbering. 

Example: The Simpson Historic District has many small scale houses of this type and there are several large examples on the hills above Poli Street.

Chateauesque Originates from 1880 and is loosely based on monumental 16th Century France. Characterized by brick, stone, or stucco cladding, flared hipped roof, towered entrance, arched door openings, prominent chimney.

Example:  Few in Ventura.  Mary Mitchell House/Mitchell Block Historic District has influences.  Some small examples in Midtown.  The Somerset Apartments (formerly the Fosnaught Hotel) is the best example in the Downtown Core.

Beaux Arts 1885-1920 period of elaborate eclectic styles of American architects who studied at France’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the premier school of architecture. Characterized by either a flat or mansard roof and ornamented with terra cotta cladding, decorative garlands, floral patterns, marble, and columns topped with Ionic or Corinthian columns.  The style is also known for the formal planning of spatial relationships between buildings and was the impetus for the City Beautiful Movement at the turn of the 20th Century.

Example: Landmark #4, City Hall with influences shown in Landmark #27 First National Bank and Landmark #38 The Bank of Italy.

French Eclectic Similar to the Tudor Style in its tall, steeply pitched, hipped roofs with brick, stone, or stucco wall cladding, an occasional towered entrance and decorative half-timbering.  Sometimes referred to as French Normandy.

Examples: Some small examples of this style in the Midtown areas within the Hobson Heights and San Buenaventura Tracts. 

Mediterranean Period Houses and Buildings

From 1890 through the late 1930s there was a revival of interest in the Italian and Spanish influences that was catapulted by the Spanish-American War and renewed interest in California Missions, which was highly romanticized.  With the advent of the motion picture industry, these styles became a frenzy that began with the extremely wealthy and became homogenized into the main stream with Spanish Revival “bungalows” as affordable housing.  

The predominant styles of this period are called Italian Renaissance, Mission Revival, Spanish Eclectic, Monterey, and Pueblo Revival.

Developmental Period:

City Beautiful Movement – 1893 – late 1920s
Oil/Automobile Land Boom – 1920s – late 1930s

Area Concentration - Westside Avenue: Affordable Housing Residential, Some Commercial Adaptive Reuse

Midtown: Affluent and Affordable Housing Residential, Some Commercial Adaptive Reuse along Thompson and Main streets, (heaviest concentration between Cemetery Memorial Park and San Buenaventura Mall at Mills Road)

Downtown Core:  Some residential on east end, some Commercial Adaptive Reuse.  Mission Revival styles found mostly in this area (1890 – 1920)

Italian Renaissance  Characterized by arches above the entry doors, a hipped roof, widely overhanging eaves supported by decorative brackets, arched windows on the first floor and upper story windows that are less elaborate. 

Examples: There are a few examples of these in the Hobson Heights tract above Poli Street, mostly built for the affluent.

Mission Revival Characterized by a Mission-shaped dormer or roof parapet, red tile roof covering , widely overhanging eaves with the wall surface being of stucco. 

Examples: Landmark #19 The Elizabeth Bard Memorial Hospital and the Star Rug Factory. The Edith Hobson residence in Midtown above Poli Street is an excellent example.

Spanish Eclectic Began around 1915 and it borrows from the entire history of Spanish architecture with many variations whose elements may be Moorish, Byzantine, Gothic, or Renaissance inspiration. Launched by the Panama-California Exposition of 1915 in San Diego, the style reached its apex during the 1920s and early 1930s (influenced by the Golden Age of Hollywood) and passed rapidly from favor during the 1940s.

Examples: Ventura has a plethora of variations of this style in the Midtown and Avenue areas which reflect the land boom of the oil industry and the affordability of the automobile.  The Ventura Theater and the Mission Theater (Knights of Columbus building) are excellent examples, with influences seen in the Elks Lodge, Masonic Temple, El Jardin Patio,  and the Bella Maggiore Inn within the Downtown Core.

Monterey Style Began around 1925 and lasted through 1955 but was inspired by the whole movement during this period of applying Latin influences as a romantic design.  Its most obvious feature is the second story balcony, usually cantilevered and covered by the principal roof.

Examples: Midtown area in the upper Hobson Heights tract.  An early, original example is this style is the Olivas Adobe. Late example of this style applied very popularly to recreational hotels is the East Wing of the Pierpont Inn, designed by renowned hospitality architect, Robert R. Jones in 1953.

Pueblo Revival Combination of flat-roofed Spanish Colonial buildings and Native American pueblos.  It is characterized by a flat roof with a parapet wall above, projecting wooden roof beams called vigas, and stucco wall surfaces.

Examples:  There are some examples of this style in the Midtown area.

Modern Structures of the Early 20th Century

Although some of the styles of this period appear before 1900, the dawning new Millennium began a rush to modernism with clean lines and open floor plans to cast off the fussy excess of the socially regimented Victorian era. 

The styles that emerged during this time period were Prairie, Craftsman, Modernistic, and International that spanned from 1900 to 1940, with the International style still popular today.

Developmental Period:

City Beautiful Movement – 1893 – late 1920s-Beginning in 1900
Oil/Automobile Land Boom – 1920s – late 1930s
Post World War II Prosperity – 1945 – mid 1960s
Corporate Commercialism – 1960s - Present

Area Concentration - Once again, because these styles cover a 60 year time span, concentrations are listed below by decade of popularity and area development.

Prairie:  1900-1920.  Few pure  examples, but influences primarily within Downtown Core.

Craftsman: 1905-1930. Hundreds of examples, primarily within the Downtown Core, Westside Avenue, and some in Midtown.

Modernistic:  1920 – 1940. Primarily within the Downtown Core, mostly commercial examples along Ventura Avenue, some examples within Midtown along Main and Thompson.

International: 1925 – Present.  Used as infill in the Downtown Core, some infill along Ventura Avenue, greater concentration as commercial infill in Midtown along Main and Thompson, heaviest concentration used as infill and original construction beyond Midtown and the East End. 

Prairie One of the few indigenous American styles and was developed in Chicago by architects who came to be known as the Prairie School.  Frank Lloyd Wrights early work is in this style and he is the acknowledged master of this vernacular.  Its defining elements are a low-pitched roof with widely overhanging eaves, two stories, with one-story wings or porches and emphasizing horizontal lines.

Examples: There are few examples of this style in Ventura in its purest form, however the influence of this style is seen in the many Craftsman homes in the Downtown Core.  A late example of the influence of this style is the West Wing of the Pierpont Inn.

Craftsman Inspired by the English Arts & Crafts period and the popularity of the simplistic “bungalow” adopted from the British colony of India.  This style’s period of significance was from 1905 to approximately 1930.  The apex of this movement were the “ultimate bungalows” of the Greene & Greene brothers in Pasadena.  However, the smaller version of the Craftsman bungalow became America’s affordable housing with pattern books and kit houses being offered through catalog companies like Sears and Alladin. There are literally hundreds of variations of this type that incorporate style elements called Craftsman, California Bungalow, Chicago Bungalow, Swiss Chalet, English Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival, Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival Prairie Style, Airplane Bungalow, and Oriental Bungalow, to name a few.  However, they usually include a low-pitched, gabled roof, with wide, unenclosed eave overhang, exposed roof rafters, decorative beams or braces, and often pyramid shaped columns both on the exterior and interior.

Examples: Hundreds of examples of the various types of this style in Ventura with their concentration being on the Avenue, the Downtown Core through the western edge of Midtown that spans this 1905 to 1930 period.  Outstanding examples can be found in Landmark #80, the Pierpont Inn, Landmark #65, the Dunning House, Landmark #69, the Hartman House, and an undesignated home, the Harry Valentine-Siodmak house located at 993 E. Santa Clara, a recently restored Oriental Craftsman.  The most outstanding examples of this style is the Thomas Gould, Jr. residence, built in 1924 by Henry Mather Greene that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Modernistic  Comprised of two distinct identifying features, Art Moderne and Art Deco, with the popularity of these structures being from 1920 to 1940.  Art Modern has a very streamlined, horizontal, almost aerodynamic appearance with smooth wall surfaces, horizontal grooves or lines in walls, horizontal balustrade elements and an asymmetrical façade.  Art Deco is characterized by geometric motifs that occur as decorative elements on facades and towers with zigzags, chevrons, and vertical projections above the roof line that give a vertical emphasis. Art Moderne was inspired by the growth of the aviation industry after World War I and Art Deco captured the post World War I spirit of the Jazz Age.  Both styles reflect the optimism after the Great War and decidedly point to the future.

Examples:  Art Moderne commercial buildings in Ventura were the Mayfair Theater and the Jack Rose Building, now demolished.  However, some examples can be found in residential and some commercial structures on the east end of the Downtown Core and throughout Midtown, which was developed during this time period.  Several examples of Art Deco can be found in the Downtown Core and in the commercial area of Midtown, most notably the Mutual Fire Insurance company (now Chicago Ribs) at the corner of Fir and Main Street.

Several elements of both of these styles can be seen in the residential and commercial areas developed between Seaward Avenue up to the Pacific View Mall.

International Began in the decades between World War I and World War II. However, its popularity flourished in the post World War II era of prosperity and became a statement of a futuristic victorious nation. It is a highly simplistic style in terms of ornament.  It consists of smooth, unornamented wall surfaces, no decorative detailing at doors and windows, a flat roof, usually without a ledge (or coping) at the roof line, and windows that are usually metal casements set flush with outer walls.  Facades are consistently asymmetrical.  Steel skeleton construction was promoted by architect, Le Corbusier, as “buildings that were machines for living”.  This style was adopted with great enthusiasm by corporations as places for industry and business, however, residential structures were equally popular.

Examples: Most of the  residential examples of the International Style are found in Ventura  in the upper hills above the Downtown Core and Midtown.  The Addison Residence designed by architect Carl L. Maston is an outstanding example. However, what became known as Mid-Century Modern borrowed heavily from this style and some excellent examples are the “new” E. P. Foster Library on Main Street, built in front of the old library in 1959, the Medical Building located on Main Street next to Landmark #59 The David S. Blackburn House, also designed by Carl L. Maston, and the 50s Flat at the Pierpont Inn (formerly a private residence) designed by architect, Robert R. Jones in 1953.  International style is used as infill in the Downtown Core (Tolman and Wiker building), infill and renovations within Midtown (Community Memorial Hospital), and new commercial construction at the East End (Ventura County Government Center).

Post World War II Eastward Growth – 1946 to the 1980s

When construction resumed after World War II, houses based on historical precedent were largely abandoned in favor of new variations of the modern styles that had only begun to gain popularity in the pre-war years. 

There were five predominant types that emerged that were loosely based upon previous styles. 

Minimal Traditional Influences from the Tudor era with implied traditional elements Ranch Dominated American domestic building through the 60s with very low-pitched roofs and broad rambling facades and interior floor plans.

Split-level  Half-story wings and sunken garages.

Contemporary Wide eave overhangs and flat roofs with broad, low, front-facing gables. Shed  One or more shed-roofed elements which dominate the façade and give the effect of several geometric forms shoved together. 

These five styles are by far the most common modern styles built since 1940.

Developmental Period:

Post World War II Prosperity – 1945 – mid 1960s
Corporate Commercialism – 1960s - Present

Area Concentration - The concentration of these four styles begins primarily east of Seward when development of the town began pushing eastward after World War II.  It continues past Victoria Boulevard with residential construction of the 1970s.

Examples:  The Minimal Traditional Style is most prevalent in the neighborhoods east of Seaward Avenue.  The Ranch Style becomes predominant in the areas east of Mills Road and east of Victoria with heavy pockets of simplified Ranch style tract homes  The Split Level Style is also available in the area east of Mills Road, but becomes more predominant in the development of the late 60s and early 70s as you move toward Victoria and Telephone Boulevards.  The Contemporary and Shed Styles are more concentrated in the areas east of Mills Road and north of Foothill Streets.  All of this follows the progression from the beginning of the earliest development that began with the Mission to move eastward.

Neo-eclectic – A Return to the Past – 1980 to the Present

The decades between 1950 and the 1970s were dominated by the Modern styles previously discussed, however, by the late 1960s, the fashions of domestic architecture were shifting back toward styles based on traditional elements and influences, partly fueled by the social upheaval of that time period and a shocking awareness that America was losing its history through the massive demolition of buildings and even whole neighborhoods that took place between 1950 and 1965.  By 1980, the Neoeclectic Movement was in full swing with a decided emphasis on traditional elements being reintroduced in the styles of Mansard, Neocolonial, Neo-French, Neo-Tudor, Neo Mediterranean, Neoclassical Revival, and Neo-Victorian.  In commercial buildings a style called Post Modern became popular through the work of architects like Robert Venturi, Michael Graves, and Richard Meier.

Examples:  Residential examples can be found predominantly in the far East End.  Commercial examples can be found in Midtown and the beginning of the East End at Telephone and Main as infill for shopping.  Post Modern influences are primarily being applied to new commercial construction and façade renovation within shopping centers.

Since the late 1990s to the present, there is a very strong emphasis on traditional elements in both commercial and residential structures that seek to incorporate that past sense of “place”.  

Examples: This is most evident in the infill residential housing between Telephone Boulevard and the 126 Freeway that was once lemon orchards where one can find housing with Victorian, Colonial Revival, Craftsman, and Spanish Revival character defining features.  This trend is continuing in the very eastward new development as far as Kimball Road and beyond.

The Challenge – Blending the Past While Building the Future

With the pressure for both residential and commercial interests placed upon the city of San Buenaventura, the challenge will be to integrate the past while successfully building the future, hopefully creating an architectural record that will say the present generation cherishes its history while concurrently crafting a contemporary (and future) “statement of its time”.