Coastside Cultural Resources of San Mateo County

An Approach to Developing A Protection Program for the San Mateo County Coastal Zone.

Prepared by the Department of Environmental Management, Planning Division, San Mateo County, Redwood City, California. September 1980.

This project is supported by a grant from the National Endowment For The Arts, Washington, D.C. a Federal agency.

Chapter 3


This section gives a brief description of the community design features and the architectural styles that are found on the Coastside. It is background information on the general context of Coastside design and helps provide the general basis for the protection program which is described in Chapter 5.


The communities on the San Mateo Coastside have design features that complement their natural setting in an undeveloped area close to the ocean. These community characteristics are (l) small scale development, (2) distinctive architectural style, (3) historical significance, and (4) cultural heritage. Together, these features yield a distinct sense of identity.

Montara, Moss Beach, El Granada, Princeton-by-the-Sea, and Miramar

These communities were established on the Mid-Coast between 1906 and 1909 during the real estate boom that followed the construction of the Ocean Shore Railroad. Speculators quickly subdivided the lands along the new rail line, expecting a real estate boom to follow in its tracks. This never took place. Few of the subdivided lots were developed during the first half of this century. By 1950, the Mid-Coast population was only 1,700 residents. During the next two decades, however, the population more than doubled to 4,000. As buildable land on the Bayside disappeared, many contractors discovered the abundance of vacant subdivided lots in the community. A small building boom resulted and by 1979 over 6,500 resided in the area.

Because most development occurred during a relatively short time span and houses were built by contractors for speculation, rather than by owners for their personal use, the general appearance of the housing is quite undistinctive and lacking in architectural quality. A majority of the newer houses, however, have been constructed of natural wood. They blend nicely with the wooded physical setting and provide a design unity which did not exist in the past.

Bounded by sea and mountains, the most scenic aspect of the community is its natural setting. Trees, although not native to the area, also play an important role in contributing to the scenic beauty. In portions of Montara and Moss Beach, rows of cypress were planted along the roadways and in many areas canopies of gree now arch over the streets. Thousands of eucalyptus were planted on the hillside which surrounds El Granada and today a mighty forest shelters much of the town.

A unique feature of El Granada is its Beaux-Arts design pattern. Radial and semi-circular streets, and divided landscaped boulevards give the community a distinctive style which is unparalleled in the County. The plan was designed by Daniel Burnham, the famous architect and city planner. Burnham was in San Francisco during 1905 and 1906 working on a plan for the City and was hired by the Ocean Shore Railroad ro design the town as a Coastside attraction. El Granada was planned as a model community and seaside resort with hotels and casinos to rival Atlantic City and Long Beach. Advertisements of the era promoting its values refer to it as the "magnificent Burnham City."


Princeton-by-the-Sea, like El Granada, was originally planned as an Ocean resort. It never developed, however. Today the Princeton area adjacent to Pillar Point Harbor is primarily an industrial area for boat building and related activities. Along Capistrano Road, at the harbor's entrance, restaurants and other commercial uses are starting to develop. In time, Princeton could evolve into an attractive recreation center. It may be that Princeton will yet achieve its original dream of becoming an ocean resort catering to the needs of Coastside visitors.


The village of Pescadero is one of the most historic areas in the County and has the most distinctive character of any community on the Coastside. Along its streets can still be seen a variety of 19th century architectural forms and styles which developed during a time of prosperity between the 1860's and 1890's when the town served as a major produce and lumber center and summer resort for San Francisco. The spires of St. Anthony's and the Congregational Church rising above a cluster of houses and commercial structures give Pescadero a resemblance to a trim New England village. Although this image has lessened in recent years, as a result of fires, new construction and alterations which are not in character with the town, Pescadero still retains essentially the village it must have been in 1890.

Since Pescadero's early days, people have noted an architectural unity in the community which set it off from other villages. This unity is still in evidence today. There are several possible explanations for this architectural unity. An unusual number of the original settlers came from Maine. They no doubt brought with them fairly strong ideas about the proper appearance of a village. Also, the relative isolation of the village many have kept their ideas from being diluted by innovations from the outside. The unity of style may also have resulted from the effect on newcomers of a few particularly pleasing houses already in the community.

Alexander Moore, son of a pioneer family in the area, built one of the first houses in Pescadero in 1853. His home, which burned in 1975, was constructed along vaguely classical lines in Greek Revival style. This house may well have been the model by which subsequent buildings were judged. In any case, its Greek Revival character appears throughout Pescadero with numerous variations, giving the village a style which is still dominant.

An outstanding example of this character can be seen along the east side of Stage Road on the block immediately south of Pescadero Road. The wooden structures that remain there are residential, civic and religious examples of indigenous Coastside architecture. The sparing but effective use of ornamentation such as pierced columns, scroll and fan brackets, cresting, shingling, assorted fenestration and balustrades indicates a clear understanding of the styles of the time and creative application of those styles to local needs. Although altered somewhat in appearance and useage, these buildings accurarely reflect a village landscape of a significant period in the history of San Mateo County.

San Gregorio

This small hamlet of approximately 50 residents is located near the mouth of San Gregorio Creek in one of the Coastside's most fertile valleys. The town was established in 1854 to serve the needs of the farmers who toiled the valley's rich soil and in later years it became the base for sportsmen who frequented the area. In 1866, the San Gregorio House was opened to serve visitors to the Coast and in time the small hotel became the nucleus of village stretching along Stage Road. It was a popular lodging place for fishermen, hunters and numerous prominent persons from California and Europe. With exception of the cook-house and livery stable, all of the original out-buildings remain. These include a saloon, dance hall, liveryman's cottage, laundry, smoke house, grainery, carriage sheds, power house, water tower and numerous barns. These buildings, constructed of local redwood, display a restrained use of Green Revival ornamentation which is typical of Coastside ranch architecture. By the 1870's, the town had become a busy center and boasted a general store, saloon, blacksmith shop, butcher shop, boot shop, school, post office, and church.

When the village was bypassed by the new Coast Highway, business declined and in 1930 the hotel closed its doors to guests. Today, all that remains is the San Gregorio House, a general store, and a scattering of houses. The character of the community is that of a small, rural hamlet dominated by the general store and the old hotel. Viewed in its impressive natural surroundings, the hotel and its out-buildings present a striking 19th century landscape.


Architecture and history are closely interwined. Each period in the County's history has left its impression through buildings of architectural styles. The forces which bring about architectural styles are many: technology, materials at hand, fashion trends, family needs, topography, climate, etc.

Few examples exist of any pure architectural style. For the most part, the early builders incorporated different architectural elements into structures according to their own personal whim or sense of beauty, without regard to any "standards" of design. It is this characteristic, in fact, which adds a distinctive charm to Coastside architecture and sets it apart as a unique feature of the region.

It is important to understand historic architectural styles, because buildings are often eclectic and combine the best elements of different styles. When elevating development proposals in older areas, it is necessary that there is compatibility in style, scale, and use of materials between new and old structures. This is especially essential when considering new construction adjacent or in close proximity to culturally significant buildings.

The architectural styles described in this section are the major styles found on the Coastside.

ADOBE (1780-1850)

(Photo of Sanchez Adobe in Pacifica, restored for use as a County Museum)

The term adobe refers to a building material and to a construction type used during the Spanish and Mexican periods in California history. Adobe structures must, by definition, be built at least partially of adobe: large, unfired, sun-dried bricks made from clay-type soil mixed with straw for strength. The architectural style is characterized by long structures with a covered porch extending along the facade.

Construction consists of adobe walls, usually varying from one and a half to 6 feet in thickness, resting on dirt foundations. Roofs are usually either brea (natural tar), tile, or shingles supported by heavy wooden beams. Door and window openings are crowned by heavy lintels, and often there are long porches. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, many adobes were covered with wood siding in order to protect and update them.

PIONEER (1850'S-18870'S)

(Photo of a pioneer style house in the South Coast Area)

Pioneer buildings are box-like cottages which were built by California's early settlers. Often these houses were sent in sections from the East Coast and reassembled in California. Usually 1 to 1 1/2 stories, the cottages have horizontal wood siding, double hung windows, and either hipped or gable roofs. If gabled, roofs often take on the "salt-box" configuration typical of New England's Colonial houses. Front porches and shelf moldings over doors and windows are typical features.

GOTHIC REVIVAL (1830's-1860's)

(Photo of Half Moon Bay Methodosit Church - Gothic Revival Style)

This was an important style for churches, insitutions, and large houses in the Eastern United States during much of the first half of the 19th century. It was popularized throughout the country after 1840 as appropriate for small houses, by A.J. Downing in "Cottage Residences". In form, typically, it has a steeply pitched central gable roof and gable ends. Characteristic detail include vertical siding, pointed arches above windows and doors, window tracery, finials, pendants, and lacy bargeboards.

During the Victorian period, which lasted from 1860 to 1900, the Gothic Revival style often took on characteristics of Victorian Architecture and is referred to as Victorian Gothic.

SALT BOX (1850's-1900)

(Photo of Ano Nuevo Ranch House - salt-box style)

This early American house form is of frame construction and has a symmetrical facade. It was derived from England and brought to California by New Englanders, mainly in the 1850's. The name comes from the profile of the gable roof, which comes down lower in the rear (north elevation) than it does in the front. The typical California version adds a full front porche with a shed roof whose pitch is lower than that of the gable.

GREEK REVIVAL (1850's-1860's)

(Photo of Pescadero Community Church-Greek Revival Style)

Greek Revival style was one of the most popular styles in the United States. Buildings of this style are very straight forward statements, with clean, simple lines and precise detailing. Facades are usually devoid of extraneous ornamentation, save perhaps decorated porch posts.

In its early California stages, Greek Revival is noted for its sharp, severe lines. Building volumes appear as a simple block, or a juxtaposition of simple blocks. Roof slopes are steep, and different building volumes are positioned perpendicularly. Doors and windows are positioned at very regular intervals, often in a symmetrical relationship. Doors have the same proportions as windows, both being long and narrow. Windows are composed of many small panes with simple architraves at the top. Molding around windows and doors and at building edges is very precise. The more articulated examples of Greek Revival have gable returns, i.e., roof plane framing that returns at the building edges.

VICTORIAN (1860's-1890's)

(Photo of Queen Anne House, Half Moon Bay) [my note: looks like the Alves House on Main Street, HMB)

Literally, the word "Victorian" describes the era when Victoria was Queen of the British Empire. Domest arts and inventions thrived in her domain, and the Victorian Style of Architecture flourished during this period in California. Here, the optimism of the gold rush and silver strikes was translated into physical expressions of prosperity. By the 1880's the life of the aggressive pioneers assumed an aura of grace as the middle-class built themselves homes as spacious and spectacular as purse or parcel would allow. Building facades were embroidered with elaborately carved spindles and brackets. Although California Victorian architecture varied in design, it can be dividied into three distinctive styles: Italianate, Stick and Queen Anne. Variations of all three styles are visible on the Coastside.

Italianate (1860's-1880's)

This style derives its forms and ornament from 15th and 16th century Italian architecture. It is characterized by cube shaped construction, tall, narrow windows and doors, angled bay windows, a small portico with classical columns, and a flat, heavily bracketed roof line. This style was adapted from stone structures, with architectural elements translated from stone into native redwood and Douglas fir. The square quoins at the corners of an Italianate house are decorative imitations of masonry reinforcements. The windows have a three dimensional quality that makes them resemble sculpture more than conventional panes of glass. Italianate is the most classical in spirit of the Victorian styles.

Stick (1870's-1890's)

This style is characterized by tall proportions, irregular silhouette, projecting eaves, diagonal "stickwork"; and applied wood, (often in strips) suggesting unseen structural framing. Flat, narrow boards nailed to the outside of the building bolding repeat and blithely reinforce the structure skeleton beneath the clapboard skin. Diagonal braces, installed parallel to the facade instead of projecting from it, frame the porch. Its composition of right triangles is ornamented with spindles, curved brackets, grooved moldings, and incised sunrays and starburst which cast shadows on the facade behind. This ornamentation was easily produced by machinery that was developed and widely available in the 1880's. Builders in this style were treating wood as wood, rather than imitating stone as in the Italianate houses.

Queen Anne (1880's 1890's)

This style is characterized by rounded corner towers, shingles, unusual chimneys, and high peaked roofs, mixed with elements taken from other late-19th century architectural fashions. It marks a dramatic departure from the rigorously vertical Italianate and Stick styles. The Queen Anne style is an absolute concoction of volumes and textures. Round corner towers with peaked witche's caps intersect steeply pitched gables with applique sunbursts. Recessed upstairs balconies with turned balustrades overlook prominent front porches trimmed with arched lattice-work. The arrangement of forms often appears haphazard, as the assortment of surfaces is totally unrestrained. There is no single roof line, but rather a picturesque composition of merging shapes.


(Photo of Montara Grammar School- Mission Revival Style) Despite its name, this style has almost no direct connection with the mission architecture of old California. Instead, it is a conglomeration of arts and crafts "simplicity", the honest use of materials, etc., based on pseudo-Mexican colonial design elements, with vestiges of Romanesque heaviness. Arches and tiled roofs are the most general features of this style. Other features are low-pitched roofs, white plastered walls, balconies, and towers on large buildings. This style lasted up to the 1920's, when a more sophisticated, formal, and classic Hispanic style came into favor.

BUNGALOW (1905-1925)

(Photo of a "Craftsman" Bungalow in Montara) Sharing the Mission Revival's concern for the California environment, the Bungalow style emphasized the natural rather than the historical aspect. Characterized by a rustic exterioir and sheltered-feeling interior, bungalows were most successful in the growing suburbs of Southern California. When built of stucco, the style is referred to as California Bungalow. When constructed of wood, clapboards or shingles, it is known as a Craftsman Bungalow. Characteristic of this style are spacious front porches supported by square, battered posts atop river boulder and brick piers. Windows are often tripartite and may be small-paned, or divided into a large lower pane and small upper panes. Bungalows often have broad spreading eaves supported by multiple gables with projecting beams.


(Photo of a Spanish Colonial Revival Residence in Half Moon Bay)

The Spanish Colonial Revival style structure, also known as Mediterranean, is identified by red roof tile and stark white stucco; although many of these structures today are painted in various hues. There was originally little color, except for the terra cotta of the tile and (frequently) the burnt sienna paint on the wooden window frames. Ornamentation is restrained, with wood or wrough iron used for second-story balcony railings on larger homes and window grills on cottages. Arches are common, either in the front porch, front windows, front door, or all three. Extending from the side of many Spanish Colonial Revival style homes is a stucco wing, with another arched opening. Depending on its size, it may be an entrance to the back yard or to the garage.

Chapter 4 | back to Chapter 2
This material provided by (june morrall)