The Lasting Appeal of Monterey Architecture

by : Kevin Bilberry

Monterey architecture helped define the look of many Southern California cities, and is still one of the region's most popular home building styles. It's not uncommon to see entire neighborhoods of Monterey homes, especially in coastal areas where the abundantly-windowed style helps keep the ocean in clear view, and enables residents to transition easily between indoor and outdoor living. The timelessness of Monterey architecture, with its emphasis on clean, vertically-oriented features and functional layout, continues to make it an attractive choice for new home builders; Monterey neighborhoods often feature a mix of new and antique homes built to the same specifications, in a testament to the style's lasting appeal.

Monterey is a quintessential southwest coast style, but it also relies heavily on east coast building traditions. That's because the style was pioneered by an east-coaster, Boston merchant Thomas Larkin, who relocated to Monterey, California in 1939. Larkin envisioned a new home style for his new city, one that merged the New England Colonial look with adobe construction. A wealthy and influential businessman, Larkin was able to quickly channel his vision and build one of Monterey's most prominent homes. The finished product was unlike anything people in the region had seen, offering all the majesty of an eastern seaboard estate mixed with traditional southwest understated elegance and functionality. Larkin's home also introduced a new building feature in Southern California construction: second floor balconies. At the time homes with one story designs dominated the region, and the second floor balcony concept was seen as a breakthrough for lifestyle and aesthetic appeal.

As the capital of the Mexican territory of California, Monterey was an important cultural center, and the origin of many regional trends. Monterey architecture blossomed throughout Southwest California during the last years of Mexican rule, and became even more popular when California was made a U.S. state in 1849. During the Spanish Colonial revival of the 1920s and 30s when southwest building forms flourished throughout the country, Monterey architecture was one of several styles preferred by new home builders, along with Spanish mission architecture. Today Monterey homes are common in warm coastal markets from California to Florida.

Modern Monterey homes can most easily be identified by a cantilevered second-story balcony - a balcony extending from the exterior wall without ground supports, and held in place by strong beams, often backed by full length windows. Other characteristic features of the style include low-pitched gabled roofs, usually finished with shingles or tiles, and exterior stucco, adobe, or brick walls, sometimes with exposed wood beams.