Architecture 101: Mission Revival

Not to be confused with the contemporaneous American Craftsman movement Mission Style furniture, the Mission Revival Style was an architectural movement that began in the late 19th century for a colonial style's revivalism and reinterpretation, which drew inspiration from the late 18th and early 19th century Spanish missions in California.

above: Desert Regional Medical Center (originally El Mirador Hotel and Resort), Palm Springs, California. Original construction 1928.

The Mission Revival movement enjoyed its greatest popularity between 1890 and 1915, in numerous residential, commercial, and institutional structures – particularly schools and railroad depots – which used this easily recognizable architectural style.[1] It evolved into and was subsumed by the more articulated Spanish [Colonial] Revival Style, established in 1915 at the Panama–California Exposition.


All of the 21 Franciscan Alta California missions (established 1769—1823), including their chapels and support structures, shared certain design characteristics. These commonalities arose because the Franciscan missionaries all came from the same places of previous service in Spain and colonial Mexico City, in New Spain. The New Spain religious buildings the founding Franciscan saw and emulated were of the Spanish Colonial style, which in turn was derived from Renaissance and Baroque examples in Spain. Also, the limited availability and variety of building materials besides adobe near mission sites or imported to Alta California limited design options. Finally, the missionaries and their indigenous Californian workforce had minimal construction skills and experience.



The missions' style of necessity and security evolved around an enclosed courtyard, using massive adobe walls with broad unadorned plaster surfaces, limited fenestration and

doorpiercing, low-pitched roofs with projecting wide eaves and non-flammable clay roof tiles, and thick arches springing from piers. Exterior walls were coated with white plaster

(stucco), which with wide side eaves shielded the adobe brick walls from rain. Other features included long exterior arcades, an enfilade of interior rooms and halls, semi-independent bell gables, and at more prosperous missions curved 'Baroque' gables on the principal facade with towers.


These architectural elements were replicated, in varying degrees, accuracy, and proportions, in the new Mission Revival structures. Simultaneous with the original style's revival was an awareness in California of the actual missions fading into ruins and their restoration campaigns, and nostalgia in the quickly changing state for a 'simpler time' as the novel Ramona (Helen Hunt Jackson, published 1884) popularized at the time. Contemporary construction materials and practices, earthquake codes, and building uses render the structural and religious architectural components primarily aesthetic decoration, while the service elements such as tile roofing, solar shielding of walls and interiors, and outdoor shade arcades and courtyards are still functional.

above: Santa Barbara County Courthouse, architect William Mooser III, bult 1929

The Mission Revival style of architecture, and subsequent Spanish Colonial Revival style, have historical, narrative—nostalgic, cultural—environmental associations, and climate appropriateness that have made for a predominant historical regional vernacular architecturestyle in the southwestern United States, especially in California.

The Spanish Mission Style and its associated Spanish Colonial Revival Style became internationally influential. Examples can be found throughout Australia and New Zealand where the California Bungalow style was also prevalent. In South Africa, it merged with the very similar Cape Style, a local architecture which utilized the same Dutch Gable shapes with vernacular mud brick construction – this probably had an influence on other 'Colonial Style' buildings on the African continent in the interwar period.

In Central and South America its influence is less discernible as the Spanish Colonial Style had, in effect not been departed from, so it is arguable that there wasn't a revival. Following the examples that developed in places like Florida, the Mission Style became one of the several styles associated with warm, seaside developments and thus appeared throughout Europe and even Asia; Osbert Lancaster lampooned it as 'Coca-Cola Colonial'.

Increasingly watered down as a style, it re-emerged in the 1950s, often as hotel architecture and survived into the 1970s as a domestic style; this was doubtless due to the prevalence of the Caribbean and Spain in popular culture of the period helped by the increasing popularity of places like Spain for holidays from Britain and the U.S.

Mission Revival Style Examples

above: The Mission Inn in southern California is one of the largest extant Mission Revival Style buildings in the United States. Located in Riverside, California, and completed in 1932, it has been restored, with tours of the style's expression.[2]

Other structures designed in the Mission Revival Style include:

  • The Hotel Castañeda, a Harvey House in Las Vegas, New Mexico, opened January 1, 1899. the first Mission Revival style building in New Mexico, architects Frederick Roehrig and A. Reinsch;[3]

  • California Baptist University, in Riverside, California, original school buildings built for Neighbors of Woodcraft, completed in 1921

  • Elizabeth Bard Memorial Hospital, in downtown Ventura, California, completed in 1902.

  • Four Roses Distillery, in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. built in 1910.

above: HanaHaus[7], originally the Varsity Theater, downtown Palo Alto, California, James and Merritt Reid; completed in 1927.

  • Arrowhead Springs Resort and Hotel, San Bernardino Mountains, Southern California; (1939), (mission moderne), Paul Williams, architect; interiors Dorothy Draper.[4]

  • Ponce De Leon Hotel in St. Petersburg, Florida, completed in 1922[5]

  • Caliente Railroad Depot, in Caliente, Nevada, completed in 1923

  • The Mary Louis Academy Chapel in Jamaica Estates, New York, completed in 1937

  • Iao Theater, in Wailuku, Maui—Hawaii, built in 1928.

above: Kelso Depot, in Mojave Desert—Mojave National Preserve, California, completed in 1923 for Union Pacific Railroad.

  • Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico, completed in 1902 for Fred Harvey; demolished in 1970, it has since been replaced by the Alvarado Transportation Center, which is also in Mission style.

above: Francis Lederer Stables (now Canoga Mission Gallery), in West Hills, Los Angeles, completed in 1936[8]

  • Francis Lederer Estate and Residence, in West Hills, Los Angeles, completed 1936[6]

above: Los Angeles Herald-Examiner Building; Julia Morgan, downtown Los Angeles, 1915.

  • Santa Fe Railway Depot in San Juan Capistrano, California, completed in 1894

above: San Gabriel Civic Auditorium (now San Gabriel Mission Playhouse), in San Gabriel, California, completed in 1927

  • Southern Pacific Railroad Depot in Burlingame, California, completed in 1894

above: Stanford University, main quad, in Palo Alto, California, Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge; completed in 1891; site-landscape master plan Frederick Law Olmsted.

  • Texas A&M University–Kingsville, in Kingsville, Texas, founded in 1925 with new construction reflecting the Mission Revival style.

above: Union Station, in San Diego, California, completed in 1915.

  • Valdosta State University Main Campus in Valdosta, Georgia

  • Villa Rockledge, in Laguna Beach, California, completed in 1935[10]

above: Louis P. and Clara K. Best residence and auto house, Clausen and Clausen, Davenport, Iowa, constructed 1909–1910.

  • Several buildings at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey, the first being College Hall, constructed in 1908.

below: A.K. Smiley Public Library, Redlands, California, 1897 (expanded 1907, 1920, 1926, 1930, and 1990)


  1. Weitze, p. 14: "Railroad literature described the missions as 'Worthy a glance from the tourists [sic] eye,' with the Southern Pacific, from 1888 to 1890, publishing numerous pamphlets that included sections on the missions."

  2. Jump up^

  3. Jump up^ Richard Melzer (2008). Fred Harvey Houses of the Southwest. Arcadia Publishing. pp. 37–40. Retrieved 2011-08-26.

  4. Jump up^ "history". Retrieved May 11, 2010.

  5. Jump up^ St. Petersburg Historic Preservation – Hotels

  6. Jump up^ Big Orange-Lederer Residence

  7. Jump up^ "HanaHaus".

  8. Jump up^ Big Orange—Canoga Mission Gallery

  9. Jump up^ Jones 1991, p. 2

  10. Jump up^ Jones 1991, p. 42

Further Reading

  • Gustafson, Lee and Phil Serpico (1999). Santa Fe Coast Lines Depots: Los Angeles Division. Acanthus Press, Palmdale, CA. ISBN 0-88418-003-4.

  • Jones, R. (1991). The History of Villa Rockledge. Laguna Beach, CA: American National Research Institute.

  • Weitze, Karen J. (1984). California's Mission Revival. Hennessy & Ingalls, Inc., Los Angeles, CA. ISBN 0-912158-89-1.

  • Yenne, Bill (2004). The Missions of California. Thunder Bay Press, San Diego, CA. ISBN 1-59223-319-8.

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