Style Points | The Bungalow

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Jean and Robert Morrison in front of their Alameda Arts and Crafts Bungalow, about 1925. Note the front porch with squared columns, wide bank of casement windows, overhanging eaves and low profile, all hallmarks of the bungalow style. Photo courtesy of the Morrison-Munson family.

The Bungalow
If you’re passing through a residential area of Northeast Portland, (or southeast Portland for that matter) it’s impossible to be more than a stone’s throw from a bungalow. Distinguishing features of this much-loved style include its typical storey-and-a-half height, prominent overhanging eaves and front porch, often angular lines, and square-tapered columns.

Indoors, family interaction was facilitated by a more open plan than the closed off parlors associated with earlier times. Larger windows, often in banks of two or three, invited natural light and fresh air inside and connected the home’s residents with the surrounding landscape outside.

Rooted in the English Arts and Crafts movement – as much a social revolution as it was a design aesthetic – bungalow designs seemed to say solid, simple, natural, durable, practical, healthy, rustic. Some architectural historians credit this venerable building form with permanently altering America’s relationship with the home, breaking with pretentious Victorian and Queen Anne styles and putting a simple, attractive, dwelling within reach of would-be owners.

While Portland didn’t invent the bungalow (credit is given to British ex-pats living in India), prolific local builders at the turn of the 20th Century got a lot of practice perfecting their style. In mid-April 1912, perhaps the peak of our bungalow love affair, Portland was third in the nation behind only New York and Chicago in terms of the total number of building permits issued (667), two thirds of which were for homes…and many of them bungalows.

The era in which our bungalows were built was one of incredible growth in Portland and other West Coast cities. A study I’m making of The Oregonian from 1909-1920 paints the picture of our city in a total building and expansion frenzy in a way us current residents can’t fully appreciate. New neighborhoods were being born on a monthly basis. Hardly a week passed without some mention in the paper about the bungalow style (often referred to as the California bungalow, in deference to its popularity in Los Angeles and other California cities). This article below, from The Oregonian on 21 May 1911, provides a narrative blueprint for what a bungalow should be. I live in a bungalow built about the time the article was written and it sounds like a turn-by-turn description of our house…

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From The Oregonian, 21 May 1911. Click to see larger image of this story.

A testament to the cultural popularity of the bungalow can be seen in other segments of Portland life beyond housing: Movie theaters, community centers and even churches were built in the bungalow style. The Alameda Park Community Church near Regents and NE 31st, built in 1922 (now the Subud Center), was originally known as “the Bungalow Church.” Stay tuned for more in a future post on the story of how that original building came to be – it’s an interesting tale that includes a misunderstanding, a protest, a lawsuit and eventual neighborhood acceptance.

The Craftsman / Arts and Crafts bungalow style was popular into the early 1930s, when the English cottage and Tudor cottage became more popular, as family sizes changed, and as the economy contracted. As homeowners’ design preferences changed, some of them remodeled (some might say remuddled) their bungalows to become more “modern.” Past owners of my house removed crown mouldings, portions of dining room plate rail, leaded glass and light fixtures as they pursued their vision of modernity. Fortunately, the solid bones of most bungalows have survived those bad ideas, and homeowners today have access to many resources and materials to restore the original look and feel of the bungalow era.

It’s interesting to track development of our neighborhood simply by looking at house styles, with the bungalow, the four-square, and other Craftsman-style homes built first, giving way to the formal Tudor revival, the English cottage style, Spanish (we have a good few in the neighborhood), and Colonial influences.

Today, there is a growing obsession with bungalow style that has given rise to at least one national magazine, dozens of books, friends groups, websites, conventions and retail businesses. The themes embodied in Portland’s first bungalows – family, simplicity, connection with the natural world, practicality – are very much part of our design ethic today.

For further exploration
If you grew up in, live in, or just care about a bungalow, you have to read Janet Ore’s fine book The Seattle Bungalow, published in 2007 by the University of Washington Press.

You might also want to check into the American Bungalow Magazine.

What features make the bungalow special for you?

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