Spanish Revival houses evoke old-world charm
After they moved to an Englewood, N.J., Tudor in the 1980s, Lorraine and Lewis Baer occasionally passed a large stucco house with a red tile roof on North Woodland Avenue. Lorraine would look at it and say, "That's the house I really wanted."
In 1991, she got her wish when the couple purchased the home from New York Cosmos soccer star Giorgio Chinaglia. The eight-bedroom house is an example of the Spanish Revival style, which enjoyed a renaissance in the 1920s, especially in hot climates with a history of Spanish Colonial settlement, such as Florida and California.
The buildings are marked by stucco walls, low-pitched tile roofs, arched windows or doorways and sometimes curved parapets or gables decorating the roofline. Often, their front doors are dramatically carved wood, according to "A Field Guide to American Houses," by Virginia and Lee McAlester.
Architectural historians say the style was popularized in part by the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego in 1915.
"Rather than copy the East's revival of its own Colonial past, California turned to its Hispanic heritage for inspiration," the McAlesters wrote.
popular in 1920s
Spanish Revival is among a number of styles that enjoyed a rebirth in the 1920s, including Colonials and Tudors. It was a time when architects and builders freely borrowed from historic styles, and home buyers could choose house styles from architectural pattern books.
The Spanish Revival homes would appeal to people "who wanted their house to be more unusual," says T. Robins Brown, a historic preservation consultant and co-author of the book "The Architecture of Bergen County, N.J." (Rutgers University Press).
Their facades generally "aren't too fussy," she notes. But the homes are still picturesque, smacking of Florida vacations and Hollywood glamour.
These buildings are uncommon in places like northern New Jersey, and owners of these homes love their unusual character.
"It's a different place. It's not a McMansion -- 10,000 square feet of nothing," says Lewis Baer, an art and antiques dealer in New York. "I think it really shows an old-world style of living, more of a European style of living. I think that's really what attracted my wife. It's that old-world charm."
"It's got a lot of character to it," says Gerry Santos, a graphic artist who, with his wife, owns a three-bedroom Spanish Revival in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., which boasts a cluster of the homes.
Bob Lindsay, a real estate agent with Re/Max Legend, has a Spanish Revival home listed in Wayne, N.J., for $525,000; the owners, he says, were from South America and loved the architecture because it reminded them of their native land.
With their thick walls, the homes are also very solid. Tile roofs can easily last a century, and many of the North Jersey homes have their originals, Brown says.
"It's a nice, sturdy-looking style," he says.
Carol Berlin of Teaneck, N.J., who has a Spanish Revival house, agrees: "I feel like if there were some sort of natural disaster, this house would remain standing. It's solid."
Similarly, an architect Baer hired for renovations at his home once told him: "If we have a nuclear war, I'm coming to your house."
The Baer house is one of a cluster of roughly half a dozen Mediterranean-influenced mansions on North Woodland, on Englewood's East Hill.
Nearby is Gloria Crest, an Italianate mansion that channels a different part the Mediterranean. It was once owned by Hollywood star Gloria Swanson.
And across the street is a Spanish Revival that was built on the site of Helicon Hall, a short-lived commune established by the early 20th-century muckraking writer Upton Sinclair.
different from others
James and Marianne DiDonato bought one of the homes in 1971.
"It was different from all the Colonials we looked at," says Marianne DiDonato, a retired human-resource employee.
Homes appear small but are surprisingly spacious inside, perhaps because their living rooms have high, vaulted ceilings. Penny Santos says that after touring tiny Cape Cods in their house hunt, she and her husband loved the more open feeling of their house.
Though the tile roofs last for a century or more, these homes are still at an age -- more than 80 years old -- when they sometimes need extensive work. The Baers' house needed a massive renovation, including replacement of the windows, the kitchen, and the electrical, plumbing and heating systems. The couple reconfigured the second floor to add bathrooms and transform 11 small bedrooms into eight larger ones. They transformed a telephone room on the first floor into a powder room.
"It was a labor of love," Lewis Baer says.
Carol and Dan Berlin bought their Teaneck, N.J., home when they moved from St. Paul, Minn., in 1994. Her initial house-hunting left Carol discouraged.
"Why would I want to pay twice as much as back home, and get half as much space?" she asks.
But she felt otherwise when she saw the "unique, unusual" Spanish Revival.
Sunlight poured in through large windows, and a sunroom with a tile floor and a fountain hinted at the enclosed courtyards of Spain.
Former residents still feel a tie to the house. Last year, Berlin's daughter was hosting a bridal shower for a friend when a former resident, in town for a high school reunion, rang the doorbell and asked to see the house.
It was, says Carol Berlin, at least the third time this has happened.