The term Period Revival refers to a wide range of historically based styles favored by the American public for nearly half a century. Such styles as the Colonial Revival and Neoclassical remained popular throughout the entire period and appeared concurrently with the non-historical styles (such as bungalow) of the early 20th century.
Following World War I other, more varied styles became popular, such as the Spanish Colonial, English Tudor, and French Norman. A number of these styles—including Spanish Colonial, English Tudor, Mission, Pueblo, and French Norman—were based on the indigenous building traditions of North America and Europe.
Various explanations have been offered for the popularity of these Period Revival styles. One opinion is that nationalistic pride following World War I led to an increased use of the Colonial Revival and Neoclassical styles, while another states that doughboys returning from Europe favored the English Tudor and French Norman styles.
Whatever the reason, many of these historical styles began appearing in all types of architecture. These designs almost always displayed the architect’s or builder’s familiarity with the external, decorative features of the historical style rather than with the building tradition, its formal features, or plan types.
Numerous articles in the architectural press on the “country house” reinforced this return to historicism in the teens and twenties. Surprisingly, “country houses” were usually not large but they generally sat on large lots or acreage and frequently used the English Tudor or French Norman styles. Some authors of the period rationalized the appropriateness of such styles by claiming that the climatic conditions and varied terrain of America resemble those of England and France. They also supported these styles for rural settings because nature enhanced their significant picturesque qualities.
This emphasis on the picturesque emerged not only in the magazine articles published at the time but also in their accompanying photographs. Unlike the Victorian decorative approach to the picturesque, expressed mostly through a variety of building materials, decorative detailing, and silhouettes, the Period Revival’s historical allusions were based on picturesque architectural massing, with various roof pitches, dormer type, and towers. This variety in massing alluded to the irregular forms and additions common in the vernacular architecture from which the styles were derived.
Period Revival styles incorporated a basic simplicity of form and façade. Massing and facades, combined with a respect for materials and craftsmanship necessary to imitate certain historical construction techniques (half-timbering, stonemasonry, tile and slate roofing, and wood shingles laid in a simulated thatch pattern) provided texture, another necessary picturesque quality.
Various writers of the period suggested that these houses supported the informality of the American way of living. Thus, the interiors conformed to American concepts of comfort and practicality. Architects designed many aspects of modern architecture into these houses, most particularly the open plan, which combined living and dining rooms into an “L”-shaped space. Undoubtedly, this informality in living patterns had been influenced by changes in family relationships after the Victorian period--and by the shortage of domestic help.
The outdoor living area also appeared, which in turn led to a lowering of the height of the first floor in relation to ground level. Unlike the usual Victorian practice of building the house several feet above the grade, the Period Revival house was built within twelve to eighteen inches of grade to allow the family’s living patterns to extend onto a terrace. A later aspect of the Period Revival appeared in the thirties: one-story houses containing one or more wings, a pattern based upon the works of such notable modern architects as Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra.
The architectural style of the “country house,” which reflected the social aspirations of it well-to-do or upper-middle-class owners, quickly migrated to the rapidly expanding suburbs and their spacious house sites. The suburbs, in turn, had grown along with the growth of the streetcar, the interurban railroad, and finally, the automobile.
A further trickling down of Period Revival influence appeared in the form of cottages--small, single-family residences constructed by speculative builders both in urban subdivisions and in newly platted suburbs. To counteract what many considered the amateurishly poor design of these single-family residences, and to enhance their professional standing, architects and the architectural press in the twenties and thirties started a movement for standardization. Touting the importance of good architecture in small houses, the architectural profession launched a regionalized stock-plan service known as the Architects’ Small House Service Bureau (A.S.H.S.B.). Designs generated by anonymous architects were made available to the public nationwide.
What began as a professional experiment by architects blossomed into a successful attack on the practice of lumber dealers, contractors, and carpenters designing small houses. The A.S.H.S.B. produced numerous designs for houses of six principal rooms or fewer. The service, which included plans and specifications, cost five dollars per principal room. The experiment lasted nearly a decade and a half, and it designs were built from coast to coast.
A dozen different styles comprise the Period Revival in Utah; the most popular were the Colonial Revival, the Neoclassical, and, to a lesser extent, the Spanish Colonial. Examples of these styles are found in civic, commercial, religious, and residential structures. English Tudor, French Norman styles, Mission, and Pueblo styles were most frequently used in residential design. The Early Christian Byzantine and Jacobethan Revival styles appeared in religious and institutional architecture, and the rare, exotic Egyptian Revival style was limited to movie theaters and club buildings for fraternal orders.