The Mark of Zorro

Spanish Mission house,
Our puppy walks sometimes take us past this notable piece of architecture on Auchenflower's south side. The house is in the "Spanish Mission" style which rose to some popularity in the interwar period from the late 20's to the 30's. As many other things from the 20's and beyond the style was a direct import from the US where a romantic revival of Spanish colonial-era style architectures had taken root in the coastal cities of California in the 1890s.

Brisbane Courier,
September 1932
In Australia the trend was sparked by Zorro and other popular Hollywood films, and American magazines featuring movie stars in luxurious Californian homes. The grandiose designs had little in common with the very spartan Franciscan missions of real life - it was the idealized romance of the Californian Hispanic past that made the style so compelling. This was essentially a suburban and middle-class style that was also adopted for many 1930's cinemas and other commercial buildings. A stroll around the inner Western suburbs will reveal many more Spanish mission-influenced houses.

The buildings were generally low-set with asymmetrical footprint, sometimes incorporating a "loggia" or a gallery open to the air at one or more sides. For practical reasons the internal courtyard found in the real Spanish missions were not adopted. Facades are of plain stucco on brick which was finished to simulate the mud-plastered, air-dried adobe masonry of the American south-west. Roofs are clad with half-rounded terracotta tiles and crowned by ornamental parapets. A series of grouped, arched openings on plain or twisted columns are often present. Decorative details in wrought iron and colored glazed ceramics may complete the picture.

Style indicators
The Spanish Mission houses scattered among our inter-war burbs may look a bit out of place but they represent a valid architectural style that shares its roots with many other styles in early 20st century American culture. Let’s hope that they are spared from re-development and their features retained as reminders of this iconic era.

Key Sources:
- National Library of Australia, 
- Identifying Australian Architecture; R. Apperly, R. Irving and P. Reynolds; 1989
- Brisbane House Styles 1180 to 1940, J. G. Rechner; 1998

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