The bungalow is perhaps the most common house style in Portland’s pre-World War II neighborhoods. The first American- style bungalows were built in and around Pasadena, CA, around 1900. Portland saw its first bungalows constructed five years later. It quickly became a national style (indeed the national style) peaking in the decade 1905 to 1915. This period was a boom era for Portland, following close on the heels of the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exhibition.
Bungalows were rapidly built in all the newer areas of Portland, especially the newly opened East Side. Bungalows continued to be built here until the Depression, but their popularity was gradually eclipsed in the ’20s by the period revival styles (Tudor, Norman, Mediterranean, “Storybook,” etc.).
The origins of this popular bungalow style — often referred to as America’s first original house style — is surprisingly international and complicated. The word “bungalow” comes from the Hindi word describing a dwelling type common to the Bengal region of India. It is a one-story house on a slightly elevated foundation built up to capture the breezes. Large overhanging eaves shelter shady porches. Floor plans are open and flowing to allow better air circulation within the house.
The British readily adopted this sensible form of house type for their civil servants during the British period of Indian rule. From India, the style was transferred to England and promoted as the ideal seashore vacation house.
By the mid-to-late 1800s, well-to-do Americans on the East Coast were also building English-derived bungalows on the Atlantic shore. When the new transcontinental railroads in the post-Civil War era opened up Southern California as a winter destination for the East Coast elite, the bungalow idea rode along too. Pasadena, especially, became the center for bungalow development — both for wealthy vacationing Easterners and for the local year-round middle class.
Modern West Coast
The leap to California provided a natural fit for the original concept of the bungalow. California’s warm climate and informal lifestyle were ready-made for the bungalow. It is from these early Pasadena prototypes that the typical bungalow form as we know it was developed. In just one or two years, bungalows were being built in the San Francisco Bay Area, and by 1905 the first bungalows were built in Portland and Seattle. They were constructed later, in one form or another, in every corner of North America. From 1910 to the 1930s bungalows leaped across the Pacific and became a common building type in Australia where they are still known as “California Bungalows.” The bungalow’s popularity had nearly circumscribed the globe going from east to west in approximately 50 years.
Many people may not be able to give an accurate definition of the bungalow, but most people know one when they see one. This is not surprising considering the term “bungalow” has been stretched over the years to describe all manner of houses with bungalow-like features. Any attempt to provide an accurate definition of the bungalow will immediately bring to mind many exceptions. But generally a true bungalow will have the following attributes:
- A modestly sized structure of one or one-and-a-half stories (a converted attic is considered a “half” story).
- A house that was built in the first three decades of the 20th century.
- Prominent gable roofs, often with dormers. The gable end commonly opens to the side, occasionally to the front.
- Prominent roof overhangs. The front overhang usually covers a substantial front porch.
- Front porches often cover the entire width of the house. Porch pillars are built of wood (sometimes supported by masonry posts) and frequently are “battered” (that is, tapered).
- There is at least a passing stylistic nod to the simplicity and rusticity of the Craftsman movement occurring at about the same time.
It is perhaps this last association with the Craftsman movement that generates the most confusion in bungalow nomenclature. What exactly is a Craftsman house, and how does that differ from a bungalow? Again, the definitions are wiggly. Some would say that most bungalows are Craftsman, but not all Craftsman are bungalows. The Craftsman house was a “movement,” as much philosophy as architecture. It had its roots in the Arts and Crafts Movement in England at the end of the 19th century. Both movements stressed a simple, informal lifestyle, and promoted natural, even rough, materials.
A building’s beauty was derived from its structural form and building materials, not from any ornament applied to it. Both bungalow and Craftsman houses share stylistic elements such as unfinished and exposed rafter ends, natural materials (wood shake shingles, river rock, clinker brick, etc.), open interior floor plans, and natural stain interior wood panels and trim. In Portland, the difference in bungalow and Craftsman is usually determined by size (or at least by height). A bungalow is one or one-and-a-half stories high. A similarly styled house containing a full upper story is often called a Craftsman.
Whether you call them bungalow or Craftsman — or the term “bungaloid” used by some architectural historians — Portland has an unusually high percentage of its older housing stock built in this style. Bungalows can be found in virtually every corner of the city (and suburbs) that have any pre-World War II buildings.
Some of the best areas for bungalow viewing include the East Side neighborhoods of Hollywood, Laurelhurst, Hawthorne/Division, and Mt. Tabor. These areas were booming at the peak of the bungalow-building era. They contain entire blocks of continuous bungalow houses. Why not take a late-summer bungalow walk along these beautiful, shady East Side streets?