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Mediterranean Style Architecture in Piedmont

Last Wednesday morning was just cloudy, so our Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesdays group could finally have Will Adams give us a tour of Mediterranean Style Architecture in Piedmont. The tour had been rain-delayed for two weeks, and a large turnout of 56 walkers and two K-9 best friends were at the Exedra to enjoy it.

When walking through Piedmont, it's fun to recognize the architectural styles of buildings and homes. Will Adams is an architect, planner, urban designer, and 30 year Piedmonter. He writes the Piedmont Post's Walking Piedmont column, and is a Wednesday walker too. A recent Will article was on Mediterranean Style Architecture, and we wanted Will to show us examples it

around Piedmont, so that was the morning's plan.

The Spaniards brought their style of constructing buildings with them when they colonized California which has similar geography and weather to Spain. Basic Spanish architecture from which the Mediterranean style is derived has been influenced by Moroccan, Italian, Portuguese, and French designs. One important overriding characteristic of this architecture is its asymmetry

and informality. Generally, a more symmetry design is a more formal style.

Mission Revival, Spanish Colonial, Spanish Colonial Revival are some of the names given to sub-categories of this Mediterranean Style family. Will first lead us up Highland Avenue to the main entrance of Havens School and its adjoining Ellen Driscoll Playhouse to see his first example. He

asked us what we saw and the main Mediterranean Style characteristics of arches, courtyards, low slope terracotta roofs, high ceilings, exposed rough-hewn beams, off white stucco exteriors, thick walls, bell towers, and ironwork were discussed. In California Spanish Colonial times the materials builders used were what was available locally. Additionally, the construction was simple and inexpensive because the native people who did the work had limited skills.

Will took us to Oakland Avenue and down to its corner with Bonita Avenue, passing a horde of loud, young people enjoying the Havens playground. Will complimented architect Mark Becker's 2010 school redesign. There is a richness in its detail and even in the sign in front of the playfield.

We continued on to the middle of Bonita. The steps in front of the west school entrance provided tiers for a group photo. Meghan Bennett later shared another group photo that taken on almost the same spot. It was in an old newspaper showing all the then students in front of the school, which was built in 1910 and opened its doors in 1911. It was originally "The Bonita Avenue School," and later renamed "Frank C. Havens Elementary School" after its land donor. Meghan's photo and article also said the school cost $32,000 to build, was on two acres with cypress trees, and had 260 students and 12 teachers for the "beautiful residential community of 2,375 people."

Will then took us to the new Piedmont High School. It can also be considered a Mediterranean design with its red tile roof and trellises in front. Will stressed the importance of variety in a design, and how asymmetry can create visual interest. Landscaping is also important to complement the buildings, but should not impede or obstruct the street elevations.

We went up Magnolia, past the backside of the Albert Farr-designed, more detailed Mediterranean Style City Hall, and back to and down Highland to Guilford Avenue, where we admired a home with an ornate Mediterranean style exterior. Back on Highland we went to a more relaxed, informal Mediterranean home with a nicely designed, complementary garage addition that is appropriately subordinated to the house entry.

Then it was on to Wildwood Avenue and Wildwood Gardens where we discussed a beautiful, large Mediterranean home with ironwork and recessed windows. Will explained that traditional overhangs help prevent water leaks in exterior windows. There was enough time to finish the upper Wildwood Gardens loop, and exit Wildwood Gardens back on Wildwood which brought us face-to-face with one last lovely Mediterranean.

With Will's tour complete, it was time for us to express our thanks, and look forward another tour of a different architectural style with Will soon. This one had been very enjoyable and certainly been worth the wait.


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