Friday, April 11, 2014

Colonial Revival Architecture: An American Tradition

By Gretchen Sawatzki

The Governor's Palace at Colonial Williamsburg,
Virginia reconstructed in 1931.
Colonial Revival. Sounds vaguely familiar, maybe even historic. You've seen it before, probably hundreds of times - both historic, new, on the silver screen and in your neighborhood. So what is Colonial Revival and why is it so familiar?

Colonial Revival refers to an architectural and design movement that became popular after the Centennial Exposition of 1876 when the post-Civil War period rekindled Americans' interest in their colonial past. The movement reached its peak around 1890 and proved to be popular through the 1930s and beyond.

The Magnolia kit home by Sears.

The Governor's Palace at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia is a prime example of the Colonial Revival spirit. Originally constructed in 1706 the structure burned in 1781, and was later reconstructed in 1931 during the Colonial Revival movement. Other Colonial Revival structures including several kit homes made available by Sears gained popularity during this period. "The Magnolia" became available around 1919, which used traditional Colonial design details like those on the Governor's Palace including a symmetrical front facade and elaborate entry.

But you won't find much Colonial Revival architecture during the era of World War II as like most things of the time, construction halted and was put on the back burner for wartime production. With a resurgence in the movement around 1960 though, Colonial Revival style homes boomed, and soon coincided with the bicentennial in 1976. Colonial Revival homes of the mid 20th century however were simplified, usually referencing only the symmetrical facade, sidelights accompanying the entry, and pint-sized columned stoops.

Built in 1972, this Colonial Revival style house has been simplified
 with sidelights on either side of the door, small columns,
 and a symmetrical facade. 

If you're a child of the 1990s (like me) you may recognize the architectural style from the movie Home Alone. That's right, Kevin McCallister even resided in a Colonial Revival home! Notice it's symmetrical facade, sidelights on either side of the door, and columned entrance.

But the style is probably most familiar to you, because not only have you seen it before in history, film, and in neighborhoods across America, you know it as a part of our colonial heritage. You've done business in buildings like these, eaten dinner and even played poker in buildings with a colonial design tradition. The style has also remained an architectural staple on the American landscape. Even today, right now in a subdivision in Anywhere, Any State, U.S.A. Colonial Revival homes are popping up. Why? It's simple really, it's a part of our heritage, we all know it, it's nostalgic, and like all humans we are creatures of habit. If it's not broken, why fix it?

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