What is Streamline Moderne?

J Avenue in National City, CA

To be honest, we had never heard the term “Streamline Moderne” before buying this house (and why would we, we’re not architecture historians after all). We figured the house had an Art Deco vibe to it and that was that.

The appraiser who came to see the house used a particular architecture guide book to help him deem the house of the “Santa Fe” style. Hmm. Typical characteristics of that style include adobe materials and a fireplace. Our house has neither of those characteristics.

I decided to do a bit of my own research and came across Rosalie Stafford’s e-book, Streamline Moderne, in which she gives an overview of the history of this design style, some tips for writing a historical landmark nomination, and a survey of Streamline Moderne homes in San Diego.

According to Stafford, Streamline Moderne is the “vernacular (non-elite) American version of the International Style.” It is commonly considered late Art Deco, which would explain why we got that vibe when we first saw the house, but purists would argue that it is more of a rejection of Art Deco. The Streamline style took the glamour of Art Deco and simplified it, or streamlined it.  The most common manifestation of this design style was in consumer products, with radios, clocks, and portable fans all sporting curves and speed lines. In architecture, you’ll find these characteristics: rounded corners, porthole windows, light-colored smooth stucco, speed whiskers, and flat roofs.

After the market crash of 1929, most people held off on building their dream homes, but some built little Streamline Moderne bungalows instead. Due to its futuristic curves and transportation themes, the style was generally better suited for gas stations and bus depots, not single family homes. For that reason, very few Streamline Moderne residences exist today. Even the non-residences of this design style, which were abundant in its heyday, have disappeared over the years.

Because examples of this architectural style are so rare, Stafford suggests that Streamline Moderne residences might be eligible for historical landmark recognition either locally or nationally. Although they are pretty rare, pockets of them do exist in Southern California. Los Angeles has a neighborhood, “Park Moderne.” Point Loma in San Diego has just a handful of examples. Surprisingly enough, our new town of National City has a dozen or so. Even our home was featured in her book!

I’ve already downloaded an application to start the process of historical recognition in California. I’ll have to do some more research, and we’ll need to be cautious about our home improvement projects so as not to disturb the integrity of the home, but it’s a path we’re willing to take (I think). Here we go!


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