Designed by Paul R. Williams, this French style residence is featured in California Homes & Gardens (Margaret Atchley, 1936)
courtesy the Building Technology Heritage Library Designed by Paul R. Williams, this French style residence is featured in California Homes & Gardens (Margaret Atchley, 1936)

This post is part of a monthly series that explores the historical applications of building materials and systems through resources from the Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL), an online collection of AEC catalogs, trade publications, and more. The BTHL is a project of the Association for Preservation Technology, an international building preservation organization. Read more about the archive here.

California, the state with the highest population, regularly tops the list as the region with the most viewers of documents from the BTHL. A great number of house plan catalogs in the BTHL also hail from the Golden State. One from 1946 notes in the introduction that California “is the home center of America—and perhaps the world,” in allusion to the state’s rapid growth after World War II.

Most of these catalogs were design publications—only a few sold actual architectural drawings. The kit house manufacturers, such as Sears, Roebuck and Co., were primarily located in the Midwest.

Some of the BTHL’s earliest house plan catalogs feature the ubiquitous California bungalow. The Craftsman style prevailed in the early 20th century but, by the 1920s, a variety of popular revival styles, including Colonial and Mission, were marketed. By the 1940s, the ranch house appeared in plan books and became more prolific after WWII.

One building material appeared to be regularly associated with California: redwood. More than a dozen publications from the California Redwood Association in the BTHL feature residential construction, though many are vague about the specific use of redwood in these houses. One mid-1950s technical guide to redwood construction documents the use of a natural finish over painted, which remains common today. A 1920s millwork catalog marketed California fir and pine, but redwood seemed to be the building material most popularly connoted as Californian.

Improvement in Building Construction, Peter H. Jackson, Eastman & Thomas, San Francisco, 1899

BTHL’s oldest document from a California-based company is a specialty catalog of architectural iron works. This catalog featured thick glass skylights set in metal frames that were primarily used in sidewalks to provide natural lighting in basements, which was common in urban building settings. Early examples hail from the mid-19th century.

Bungalowcraft, Bungalowcraft Co., Los Angeles, 1912

This is one of four catalogs from a house plan company that sold architectural drawings. California is famous for its bungalow-style residential architecture, and the houses featured here are mostly in the Arts and Crafts style. Later catalogs from Bungalowcraft featured bungalows in the stucco, English, Swiss Chalet, and Colonial styles.

Catalogue No. 23, California Door Co., San Francisco, 1923

Doors, windows, and architectural millwork all appear in this catalog. The doors were “made to order with California pine or fir.”

Redwood Home Plans by California Architects, California Redwood Assoc., San Francisco, 1925

This booklet features winning designs by California architects for a competition sponsored by AIA San Francisco. More than a dozen documents featuring California redwood are in the BTHL, mostly for residential construction. The BTHL also has a redwood booklet of specialty uses, showing California redwood used in farms, greenhouses, caskets, organs, and even clock hands.

Building with Brick and Hollow Tile, Port Costa Brick Works, Port Costa, Calif., 1925

“For those who have the slighted interest in Brick or Hollow Tile building construction, this book gives, briefly but clearly, authoritative information that will prove to be most valuable.” Hollow clay tiles are the featured product, with numerous construction details offered.

Rice’s Architects and Contractors Catalog for Southern California, Arizona, & Hawaiian Islands, George Rice & Sons, Los Angeles, 1931

More than 200 Southern California companies are listed in this regional compilation of building products and services for the West Coast.

California Homes & Gardens, Margaret Atchley, Los Angeles, 1936

This compilation of residential designs by California architects features work by luminaries such as Richard Neutra and Paul Williams. Most designs fall into the traditional style, but several designs are Modernist. The final pages feature examples of the Early Rancho Type, foretelling the post-WWII ranch house models.

California Plan Book: Preview for 1946, Home Book Publishers, San Francisco, 1946

The introduction to this publication includes the claim that “California today is the home center of America—and perhaps the world,” which is no modest claim. This compilation has 97 house plans, ranging from 600-square-foot “cottages” to a 3,600-square-foot house with guest quarters. The design are evenly divided between single- and two-story homes in both traditional and modern styles.

Exterior Finishes for Redwood, California Redwood Association, San Francisco, c. 1955

This comprehensive technical guide to the use of California redwood for architectural and other applications was published in the era in which the use of stains instead of paint became the most popular finish for redwood exteriors.

Pabco: Floors for the Young at Heart, Pabco Products Corp., San Francisco, 1956

This California company had an extensive line of resilient floor covings in sheet form and in tiles. The opening pages feature inlaid linoleum marketed as PABCO California Originals with bold geometric patterns on “stone like” backgrounds.

Movable Vaughan Walls of Solid Laminated Gypsum Panels, Vaughan Interior Walls, Los Angeles, 1961

This California company developed an office partition system using gypsum featuring “sound and fireproof qualities with the clean appearance of fixed walls.”