Romanesque Revival (1840-1910)

Sacred Heart Church in San Francisco Sacred Heart Church in San Francisco
A Romanesque Revival Building
Built 1897
Photographed 25 January 2012
Old Post Office in Carson City, Nevada Old Post Office in Carson City, Nevada
A Richardsonian Romanesque Building
Built 1890
Photographed 14 July 2008
(Click Photos to Zoom)

The Romanesque Revival architectural style originated in Europe in the early 19th century. Buildings in this style are based on medieval and early Christian Romanesque cathedrals of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

Romanesque Revival buildings in the United States are simpler than their European counterparts. Common features of the style in the United States include:

  • molded semicircular arches for window and door openings
  • molded beltcourses that divide the exterior into horizontal bands
  • the Lombard band which is a series of miniature arches located below the eaves
  • column capitals and compound arches enriched with geometric Medieval or Byzantine-inspired ornament
  • gabled roofs flanked by square or polygonal towers of differing heights and capped with pyramidal roofs

For Romanesque Revival churches, the typical plan is basilican, with a long, narrow nave, vestibule, central tower or paired side towers, and self-contained massing. Broad, smooth wall surfaces of monochromatic brick or ashlar masonry laid with thin mortar joints were favored.

New churches, schools, and public buildings were increasingly designed in an imposing variant of the Romanesque Revival style in the nineteenth century in the United States. Diplomats, theologians, educational reformers, clergymen, and rulers supported Romanesque Revival architecture in large part because of the style's many associations with the staunch faith and communal solidarity of the early Christian era.

Richardsonian Romanesque

There were two phases of Romanesque Revival in the United States. Early Romanesque Revival structures of the 1840s-1850s resembled their Gothic predecessors with accurate interpretations of early Mediaeval forms. The best-known example of early Romanesque Revival in the United States is the Smithsonian Institution in Washington built between 1846 and 1855.

A later phase, Richardsonian Romanesque, originated in the 1870s in the work of the Boston-based architect Henry Hobson Richardson who attended Harvard and L'Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He was inspired by Romanesque architecture in Spain and the south of France and experimented with these and a variety of other sources to create his own unique style typically characterized as massive, weighty buildings clad in polychromed and rough-hewn stone and punctuated by Syrian arches and sculpted Byzantine capitals.

The style was not used in San Francisco until the late 1880s. Although known by local architects, the style was not initially embraced due to its cost and its use of earthquake-prone masonry construction. Most early examples were designed by out-of-state architects, particularly Burnham & Root, who were early adopters of the style in their hometown of Chicago.

Source: Draft of the National Register Nomination Form for Sacred Heart Church.

My Reaction to Richardsonian Romanesque Buildings

I can think of only two architectural styles which I find always and everywhere creepy - institutionsl buildings that suck light and joy from the world: Richardsonian Romanesque and Brutalism.

Consider Briarcliff Asylum, the fictional Richardsonian Romanesque building which is the setting of the television series, American Horror Story: Asylum.

Although Briarcliff is populated by psychopaths and monsters and their victims, much of the unremitting dread emanates from the building itself. In The Hollywood Reporter (12/5/2012), Cathy Whitlock examines the Briarcliff sets created by production designer Mark Worthington:

Briarcliff's gothic gloom emanates in part from Worthington's referencing of 19th century architects Frank Furness and Henry Hobson Richardson. "Victorian eclecticism [pioneered by Furness] is this weird melange of styles that were almost grotesque," says Worthington. "The buildings are built for horror. The proportions aren't quite comfortable and nice, which contributes to getting away from the cliche of just another mental hospital." Richardson's style, dubbed Richardsonian Romanesque and characterized by massive arches and rusticated stone walls, was perfected in his 1869 design for the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane.


Name Year Address City Sort Address Sort Name
Alameda City Hall1895Santa Clara Avenue and Oak Street AlamedaSanta Clara Alameda City Hall
Brooks Arcade1891260 South State StreetSalt Lake CityState 0260Brooks Arcade
Calaveras County Courthouse186730 North Main StreetSan AndreasMain 0030Calaveras County Courthouse
Carson City Civic Auditorium 1939813 North Carson StreetCarson CityCarson N 0813Carson City Civic Auditorium
Carson City Post Office 1890401 North Carson StreetCarson CityCarson N 0401Carson City Post Office
Firehouse No. 318931215 19th Street Sacramento Street 19 1215Firehouse No. 3
First Baptist Church19321200 Truxtun AvenueBakersfieldTruxtun 1200 First Baptist Church
First National Bank of Oakdale1909338 East F StreetOakdale Street F 0338First National Bank of Oakdale
First Unitarian Church18891187 Franklin StreetSan FranciscoFranklin 1187First Unitarian Church
First Unitarian Church of Oakland1891685 14th Street Oakland Street 14 0685First Unitarian Church of Oakland
First Unitarian Universalist Church 1891160 North 3rd Street San Jose Street 03 N 0160First Unitarian Universalist Church
Fresno Brewing Company 1907100 M StreetFresno Street M 0100Fresno Brewing Company
Fresno Water Tower18942444 Fresno Street FresnoFranklin 2444Fresno Water Tower
Fritsch Block 1890158 East 200 South Salt Lake City Street 200Fritsch Block
Geneva Office Building and Power House19012301 San Jose AvenueSan FranciscoSan Jose 2301Geneva Office Building and Power House
Gilroy City Hall19047410 Monterey StreetGilroyMonterey 7410Gilroy City Hall
Goodman Library19011219 1st Street Napa Street 01 1219Goodman Library
Hanford Carnegie Library1906109 East 8th StreetHanford Street 08 E 0109Hanford Carnegie Library
Hills Bros. Coffee Plant19262 Harrison StreetSan FranciscoHarrison 0002Hills Bros. Coffee Plant
Jackson Brewing Company19081475-1489 Folsom StreetSan FranciscoFolsom 1475Jackson Brewing Company
Jessie Street Substation1909220 Jessie StreetSan FranciscoJessie 0220Jessie Street Substation
Merced County High School18972125 M StreetMerced Street M 2125Merced County High School
Mills Building1890 220 Montgomery StreetSan FranciscoMontgomery 0220Mills Building
Minersville (Utah) City Hall193560 Main Street MinersvilleMain 0060Minersville (Utah) City Hall
Molino Lodge18593rd and C StreetsTehama Street 03Molino Lodge
Notre Dame des Victoires Church1913564 Bush StreetSan FranciscoBush 0564Notre Dame des Victoires Church
Nye County Courthouse1905McCulloch Street Tonopah, NevadaMcCullochNye County Courthouse
Old Post Office1892110 Market Street San JoseMarket 0110Old Post Office
Preston Castle1890Palm DriveIonePalmPreston Castle
Ruhstaller Building1899900 J StreetSacramento Street J 0900Ruhstaller Building
Sacramento Memorial Auditorium192516th and J Streets Sacramento Street 16Sacramento Memorial Auditorium
Sacred Heart Church1897 554 Fillmore StreetSan FranciscoFillmore 0554Sacred Heart Church
San Francisco Chronicle Building1890690 Market Street San FranciscoMarket 0690San Francisco Chronicle Building
San Francisco Gas Light Company1893 3640 Buchanan StreetSan FranciscoBuchanan 3640San Francisco Gas Light Company
Sharon Building1888 Golden Gate ParkSan FranciscoGolden Gate Sharon Building
Southern Pacific Depot1888559 El Camino Real San CarlosEl Camino 0559Southern Pacific Depot
Southern Pacific Depot19255th and I StreetsSacramento Street 005Southern Pacific Depot
St. Boniface Church1902 133 Golden Gate AvenueSan FranciscoGolden Gate 0133St. Boniface Church
St. Brigid Church 19022151 Van Ness AvenueSan FranciscoVan Ness 2151St. Brigid Church
St. Joseph's Church1913 1401 Howard StreetSan FranciscoHoward 1401St. Joseph's Church
St. Mark's Lutheran Church 18951111 O'Farrell StreetSan FranciscoO'Farrell 1111St. Mark's Lutheran Church
St. Mary's Parish1906515 Main StreetRed BluffMain 0515St. Mary's Parish
Temple Sherith Israel19052266 California Street San FranciscoCalifornia 2266Temple Sherith Israel
Tretheway Block 1892229 East Weber StreetStocktonWeber E 0229Tretheway Block
Trinity Presbyterian Church18923261 23rd StreetSan Francisco Street 023 3261Trinity Presbyterian Church
Whittier Mansion18942090 Jackson StreetSan FranciscoJackson 2090Whittier Mansion
San Luis Obispo Carnegie Library1905696 Monterey StreetSan Luis ObispoMonterey 696 San Luis Obispo Carnegie Library
Greystone Cellars 18882555 Main Street St. Helena Main 2555Greystone Cellars

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