exploring Albuquerque’s bungalows

To this day the bungalow remains the most obvious reminder of the city’s health-seeker era.

This article first appeared in Spring 2002 Su Casa

One of the best ways to appreciate Albuquerque’s historic neighborhoods is to walk them. A stroll along their tree-lined streets offers not only exercise but also an opportunity to read the built environment and to envision these early suburbs as they began to envelop the core of the railroad town founded in 1880. Whether you choose to explore the older neighborhoods west and north of downtown, those lining the sandhills rising to the East Mesa, or those atop the mesa around the University of New Mexico, architectural delights await you. Although the residential building styles of each neighborhood vary—a reminder of changing popular tastes during each district’s development—the housing design common to all is the Craftsman, or bungalow, style.

Here in New Mexico the two terms are often used interchangeably. Some prefer the term “bungalow,” respecting its etymological roots in India, where European colonialists encountered a vernacular house called a bungale, a one-story structure with an overhanging pitched roof and a large porch or verandah. British officials soon adapted this housing type, valuing its roofline and the wide overhangs that offered respite from the hot climate and seasonal rains they encountered at many of their overseas posts. Set within landscaped grounds evocative of English cottage gardens, the bungalow came to represent an ideal rural setting in which its dwellers harmoniously existed with nature.

Others prefer the term “Craftsman style,” derived from the influential Craftsman magazine published between 1901 and 1916. Not only did its publisher, Gustav Stickley, promote the use of hand-crafted furniture associated with the American Arts and Crafts movement as a means to renounce the mass production of the industrial age, he also advocated architectural plans and designs supportive of a lifestyle more closely linked with nature. The bungalow’s typical features of natural building materials such as wood and stone, generous windows, and multiple porches brought together outdoor and indoor living so essential to Stickley’s ideals.

California’s most ambitious examples of the Craftsman style, typified by residences designed by architects Charles and Henry Greene, came to represent the architectural style. More widespread, however, were houses built from plans offered in magazines and catalogues, many then adapted by individual builders. In that era when homeownership became available to more Americans than ever before, these more modest, affordable versions of the bungalow came to represent Everyman’s ideal home. Set in newly platted tracts accessible by electric trolleys and, in time, the private automobile, and surrounded by small lawns and gardens, the bungalow offered a slice of country life on a suburban plot.

Although none of Albuquerque’s bungalows approach the scale and ornate detailing of California’s most celebrated Craftsman homes, as a group they comprise the city’s most widespread residential housing type constructed between 1900 and 1930. These decades of popularity coincided with the Southwest’s health-seeker era, when the arrival of thousands of consumptives seeking relief from tuberculosis accounted for much of Albuquerque’s growth. Most of these newcomers followed a regimen prescribed by doctors at the city’s many sanatoria. An essential component was maximum exposure by day to the ever-present sun and, by night, sleeping outdoors in the dry, healing climate.

The bungalow offered an ideal residence in which to undertake this climatological therapy. Many of the more modest bungalows lining the streets leading to the East Mesa became homes for those “chasing the cure.” The homes’ numerous windows let the sunshine in, and their porches became year-round sleeping spaces. To this day the bungalow remains Albuquerque’s most obvious reminder of the city’s health-seeker era; archives and oral histories often identify specific bungalows in which patients resided.

You’ll find the greatest diversity and variety of detail in bungalows in two Albuquerque neighborhoods. My favorite, the old Terrace Addition located at the east side of the Huning Highland Historic District, was platted in 1891 and then replatted in 1905. The addition included Highland Park, the first city park dedicated by a developer as an amenity to attract residents. The sloping park site, with its grove of Siberian elms, offers a natural setting for the line of residences facing Highland along the south. Although one house on the block, constructed in 1928, is an example of the Southwestern style that would surpass the bungalow in popularity by 1930, the other four houses constitute a basic primer in the variety of details defining the bungalow style in Albuquerque.

Constructed between 1910 and 1914, the four residences feature the pitched or broad-hipped roofs with wide overhangs and exposed rafters characteristic of bungalow rooflines. Also apparent are the contrasting orientations toward the street bungalows generally evince; gable ends typically either face or parallel it. The wood-shingle hipped-roof house in the middle of the block, for instance, features a large shingled porch gable facing the street while the gables in the two easternmost houses parallel it. One of these homes features a large additional dormer projecting from the roof, a reminder that the bungalow’s half story above the ground floor often housed additional bedrooms.

The use of stucco, molded concrete block, and, in some models, brick demonstrates how Albuquerque builders deviated from natural materials such as wood and stone, which characterize many of the California Craftsman-style houses. Common to each of these houses is the porch, an essential component of the bungalow. Reflective of the effort to integrate outdoor and indoor living, porches tend to be large. They often extend the length of the façade and sometimes wrap around the side of the house, as in the case of the westernmost house on the block, owned by Debra Brewster. Several porches were added to the home in 1920 when it was the residence of a health seeker.

Another classic element of the bungalow the homes all share is the generous use of windows—Brewster’s home has an astounding 47. Just as porches function to unite the outdoors with the indoors, windows perform a similar function, often appearing in groups of two or more. Either wood casement or wood sash, often with a multi-pane sash over a single large pane, they permit light and fresh air to fill the house. In the many bungalows that include a fireplace, symmetrically arranged casement windows often flank the chimney as well.

The floor plans of these houses mimic most other bungalows’ designs. The living and dining rooms are generally connected, often by a broad archway, to create an airy interior. Generous fenestration offering natural light and wide, shading eaves outside enhance the sense of spaciousness. This natural feeling is further imparted by dark-veneer wood trim and built-ins such as nooks, window seats, bookcases, and cupboards. Each house, set on a slope, offers evidence of the owner’s effort to connect the residence’s landscape with the park facing it, emphasizing the natural setting with which bungalows are traditionally associated.

The neighborhoods west and north of Downtown also offer a rich array of bungalows. Particularly noteworthy is the line of houses along the west side of 14th Street, south of Central Avenue. This neighborhood features the bungalow that renowned environmentalist Aldo Leopold constructed during his tenure as a Forest Service employee in New Mexico. With its front and back porches and multiple windows, it closely connected Leopold with the gardens and fruit trees surrounding his home. It also harkened to the riparian woodlands, or bosque, which in 1920 lay just west of 14th Street and which influenced Leopold as he developed his preservationist philosophy.

North of Central Avenue extending across the historic Fourth Ward and north of Lomas Boulevard toward the old Sawmill district lies perhaps the greatest concentration of bungalows in Albuquerque. Especially in the vicinity of Luna Boulevard and 11th Street, they present a variety of detailing worth savoring on foot. Many of the houses with narrower plans tend to orient their gables toward the street, occasionally offering ornate wood trim in the gable, details that some owners highlight with polychromatic color schemes. Houses with wider plans tend to have gables paralleling the street and often include cross gables and a variety of dormers.

These residences also feature a great variety of piers, or columns, supporting front porches. While some simply consist of milled lumber, others employ contrasting materials such as brick, stone, or stucco. These characteristically taper from an elephantine base to a mere spindle upholding the roof. In a few instances, a pergola, or trellis, forms a secondary porch, sometimes extending as a porte cochere, or canopy, over a driveway leading to a garage tucked away at the rear of the property.

As more Albuquerqueans rediscover their city’s past, more have sought ways to protect the built environment that conveys so much of its history. Consequently, most of the bungalow-rich neighborhoods have been included in historic districts. This recognition has encouraged owners to study their homes’ history and, in many instances, to preserve their historic integrity through sensitive remodeling projects. For many drawn to the urban Southwest because of its temperate climate and rich history, the bungalow continues to represent an ideal housing type.

David Kammer is a historian who lives in Albuquerque.