“Boomerang”, the 1926-28 Neville Hampson-designed Spanish Mission mansion in Elizabeth Bay that solidified the desirability of the style amongst Sydney’s elite.
In the first 20 years of the 20th Century, a renewed interest in California’s (and to a lesser extent Florida’s) Spanish Colonial past was sparked and the outcome was the widespread use of Spanish Colonial architectural idioms in domestic architecture. The Revival’s global introduction was through the expansive new building construction associated with Panama-California Exposition in San Diego in 1915 and quickly spread in warm weather climates across the English speaking world.
Furthermore, “Hollywood stars of the inter-war years also gave the style a boost by favouring it for their luxurious, well-publicised homes—as did the press baron William Randolph Hearst when he commissioned Julia Morgan to design his grandiose San Simeon. While many such buildings completely lack the monastic virtues of simplicity and reticence, Spanish Mission is still an appropriate label. It was the aura of romance surrounding the old missions, rather than architectural specifics, which generated and maintained enthusiasm for the style.” (Apperly, Irving, Reynolds, 1989)
But far more important than the influence of Hollywood was the architect and University of Sydney professor Leslie Wilkinson. According to Robin Boyd, “[n]o decorative fashion of the twentieth century owes as much to one man as did the Spanish Mission to Professor Leslie Wilkinson.” The Vaucluse home he designed for himself - Greenway - in 1922 showcased the style to Sydneysiders to wide acclaim. The Spanish Mission home was “planned carefully for Australia’s hot days.” Boyd continues, “[t]hey had wide, sheltered terraces screened by arcades…they ran to an open U-plan with a private central court.” However, in reality, such rambling Spanish Mission homes only appeared at the top-end with mansions such as the flamboyant (and Moorish-influenced) Boomerang and the understated Southern Highlands retreat “Shadowood”. Perhaps more common was the use of a diagonal entryway, a floor plan treatment often employed by F. Glynn Gillings to attract more light and recess an otherwise blunt street frontage.
Recessed entryway in a Spanish Mission mansion shortly after construction. Unknown architect, but very F. Glynn Gilling in its aesthetic.
Spanish Mission style had far more versatility than one of its contemporaries: the Californian Bungalow. While the Bungalow was popularized by the middle class and proliferated in the new suburbs; Spanish Mission first experienced popularity in the upper echelon of Sydney real estate. Almost immediately, the style could be seen “filling in” undeveloped portions of the established suburbs of Mosman and Bellevue Hill and in lavish apartment blocks lining the water at Bondi Beach, Manly, and Elizabeth Bay.
Interestingly enough (and worthy of a post of its own) posterity has been far kinder to the Spanish Mission style in Melbourne than it has in Sydney.
Architect Leslie Wilkinson’s “Shadowood” in Burradoo in the Southern Highlands with its prominent courtyard.
Here is the Radical Terrace’s rundown on the most significant Spanish Mission residences currently on the market in Sydney:
1. 46 Vaucluse Road, a 1920s F. Glynn Gilling design, currently Sydney’s priciest Spanish Mission home on the market with an asking price above the $15m mark. Significant for its size, grandeur, by-the-book architectural detailings, and of course its price tag. Tragically, the interiors are not worthy of note. Not heritage listed.
2. The waterfront property in Manly - Casa Mia - has been a Radical Terrace fixture this past year. It’s typical of Spanish Mission mansions that quickly attained popularity in Manly during its growth in the inter-war years. The property is not Heritage Listed and the home comes with plans for demolition and the construction of 4 modern apartments. Priced in the low-$4mils.
3. This derelict Spanish Mission home near Sirius Cove in Mosman typifies the middle class adoption of the style. While almost identical in floor plan to the Bungalow, certain architectural treatments (stucco with a smeared pise effect, groups of triple arches, Cordova tiles, etc) distinguish the exterior aesthetic. 9 Sirius Cove is listed with $1.6m+ hopes as a development site and comes with approved plans for a multi-level modern dwelling.
4. Fronting the Pacific Highway in Turramurra, 1A Warrangi Street is unique in that it typifies the Spanish Mission style in its floor plan as well. The home spans its corner lot, opening up to capture Western sun. The entrance foyer, accessed by a three-step rise, anchors the home. Also of note: the Barley-sugar columns, another fixture in the architectural style. The home is to auction with $900k+ hopes.
5. An iconic - if not prototypical - interior of a double-storey Spanish Mission mansion in Bellevue Hill. The F. Glynn Gilling-designed home at 69 Kambala Road is currently on the market with mid-$6mil price expectations. While the front exterior of the home is a prime example of the style, the rear resembles more of the restrained inter-war neo-classical style Gilling is better known for.
6. Now sandwiched between modern mid-rise apartment blocks, ‘Dungowan’ was once the largest building in Manly and anchored part of an architecturally cohesive Manly beachfront. Its construction in 1918 makes it one of the earliest examples of Spanish Mission in Sydney, however purists would argue that it only hints at Spanish Mission with its use of Juliet balconies, rendered stucco exterior, and tile roof. In reality, it’s considered to be of the Inter-War Free Classical Style. Apartment 17, a 2-bedroom apartment in the renovated block is for sale with $900k+ expectations.