Sherry is retired from telecommunications and resides in California. She shares photos and travel experiences on the Internet.
River Rock Homes in California
The bungalow pictured above belongs to Southern California. The arts and crafts ideals of the early 20th century were based on a natural blend with the landscape.
Look north from any place in the Inland Empire of Los Angeles County and you will see the San Gabriel Mountains. Look down, and you will see rocks. The stones are a natural outpouring of the mountains. Rock, gravel, and granite have all been mined from the San Gabriels. A little gold has also been extracted.
The river rock house was a popular design in the 1900s. This was a result of rocks being readily available in the Foothill Cities and north Los Angeles County. During the first half of the 20th century, the new settlers to the land of sun and good weather did not stop with mere houses of stone. They also built high churches and two-story homes as well.
You may find a cobblestone house in the east or field stone fireplaces in the midwest, but here the whole structure is of natural stone of the big round type. I am drawn to these homes. My eye will not miss them, and I always take note and go back with my camera.
How to Construct Homes With River Rock
This is a tough subject to find on the Internet. A long-time neighbor of Russian Village, Claremont mentioned that her house walls started with old sidecar panels. The builder used them as a vertical guide and built up the walls against it. When the river rock wall was finished, the panels were taken down and plaster was used inside to create smooth walls in the house. It seems like a tremendous amount of cement would need to be used, but imagine the insulation that is created. Bags of cement were very cheap in the 1920s, and the builder of several houses in Russian Village used rocks he picked and mined at no cost—except for labor and time.
The technique he used was probably slipform masonry. The rocks gathered are from the San Gabriel Mountains, a newer mountain range in geologic time. Hence, they are still shedding stones and rocks.
Constructing River Rock Walls
The video below illustrates how a back surface (such as siding) was used to pile the rocks against. Watching the video prompts Youtube to suggest several new videos by builders using the same technique in the 21st century. The information is becoming available.
The river rock of LA County is still a very unique look. I have seen some rock structures torn down, but in all, these buildings are being saved as historical treasures.
West Side View
The home in the top picture has a mixture of smaller cobblestones with larger stones. The use of white stones on the front of the house is an interesting effect that reflects artistry. The mason accents the reddish stones on the westside. The present owners have really brought out the colors with the use of the pots and by actually using white for the trim in front and red on the westside. The designers for this house were very artistic. Are the red hues for the sunset?
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Northern La Verne
The three houses above are all located in the downtown area of La Verne. The home directly above this text was built north of Foothill Boulevard as an orange grower's home. It was situated among acres of oranges trees.
This house has pretty details. Note the elements outlining the chimney, windows and corners of the house. The fireplace top is built at an angle, and it almost has storybook touches. The stone was placed carefully, and the look is neat and clean.
This house (like the red-accented townhouse above) had someone to choose each rock for shape and color. Was that the very person who placed and cemented it too? The designer may have had detailed drawings for the rock placement for an artisan or workmen to follow as the walls grew vertically.
Imagine several sorted piles of uniform-sized rocks for the separate elements here. I see at least three basic shapes. The stones are all very round from centuries of rain tumbling them down from Mt. Baldy in the mountain range above. There are flat, long, big stones and small stones available for accents scattered throughout the whole design. All these stones are of the same color. Good choice because the pattern becomes the eye-catcher.
The distinctive California bungalow has some influence from the English in India. The homes they adopted were airy with many windows facing wide porches or verandas. The word in India was bangala.
Information about river rock construction is not readily available on the internet. I will add an update when information on construction methods is found.
Park Place Apartments
Another trend in Southern California was the courtyard apartments. Many had small separate units going up each side of the lot with entrances facing into a central walkway. At the rear of the property would be a two-story or four duplex to crown off a U-shaped mini neighborhood.
If anyone is familiar with these apartments in Pomona in the earlier days, I would love to hear from you. Leave me your email below. The stucco of the present day seems out of place and I would like to know what the original look was.
Lummis House In Los Angeles
The house below was started in 1898 by Charles Lummis. It stands along the Arroyo Seco River that flows towards Los Angeles from the Pasadena area.
It is a National Historical Site. Was this house the area's first example of the river rock house?
Read about Charles Lummis on Wikipedia.
- The Art of Slipforming: A Stone Masonry Primer
Short tutorial in Mother Earth News. A full sized form is used in back with a shorter movable form in the front which is moved after each section is set.
- Slip FormWall Construction
Short discussion on a house project using slipforming.
1. Gehbhard, David and Winter, Robert. 1985. Architecture in Los Angeles, pp.410. Salt Lake City.
© 2009 Sherry Venegas
Sherry Venegas (author) from La Verne, CA on January 08, 2018:
These homes are a good example of making a house out of materials on hand. In the desert adobe was used, on the east coast wood was available. In LA County these rocks are washed down from the mountains rimming the LA Basin.
Unusualhomes from London on January 08, 2018:
Really interesting article, I certainly have not come across these before, almost cartoon-like - cannot but help of thinking of the Flintstones...!
Sherry Venegas (author) from La Verne, CA on February 04, 2016:
I actually have not found or researched anything about the houses that have been constructed with river rock. Pomona Library had one booklet about one house on Towne and Baseline in Claremont, but I did not take notes from it. Some of these homes are very unique and show artisan elements, the main reason I was drawn into searching them out in eastern LA County. Sherry
barry schweiger aia on February 04, 2016:
Sherry - we, two of us, are also documenting these same river rock buildings throughout California. So far we've located some 70 such buildings and still counting. A big part of our effort is to really understand the people who built these structures and I'm very interested in the sources of history you have dug up. Would you kindly share this. Thank you
Virginia Allain from Central Florida on May 13, 2013:
I've seen similar styles in the Ozarks and had thought about making a page about those. Such a great look for a house. Interesting history and architectural info.
Sherry Venegas (author) from La Verne, CA on June 21, 2012:
@anonymous: I will check these towns someday.
Sherry Venegas (author) from La Verne, CA on June 12, 2012:
@anonymous: Yep, that grouping has been a fascination of mine. The curved wall on the corner section may have been a fruit stand. Have you noticed the opening to the other buildings in the back. I have them in Dilapidated Rock Structures. I have other river rock buildings I still need to photo.
anonymous on June 11, 2012:
This is very interesting. There are hundreds, if not thousands of these early 20th century river rock buildings in southern California. There's a nice group of river rock buildings that are in ruins at the southwest corner of the intersection of Baseline Road and Monte Vista Avenue in Claremont. They're surrounded by a chain-link fence for protection because they're probably historically significant. You can still get a good look at them through the fence. My guess is that they were part of one of the vineyard operations that flourished in that area a century ago.
anonymous on May 06, 2012:
Lots of rock houses in Mentone, and some in Alta Loma, they are on Hillside or Wilson can't remember.
Morgannafay on February 22, 2012:
These are some beautiful bungalows, I would love to live in one of them. can we steal a bungalow? lol. I want one now!
GetSillyProduct on June 19, 2011:
gorgeous bungalows, I wonder how structurally sound they are in earthquakes being in California and all. I bet they are sturdy as a rock (bad pun, I'm sorry)
Sherry Venegas (author) from La Verne, CA on October 06, 2010:
Yes, some contractors still do this. A new one was built in "Russian Village, Claremont, CA" See the link above. I do want to see the Sunland Valley location. When I do I will add the Photos here.
anonymous on October 06, 2010:
There's an area in Sun Valley / Shadow Hills Ca. known as the "Stonehurst District" which includes a stone rec center as well as a couple of streets with a total of about 30 stone bungalows in which most have been kept original. Really cool.
Is there anyone that still designs and builds with River Rock? I was thinking of doing something around the Jacksonville area of Oregon.
Linda Jo Martin from Post Falls, Idaho, USA on September 26, 2010:
I love looking at alternative architecture. These homes are a treasure. We've got several here in Happy Camp - including the entire Grange Hall - there's a photo of that on my Happy Camp lens. I had to enlarge my screen with the F11 key to enjoy the lens more! Here in Happy Camp we've got huge amounts of rounded river rock - a natural building material. The Klamath River and Indian Creek run through this town and the rocks are everywhere.
KimGiancaterino on September 14, 2010:
What a great collection of photographs. There are several houses like this in my neighborhood. I would love to have one myself. It's fun to drive around Pasadena and see the interesting architectural details.
Kiwisoutback from Massachusetts on September 13, 2010:
Beautiful home. I missed this when I was in Southern California, I'll have to look it up next time I'm there. It looks like it combines a number of different styles from different eras, it's a unique home.
Deb Kingsbury from Flagstaff, Arizona on September 10, 2010:
I just love these homes and can't decide on a favorite. I'm a fan of smaller homes and have always really like the arts & crafts style. I wish I could go inside some--no, make that all--of these.
Sherry Venegas (author) from La Verne, CA on September 07, 2010:
@resabi: I have wondered about the apartments also. My friend who grew up in Pomona says they were always that way. I do not think so. I also think it was done later. If I can go by old pics and some older houses I have witnessed in South Pasdaena it probably was shingles or horizontal planking. If I ever find out I will add it as an Update on the lens. Thank you so much for the Angel Blessing.
resabi on September 07, 2010:
Your passion for your subject is evident. I'm familiar with bungalows -- lived in one on the East Coast -- not rock, I'm sorry to say, but definitely Arts and Crafts with elephant leg pillars. Loved it and the huge porch. I was looking at the apartment pix and wonder whether the second stories were added later. That would explain the odd lack of harmony in the buildings and the different materials (didn't they use a lot of stucco in the 1940s?). See that? Got me involved! Blessed with pleasure.
Heather Burns from Wexford, Ireland on March 29, 2010:
Love these houses and the whole Arts and Crafts movement. I live in So Cal so I see these. There are many of them in San Antonio Tx too, for the same reasons, lots of rock available. It's my favorite style of architecture...along with mid century modern.
blue22d on August 23, 2009:
I love River Rock Bungalow. Old houses I have a thing fore. I would have loved to have been an architect. Five stars my friend and a lensroll to my lens which you have already seen: Historical Houses of Ventura, Calif. Thanks for looking at my lens. I will be awaiting for your series.