Vintage River Rock Homes in Los Angeles County, CA
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. A Bungalow plus arts and crafts and a landscape evokes the river rock bungalow.
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 1900's. 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 a 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 natural stone of the big round type. I am drawn to these homes. My eye will not miss them, and I 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 1920's, and the builder of several houses in Russian Village used rocks he picked and mined at no—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
This home has a mixture of smaller cobblestones with the larger stones. The use of white stones on the front of the house is an interesting effect that reflects artistry. The mason accents with 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?
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 origins 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.
Apartments of River Rock ExteriorsClick thumbnail to view full-size
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 walk way. At the rear of the property would be a two story or four duplex to crown off a U shaped mini neighborhood.
If any one is familiar with these apartments in Pomona 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.
Park Place Apartments, Pomona , CAClick thumbnail to view full-size
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.
- The Art of Building a House of Stone
Pictures and blog about building a stone house.
1. Gehbhard, David and Winter, Robert. 1985. Architecture in Los Angeles, pp.410. Salt Lake City.
© 2009 Sherry Venegas