Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bungle-Ode

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We found this article recently while looking at Bungalow renovation websites. It's a great piece of period humor responding to the sudden proliferation of bungalows in California about a hundred years ago. We love the P.G. Wodehouse/ S.J. Perleman voice and the snarky architecture in-jokes.


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Bungle-ode by Ern. Freese
first published in The Architect and Engineer of California in March of 1918. 


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A Bungalow is a species of inhabitable mushroom that springs up over night on vacant lots. It might be more comprehensibly defined as the manifestation of a peculiar style of Western domestic architecture that causes lady tourists from the two-storied East to be precipitated into involuntary and rapturous comments, such as "Oh! How cute!"


Architecturally speaking, the bungalow is a composite of Swiss chalet, Japanese tea-house, Frank Lloyd-Wright leaded glass, Spanish hacienda, Chinese influence, Mission furniture, monstrous originality, disappearing beds, and disillusioning appearance.

What? You are incredulous? Listen, then. Allow me to describe one of these bungalows as I hypothetically view it from where I sit. No, I shall first describe the whole flock.

"Flock" is the proper term. They appear to have just "lit," or as if flight were imminent. That is the first impression; restlessness and impermanency, created by the multiplicity of flattened-out gable roofs and enormous flapping eaves, all abristle with fantastically fashioned rafter ends. However, on further survey, it is realized with a jolt that if the bungalow proper takes to flight, at least a part will remain eternally anchored to earth. I refer to the huge piles of masonry--brick, cobblestones, concrete--that constitute the porch piers. For, behold, even though a bungalow have no foundation upon which to rest other than a two-by-six redwood plank, yet in the porch piers must there be at least ten tons of solid masonry to support the two-by-four raftered roof. Why mention the mysteries of ancient Egypt? Imagine future antiquarians discoursing as follows of the days in which we live:
 
"Huge piles of masonry still stand upon the sites of those ancient Western cities. The origin and purpose of these great and numerous Cobble-Isks are shrouded in mystery. The only rational theory by which we can account for their existence is that the people of that Peculiar Era did start to build what were then known as Skyscrapers, but that Land Values changed over night and the project was abandoned because there was no Money in it."

One bungalow in particular attracts my attention. The porch piers of this one are of cobblestone. And the cobblestones are studded with brick--for effect. The effect is that you wonder why the contractor neglected to furnish enough cobbles to finish the job. The rivers are full of them--not contractors: cobbles. They are a dominant note in the scenic grandeur of far Western rivers. These rivers are peculiar; they are upside-down most of the time. That is to say, the water is underneath, the sand and cobbles on top! You simply drive down the river and pluck them.
 
Well, a I have said, the porch piers of this particular bungalow are studded with brick--for effect. You have noted the effect--upon me. Wait. There are four of these great piers, all in a row. At the ground line they are perhaps six feet square, and they rise roofward in sweeping curves of the fourth or fifth dimension to the dizzy height of about seven feet. At this point, the sweeping curves have swept into tangency with the vertical. And here they terminate, two feet square, capped with a chunk of concrete half a foot thick. But the end is not yet. There still intervenes a space of two feet between the top of each pier and the overhead roof-beam. And now--O ye of little understanding--I beseech ye to behold the monstrous originality of the bungalow builders! This intervening space of two feet is occupied by a four-by-four stick of timber that rests in supreme and supercilious stability upon its enormous base of stone. This construction is artistic. What? I repeat--artistic. It is moreover delightfully frank--not Frank-Lloyd-Wright: frank. For it acknowledges the fact that instead of a tonnage of masonry to support that paper roof, all that is actually required is a four-inch stick of Oregon pine!
 
In the end-spaces between these piers are described graceful catenaries. A Catenary is no part of cat or canary. It is the curve described by a hanging chain. Perhaps I should have said that between these piers hang chains, describing catenaries. Then describing on my part would end into the eternal masonry of the piers. They replace the antiquated classic balustrade--and they serve a useful purpose (beauty and utility should be co-existent)--they serve as swings for children. Not necessarily the bungalow-dwellers' children, but your children, my children, the children of the next-door neighbors, and the children of generations yet unborn. The chains are procured from the manufacturers of harbor dredges and also from the builders of steel derricks.
 
Farther along on bungalow row is what is technically known as an "aeroplane." This particular aeroplane is a bi-plane--that is to say, it has two sets of white planes--two paper roofs, one above the other. The upper roof hovers over a second-floor sleeping apartment. The walls of the sleeping apartment are set back, all around, from the walls of the story beneath. This is an aeroplane of the bungalow army. It is also a highly successful combination of freight-train-caboose and Japanese pagoda. And the Chinese influence is decidedly marked in the jig-sawed, tip-tilted rafter ends. Other influences are also in evidence.
 
Another bungalow exhibits a melee of original and startling timber work. The starting point of it is that it does not crash to earth of its own weight. Mighty timbers--with ends cut into every conceivable form of curve known to higher geometry, planing-mill mechanics and jigsaws--are piled up this way and the other ways in a bewildering and spiked-together intricacy that causes the beholder to gasp in unbelief. Theoretically, this bewildering intricacy is the "support" of the over-gravitation is an undisputed fact. Wherefore, these flapping, wing-like, overhanging eaves of two-by-four rafters sag under the very weight of their aforementioned "supports," and a typical bungalesque down-drooping roof curve manifests itself just beyond the wall line. Have patience. Not yet have you learned all the wonders of the bungalow. Enter. Grasp the ponderous store-front handle of that four-by-six-eight slab of solid oak, and come in. Solid oak? Ah--vain and for the nonce are the front doors of the bungalow builders, for the paper veneer on that door is already wrinkling its back where the sun hits it. But come in.
 
Look out! Don't open the door too wide--"twill crash into the Mission rocker. And if the rocker starts rocking, "twill smash the leaded glass of the book-case doors. Now look at the mantlepiece and the beamed ceiling. All of solid mahog--Oh!--one-by-six Oregon pine boards nailed together and stained--stained out of all semblance to Oregon pine boards.
 
You are curious as to the meaning of that lowered ceiling-beam occurring midway between the front door and the kitchen. Ho! Ho! Surely you are from the far, far East--mayhap from Massachusetts. Listen. That particular beam is the dividing line between this and that, "this" being the living-room and "that" being the dining-room.
 
Follow the path into the kitchen. Careful. Don't bump your shins on that seat-end. Oh, I nearly forgot--that built-in seat conceals the head-end of a perambulating bed. The feet-end projects into the bedroom closet. The roof of the bed-space is the floor of the closest, and the floor of the closet is three steps above the floor of the bed-room. If you stand up straight in the closet you bump your head on the ceiling. 

Isn't this kitchen a wondrous thing! In comparison, a dining-car kitchen becomes a vast and immeasurable space. Stand there by the sink. You can reach everything in the room.
 
And this is the bed-room. Where is the bed? In the wall behind that mirror. Step back in the kitchen and I will let the bed down. There! That's how it works. But now if you insist upon seeing the bath-room, I shall have to fold up the bed again or we shall have to crawl over it--we are on the wrong side!
 
Enough. I would a confession make.

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Once upon a time, a very dear friend of mine casually remarked that she would "just love to live in a bungalow." Her casualness was affected. For she thereupon confided to me that she had one "all picked out," and that it was "the dearest thing." She had an acute attack of bungalomania. But, as I have said, she is a very dear friend of mind. Would I go with her and see that bungalow? I would. And I did. "Isn't it just adorable?" she pleaded. I repeat, she is a very dear friend of mine. So I didn't kill her outright. I let her live and suffer. We rented that bungalow!

6 comments:

Stefaneener said...

That is pretty funny! Especially the litany of inside furnishings.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

It pretty much hits the (faux Spanish) nail on the head.

wassamatta_u said...

Beautiful!!!

Mel said...

Oh, I adore this! Thank you for posting this, it made my morning. This summer I went on a reading binge, and although Gene Stratton Porter was a raving racist, "Her Father's Daughter" was an enjoyable read for the dabbling in architecture & the bits about how to cook & prepare plants native to California. This somehow reminds me of that, in a tangential kind of way.

Bungalow Boxer said...

I totally have bungalowmania! However, our bungalow is on steroids..... ;-)

(See my faceboook timeline pic)

zippiknits said...

my favorite house in the whole WIDE world is a craftsman "bungalow" in Santa Cruz. Great article about bungalomania. Mushrooms indeed! lol! Thanks for the smiles and all. :-}

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