While idyllic images of California architecture usually involve Mediterranean red tiled roofs and white stucco walls or a rustic, sprawling ranch, true California architecture is more complex. Early Spanish and Mexican occupation of the area that is now California had a significant impact on the built environment that has evolved in the State over the past two centuries, but it was not the only influence. Eastern architects also migrated with the gold-seeking 49ers. These architects and east-coast immigrants brought with them contemporary Victorian tastes. Over time, other factors have influenced the architecture of the San Francisco Bay area, which today contains a fascinating variety of commercial, institutional, and domestic buildings.
Unlike other states, there are no architectural remains in California of construction that might have taken place prior to European colonization. The traditional architectural practices of both the Spanish, and later Mexican, immigrants were easily adopted in Alta California because of the moderate climate and abundance of the familiar adobe material. Adobe refers not only to the mud building material, but also the structure that was created with it. Adobe was the prevalent material used in the Bay Area through the gold-rush period, and there were no wooden-frame buildings in San Francisco until the 1830s. The building program of the Spanish colonialists began in 1769, with the establishment of the first mission (San Diego de Acalá) of what was to become a chain of 21 missions along the California coast. Construction of the missions was undertaken by the padres (monks) of each mission. The Santa Clara mission, the eighth mission established, was the work of a padre who had built extensively in Mexico for Father Junípero Serra, the influential Franciscan missionary who established nine early missions in California. Most missions were adobe with tile roofs with wide eaves to protect the walls from rain. Not long after the transfer of California to Mexican control in 1822, the Mission system was secularized and many of the missions were abandoned, plundered for building materials, and deteriorated quickly.