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Vintage River Rock Homes of the Last Century

Updated on February 19, 2017

River Rock Homes in California

The bungalow belongs to Southern California; add the arts and crafts style and one could say it was invented in Southern California. The arts and crafts ideals were based on a natural blend with the landscape. Bungalow, plus arts and crafts, and finally, the landscape equals the river rock bungalow.

Look north from any place in the Inland Empire of Southern California and you will see the San Gabriel Mountains. Look down: you will see rocks. The rocks are a natural outpouring of the mountains. Rock, gravel, and granite have all been mined from the San Gabriels. A little gold too.

Rocks being readily available in the Foothill Cities, and north Los Angeles County, the river rock house, was a popular design in the 1900s. 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 house of stone, they 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 and 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.

river rock home early 20th century
river rock home early 20th century

A House in Old Town La Verne, California.

Town abuts up to the San Gabriel Mtns. Plenty of rocks available. This smaller house has a sleepy town air about it.

West side view of the same house

La Verne, CA

This home has a mixture of smaller cobblestones with the larger, but still not too large. An interesting effect that reflects artistry is the use of white stones on the front of the house. On the west side the mason accents with reddish stones. The present owners have brought out the colors with the use of the pots and actually using white for the trim in front and red on the west side. The designers for this house were very artistic. Are the red hues for the sunset? This house is a gem.

Rock Pillars

California Bungalow
California Bungalow

La Verne, California

The effect of the river rock stone coming out of the ground to support a low house with jutting beam trim is classic arts and crafts and California bungalow.

River Rock Home
River Rock Home

La Verne, California

The very large rocks are used here. Notice the curved entrances and window openings. The vertical accent over the windows is a common treatment.

river rock bungalow
river rock bungalow

La Verne, CA

Where the three houses above are located in the downtown area of La Verne, this one was built north of Foothill Blvd. as an orange grower's home. It was situated among acres of oranges trees.

This house has pretty details. Note the rock outlining of the chimney, windows and corners of the house. The fireplace top is built at an angle. It almost has storybook touches. The rock was placed carefully and the look is neat and clean. Over all it is light gray.

This house like the red accented above had someone to choose each rock for shape and color. If that was the very person who placed and cemented it too? The designer may have had detailed drawings of 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 mountains above. There are flat and long, rather big stones and small stones for accent scattered through the whole design.

All these stones are of the same color. Good choice because the pattern becomes the eye catcher.

Side View a River Rock Built House

California river rock bungalow
California river rock bungalow

The yard of this house has a few old orange trees lined in rows. Detached garage very much looks like it was done later, but it is a very good match. No one could be unhappy with it.

California river rock house
California river rock house

California Bungalow

The distinctive California bungalow had 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. When information on construction methods is found I will add an update.

A bungalow duplex with field stone or river rock construction.

This house is located in Pomona, CA

How to Construct with River Rock - I Have Finally Found the Term Slipform Stone Masonry

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, 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. Seems 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 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.


Books About Slipforming Rock Construction

At the turn of the 19th century this was very popular and a few builders are revisiting the slipform rock technique.

River Rock Walls

Video that illustrates how a back surface, such as siding, was used to pile the rocks against. Watch the video and Youtube refers several new videos by builders using the technique in the new 21st century. 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.


Apartments of River Rock Exteriors - Park Place Apartments

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Thick walled constructionSunny courtyardsCraftsman beamsBoulder bungalow apartmentsPrivate entrancesColorful landscapingPark Place Apartments and very old rubber tree.ca. 1920
Thick walled construction
Thick walled construction
Sunny courtyards
Sunny courtyards
Craftsman beams
Craftsman beams
Boulder bungalow apartments
Boulder bungalow apartments
Private entrances
Private entrances
Colorful landscaping
Colorful landscaping
Park Place Apartments and very old rubber tree.
Park Place Apartments and very old rubber tree.
ca. 1920
ca. 1920

Park Place Apartments

Pomona, CA

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. Sherry

Park Place Apartments, Pomona , CA

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Lummis House / Commons Wikimedia
Lummis House / Commons Wikimedia

Lummis House In Los Angeles

This house was started in 1898 by Charles Lummis. It stands along the Arroyo Seco, a 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.

Fascinated with Rock Structures

This one of a series about the river rock house of Southern California.


Bibliography

1. Gehbhard, David and Winter, Robert. 1985. Architecture in Los Angeles, pp.410. Salt Lake City.

© 2009 Sherry Venegas

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Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    Barry 8 months ago

    Sherry, thanks for your response, sorry I didn't get to it earlier. Our work is overlapping and I'd like to share my findings and learn of yours as well so here is my email to assist (barryschweiger@icloud.com). Well, been searching and driving for 1 1/2 years and found some 200 standing and occupied river rock buildings and more deteriorated and abandoned. one of my favorites are the Rock Inn at Lake Hughes and its surrounding buildings. Barry

  • paperfacets profile image
    Author

    Sherry Venegas 14 months ago from La Verne, CA

    Barry,

    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

  • profile image

    barry schweiger aia 14 months ago

    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

    Barry

  • Virginia Allain profile image

    Virginia Allain 3 years ago from Central Florida

    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.

  • paperfacets profile image
    Author

    Sherry Venegas 4 years ago from La Verne, CA

    @anonymous: I will check these towns someday.

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