Homes from early Spanish settlements are found in St. Augustine, Florida; San Antonio, Texas; Sante Fe, New Mexico; Tucson, Arizona; and along the California coast. Relatively few survive, in part because of their construction.
Though some were built of stone, most have adobe walls, which consist of bricks of sun-dried clay. Adobe walls, which are often three feet or more thick at the base, are covered with a wash of clay or gypsum to give them a uniform appearance. Adobe walls require continued maintenance to survive the elements, as rainwater entering an unprotected wall will simply wash it away. Countless examples have been lost over the centuries to abandonment and the onslaught of wind and rain.
While Spanish Colonial houses in various regions of the country differ from one another, most share certain elements. Most are one-story buildings. Their roofs are flat or low-pitched and extend over covered porches. At the time of original construction, most adobes were single-room structures, with additional rooms added over time. Typically the rooms do not open into one another, but onto the porch or, in larger examples, onto a common courtyard surrounded by the house and attendant buildings. The rear of many Spanish Colonial houses opens onto a patio or garden.
The roof frame often consists of vigas, horizontal logs laid across the top of the adobe walls. Layers of sticks and branches crisscross the vigas and, in turn, are covered with a thick coating of clay. In some regions, baked clay tiles were used as the roof surface.
Spanish Colonial homes tended to be very utilitarian structures: missions built for the church and governmental buildings were more likely to be ornamented with Baroque detailing, giving them a more stylish appearance.
REMODELER’S NOTES: These houses are rare indeed since only a few years of neglect can reduce them to unrestorable piles of mud. The remodeler with a true Spanish Colonial house should attempt to conserve as much of the original building material as possible, in particular the adobe and the vigas.