When I was newly married we often visited my mom in San Diego. One day, walking near Sunset Cliffs, I spotted the marvelous pueblo-revival Gecko House (all figures), so-named by me for a saurian decoration on the façade. We are far from pueblo lands here, which makes this house all the more astonishing.

Figure 1. Gecko house façade, 2003. 1082 Devonshire St. San Diego, CA. Photo: author.

There is little about this house that does not compel admiration for the owner(s) who commissioned it, the architect(s) who designed it, and the construction crew that built it. Nil non laudabile vidi, as they say. Well, except for the landscape architecture, but I’ll come back to that.

Figure 2. Gecko house façade. 1082 Devonshire St. San Diego, CA. Photo: Google maps.

Seen from the side (figure 2), the house reveals that it, like so many San Diego rebuilds on small 1940s and 1950s lots, has been extended out toward the property lines in most directions, and, of course, it is now a two-story house.

Figure 3. Gecko house from above. 1082 Devonshire St. San Diego, CA. Photo: Google maps.

Yet it is modest in comparison with its fellows on the same street (figure 3), and in front it graciously keeps back from the sidewalk, benefitting the dynamically massed façade with its articulated multi-planed surfaces by letting us stand back and get a good look at it (figure 4). Had the house been built on the same ground plan but as a simple rectangular box, it would have had an additional eighth part of the space the house now has. That sacrifice by the commissioning family was not negligible and shows a dedication to creating something different.

Figure 4. Gecko house façade. 1082 Devonshire St. San Diego, CA. Photo: Google maps.

If the telltale irregular massing points to the pueblo-revival style, the decoration also helps: turquoise tile inset in—and contrasting with—the imitation adobe walls; imitation log floor and roof beams extending out from the walls; and, wonderfully, wooden stick ladders on the terraces of the upper floors (figure 1) present 20 years ago but gone now (figure 4). The gecko named the house, but it was these ladders that really made the place for me: having sacrificed so much potential house space to achieve the pueblo effect, the owners went all-in right down to realistic ladders. The latter probably came down from some consideration of risk management.

The aerial view shows that the rear, private portion of the house has some very un-pueblo rooftop decking and porches, stairs, and railing in white iron. This is, however, kept well out of sight from the street, and does not spoil the effect.

Figure 5. Gecko house façade. 1082 Devonshire St. San Diego, CA. Photo: Google Maps.

Leaving the palm trees aside, since they probably came with the lot, the best of the landscape architecture is the yucca thingy on the right and the bottle-brushy thingy on the left which seems to be trying to fool us into thinking it’s a mesquite (figure 5). But the grass in front grimly subverts the pueblo conceit.

Neighborhood associations are a constant drag on clever exterior design. I’d bet the lawn was not a choice but a default. Yet I know a house not too far from this one built in a fairly convincing midcentury modern glass box style that has a fully-exposed-dirt front yard with strategically placed boulders and cacti. It can be done, and I’d encourage the gecko people to think about it. Admittedly such a yard paradoxically requires a great deal of maintenance. If I owned the house and had a million dollars I’d pave the front yard with giant irregular slabs of Navajo Sandstone.

Still, bless you, gecko people! Your modest building and good taste have enriched our lives.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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