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Exotic Revival

The Exotic Revival style of architecture was popular from approximately the 1830's to the 1930's in all parts of the U.S. Exotic Revival took its inspiration from Egyptian and Moorish architecture and was most often used for theaters, hotels, apartments, and gardens. There are examples of Exotic Revival style private residences, but these are less common. In an article in The Journal of San Diego History, Helen McCormick Hobbs-Halmay presents insights into why the Egyptian expression of the Exotic Revival came into being. In her meticulously researched essay, she notes that the world was fascinated by news reports of the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799, and again by the opening of King Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922. These events raised public awareness and stimulated the incorporation of Egyptian motifs into American architecture.

Characteristics of Exotic Revival style include Egyptian design elements of battered walls, friezes, columns or pillars made to look like sheaves of papyrus or topped with palm or lotus capitals, and incorporation of obelisks and winged disks. Moorish details include domes, arches, minaret style spires, balconets, and elaborate mosaic tile work.

The Exotic Revival Style marked America's desire to borrow architecture from all around the world, not just from the Continent. At one extreme, it provided homeowners an opportunity for one-of-a-kind houses in otherwise staid communities. On the other extreme, an Exotic Revival home could be garish, ugly, or even comical. Borrowing from Moorish, Egyptian, or other Middle Eastern styles, the Exotic Revival made its first appearances as early as 1830, initially in theaters, showplace pavilions, or hotels. At the turn of the 20th century, it began to emerge in housing, particularly on the West Coast, with Moorish or Turkish archways, domes, turrets, and minarets on asymmetrical homes.

Today's versions retain elements like terra cotta, battered walls, mosaic decorative touches, columns that taper to lotus leaves or palm fronds. The Neo-Moorish Style is sometimes used today to add decorative touches to homes, restaurants, hotels, and attractions. Typically the homes or commercial buildings are surrounded with palm trees, plants and ponds with a Middle Eastern feel.


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