False Front, 1860-1905

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False Front

This house in Richmond, Maine, is a rare example of a false front employed on a residential building. In this case, the false front, in Greek Revival style, masks an older cape style house.     (Photo: Deb Holmes)

The vertical extension of the front of a building beyond the roofline createsthe false front style. Almost always used for commercial purposes, falsefront buildings gave an air of dignity to a quickly growing town by providingvisual continuity along the street.

The style was popular in the West, after the California Gold Rush of 1849, asa way to make hastily built town buildings look more like the impressivecommercial buildings of the East. In Colorado, the false fronts did double duty:They made buildings look more impressive; and they also hid the view of the surroundingmountains that reminded residents they were not in the East. 

In other parts of the country, the style was employed in smaller towns as ameans to create a more urban atmosphere.

false front drawing

-- National  Park Service graphic

Rarely was the false front was used in residences. Houses possessing a falsefront tended to be along the town's main street. The new front allowed an olderresidence to conform to the general streetscape. The false front house picturedabove is along Richmond's Main Street.Richmond was a thriving ship building community in the 1800s andpossesses many fine commercial and residential buildings.

False front buildings  in their ornamentationusually echoed the architectural styles of the day. Popular styles includedItalianate and Jacobean. A bracketed cornice brand the building Italianate.Stepped or curvilinear fronts marked the Jacobean style, popular in the South.The semi-circular cornice, shown in the drawing above, provided space for a signin a commercial building.

york pa
An Italianate false front on a commercial building in York, Pennsylvania.

richmond laundry
Italianate false front, Richmond, Maine.

richmond ff
The Greek Revival false front, also pictured above, is symmetrical. It appears on both sides of the house.

(Click on any photo for a larger view.)

richmond false front
Another Italianate false front in Richmond.

(Photos: Deb Holmes)

This story is part of an occasional series by The Old HouseWeb on housing styles in America. Clickhere to see other stories on housing styles.

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