The Mission Revival style was part of an architectural movement, beginning in the late 19th century, for the revival and reinterpretation of American colonial styles. Mission Revival drew inspiration from the late 18th and early 19th century Spanish missions in California. It is sometimes termed California Mission Revival, particularly when used elsewhere, such as in New Mexico and Texas which have their own unique regional architectural styles. In Australia, the style is known as Spanish Mission.
The Mission Revival movement was most popular between 1890 and 1915, in numerous residential, commercial and institutional structures, particularly schools and railroad depots.
All of the 21 Franciscan Alta California missions (established 1769–1823), including their chapels and support structures, shared certain design characteristics. These commonalities arose because the Franciscan missionaries all came from the same places of previous service in Spain and colonial Mexico City in New Spain. The New Spain religious buildings the founding Franciscan saw and emulated were of the Spanish Colonial style, which in turn was derived from Renaissance and Baroque examples in Spain. Also, the limited availability and variety of building materials besides adobe near mission sites or imported to Alta California limited design options. Finally, the missionaries and the indigenous Californians had minimal construction skills and experience with European designs.
The missions' style of necessity and security evolved around an enclosed courtyard, using massive adobe walls with broad unadorned plaster surfaces, limited fenestration and door piercing, low-pitched roofs with projecting wide eaves and non-flammable clay roof tiles, and thick arches springing from piers. Exterior walls were coated with white plaster (stucco), which with wide side eaves shielded the adobebrick walls from rain. Other features included long exterior arcades, an enfilade of interior rooms and halls, semi-independent bell-gables, and at more prosperous missions curved 'Baroque' gables on the principal facade with towers.
These architectural elements were replicated, in varying degrees, accuracy, and proportions, in the new Mission Revival structures. Simultaneous with the original style's revival was an awareness in California of the actual missions fading into ruins and their restoration campaigns, and nostalgia in the quickly changing state for a 'simpler time' as the novel Ramona popularized at the time. Contemporary construction materials and practices, earthquake codes, and building uses render the structural and religious architectural components primarily aesthetic decoration, while the service elements such as tile roofing, solar shielding of walls and interiors, and outdoor shade arcades and courtyards are still functional.
The Mission Revival style of architecture, and subsequent Spanish Colonial Revival style, have historical, narrative—nostalgic, cultural—environmental associations, and climate appropriateness that have made for a predominant historical regional vernacular architecture style in the Southwestern United States, especially in California.
Eleven railroad stations built from 1926–1929 by architect Arthur Gerber in an adoptation referred to as "Insull Spanish" in the Chicago suburbs and two in Northwest Indiana. The Beverly Shores, Indiana station has been restored and is the best example.
The Main Building at Auckland Grammar School in Auckland, New Zealand, built in 1916, was designed by Auckland architects Arnold and Abbott in the Spanish Mission style, inspired by their travels in California
St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Berkeley, California, designed by William Curlett, built 1902, among the first buildings built in the Mission Revival style in California.
Many Catholic churches in the southwestern United States also employ elements of this style.
^Weitze, p. 14: "Railroad literature described the missions as 'Worthy a glance from the tourists [sic] eye,' with the Southern Pacific, from 1888 to 1890, publishing numerous pamphlets that included sections on the missions."