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The Origin of the Sea Pines “Pinetop Finish” for Stucco

The popularity of stucco commercial buildings, townhouses, and homes is prevalent on Hilton Head Island in Sea Pines Plantation and several of the other master planned communities. This architectural finish is common in southern architecture and was considered a sign of wealth in the 19th century. Throughout history, stucco was considered to be a richer finish than the brick it was covering. Brick was a material found in abundance as it was often used as a ballast in trade ships arriving from England and those that could afford to do so covered brick in order to put an elegant finish on their homes.

As history progressed, stucco continued to be a popular finish in Southern architecture not because it covered “common” bricks, but because it was considered to exude southern style. With such a long history, stucco has seen many developments in its application, one such development being the introduction of “pinetop finish” stucco in the Sea Pines community on Hilton Head Island. 

In 1956 Charles Fraser persuaded his father to sell him 4,500 acres on Hilton Head’s south end and started Sea Pines Company with his brother Joe Fraser, Jr. During his tenure at Yale University, Charles was introduced to a landscape architect named Hideo Sasaki who at the time was considered to have unconventional ideas regarding development that respected the environment. Sasaki and the Fraser brothers created a master plan that included strict land-use covenants for Sea Pines and as development got under way the Fraser brothers studied ways in which to build houses so that the architecture would blend with the surrounding landscape and native fauna. 

During this research, the Fraser brothers along with several of the Sea Pines Company executives took a fact-finding trip to the Mediteranian. Their mission was to find the most idyllic harbor town in existence as inspiration for their new development. That town was Port-Grimaud. The seaside town created by French architect François Spoerry was created by modifying the marshes of the river Giscle on the bay of Saint-Tropez. Built with channels in a Venetian manner, but with French "Fishermans" style houses resembling those in Saint-Tropez, Spoerry called his style "L’architecture douce", which translates literally into “soft architecture.” The Fraser brothers fell in love with the textured stucco style home in the port and brought the idea back to their fledgling development in Sea Pines. The idea was to develop a heavy textured style of stucco that would blend with the environment of Hilton Head Island in keeping with the ideas behind Sasaki’s master plan.

In the 1960s, all of the early stucco work in Sea Pines Plantation was being done by H.T. Beasley & Sons. After listening to the description of the textured stucco that the brothers wanted to develop, Harry presented Joe Fraser with several rounds of samples, none of which were to the liking of the Fraser brothers. In order to show Beasley the look that he desired, Joe Fraser broke a branch off of a pine tree, stuck the pine top of the bow into the bucket of finish-coat plaster, and slung it up on the base coat. He then took a trowel and lightly knocked it down to make the heavy textured look. Over time, Mr Beasley and his crew perfected the technique so that they did not have to use a pine top, but the name stuck and the specification of “pinetop finish” was born.

Today, smooth stucco has come back into style but there are a few buildings left in Harbor Town and Sea Pines that demonstrate the popular pinetop finish of the 1960s and 1970s that were meant to blend the architecture with the natural surrounding environment. The pinetop finish stucco was so popular with Hilton Head architecture that it is the main photograph on the book jacket of Margaret Greer’s Three Decades of Hilton Head Island Architecture: 1965 - 1995.  And for inspiration, the book and post cards that Charles and Joe Fraser brought back from Port-Grimaud remain in the Fraser Construction offices as a reminder of where the “Pinetop” texture originated. 

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