One thing I miss in Berkeley is 'the front porch.' I used to wonder about the dearth of porches here, and my husband said it was because there are no warm evenings. Well, that seems like a reasonable explanation to me.
But there aren't any porches down in Los Angeles either, at least not in the numbers you see in other parts of the country. I also don't see any typical 'American porches' in films set in Europe, don't remember seeing any porches in my own brief travels there. So I began to wonder if the American porch, as an extension of a living space, not merely as a covered passageway, is possibly one of those vestigial native american influences we find scattered throughout american culture with no 'provenance' so to speak, because we deny all native american cultural influence as a matter of course.
So, I started my research, looking at the etymology of the word 'porch.' Wikipedia says:
"A porch (from the Catalan word porxo) is a structure attached to a building, forming a covered entrance to a vestibule or doorway. It is external to the walls of the main building proper, but may be enclosed by screen, latticework, broad windows, or other light frame walls extending from the main structure.
"There are various styles of porches, all of which depend on the architectural tradition of its location. All porches will allow for sufficient space for a person to comfortably pause before entering or after exiting the building. However, they may be larger. Verandahs, for example, are usually quite large and may encompass the entire facade as well as the sides of a structure. At the other extreme, the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan has the longest porch in the world at 660 feet (200 m) in length." [Significant that the longest porch in the world is located in prime native american country, and I'll bet it has been lined with rocking chairs at certain times in its history.]
With a Spanish origin of the word and concept of 'portico,' it would seem obvious that porches are not really an 'Anglo' thing, although the American-Anglos have adopted them wholeheartedly. However, you don't see porches in Great Britain. Yes, there was much more Spanish and Portugese influence in early colonial East-Coast America than is acknowledged, but even in Spain, the porch was not really an extension of the living space, a place where comfortable chairs were set out and people did housework, like veggie-prep, household repairs, tools maintenance, child-care, etcetera. This is the way porches were used in our regional area, especially by the native americans, who often sat low to the floor while performing these household tasks, surrounded by cooling grass-mat screens. Porches in those other parts of the world - like Spain - seemed to be used for taking the air, being shaded while watching an event in the courtyard or looking out at a vista, not for daily living.
Wikipedia goes on to say that porches are found as parts of churches in England or as parts of temples in India. Yes, that kind of 'porch' or really 'covered passageway,' is seen in lots of kinds of temples around the world. In New Englad, according to Wikipedia, the porch evolved from a mudroom or covered vestibule. I've been in mud-rooms, and they really don't seem like porches to me.
On the other hand, the Algonquin-speaking Native Americans, like the Lenape, had bungalow-shaped dwellings with a roofed extension in summer, shaded on the top and sides by grass mats, much like those still in use in my neighborhood in poor Philadelphia in the 1950's. This extension to the house (wikaon) was called 'alewikaon' in Lenape, which is usually translated as 'porch,' The less native/more white-identified households in Philly adorned their porches with canvas awnings, but there were still plenty of the old grass-curtains in use when I was a child. We still had the old Lenape baskets in use, too - my grandmother had one, and I often saw them in the homes and yards around the neighborhood - and we also used a distinct local native-patterned cloth. I wish I still had a piece of that. I would not be able to recreate the pattern today even though as a child it was extremely familiar to me. I'm afraid I very ignorantly scoffed at these native vestiges, influenced as I was by the many recent European-immigrant children to disdain my american roots. Nobody's fault, just the way it is. Kids will be kids, and we didn't know anything. But I'm afraid I may have hurt my mother's feelings. I'm very sorry about that. I wish I had known, but my mother's verdict was that I looked unambiguously white and therefore there was no reason to teach me anything about our native roots, and it might even be dangerous to try to do so. So, that's how it went.
But anyway, I think - imo, in my opinion - the typical American porch is a vestige of our old Native American lifestyle, the lifestyle adopted by so many newcomers to America from Europe who did not only impose their own cultural imprint onto the landscape but were also influenced in turn by their new homeland and its people, or who married into a native or quasi-native family and tradition. So much of the truth of all that has been lost in the struggle for survival, which has involved denials and denouncements, hiding and secrets, lies and white-lies, etcetera. But let's not go there. The season is hard upon us to go out and enjoy our front porches. Bring up the rockers and the glider from the basement or garage, put out the grass carpet and the wicker furniture, set up the awning, make some lemonade. I hope this kind of lifestyle is still happening somewhere in America.