15 August 2009

detour into fairyland (storybook architecture & a mini tour of the 'hood)

people often complain of the traffic in LA, and yes, the stories are true- it's hideous! but like a new yorker lives with noise, a seattle-ite lives with rain, or a floridian lives with humidity, one learns to adapt and you just deal with it as best as you can. depending on the time of day, some trips that should take 15 minutes take 45, and if you need to be somewhere at 9 am or 6 pm, you can count on the longer times. you just have to be zen about it, and accept. use your drive time to relax and contemplate. ;-)

of course, easier said then done, and instead of zen, m21 often finds himself seeing red and succumbing to a wee bit o' road rage if we happen to find ourselves caught out at the wrong time of the commute. like the other day, cruising down venice blvd at the mind-numbingly glacial pace of 7 miles per hour. no accidents- just nice, normal people trying to get to the freeway and home to their families in the valley or south bay; but at 4:30 pm on friday, m21 hated each and every one of them!

so he tried to ditch 'em, and take smaller side streets, and that's when m21's rage and contempt turned into gratitude; and all those people he was hating and bitching about moments before, he instead wanted to thank, because they caused him to randomly stumble upon something he's never seen before in his 20 years of LA livin: on a tiny, nondescript stretch of road, in somewhat gritty urban culver city (a city within metro LA), m21 was transported out of modern day traffic and into a fairyland of a past that never was...

spread over two lots on this tiny urban street (almost an alley) was what looked like a village out of hansel and gretel or the hobbit...a compound of a single family home, and two adjacent apartment buildings, all built in the most whimsical, fantastical story book style- shingled domes and crooked roofs, timbered walls, multi-paned asymmetrical windows- all surrounded by moats, and ponds ,and cobblestone courts. completely charming and peaceful, and if it weren't for hideous LA traffic, m21 would have never stumbled on it - a silver lining if ever there was one.even more amazing to m21 was the above plaque, declaring the structure to be one man's unique vision, built between 1946 and 1970. love that! and really, this gentleman was not designing according to a trend- storybook architecture was a style that peaked in the twenties (it's scattered throughout LA, and other cities across the US), but outside of disneyland and disneyworld, it was a style that completely fell out of favor after the depression, so this really was his idiosyncratic dream of how he wanted to live- always so much more interesting then a mass produced style, donchyathink?

maison21 is passingly familiar with the storybook style because his own miracle mile district neighborhood, developed in the boom times of the 1920's, is riddled with cute little storybook homes- though decidedly less eccentric then our culver city friend above (and semi-mass produced). lots of steeply pitched roofs, gothic details, arched windows and doors, half-timbering, etc. - it's really quite charming. our neighborhood is nice, but modest, with a majority of 2 & 3 bedroom homes with a smattering of duplexes and small apartment houses, bordered by broader avenues with business development (the original developers actually thought about the use of the neighborhood. how refreshing- wish they still did that)! the majority of the houses in the neighborhood are also spanish style (not story book) the most widely popular stye of the period in LA and m21's own triplex is spanish style- kinda. it was started in the spanish style and one unit was completed in the late 1920's. the crash of 1929 put a halt to construction for several years, and once funds became available to continue, styles had changed and streamline moderne was the look of the moment, so the 2 unfinished townhomes were completed in a very different style and builder tied all three units together with a spanish style tile roof. the result, is well... quirky, and we love it.

here's a nearby street where m21 walks mona everyday, with a long row of storybook influence homes. note the first house on the left with it's 1960's alterations of a lava rock facade and cinderblock patio- maybe not the most tasteful reno, but at least they didn't tear it down in the 80's and build a mcmansion! m21's neighborhood escaped a lot of the frightening renos of the ensuing decades because it fell out of fashion (read: wasn't so nice) and by the time of its renaissance in the 90's, people had come to respect the charming original architecture, and were willing to pay a premium to get and preserve it (thank god). many similar neighborhoods to the north of ours weren't so lucky and are riddled with lot-filling monsters completely out of scale and style with the older homes...

this house is one of our faves- kept up, but with all the original charm intact- that little turret for the front door couldn't be any cuter; plus, it forms a petit entry vestibule so you don't walk directly into the living room- a m21 pet-peeve:

couldn't you see this front door in hansel and gretel? a little brick cottage in the woods? 'cept for the cactus of course- they are somewhat rare in the black forests of germany, we think. ;-)

another prettily preserved example, below. a hallmark of our neighborhood is most of the garages are set to the backs of the houses, and the homes sit close to the street (you can see a carport to the left on the below example). we wish all neighborhoods were developed like this, instead of the sea of ugly garage doors you see now- so much more pleasing to view homes' main facades as aesthetic wholes, rather then as something tacked on to freakin' car storage! another quirky note- since most garages and driveways were developed for model-t type vehicles in our 'hood, it means they are skinnnny, and most people prefer to park on the street in front of their homes. while this leads to lots of cars on view, it also means that neighbors in our 'hood actually interact with one another, rather then pressing a button to disappear inside their attached garage when they come home at night, never to be seen again until they leave (inside their car) the next morning. it's really quite nice, and helps to create a real community.
another favorite below, though hard to see the charm because of the greenery. note the tall chimney with the haphazard, exposed brickwork- a signature of the storybook style. we lost a lot of them in the 1994 northridge quake, and the ones that survived (or were rebuilt) are all now reinforced with with metal supports connecting them to the homes' peaked roofs. (another side note- our next door neighbor collected the fallen and discarded bricks from the chimneys not being restored after the quake, and built his patio out of them)!

if you want to learn more about storybook architecture, here is a great description of the quirky styles and some pictures of examples of buildings from all over (not just our little hood) at

hope you enjoyed our trapped in traffic fairy tale discovery, and the mini-tour of the 'hood!


MaryBeth said...

What a happy accident to find Mr. Joseph's house. I imagine he was a lovely man to want to build something so whimsical. And could you be anything but happy in that house?
I have seen a few houses like this in Carmel and if I remember correctly there was a little bit written years ago about such a house that Jack Nicholson had given/bought for a girlfriend.
As for your neighborhood, you are very lucky. It is beautiful and the fact that your neighbors don't just pull into a garage that is the front and center of most houses these days is great. I don't know why they can't be turned on the side at the very least.
Thanks for the post, it put a smile on my face. MB

Dagny @ Beautiful Living said...

Wow, I love it! Isn't there an architect near SF who made houses in the same style? Why can't I remember his name... I think it was close to Carmel? Am I wrong? (or right??)

Bonnie said...

I needed a storybook tale tonight! The home you discovered looks like it belongs in a fairy tale! Truly magical! Id love to see it in person too! The other homes are wonderful. Storybook homes have always been a favorite of mine too! Thanks so much for sharing!

Bonnie said...

Just had to come back and offer a little map to the magical Lawrence Joseph "Hobbit House" Home

And an LA Times article from Jan 2005 about the Storybook Houses.,0,1337379.story

mary said...

Hi Christian--great post! I have seen these charming houses scattered all around LA and didn't know that they were a distinct architectural type. I have been inside a couple and they are just as appealing inside as out. Thanks so much for your detour. Have a great Sunday.

Leah said...

We have a few of these storybook homes in our neighborhood, too, and I love them. So charming!

Arrol Gellner's book, Storybook Style, is definitely worth checking out -- it has hundreds of gorgeous photos of these homes, mostly in the Bay Area and L.A., but in other places as well.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

I love these cute little houses! I have to agree - pet peeve #1, above all others -walking directly into the living room! Save that for trailer parks!

katiedid said...

What a happy detour! I love your neighborhood too. This is exactly what we were looking for when we first moved up here to Sacramento. I love how neighbors get to know each other when parking out front. We know all of our neighbors and see each other daily. I smile just thinking about it!

Suzy said...

Wow! Lucky you for stumbling upon such a treasure! I had no idea there was such a style of architecture...

maison21 said...

MB, you are welcome- thank you for leaving a comment!

dagny- yes the name of the architect who is famous for these houses i think was in northern california, but his name escapes me. and mary beth verifies that there are some in carmel.

bonnie, thank you for those links- i need to include them in my post!

mary- they ARE just as appealing inside as out. it's funny, the facades are wildly different in my neighborhood, but the cozy insides fall into a couple of basic plans with small variations. completely charming though.

leah- thanks for the tip, i'll check out the book! (btw, you made me tear up tonight when i read your final post. you will be missed in the blog world, but glad i've got you here and on the FB)!

stefan- i am amazed at the number of newly developed 'upscale' condos and lofts here in LA, where you basically walk right in to the living area. give me a formal entrance, the grander the better- hell, i'd give up the kitchen for a proper entrance hall!

katie, isn't it the best? i love that i live in a real nieghborhood- lots of my friends are amazed at how friendly my 'hood is, in comparison to their own, and yes, it's all attributable to parking out front...

suzy- i think the style was so prevalent in america because it was such "instant history" and we don't have so much here... australia is pretty young too, but maybe the style never made it there- it really was killed by changing tastes after the great depression, so was pretty short lived, maybe only a decade. makes you wonder what styles we'll see disappear after our current economic fiasco?

whistlerpotpie said...

Love the story! We live in a tiny storybook tudor in Atlanta and love it.

Everyone in our neighborhood calls it the Hansel and Gretel house and we are amassing giant candy to decorate it as the evil witches house for Halloween (Okay- our neighborhood is so freakin' cute they call Halloween Beggars Night.)

One of my favorite details of the house is a tiny, tiny arched window/dormer in the roof. It is the world's cutest window.

Thanks for the great post! (And a great blog - I'm a long time reader!)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tour of some of my favorite hometown houses.

Velvet and Linen said...

Loved this post. Your neighborhood was built at just the right time here in L.A. It seems like all of my favorite homes were built before 1930.
I am stunned that the wonderful story book home was built between 1946 and 1970, when most of the architecture being built was so much more modern.
It's wonderful to see such a fully realized vision.


kim23 said...

I like all these houses! Another storybook house is The Witch's House from Beverly Hills. Unfortunately, it's a private house and you can't visit its inside. The owner is an important real estate agent from Beverly Hills,Michael Libow.

Ed Sanchez said...

I am a real estate broker in Burbank CA and have a home listed for sale that is very unique. I was wondering if you could help me research the architect or its history. l do know it was built in 1928 and apparently it was one of four homes built throughout Los Angeles. This one is in Valley Village. It was previously owned by the chauffeur of Robert Wagner and Natalie Woods. I was also told that it was at one time owned by the owner of Casa de Cadillac as well. I know it at one time had a seawave roof, however it no longer does.
The home is currently listed for sale and would like to let people know more about the history of the home. Any assistance would be appreciated.

maison21 said...

sorry ed- my expertise in this area begins and ends with this post! no other info to give!