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Storybook homes: How Hollywood made its mark on Southern California architecture

Storybook architecture

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The Spadena house in Beverly Hills is perhaps the ultimate example of Storybook Style, as well as its most literal link to the film industry. The house was designed by Harry Oliver in 1921 and constructed in Culver City to provide offices and dressing rooms for a movie studio. With its serpentine fascia boards and cartoonishly lopsided walls and roofs, the entire design is a cleverly-wrought caricature of dilapidated antiquity. The house appeared in a number of silent films of the era before being moved to Beverly Hills in 1934 and converted into a residence.

Douglas Keister

Storybook architecture started after World War I when soldiers returning home wanted to recreate the European villages they saw.

Douglas Keister

Storybook architecture doesn't have a strictly defined style but is often characterized by sloped roofs, artificial aging and a reduced scale.

Douglas Keister

Storybook homes can be found in Long Beach, concentrated in the Hancock Park, Beverly Hills and Los Feliz neighborhoods of Los Angeles, and as far as Oakland and Alameda.

Douglas Keister

The crowning feature of this Long Beach cottage is its original ÒseawaveÓ roof, which has miraculously survived the assault of both fire ordinances and roofing contractors.

Douglas Keister

In this double-barreled rarity in San Francisco, the right turret forms a porch complete with glass window, while the left one encloses an entry hall. Storybook architects were positively smitten with the design possibilities inherent in circular turrets, and came up with surprising variations on the theme. Although unusual designs such as this one worked well enough on paper, constructing them often proved more challenging: while stucco and shingles could easily conform to the required curves, rain gutters could not. In some cases, gutters were laboriously fabricated from short sections joined to produce the required radius; more often, they were simply omitted altogether. The awkward juncture between turret and roof plane also made this area a frequent source of leaks. While the brave designer of this house may have been risking double trouble, he also achieved an admittedly unique result.

Storybook Architecture

Douglas Keister

The Spadena house in Beverly Hills is perhaps the ultimate example of Storybook Style, as well as its most literal link to the film industry. The house was designed by Harry Oliver in 1921 and constructed in Culver City to provide offices and dressing rooms for a movie studio. With its serpentine fascia boards and cartoonishly lopsided walls and roofs, the entire design is a cleverly-wrought caricature of dilapidated antiquity. The house appeared in a number of silent films of the era before being moved to Beverly Hills in 1934 and converted into a residence.

Amazon

Doug Keister's new book looks at the Storybook style of architecture found throughout Southern California


Most of the homes in Beverly Hills are large grandiose affairs, except for the one on the corner of Walden Drive and Carmelita. It's much smaller than its neighbors and looks like the kind of house Hansel and Gretel might have visited in a Brothers Grimm tale.

In fact, residents in the area often refer to it as "the Witch's House." Its real name is the Spadena home, and it is the creation of Hollywood art director Harry Oliver, who built the home in 1921.

It's a model of Storybook architecture, something author Douglas Keister knows quite a bit about and has documented in his new book, "Storybook Style: America's Whimsical Homes of the Twenties."

While there's no strictly defined style for Storybook architecture the way there is for Victorian or Bungalow, Keister says the homes are usually characterized by sloped roofs, artificial aging and a reduced scale.

There's one other way to identify them, says Keister. "When you see it, it makes you smile."

Keister says it's no coincidence that the homes look like what you'd expect to see in an old European village. They sprang up right after World War I, after returning servicemen, influenced by the architecture of the European villages they had seen in war, returned home and some began building sets for Hollywood.  

Storybook homes can be found in Long Beach and are concentrated in Beverly Hills and the Hancock Park and Los Feliz neighborhoods of Los Angeles. They can also be found as far away as Oakland and Alameda.


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