Western growth in this century demanded fast action to house newcomers seeking affordable single-family homes. The merchant builder answered the call.
On these six pages, we look at examples of three types of merchant-built housing that appeared in mass multiples at three different periods. They represented good living at a good price when they were new, and they still do today.
The difference is that today's buyers see these vintage spec houses--often in undervalued neighborhoods--as only a beginning rather than as the dream fulfilled. They buy with an eye to remodel.
Expectations have changed. Where a two-bedroom, one-bath house with a living-dining room and kitchen may once have been a family's dream home, today's Westerners want more--more space to be together, more space to be alone.
Two goals among buyers of these older tract houses are an informal family living area and a roomier master bedroom retreat. Updating and refurbishing worn-out kitchens and baths are constants, as is the desire to open the house to the out-of-doors.
Our examples, in the Los Angeles area, represent eras when that city's housing needs were especially acute. But they contain good ideas for remodelers Westwide--whether the bungalow is of Southwest Spanish or Northwest Tudor style, whether the "defense" house is in Long Beach or Oakland or Portland, whether the postwar house is called a "ranch house" or a "rambler."
The '20s stucco bungalow-- stretched out and opened up
Drawn by the booming oil, film, and real estate industries of the 1920s, more than 100,000 new residents had hit Los Angeles by mid-decade, when the house shown above was built. A 1929 Sunset described it as "the now-popular Mediterranean type . . . with an automobile drive running in along one side of the lot."
The 816-square-foot house had a front-to-back lineup of living room, dining room, and kitchen on the right side; on the left were a bedroom and a bath.
When Los Angeles architect Robert Anderson and designer Sheryl McKinsey set to work adding 580 square feet, they retained the charm of the living room, with its coved ceiling and sculpted fireplace, but replaced the front door with double glass doors leading in from an entry patio. They gutted the kitchen and dining room and expanded to one side to get an open area that's 22 feet wide. Glass doors open the dining area to a new wood deck, and a full-height glass panel next to the kitchen counter overlooks side-yard plantings.
Cabinetry is bleached and oiled vertical-grain clear fir with white plastic laminate counters. At the closed end of the U is a raised breakfast bar. Work lighting comes from recessed canisters in a dropped ceiling that continues around the edge of the dining area as a soffit with more canisters.
Behind the kitchen are a new master bedroom and bath. The floor here is tancolored concrete, poured continuously with an adjoining patio, then sandblasted. Four 8-foot-tall glass-paneled doors open the bedroom to the patio. Clerestory panels over the doors further open the room to leafy views. Skylights edge the back wall as well as the hall to the kitchen.
Anderson and McKinsey replaced all windows with wood-frame casements.
"Defense" house more than doubles, opens to garden
A "defense" house stays low in front, grows tall behind
With eight aircraft companies from Burbank to Long Beach, employment in area defense plants rose from 20,000 in 1939 to 243,000 by 1943. Built for workers at Douglas Aircraft Company, the 1940 house pictured above boasted a scant 900 square feet, its only luxuries "illuminated house numbers and a mailbox that puts mail right into your living room."
Owners Sosse and Greg Thomas, both graphic designers, wanted a sleek and airy house for themselves and their young son. Working with Los Angeles architect Don Swiers, they added 1,500 square feet--all in a two-story wing at the rear because they wanted to maintain the streetside scale of their neighborhood.
Alterations to the original house consisted of turning the entry so you no longer walk straight from the stoop into the living room, converting the old master bedroom to a guest room, and making the second bedroom into a dining room. They relocated the access to the kitchen, and updated the room with new tile, cabinet faces, countertops, and resilient flooring. To cut costs, the new wing's shape was kept simple, and bedrooms and baths were stacked.
The connector between the old house and the addition contains parallel corridors: a glass-walled gallery, and a laundry-utility-storage hall that gives the son access to the kitchen without entering the dining room. A stair in the new two-story family room leads up to a master suite with a balcony study loft and roof deck. To create front-to-back sight lines, the architect and owners aligned four sets of double glass-paneled doors. On this axis, one can look--and walk--from the new walled patio garden in the front through the living room and dining room, across the outdoor courtyard, through the family room, and out to the back garden.
To tie the new construction visually into the old, the original windows were replaced with anodized aluminum models.
L-shaped ranch house pushes out, becomes U-shaped
1950s ranch house grows in ranch-house fashion
In the '50s, Southern California grew by 56 percent. But only one in seven families wanted a "used" house. The others swarmed into the ranch-house tracts that marched across flatlands and up newly bulldozed hillsides.
For a family of five, Los Angeles architects Ann Agnew and Don Boss reworked an L-shaped 1957 model to give it some traditional ranch-house qualities the economy-minded builder had left out. In the process, the house expanded the way ranch houses in the Old West did: an L-shaped structure became a U, then an H.
Boss/Agnew pushed out the front, back, and side. Throughout the original house and garage, they sandblasted dark wood-beamed ceilings, then whitewashed them. They extended the rear wall of the livingdining area 2 1/2 feet under the eave, where glass doors open to patio and garden. The living room's fireplace wall of floor-to-ceiling flagstone made a rough-textured base for a coat of plaster.
The architects gutted the old kitchen, moved its side wall out 2 feet, and installed a high-use kitchen with room for casual family dining. It adjoins a new family room, which was converted from the original garage. Glass doors open the family room to a new entry patio.
Three skylights have major impact on the house's interior. One along the ridge of the family room and another over the ridge between entry and living room show the influence of ranch-house designer Cliff May. The third skylight brightens the kitchen.
In nonbedroom areas, the architects installed glazed concrete tiles that continue as patio paving. Outside, the exterior lost its dated flagstone and shutters.
Photo: 1920s stucco bungalow
Reflecting mission preservationist Charles Fletcher Lummis's fervor for the region's Hispanic traditions, the merchant-built stucco bungalow nevertheless reduced archways to a trace over a window, walled courtyards to a half-walled entry yard, and tile to just a fringe on a tar-and-gravel roof. The tiny floor plan was advertised as "efficient"
Photo: High wall encloses old entry yard and shields a front patio, separated from living room by glass doors. Access to entry is now from drive along side of house
Photo: White sapote tree makes a leafy umbrella for concrete patio off master bedroom addition. Up three steps from patio, trellis-shaded wooden deck serves as outdoor extension of remodeled dining area
Photo: Open kitchen and dining area are now the hub of the house. Door in center of rear wall leads to new master suite
Photo: New construction (color) added kitchen, master wing, patios, entry wall
Photo: Skylight strip brightens hall from kitchen to lofty bedroom. Shorter structure at right houses bath and master bedroom closet
Photo: "Defense" housing, circa 1940
In the late 1930s, thousands of workers were drawn to the West's war production industries, and tracts sprang up to house them. Architectural historian Esther McCoy describes these houses as "a two-bedroom stucco box with gable roof, a concrete stoop at the front door. The front door opens to a small living room with a dinette at one end." By now, the one-car garage is attached
Photo: Front of house gained privacy: low-walled stair leads to entry. Taller wall at right encloses patio, pocket garden
Photo: View from family room is across courtyard into dining area. At left is windowed hall to kitchen
Photo: Glass-walled hall with roof deck above links original house, at right, with two-story addition at left. Brick-and-grass courtyard lets activity flow outdoors from dining and family rooms
Photo: Two-story wing added family room, child's room, and bath downstairs and master bedroom with bath, loft, and roof deck upstairs
Photo: Kitchen facelift kept corner sink, described in an early Sunset: "The dishwasher can now look two ways while she works"
Photo: Boxy shape of rear addition helped keep costs low. Big window grid pours light into family room and balcony loft
Photo: 1950s ranch house
It dominated postwar single-family housing. With its low-pitched roof, horizontal lines, and overhanging eaves, it summed up the good life-- rooted in the West's heritage, but with modern three-bedroom, two-bath convenience. The conservative FHA--wary of anything too modern--rated it a sound investment, even sounder when such "traditions" as clapboard siding and shutters were added.
Prominent two-car garage projects from front, overshadowing entry
Photo: The L became a U, with new garage added at left, new bedroom at right. Between, planting beds and steps lead to gated and beamed entry court
Photo: Garage became family room, with glass doors where garage door had been. Focal points are new fireplace and ridge skylight. Concrete tiles cover floor
Photo: New ridge skylight crosses entry and living room, where flagstone fireplace got a new plaster face
Photo: House grew at front (garage, bedroom) and rear (master study)
Photo: Revamped kitchen gained a skylight, cooktop island, and a hardworking wall that houses ovens, refrigerator, pantry. Pocket doors can close off dining room beyond
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|Date:||May 1, 1988|
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