A Birdhouse in Paradise:
William Mellenthin and the San Fernando Valley Ranch Homes
Featuring his son, Mike Mellenthin
Written by Chris Lukather | Foreword by Alan Hess
In the 1950s housing developments began peppering the land outside of Los Angeles. Affordable, family-friendly communities like the San Fernando Valley initiated an exodus to the suburbs. It was in the Valley that designer-builder William Mellenthin developed his singular brand of cozy, charming home. They became known as the Mellenthin Birdhouse ranch home—so called because they featured a cupola or dovecote built prominently into the roof. Architect, author and historian, Alan Hess, describes why Mellenthin’s homes were so coveted. “The dovecote, or bird house, (Mellenthin) incorporated prominently into gables facing the public street reinforced the straight-shooting, unpretentious utilitarianism and friendly rural values of the times.”
Gathering information from original Mellenthin homeowners, articles, brochures, as well as the Mellenthin family, A Birdhouse in Paradise reveals many facts and details about this industrious and influential man. The volume features rare photographs and documents (many never seen before) that illustrate a young, burgeoning San Fernando Valley as it became “the new suburban paradise,” as well as floorplans and photographs of the iconic, Ranch Home.
Contains new information on William Mellenthin’s son, Mike Mellenthin, a home builder like his father. Mike graduated from USC with a degree in engineering. Mike was a numbers guy and his homes were built to perfection—updating and improving upon the design & build of the famous Birdhouse ranch homes that his father had originated.
Color and B&W Photographs and Drawings
Size: 10x10 inches
Soft Cover, Perfect Bound
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Legendary Builder and Contractor of San Fernando Valley Birdhouse Ranch Homes
William Mellenthin (1896-1979) built thousands of homes in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. He worked from the 1920s to the 1960s. He is known for building quality homes in a variety of architectural styles. Mellenthin is most remembered for his “Birdhouse” ranch homes in the Valley. These homes featured a cupola built prominently into the roof of the home. These homes can be found throughout the Valley, and are still popular with home buyers today. A Mellenthin “Birdhouse” is a uniquely styled home of mid-century design—more traditional than modern. Mellenthin built homes as far north as Montecito, and south to Orange County. Some of the Mellenthin/Bachman homes can also be found in San Marino. There is also a home that Mellenthin designed for a woman in Nebraska. William Mellenthin's son, Mike, built homes just like his father.
“As a San Fernando Valley builder after the war, Mellenthin kept pace with the democratizing influence of the Ranch House. The dovecote, or bird house, he incorporated prominently into gables facing the public street reinforced the straight-shooting, unpretentious utilitarianism and friendly rural values that the suburbs — and their builders, developers, and architects — clamored to reflect.”
— Alan Hess, architect, author and lecturer
“By combining the indoor-outdoor domestic spaces, rambling floor plans, and sturdy construction methods, the Midwesterner (William Mellenthin) became a force to be reckoned with during the nascent real estate bonanza that engulfed the region in the immediate postwar era. Until recently, however, Mellenthin’s work had been largely forgotten due to its humble qualities and the ubiquity of the dovecote style in the San Fernando Valley, following the wholesale adoption of his “birdhouse” treatments by other contemporaneous builders. Nonetheless, interest in Mellenthin’s work is increasing, especially as real estate prices continue to climb around the region.”
— Antonio Pacheco, West Editor, The Architect’s Newspaper
William Mellenthin was a prominent builder and contractor. He built and designed homes in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley from the 1920s through the 1960s.
His iconic “Birdhouse” ranch homes are still cherished and sought after today. With their quality design, build and materials, these homes were made to last. Although some of the homes have been altered and remodeled, there are still many homes in their original, preserved condition.
Not much was known about the man who built these homes, and little had been published about his life and work. There were a few online articles, one that focused on the pre-Birdhouse homes. Now, with a new book about his life and work published in 2017 and revised 2022, A Birdhouse in Paradise: William Mellenthin and the San Fernando Valley Ranch Home, more light has been shed on the person behind these beautiful and charming homes.
When you think ranch homes in Southern California, and who built them, most people think of Cliff May. William Mellenthin was a contemporary of Cliff May’s. Although the two only met once, they shared a common love and appreciation of the California ranch home.
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