HOME + GARDEN
These Cinderella Homes tell a storybook tale of life in Southern California
These tract houses are slowly being modernized
This home on Cameo Drive in North Tustin is one of many homes in the area built in what is called Cinderella style of architecture by Jean Vandruff, designer and builder of homes.
Tuesday, July 23, 2019.
PUBLISHED: July 29, 2019
You’ve probably seen one of these houses, but didn’t even know it had a fairy-tale background.
That’s right, if you’ve seen diamond-paned windows, a high-gabled, peaked roof, A-frame door archway, shake shingle roof and gingerbread trim on the front of an otherwise ordinary looking tract home, you’ve likely seen a Cinderella Home.
Designer Jean Vandruff, who’s now 97 and lives in Westminster, built his first Cinderella Home on Lubec Street in Downey in 1954. He said his wife, Eleanor, was responsible for the name.
“When I was drawing up the plans for the house in Downey,” Vandruff said in an email. “She looked over my shoulder and said, ‘That should be a home for Cinderella!’”
The ranch design appealed to people hungry for suburban housing after World War II, looking for style on a small budget. It incorporated kitchens with cut-out windows so housewives could watch their children play, and colorful kitchens and baths. Some bathrooms even had Cinderella coach tiles with a glass slipper on them.
“It’s sort of this storybook home quality that harkens back to medieval times, and French and English country homes,” said author Christian Lukather, who’s writing a book about the homes.
Vandruff said in his autobiography that he built his first Cinderella Home in partnership with his brother, Shannon, while on summer break from studying architecture at USC. When it was a success, he never went back to school.
The fantasy designs proved so popular that the Vandruff brothers subsequently built a tract of 168 homes in West Anaheim in 1955 that sold out in three days, according to Lukather. The average price was $14,000.
“People camped out overnight to get them,” Lukather said.
Demand was such that he began to license the design to other builders and estimates some 6,000 of them were built in places like Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Placentia, Tustin, Canoga Park and elsewhere in the San Fernando Valley, and as far away as Kansas and Texas. A brochure from the era shows 17 different designs available.
“You want a $24,000 home,” the brochure reads. “Now, for the first time, you can have one for many thousands of dollars less!”
In addition to the licensed homes, other developers also picked up on the popularity of the design, and began incorporating it into their houses. One blog touts neighborhoods of such houses in Albuquerque and Oklahoma City.
“There were a lot of imitators,” said Lukather, who has a website called TheCinderellaHome.com. “They’re not all Cinderella Homes.”
Ultimately, the style fell out of fashion, and then literally became illegal in the 1960s, when shake roofs were banned as not being fire safe.
“When they outlawed the shingle roof in the 1960s, that spelled the end of these homes,” Lukather said.
Today, as the houses age and need repairs, many have been modernized and had their custom features removed, rendering them indistinguishable from other tract houses of the era.
Barb Schan and her husband, Doug, bought their house in North Tustin 25 years ago. They knew it was a Cinderella home because her husband grew up in one in West Covina.
“On our block, we’ve made the least amount of changes to the house,” Barb Schan said. “We’ve always loved the home. We love our neighbors. When people come to visit, they always feel very comfortable.”
Over the years, many homes have been extensively remodeled in an effort to modernize them.
Schan said she and her husband replaced the original windows because “they were so leaky and didn’t last,” but otherwise have kept details like the yellow sink and bathtub in one bathroom. She has a watercolor of an original model home floor plan hanging on her wall.
“A lot of the interiors had colorful baths. Our daughter’s sink and tub in her bathroom are yellow. Our kitchen cabinets are original and I like the details on them.”
Creator Jean Vandruff has visited their home, she said. “When Jean comes into the house, he always talks about the kitchen and its cut-out window,” Schan said. “My kids grew up playing in the front yard, and I could look out the window and see them.”
Lukather, who edits a literary journal called The Writing Disorder, expects his new book to be published in September. It’s titled “The Cinderella Homes of Jean Vandruff: Fairy-tale tracts of the suburbs.”
Although nowadays many of the original homes are being modernized out of existence, some aspects seemed ahead of their times.
“Every home I ever designed was open-concept because I have always believed that “communication” is one of the primary keys to a successful marriage and a happy family,” Vandruff wrote. “With the kitchen open to other rooms, the wife could still be in constant touch with her husband and children. I also incorporated curves whenever possible which lent a more “feminine” touch to offset other “masculine” features such as brick fireplaces and planters.”
The Cinderella Home by Jean Vandruff
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A Touch of Magic.