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Spadena House Hollywood Storybook

Spadena House in Beverly Hills, “ a cleverly wrought caricature of dilapidated antiquity,” is the ultimate Storybook example.

Fairytale, Hansel & Gretel, Storybook: These are names commonly given to a whimsical style that enjoyed only a brief moment but never ceases to bring a smile. It appeared in the Los Angeles area in the early 1920s, reached its height of popularity just before the Depression, and then it was gone, save for a few isolated examples. The style is theatrical and often humorous. The houses are unusually well crafted, of brick and stucco, shingles and even thatch—all artistically rendered to suggest great age.

Normandy Village Storybook 1926

Normandy Village, an apartment complex in Berkeley built 1926–28 by William R. Yelland, was to be an evocation of rural villages in Northern France, patterned on war memories.

Storybook Hallmarks

• FANTASY What distinguishes a Storybook from a Revival house is exaggeration. Look for a turretr and rubble stone or clinker brick and a catslide roof, plus such nonfunctional whimsy as fake dovecotes and castle-like crenellations.

• EUROPEAN DETAILS Look for Spanish ironwork, French Norman towers, Tudor half-timbering, round-arch doors, rolled-eave “thatched” roofs and jerkin-head gables, medieval stained glass, and casement windows.

• FALSE AGING The roof ridge may be swaybacked, the rough-troweled stucco “peeling” to reveal rubble stone, the shingles laid in irregular waves. Sometimes walls purposely were built out-of-square and out-of-plumb.

• MANIPULATION Many of these houses have wings and gables and add-ons that both suggest they grew over the ages and that hide their true size. Steep roofs, oversize and undersize elements manipulate scale.

Storybook interior W.W. Dixon

Inside a house by W. W. Dixon.

Did you know that the famous sign, when constructed, read HOLLYWOODLAND? That’s right—it was the promotional sign for a subdivision begun in 1923. The developers required that homes be built in “French Normandy, Tudor English, Mediterranean and Spanish styles,” a nod to the growing popularity of Historical Revival styles. The architecture police weren’t patrolling however, and some of the homes constructed were, well, eccentric. A crack publicity staff succeeded in attracting the likes of Bela Lugosi, Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Swanson, and cellist Efrem Zimbalist Sr. Some early, and well publicized, revival houses were built in Hollywoodland, which crossed a line into what can only be called Storybook Style.

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