Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cinderella Homes of the San Fernando Valley



This matchbook was marketing the Cinderella Estates or Cinderella Homes near Topanga Cyn Blvd, Chase, Parthenia and Owensmouth in Canoga Park. This "mini-ranch" style home was popular and common during the 50's boom years of the San Fernando Valley as WW2 ended and soldiers returning home were starting their families. This architecture style can be found throughout the San Fernando Valley and has become a symbol of the "boring tract home" that the SFV has become synonymous with. However, I disagree with this assertion and think these homes add to the character of the San Fernando Valley. They look a lot better than boxy McMansions. 

The Cinderella Homes were started by Jean Valjean Vandruff in Downey as explained on his website, personal autobiography, and picture gallery. You can also view a brochure here. From the autobiography
In 1950, Shannon bought a huge lot in a fine neighborhood in Downey, California. I designed the home and we built it during summer vacation from USC. This was such a neat experience, and being worn out from going to school, I decided not to re-enroll in the fall, but start designing and building homes. We built one, sold it immediately, then built two at a time, then three. By 1954 we were building 6 at a time. Then, I designed what we magically called "The Cinderella Home" in Downey, and it was a knock-out! The talk of the town! Over 35,000 people came through that home with only word-of-mouth advertising - from as far away as Oceanside. It was our success formula.
One day Shannon said, "Jean, instead of building custom homes, we really should be building tract homes. Individual building sites are becoming terribly hard to obtain, and the "boxes" that are presently being sold as tract homes are a disgrace to the profession." I heartily agreed, and we started plans for mass development of "Cinderella Homes." We planned to have 4 floor plans and 20 elevations. They would be ranch style, wide and low, with clipped ceilings, long roof overhangs, rounded rafter-tails, shake-shingle roofs, lots of brick wainscoting and brick planters, brick fireplaces 8' wide and floor to ceiling, big wide windows with custom shutters and garage doors that tied in with the rest of the architecture. They would be excellent open-space plans, where the wife was still in constant touch with her husband and children - instead of being isolated - when she was working in the kitchen. Every home that I ever designed has incorporated this concept, because I have always believed that "communication" is one of the primary keys to a successful marriage and a happy family.
Shannon was able to tie up about 40 acres of land in the west side of Anaheim, California, and went out to try to obtain a construction loan for 168 homes. Most everyone thought we were crazy dreamers. One lending institution after another said, "If you were going to build 10, 20, even 50 homes, we might go along with you, but 168? No way! But the Lord intervened, and he found an old gentleman who ran Hollywood First Federal S&L. He said, "I like your designs, I like your perfect credit record, I like your past performance, and I'm going to go along with you." We closed the deal on the final day of our being able to retain the land. Why does God sometimes test us right up to the last minute?

As we were under construction, we had hundreds of people stopping by to ask when the homes would be for sale. These houses were revolutionary. No one had ever seen anything like these, except in custom homes well above $20,000. These were going to be available for $14,000, with 4% VA loans. When the houses went on the market, they were sold out in three days, and in a short time we had over 1,000 people on a waiting list who wanted a Cinderella home. The impact of these homes caused several local builders to go into bankruptcy, and others had to stop, in the middle of development, to redesign their homes. At this time, we had what the advertising agency said was the world's largest sign. It was 200' long and 40' high, beside the Santa Ana Freeway - impossible to drive the freeway without seeing it!
After we started the second development, containing 701 homes, we didn't have enough to meet the desires of over 1,000 people, so we decided to separate out those who really wanted a Cinderella Home from those who weren't quite so motivated. We notified the people that there would be a 4:00 am grand opening. When the sun came up, we had sold over 200 homes. This was an $11 million development. It would be a $200 million operation today. At the peak of construction, at the very end, we were producing 16 homes per day; a huge operation. Normally, this would have been an impossibility in one single locality, but housing starts were in a deep slump, and there was an abundance of tradesmen and material available. We had the largest building operation in Orange County in 1956.
During construction of those homes, the lending market had changed radically. Money became extremely tight, and we were unable to procure permanent loans (VA & FHA) for our buyers. Many builder-developers went into bankruptcy. This continued for months, and when we did find a permanent lender, we had to pay 9 points (9%) to obtain the loans. We had about 10% profit figured in, so this ate up virtually all of our profit. We barely skinned through in the black, and Shannon said he would never build again.
There were many builders who wanted to use our plans, especially in the San Fernando Valley, so we started a franchise program, licensing other builders to use our copyrighted plans, specifications, lumber lists, hardware lists, color schemes, advertising formats, contract forms, and the name, "Cinderella Homes." This operation lasted about six years before the appeal dwindled away. Altogether, there were over 6,000 Cinderella Homes built from those plans as far away as Houston, Texas and Wichita, Kansas.

8 comments

Mid-Century-Mark

I own one of the 'Storybook Ranch' homes in this tract and plan to restore it to it's former glory. Back to a simpler time when houses weren't just big stucco boxes without any "heart" or "soul" & had at least some semblance of "style". Whether you liked it or not...

Valley Guy

Interesting that this style was all over the Valley in the the 1950s, but that tastes changed so quickly with regard to how homes were styled.

We moved to the orginal Porter Ranch development (the tract was built by Republic Homes) essentially going north from Rinaldi, between Wilbur to just east of Reseda. There were also some houses scattered south of Rinaldi to the east of Reseda as well, and all the homes were built in 1965 and 1966. "Porter Ridge" was built right after, with homes of similar design, up by Sesnon and Tampa.

Most everything to the south of us, at least as far down as Devonshire, was this ranch-y style of the Cinderella Homes, built only a decade earlier. But to my young eyes, those houses seemed "old" by comparison to the more streamlined ones in our immediate neighborhood.

But of course, tastes changed again the late 1960s and well into the '70s, as the Spanish/Mission style became popular with newer homes built in the Porter Valley area and in portions of Chatsworth. Then, the '60s houses looked dated.

The '94 Northridge earthquake damaged so many houses that a lot of the different character of the various neighborhoods was homogenized into a more generic look. Still, it's fun to drive back through the old 'hood and see examples of the various designs still intact here and there.

Anonymous

The homes that were these Cinderella Homes were built in the Pomona Valley by Robert Olin Construction, I think the first tract was in Claremont (I remember when they were built) on Vista Dr. They built a couple other tracts in Pomona-Cinderella Royalty on La Verne Ave. (and another later tract on Arrow Hwy) and another tract Bangor and Orange Grove (Royal Coach Estates?) One in north Claremont (name Piedmont Mesa Estates?) they got fancier with step down living rooms marketed as a 'talk of the town' glittering gold model. I think the final VanDerRuff series was Holmby Estates on Silvertree and a 'custom series' next to it. I think Olin may have partnered with Ralph Lewis (now KB home) to built other tracts on Mural Dr. He built later homes in LaVerne above Baseline but I think they weren't Van Der Ruff's and a few apt bldgs. but I think Olin retired, their offices on Foothill are now a Music store near Towne Ave.

tammyCA October 25, 2012 at 12:39 PM

Just found this blog as I was googling Cinderella homes. I don't live in one (mine is a '54 smaller version, I think), but I adore them. I love the charming features on the homes that are still intact (boo to all who deface them inside and out! and hooray to MidCenturyMark for restoring his! I just viewed his photos and I'm so excited to see that. :)
I've been in a few when we were house hunting 15 yrs ago and I remember one still had the pink tiled bath with the Cinderella coach silouette on the tiles. I'm not a native Californian but I so wish people would care about preserving what is special about SFV...these vintage homes are one of them. Yes, I've seen the beautiful land/orange trees disappear over the 30 yrs but do they have to replace them with those ugly faceless box homes? Not even an attractive shutter or scallop design..ugh.
Anyway, will bookmark this site. BTW, one of my favorite movies for showing SFV around 1960 is "Bachelor in Paradise"...a Bob Hope/Lana Turner comedy...features the new Valley homes and Woodland Hills area. Also, just saw another WHills recognizable street sign in another favorite movie the other day "Mad, Mad, Mad World".

Jean (Jene) Vandruff November 9, 2012 at 1:54 PM

Hi everybody. I am Jean Valjean Vandruff, the originator, designer, builder-developer and franchiser of Cinderella Homes. One of my sons, Dean, just sent this blog to me. I am 90 years old and still going strong. I appreciate this interest in the Cinderella mystique.
It captured me in my earliest designing of custom homes after two and a half years of architecture at USC. I couldn’t stand the cold, hard, rigidity of ‘modern’ houses. To me, a real home had to exude friendliness, heritage, cozy warmth and a distinct comfort that you didn’t want to leave. It had to have the feeling of a joyous and happy family who ‘live’ together in harmony and love. It had to, literally, be a part of the character of those who live therein. It also had to be complete in its architecture, with the garage as an integral element of the architecture of the home. These were not houses, they were homes.

It is so nice to hear from those whose lives are being enhanced by them. I have heard from many who won’t give them up until it cannot be avoided, and then they try to will them to one of their children. The homes have aged though, and many are now hardly recognizable, especially the loss of their heavy shake shingle roofs. I went through one of my developments recently, and was sad to see the changes made ... a little at a time. To the person who made this blog, I thank you, and wish the Lord’s best blessings on each of you who want the best fine-fulfilments of your lives. Joy to you!

Marty McFly November 11, 2012 at 9:15 PM

Thanks everyone for the wonderful comments. I forgot to mention that I was raised in a Cinderella home in the tract mentioned in this post. My dad still owns his Cinderella home which will someday be willed to me where I will plan to restore it as best as possible to its original condition.

To Mr. Jean Vandruff, I am honored that you took the time to view this post and comment on this blog. If you are ever in the neighborhood, please let me know and I will be more than honored to show you around.

Also, one last thing, whats your secret for longevity?

Marty McFly
SFValleyblog.com

Mid-Century-Mark November 13, 2012 at 12:54 PM

As an owner of one of these wonderful homes (see above, first comment in the thread) and having been in contact w/ Mr Vandruff himself, I want to congratulate him on a lifetime of achievements that have improved and accentuated many lives.

On a personal note, if there are any readers of this thread that either own one of these magnificent structures or other related styles such as MCM or Hawaiian modern, and wish to "restore" their home to it's original glory, I'd like to introduce my "Retro Home Improvement Consulting" business. If you truly want to "go retro", I can assist you in your renovation projects w/ that 'taste' for the past. If interested, please visit my website at www.markvancleve.com -- where "Retro" rules..!

BubbleBottomFeeder November 21, 2012 at 10:54 PM

My wife and I bought our first home in Canoga Park on Covello St back in 1982. We noticed the style of tract home we called "Swiss" around the neighborhood that now know to be Cinderella homes. It is great that thre is a preservation movement for this important era of stylish affordable homes.

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