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Storybook Ranch Houses

Starting in the early 1950s, the Ranch house would become the single-most prolific residential design in Fullerton and throughout the nation. Unlike pre-war housing that was designed and constructed by architects and local builders, most of the Ranch houses were constructed with tract housing by little-known firms that served as developers of suburban communities. One very popular sub-type of the Ranch house was the nostalgic and whimsical Storybook Ranch, the brainchild of designer and builder Jean Valjean Vandruff, an Anaheim developer.

In the mid-1950s, Vandruff would construct well over a thousand Storybook Ranch style homes – called Cinderella Homes – in tracts in Anaheim, Downey, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Placentia and elsewhere. In each case, the houses in these tracts were sold-out in mere days after their openings. Other builders soon developed their own plans featuring the design elements of Vandruff's Cinderella Homes, and many homes of this style were built throughout the suburban communities in southern California in the late 1950s. While the Vandruff Homes were modest in size and scale, ranging from 1,200 to 1,400 square feet, the later storybook ranches by other developers often encompassed significantly more square footage. Some of the storybook ranches were so massive in size and scale that Vandruff's original dwellings looked like mini-ranches in comparison. The simple stucco and brick exteriors were often replaced by more expensive board and batten siding. Many ornamental features, especially the gingerbread and bric-a-brac, became more exaggerated. Single gables were replaced with multiple ones decorated with extravagant barge board designs. Small dovecotes were replaced with large fake birdhouses positioned on roofs.

The storybook ranch style would remain popular throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, but by the mid-1960s, the style had run its course, and it soon disappeared as a prototype design for new housing.

Depending upon one's personal view, the Cinderella Homes and their look-a-likes were considered either charming or over-the-top.  Common features of the style include the following:

  • Single-story; asymmetrical wide facades, usually set parallel to the street
  • Low-pitched roof, usually gabled, often with wide eaves; wood shakes were the favored material
  • Attached garages incorporated into the house plans
  • Whimsical and often exaggerated ornamentation, such as diamond-paned windows, knee brackets, scalloped fascia, exposed rafter tails, wall dormers, window boxes, dovecotes, shutters, catslide roofs, and wising wells
  • Open floor plans with interiors often including large fireplaces, eat-kitchens, and sliding glass windows out to the backyard
  • Painted in "happy" primary colors with white trim
  • Decorative hardware of wrought iron for exterior lighting, door knockers and latches

While there were no franchise developments of Cinderella Homes in Fullerton, several housing tracts built in the 1950s have imitations of Jean Vandruff's architectural designs. The neighborhood of the blocks north of Orangethorpe Avenue, between Brookhurst Road and Courtney Avenue, was the first tract of single-family housing in Fullerton to feature the Storybook Ranch style. Other neighborhoods where the Storybook Ranch style is found include the 400 blocks of West Roberta, Maxzim and Houston Avenues in south Fullerton, the 100 blocks of North Hart and Janet Avenues in east Fullerton, and the 3300 to 3500 blocks of Rosehedge Drive in north Fullerton. There are many other neighborhoods in Fullerton which feature houses in the Storybook Ranch style.

Although the Storybook Ranch style is primarily seen in single-family residences, the style was also used with the construction of multi-family developments. In Fullerton, the apartment properties at 227 W. Wilshire Avenue, 1342 and 1348 W. Valencia Drive, and 2000 to 2100 E. Commonwealth Avenue, all built in the late 1950s, are designed with the Storybook Ranch style.

Fullerton Heritage has completed a survey of storybook ranches in the city, and photographs, articles, and maps will be found in the Local History Room of the Fullerton public Library. An extensive article on Vandruff Homes ("Storybook Ranches: Enchantment for Sale") was published in the January 2018 issue of the Fullerton Heritage Newsletter.

Read more about the Cinderella Homes by Vandruff and the evolution of the Storybook Ranch style:

  • Capps, Kriston, "The Fading Romance of America's Cinderella Homes. " CityLab. 2016. Online.
  • Deveney, KayLynn. All You Can Lose Is your Heart. Heidelberg, Germany: Kehrer Verlag, 2015.
  • Lane, Barbara Miller. Houses for a New World: Builders and Buyers in American Suburbs, 1945-1965. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015. Includes a section on Vandruff Homes.

Residence (1955) - 1830 W. Cherry Avenue
Residence (1955)
1830 W. Cherry Avenue


Residence (1956) - 3301 Rosehedge Drive
Residence (1956)
3301 Rosehedge Drive


Residence (1957) - 213 N. Ladera Vista Drive
Residence (1957)
213 N. Ladera Vista Drive


Residence (1957) - 1318 W. Roberta Avenue
Residence (1957)
1318 W. Roberta Avenue


Residence (1959) - 449 W. Houston Avenue
Residence (1959)
449 W. Houston Avenue


Residence (1959) - 309 N. Lillie Avenue
Residence (1959)
309 N. Lillie Avenue


Apartment (1957) - 227 W. Wilshire Avenue
Apartment (1957)
227 W. Wilshire Avenue


Apartment (1959) - 2008 E. Commonwealth Avenue
Apartment (1959)
2008 E. Commonwealth Avenue



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