Friday, July 1, 2016

The Distinctive Ranch Homes of Hiawatha T. Estes

"Fifty-plus years in the same house," the ad for the estate sale read.

As more and more Baby Boomers and members of the "Greatest Generation" pass away, the danger increases that we will forget what they valued. One way to find clues about what was important to someone who raised a family in the post-World War II era, is to visit their estate sale.

Sometimes you have to really look for those clues -- notes and love letters, photographs and a grandchild's "refrigerator art," saved in a sock drawer or a scrapbook.  Military service uniforms. An old black Singer sewing machine in a purpose-built oak cabinet.

Other times, the evidence of what the older person valued is staring you right in the face as you walk up the driveway to the estate sale:

Their home, looking pretty much like it did when it was new.

The Southern California area I live in grew exponentially after the war.  Some of the houses built in the late 1940s were just big enough for the former soldier going to college on the GI Bill, his wife and their one child, with a single-car garage. By the 1950s and 1960s, though, the was demand for larger homes on larger lots, with larger garages.

The "Ranch Style" home met that need.

A quick search on the Internet tells me that Ranch Style houses were pioneered by architect Cliff May in the 1930s, who was influenced by the homes of the original Spanish settlers who built long, low houses with thick adobe walls and tile roofs, often in an "L" shape.  Southern California's relatively temperate climate also influenced his style; May erased the lines between "indoors" and "outdoors" with large windows, sliding glass doors, and patios.  Other architects' home designs followed suit.

Today these Ranch Style homes are still in many neighborhoods.  I found evidence of one of the best-known promoters of post-war housing at an estate sale a couple of weeks ago; Grandma had saved the 1950s brochures of Ranch Style floor plans offered by a man with the improbable name of Hiawatha T. Estes. 

Estes (1918-2003) was based in Northridge, California, part of the San Fernando Valley. Born in 1918 in Tishomingo, Oklahoma, Estes was a member of the Chickasaw Indian Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1940 with a degree in civil engineering, and served as an Air Force captain during World War II. 

Like so many other GIs, Estes moved to Southern California and got married. He and his wife started a business selling and promoting architectural house plans, which they operated for more than 30 years.  Estes also wrote a syndicated newspaper column which ran for many years in newspapers across the country.  The woman who saved his floorplan brochure, also clipped and saved some of his newspaper work.

The brochures of Estes' home designs showed houses small and large, to meet a variety of family needs.  The one-bedroom house below was less than 700 square feet.

A house with "oriental influence" was a little over 2000 square feet, with a huge patio.

In a Ranch Style floorplan, it's common to see the bedrooms all on one side of the house and the living room, dining room and kitchen on the other, as shown below.

 You can see many of Hiawatha Estes' floorplans here:
The Los Angeles Conservancy has a web page devoted to Ranch Style homes and neighborhoods:

You can read more about architect Cliff May here:

Footnote: Neighborhoods change over time. Sometimes Ranch Style houses in California are remodeled because they've been badly damaged by earthquakes. Other times, though, they're torn down and remodeled, not of necessity but rather for the sake of ostentation and profit. Too often, charming old neighborhoods have been invaded by red tile-roofed Mediterranean-style (orange, bright coral or pink) and/or modern anonymous box-shaped slab-sided (brown or gray) "McMansions" that have no sense of the integration of "indoors" and "outdoors." Their multi-thousand square feet floorplans with multiple stories and five-car garages are squished onto a piece of land like an elephant in a bathtub; a lawn mower would barely fit between the side of the house and the fence, the front of the house and the sidewalk.  But a lawn mower isn't necessary here: the real estate "investor" (speculator) who bulldozed the vintage Ranch Style home and built the McMansion has installed artificial grass along the narrow perimeter around the house.

There's increasing backlash against McMansions in neighborhoods across the country. For one thing, a lot of them are Just Plain Ugly. And perhaps more people are beginning to realize that sometimes it's better to preserve and respect what we have, rather than destroy it forever for the sake of profit.

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