Mission Revival, Craftsman, storybook — L.A.’s home styles explained

Add to your list of the minor annoyances to blame on COVID-19 the fact that we’ve had to be satisfied with real estate porn of the virtual kind: gazing at shiny houses advertised on shiny paper, or watching drone home tours shot artsily and craftily with wide-angle lenses.

Now, with COVID restrictions abating, here comes the spring itch to buy, to sell, to move out and perhaps up, or at least to spend an entertaining weekend of cruising from open house to open house fantasizing about your new lives within new walls.

You, and generations of Angelenos before you.

If you can afford it (and many can’t, a topic not being dealt with here), the impulse that brought millions to live in Southern California also bequeathed us a landscape ornamented with marvelous houses. Houses as grimly identical as lath-and-plaster clones. Houses as delightfully kooky as a neighborhood designed by Tim Burton by way of Gaudí.

Our home heritage is as multi-everything as Los Angeles itself — historical hybrids of imagination and redwood and whims in stone. In some cities, you make your dull row house distinct with the paint on the door or the flowers in the window boxes. Here, the house itself is singular.

You can drive some neighborhoods — like the flats of Beverly Hills, between Sunset and Santa Monica boulevards — and see them all at once: antebellum plantation mansions and Tudor half-timbered houses across the road from Craftsmans and French chateaux and Mission Revivals. It’s like a studio backlot, every kind of house available to suit the shooting needs of the next movie.

Explaining L.A. With Patt Morrison

Los Angeles is a complex place. In this weekly feature, Patt Morrison is explaining how it works, its history and its culture.

The Federal Writers’ Project was a fine undertaking during the depressed 1930s, but its WPA survey of Los Angeles was archly snotty about our cheerful architectural hodgepodge, the “Moorish minarets sprouting from a Swiss chalet, the Tudor mansion with chromatic Byzantine arches. … Contrasts between the Victorian and the contemporary structure are often ludicrous, as when a constructivist garage rubs rooftops with a grotesque gingerbread castle.” Oh, go soak your stringcourse, WPA.

So as you go out looking for your new burrow or turret, or just think wishfully about it, here’s a bit about our styles and their stories.

FWIW, it’s probably no consolation to your asking-price sticker shock, but this is not our first go-round with housing-price lunacy. In the 1880s, it tiptoed into tulip-bulb-crazy numbers, with even empty lots “flipping” at twice the price in a matter of weeks. L.A. pioneer Horace Bell wrote that a fellow pioneer, overcome with opportunity and optimism, stuck windfall oranges on the spikes of Joshua trees in the Mojave and sold the land to…

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