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  • Joan Yarfitz

California Bungalows & the American Dream

Many home buyers are fascinated by, and want to own, the early 1900’s wood fantasies known as the “California Bungalow,” so we did some deeper investigation into its long and varied history to share with you.

The term “bungalow” comes from the Indian province of Bengal, where the common native dwellings and the geographic area both had the same root word, or bangla. These 19th Century one-story huts with open porticos were adopted by the Colonial British, who used them as administration housing and summer retreats in the Himalayas.

Early bungalow designers clustered the dining room, bedrooms, kitchen and bathrooms around a central living room, thereby creating the essential bungalow floor plan that would evolve into our Southern California version, with its one-story floor plan, flowing horizontal profiles, use of porches, balconies and wood shingles.

California of the early 20th Century was the “Promised Land” for the bungalow. They were cool in the day, due to the low overhung porches and porticos, which kept the hot California sun off the windows, and they embraced the family during the cooler winter nights with cozy Inglenooks and fireplaces. They featured a gable over the main portion of the house and used mainly local materials and plants.

The bungalow provided affordable housing for the lower middle class, who came to California looking for a better lifestyle and access to cheap land, as the automobile and light rail system made distances less formidable.

In addition, construction costs were relatively inexpensive, as most plans did not require a second story; although many wealthier Angelenos saw fit to expand the basic floor plans into tiered confections with sleeping porches, manicured grounds and even ballrooms! You could order a “Bungalow Kit” from mail order catalogs–such as Sears–for as low as $900; parts would be delivered by rail or ship. Friends and family could get together for a weekend of beer and “Bungalow Raising”!

The bungalow was the fulfillment of the American Dream with its style, convenience, simplicity, sound construction and excellent plumbing, all on its own plot of land, complete with a vegetable garden and a new motor car parked out front.

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