In L.A. make-believe often spills over into reality. Whether it’s the set of the latest Blockbuster unfolding on the streets of your neighborhood or rubbing shoulders with your favorite movie character at Catch. Then there are the more permanent features, like the Storybook architecture that seems to borrow from Disneyland around the corner.
How Storybook architecture began in L.A.
This playful branch of architecture was introduced to the city in the 1920s when soldiers returned from Europe after The Great War. Captivated by the charming style of the dwellings in the quaint villages, they were inspired to recreate it, according to architect and historian Arrol Gellner. Meanwhile, Hollywood’s fascination with foreign lands continued to grow along with the development of photography, giving creators rich visual insight into “exotic” designs.
Artisans from around the globe flocked to create large, detailed sets for smash-hit period films dominating the industry at the time. Eventually, the filmmakers and movie stars wanted homes that matched their flush pockets and global status. Revival styles soon became the norm in Los Angeles and a wander through the streets still makes passersby question what city they’re in.
The godfather of Storybook architecture in L.A.
Storybook style, also known as Fairytale style, really came into its own thanks to Oscar-nominated Art Director Harry Oliver. His extensive travels to France, Italy, England, and Ireland were translated into epic film backdrops—which you may recognize in period sensations like Ben Hur. He later applied this to his own living quarters known as Fort Oliver and the famous Witch’s House. Soon enough the crooked doorways, swayback roofs, rolled eaves, parapets, turrets, arched doorways, clinker brick accents, and half-timbering could be seen on curbs across the city.
Here are five mystifying examples of this structural style that you need to see:
1. The Spadena House – Witch’s House
The shingled roof, wonky windows, and intentionally dilapidated facade of the Spadena House (which you might know as the Witch’s House) would make anyone do a double-take. It’s without a doubt the best known Storybook structure and is ambushed by trick-or-treaters during Halloween when the gnarled overgrowth and handcrafted pumpkin become the ultimate backdrop. It was designed by Harry Oliver and the detailing is in continual evolution.
Location: 516 Walden Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
2. The Tam O’Shanter
Stepping through the charred timber doorways of “The Tam” is like wandering into a Medieval fairy tale. This beloved Atwater pub is an amalgamation of influences that have been nurtured by the same family for its entire existence. It might be the only place in L.A.(and quite possibly the world) where you can pose for a snap in a London telephone booth, soak up fine Irish ales, sample rare Scottish whiskey in a setting adorned with countless kilts and crests. Much like the iconic Fairtyle landmark above, this was another one of Oliver’s imaginings and would become Walt Disney’s favorite haunt.
Location: 2980 Los Feliz Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90039
3. The Hobbit House
The Joseph Residence and Apartments (a.k.a the Hobbit House of L.A.) is one of the most noteworthy examples of Storybook architecture. This romanticized version of the Medieval cottages was created by a designer and one of the forefathers of the fantastical architectural style Lawrence Joseph. Its undulating haphazard tiles, curved walls, leaded glass diamond window panes, and charming turtle pond will transport you straight to the Shire. Luckily, it has been spared from the surrounding development in the neighborhood thanks to the L.A. Conservancy. While it is a private estate, you can still stroll past and take in the charm of the place from the street.
Location: 3819 Dunn Dr, Culver City, CA 90232
4. The Snow White Cottages
In Los Feliz, you’ll find architect Ben Sherwood’s Snow White Cottages anchored by a tall European-esque tower with stone accents. It’s a beautiful example of Storybook architecture might look like it was taken from the most famous animated Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but the opposite is true. One of the 8 cottages housed a Walt Disney animator and it’s hard to deny the parallels. Its eery allure also made it the perfect backdrop for David Lynch’s iconic neo-noir mystery Mulholland Drive.
Location: 2900 Griffith Park Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90027
5. Charlie Chaplin’s bungalow court
Hit with the Fairytale-fever of the early 1920s, filmmaker and silent screen luminary Charlie Chaplin commissioned these four magical abodes for himself and his crew working at his La Brea Avenue studios. Guests that are lucky enough to visit these quaint bungalows are greeted with cobbled stone walkways, steeply-pitched wavy roofs, and crooked half-timbering that has been home to the likes of Judy Garland and the Hollywood elite.
Location: 1328 N Formosa Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046
Take a trip to this charming seaside town in CA for more magical examples of Storybook architecture.