Ranch house address plaques and house numbers from Crestview — and a mystery

We ask: How did this iconic American
address plaque style come about?

ranchero style house numbers and back plateOur friends at Crestview Doors have introduced a new product — vintage style Ranchero address plaques and number kits. Golly, during my Wonderbread years growing up in Southern California — in Oceanside, Carlsbad, Vista — these rustic address plaques were everywhere on the houses all around me. Crestview sent me a complete write-up detailing how they developed this new product — it’s interesting — and they also would love to hear from Retro Renovation readers to see if anyone really knows the genesis of this classic design, real Americana. Read on –>

David Erwin, co-owner of Crestview writes:

Maybe you noticed the Ranchero Number Plate on the Crestview Doors web site. Maybe you even wondered where we get them. Well, we make them, and this is the story (and the mystery) behind the product.

When we started Crestview Doors, we quickly found that the best research is done by hitting the streets. The door styles we sought to revive were barely represented in architectural literature or even mainstream magazines of the time. If we wanted to catalog real home styles from the mid-century, we needed to get out of the library and go look for original doors.

So we drove through mid-century neighborhoods photographing time-capsule entries across America. While we were doing that, we noticed these broken-board address plates everywhere. It’s an evocative and nostalgic vernacular detail that reflects the appeal of ranch living that permeated the middle-class architecture of the time. That’s our thing, so we decided to make it into a product.

First we cataloged all the style variations:

ranch house number plaques

fig. 1 8 inch board. Vertical ends. Random size, angle, depth of points. 6 points on left, 7 on right. Hung over porch

fig. 2  6 inch board. Angled ends. Random, curved points. 4 points on both ends. Angle-mounted on wall

fig. 3  6 inch board. Reverse angled ends. Deep evenly spaced points. 5 points on both ends. Wall-hung with family name.
ranch house address plaqueThen we settled on one design we thought would be versatile and represent the spirit of all the variations we had seen. It’s the 1702. Gosh it’s nice.

The angle is just right for hanging or mounting. The 5 points are deep without being jagged. The spacing is even but not overly mechanical.

We set out to decode the geometry behind the 1702 for our digital cutting tool. Getting the angle and depth of the points was easy, but not the spacing of the notches. We eventually discovered that a vanishing point did the trick.

cutting woodRed lines show the angle of the points and notches. We chose to make the notches start at the depth of the longest point.

marking wood to cut itBlue lines show equal spacing between the points and notches. It’s kinda dull, and the first and last points are thinner than the middle three.

designing an address placardDrawing the blue lines down to a vanishing point evens out the width of the points and gives them a lively feel similar to the 1702 plate.

There are additional details that clip the points slightly so they won’t chip or fray, and round the hollow of the notches for painting, but that’s the basic design we went to production with.

address placard for a ranch houseSo now the mystery: Why was everyone cutting notches in boards for house numbers and signs in the 50’s? Seriously, this is where we need your help.

 

western moviesPhoto from westernclippings.com

Here are a few theories we have.

  • The design referenced a time when actual broken pieces of wood were used for signs.
  • Carpenters used leftover scrap to make these when the house was finished.
  • These were available at the local hardware store.
  • And our favorite: It was a common Jr. High shop project in the fifties. Jigsaw 101.

Does any of this ring a bell? We would love to hear your theories or stories.

Cheers!

P.S. It makes great house warming gift!

Thank you, David. I love the detail in your write-up — and such attention to detail sure shows in all your products, too.

So readers, what do you think?
I made a polldaddy poll, but if you have another theory
— or better yet, definitive information — let’s hear it!

Be-Safe-graphic2.3

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Comments

  1. says

    I have to agree with everybody who is saying it was a nod to the “old times.” Americana nostalgia was big in the 50s (probably bigger than the atomic look we associate it with now.) It reminds me, too, of those black eagles you always see hanging above garages. I’m not sure where that came from either, but I’m certain it was another nod to the past.

  2. tammyCA says

    I vote for the broken fence/western ranch style for the reason. But, maybe there were industrial arts boys back then making them and selling them like the current dudes who keep coming around painting the addresses on the curb for money.
    I like my vintage script numbers..my husband nearly threw them away when we had the house painted..I almost choked him. Instead, I painted them black (were brass) and then he thought they were cool.

  3. Joe Felice says

    The question remains: Do you install the plaques horizontally, or on an upward slant. These were indeed used everywhere, all over the country. I seem to recall most of them being slanted. And to think: We removed them and replaced them with fancier plaques. (That seems to be the new American way.)

    I think the custom started when homebuilders finished a home and wanted to put an exclamation point on it. They were probably proud of what they had built, took a piece of wood that was left over, and made the plaque. Then it became a custom. (Back then, no one would have thought of simply slapping address numbers on the house.) I’m sure their process was not as elaborate or detailed as yours. They probably just cut the wood, put the numbers on, and hung it. I’ll bet the “points” and “notches” were not evenly spaced at all.

  4. peter says

    I just built one of these signs for my house using the drawings above, a scrap of wood, a handsaw and some inexpensive brass numbers from Home Depot. It looks great on the big oak tree at the foot of our driveway and adds a little arts-and-craftsy charm to our mid-century ranch.

  5. Jamie says

    We bought some Neutraface numbers for our house a couple of years ago. I had been wanting some of those for quite a while and was very excited when I installed them on the house. Now I feel I made a mistake and wish I had made one of these signs instead. They have been growing on me lately and seeing this leaves me thinking about what could have been. Maybe I can come up with something to put out by the street and put one out there….
    Our house is more midcentury modest so the Neutraface numbers are a little out of place but I have thought they look okay. One of these classic signs would fit so much better.

  6. Kathy says

    I don’t even find the ranchero number plaque on their website anymore. I tried searching on the Crestview site and nothing comes up.

    • pam kueber says

      I was looking for it yesterday, too, and noticed it was gone. I will reach out and ask them the status…

  7. Lori says

    Thank you for this blog. We have a brick 1953 split in a DC suburb with one of these slanted signs. I was just about to replace it with something more contemporary, as is the trend in our over-developing neighborhood. But you have convinced me that it would be a travesty. Our house was built by a well known admiral, and part of the home’s provenance is a nicely worn table we affectionately call “the Admiral’s workbench” in the basement which he probably built himself and where he clearly did his projects. My parents’ 1960 brick ranch nearby has a similar homemade workbench in the garage. So I vote for the theory that the original homeowners of that generation did things the old fashioned way, with their own hands and with the pride of authorship. These signs are a symbol of the values of their generation. And thanks to this thoughtful discussion, our house will keep ours in tact.

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