dovecote in a storybook ranch houseI am super fascinated by the archaic features and fixtures of midcentury houses…. Things that have been superseded by something more modern, or which simply faded from fashion. Quick! We better get them on the blog fast, so’s we don’t forget them. Stuff like hudee rings, and push-button plumbing, and appliance centers, and today: Dovecotes in storybook ranches. No, these are not “birdhouses”. The are: Dovecotes. Vestigial ones, that is.

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These photos both come from Tiki Lisa’s flickr photostream. You can click directly on either photo or on the link just prior to see her whole set — it’s pretty fantastic, the houses in the neighborhood are all sweeties like these two.

Dovecotes: According to Wikipedia, dovecotes are used to house pigeons and doves which “were an important food source historically in Western Europe and were kept for their eggs, flesh, and dung.” The dung was for fertilizer. They add, “In some cultures, particularly Medieval Europe, the possession of a dovecote was a symbol of status and power and was consequently regulated by law.”  Dovecotes could be free-standing or, as in the above mid-century examples, built into the ends of houses.

Here (below) is a dovecote from yee-old times:

This photo’s (above) caption says: “The doocot (dovecot) at the new stables, Eglinton Country Park, Kilwinning, North Ayrshire, Scotland.” (Public domain/Wikipedia). Below: Another photo from Tiki Lisa’s set:

So now to the “why”. I am not a PhD historian, but from my studies and general exposure, I speculate the following:

  • In the 1920s and especially the 1930s, there was a “romantic revival” in housing styles in America that gave us Tudors and Spanish Revival and the like… Homes that harkened back to old Europe and included sentimental “romantic” features.  This all kind of died down during the depths of the Depression and WWII.
  • After WWII, housing began booming again. But, we evolved to new styles — and on the west coast, especially, to ranch houses.
  • Now that you have the context, here is my hypothesis for why-dovecotes: I suspect that on the west cost, which has always been full of fruitcakes (just testing to see if you’re reading this; just kidding; I am a born Californian, so I can kid), I mean, which was beginning to lead in design innovation, the so-called “merchant builders” — who were responsible for building the gazillions of tract house subdivisions across America — adapted the basic mid century modest ranch house box design to add some “romantic” features, as they had done in the 20s and 30s. Only this time around, the one-story plan was amenable to Hansel & Gretel type houses — “storybook ranches” — also known as “cinderella ranches” — or even, “swiss chalet ranches.”  The dovecotes were included, in this spirit, along with other flourishes that, when you analyze them, look pretty easy to execute… they were mostly decorative.
  • For example, see this storybook ranch house, which by the shrubbery appears to be one the west coast.
  • But note this storybook ranch also, which I stumbled upon just a few miles from my house — in Pittsfield, Mass. Surrounded by basic colonial-ranches… someone had a different vision!
  • Note, that Wikipedia also says that dovecotes went out of functional use late in the 1800s…but that there was a revival in the 20th century among pigeon fanciers. They don’t say when in the 2oth century, but if it was around the middle of the century, then perhaps this archaic style was back in the public consciousness.

Thanks to Tiki Lisa for permission to feature the photos and for documenting this very fascinating feature.

  1. Jen says:

    This is so cool! What a charming feature…I’ve never seen this on a home before, but I live in the Midwest, so perhaps it never really took off here?

    I’d love to see it come back in style!

  2. Mattie says:

    Sacramento seems to be a hotbed of dovecotes! In addition to Parkway Estates, as Lauren says, they’re on most of the houses in Cottage Park and I’ve seen them scattered in other midcentury neighborhoods. They’re so common, it never occurred to me to photograph them for Flickr. Now I’ll have to get the camera and go for a walk!

  3. Lara Jane says:

    I was going to say, the dovecote was featured on the storybook houses of the 20s and 30s, for sure (I should know, as I am obsessed with them and have been working on plans for building one for about 10 years!). See the book Storybook Style by Arrol Gellner, I’m almost positive some of the homes in there had dovecotes, along with some of the other features later incorporated into the Storybook Ranch style.

    And according to my resources, the Disney style was influenced by this subset of Romantic Revival architecture, not the other way around (remember, the movies — namely Snow White — came before Disneyland!).

  4. tammyCA says:

    My 1954 house has this feature…I’m in So Cal and there are a lot of storybook houses. I’m not sure what a Cinderella is, but one time in house hunting 10 yrs ago I did see a pink bathroom with Cinderella’s coach on the bath wall tile. I think these houses were called Cinderella as I heard my Realtor say that name. I happen to really love the storybook/chalet/hansel & gretel type houses & wish mine looked more so, but I still have the X window frames as I wouldn’t have them replaced when we did the rest of the house windows (these were not Xs).

  5. Diane Rush says:

    I too, am a dovecote devotee. I live in Rossmoor, California where the dovecote achieved a true art form. I plan to add a page to my historic architecture website featuring the beautiful original designs of Rossmoor’s 37 models available when the tract opened in 1957. Rossmoor was built by Ross Cortese and his architectural staff that included Cliff May and Earle Kaltenbach.

  6. Amy Dietz says:

    There are decorative dovecotes in my early 1960’s midwest neighborhood. These are side-to-side split levels, though, not ranches. It’s just the fancier homes that have them, attached just above the garage.

  7. pam kueber says:

    Wow, I’d sure love to see some pics of these, Amy. If you get a chance can you take a walk and shoot some pics and send them to me????

  8. Carole says:

    Just saw a house with one of these on it the other day, and wasn’t sure what it was, but suspected it had something to do with doves or pigeons.

    Sometimes I make a lucky guess and I’m right. lol

    We have quite a flock of doves/pigeons in our area this year. One pair has nested in our neighbors pine tree for the past couple of years. There is a large flock down the road, which hubby and I suspect to be from a ‘raise and release’, which is a common practice with pheasants in our area as well.

  9. Elizabeth Wright says:

    I have always loved this style of home. I love architecture in general but especially any style cottage! We are building a new home and I am trying to find a way to include a dovecote as I find them so charming a detail! (we have several of these “storybook ranches” here in Pocatello, ID where we live- I always called them “California” ranches because I thought that’s where they originated!)

  10. NReyes says:

    Storybook Ranch homes exist in Florida as well complete with Dovecotes. I have seen some neat dovecote designs as I myself live in an entire neighborhood of them. I stumbled upon this while researching pictures to restore my own.

  11. Bonnie says:

    Our tract where we live is considered the Cinderella\Storybook Ranch Style home. The architecture was actually inspired by it’s neighbor Disneyland, located less than 10 miles down the road. It was pretty cool to learn that these homes are so sought after. We replaced our windows a couple of years ago, but we could not get the diamond pane like the orignal ones. We also had to replace our garage door because it was a hazard. But other than that, the house is pretty true to the era.

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