I 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 Things that have been superseded by something more modern, or which simply faded from fashion.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.
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:
- 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.