DOWNEY – Downey resident Kathy Perez did some research after reading an article that the first “Cinderalla Home” built by Jean Valjean VanDruff in 1954 was located in Downey.
The article, titled “The Fading Romance of America’s Cinderalla Homes,” was published last week on CityLab.com, a publication of The Atlantic.
“These low-slung, ranch-style houses, marked by high-gabled, shake-shingle roofs and decorative gingerbread trim, sold a fantasy,” the story read. “These were storybook homes, designed through and through to appeal to the nuclear family at the dawn of the Atomic Age.
“They also sold dreams of Western expansion and middle class membership—dreams that have faded as much as the homes themselves.”
We will let Kathy Perez take it from here:
“After reading the article, “The Fading Romance of America’s Cinderella Homes”, and learning that the first Cinderella Home was built in Downey in 1954 by Jean Valjean VanDruff, I started searching for more information to locate this very special home. I found a website and contact information for Mr. VanDruff, not knowing if it was still current or if Mr. VanDruff was still alive. I was so excited when I received a reply from the man himself, but dismayed when he couldn’t remember the address, just the cross streets."
“I took architecture at USC, and started designing and building custom homes in Downey in 1949," VanDruff wrote in an email. "I enjoyed it so much, I dropped out of school and concentrated on home building. Then, in 1954, I designed a home on Lubec Street near Arrington. My wife, Eleanor, saw me designing it and said it should be a home for Cinderella - a magic moment.
"When it was finished, I put a sign up on the side of the front yard, calling it the Cinderella Home. Both outside and inside, it was an unbelievable sensation. People came from everywhere to see it, lining up out into the street to come in. We estimated that about 35,000 people came to see that home, but in the meantime, my brother and I decided to quit custom building and go into tract building.The fantastic success of that home helped us to accomplish
it, our first tract having 168 homes in west Anaheim in 1955.
"So, actually Kathy, there is only one Cinderella Home in Downey. All the others were pre-Cinderella. In all modesty, I did contribute some wonderful homes to the city of Downey, but they were before the Cinderella sensation.”
I contacted George Redfox and he did a bit of google sleuthing. He found what he thought might be our Cinderella Home. I sent Mr. VanDruff the photo and this is what he wrote back:
“Right on! Kathy, it couldn’t be missed! It even still has the original garage door which was an integral facet of the architecture. The shrubbery is TERRIBLY overgrown, and the roof just doesn’t have the soft, wonderful character that the cedar shakes had.
"You are exactly correct in your understanding that the building permit was taken out in 1953 and, of course, construction would have started immediately. It probably took about 5 months to build. The shrubbery should be removed and replaced with new plantings. It almost totally hides the Palos Verdes stonework and literally dominates the picture. The ‘thing’ on the lawn, beside the driveway, is a unique Palos Verdes planter and big decorative hanging light fixture, but you would never know it. After all these years, the buried light fixture is probably no good. It was quite a beautiful feature when it was new.
"As McDonald’s Golden Arches has to be the most renowned structure and business in Downey, the Cinderella Home was surely the most renowned residence.”
Finding Mr. VanDruff and his Cinderella Home has made the last couple of days quite exciting! I was so afraid that both he and the home were gone. Knowing that they are both in great shape is great news!
I hope that we can move forward and do whatever we can to make sure that this “renowned residence” is celebrated and protected from alteration and demolition.
Kathy Perez and George Redfox are board members with the Downey Conservancy.