Whimsical architecture in the storybook style is not uncommon in Burlingame, California, but seeing five such homes in a row is a treat for the eyes and the imagination. On Carlos Avenue in Burlingame, known as Storybook Lane, there are five homes all on one side of the street, and they look as if they were pulled out of a fairytale.
According to two of the homeowners, the five homes were all built by the same architect at the same time, although neither could remember architect's name. A young resident who lives across the street said they are "all a hundred [years old]," but it is more likely that they were built in the 1920s, when such homes were popular. With the rise in movie attendance in the '20s came the storybook style of architecture, fueled by the imaginations of Americans who wanted to travel but did not have the means.
Burlingame has quite a few of these homes scattered throughout the residential streets. During the heyday of cinema, many of these homes were also built in Hollywood and other places, and they were characterized by fanciful designs. Many look like medieval cottages, and the Tudor style is very popular.
Burlingame has so many of these homes because at one time it was hoped that Burlingame would be "the Hollywood of the North," according to Joanne Garrison's " Burlingame: Centennial 1908-2008." Several films were made in the area, which encouraged a group of investors to purchase 100 acres of land just off Peninsula Avenue at the border of Burlingame and San Mateo. Pacific Studios was built in 1921 while "Little Lord Fauntleroy" was being filmed at the Kohl Mansion in Burlingame. Pacific Studios produced only one successful film, "White Hands," before it closed its doors in 1929.
The homes on Carlos Avenue are a lot of fun to look at. Each one appears to be indicative of a particular fairytale, although if you look closely, they follow roughly the same design. All the garages are tucked away behind the homes and to one side, perhaps to avoid distracting the viewer with this indication of modern life. The garages are designed exactly the same as the homes, with the same style of doors and windows. Each home is distinct from the next, having its own tale to tell.
Each house has a tower, dormers, unique windows, and other indications of the fairy story they refer to. The witch's cottage from "Hansel and Gretel," Rapunzel's tower, the castle from "Sleeping Beauty," the cottage of the dwarves from "Snow White" -- they're all here.
Elizabeth Danu is a Bay Area native and theater enthusiast with an unquenchable interest in all things whimsical.
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