“Designed For California Living”

By Dennis Sullivan
At the beginning of the twentieth century, southern California was already a popular destination for tourists trying to escape harsh winters back home or sometimes seeking the light and air that could cure their illnesses. Cheap train fares driven by rail price wars drew visitors from large eastern cities like Chicago as never before. Many stayed while others returned for annual winter retreats. At the same time, builders were busy constructing everything from apartments to beautiful hotels that would provide temporary housing for these visitors and new residents.

Around 1909, a new concept in temporary dwellings started an architectural style that continues to this day, the bungalow court. This style has its roots in either the Spanish patio villa or, as some have suggested, the summer cabin resort in the woods. Either way, the layout for bungalow courts gave builders a method to increase the number of homes per acre. With demand high for tourist and temporary housing, this community court concept was tremendously popular with builders and dwellers alike.

The concept was centered on two or three land parcels joined together so a group of cottages could be built around a central open space in which a walkway or driveway would be added. Early bungalow courts were built on lots of at least 100 feet wide with eight or more cottages. The open space typically was a garden area around 50 feet wide with a walkway and plantings for each cottage. After 1920 bungalow courts became narrower with widths typically of only 75 feet. Car parking on many courts was generally at the rear of the units. An enclosed court had a structure, often a larger unit, at the end of the open space that created the U shape.

The architectural style of these courts ranged from Spanish Colonial Revival to Swiss Chalet. They all shared the basic design of cottages arranged around a courtyard. Builders found that they could keep the California garden setting so popular with bungalow home builders while reducing land costs by using the court plan. Most significant bungalow courts were built from 1910 to 1933. The Depression stopped the steady growth of new bungalow courts across the country.

Like bungalow home design in general, the court bungalows shared the cost-cutting elements of no basements and no attics. However, they also shared the integration of garden and house. The gardens and courtyards helped, along with patios and porches, to bring the outdoors closer and to provide some seclusion in what was a cluster of homes.
The bungalow court cottage gave the occupant an affordable home that was much more than an apartment with the feel of a single family home. The fact that many courts still exist today is testimony to the quality of life they provide as well as a solid source of income for the owners.

Redondo Beach still has good examples of bungalow courts which have somehow survived through the growth of condominium and apartment complexes over the years. An excellent bungalow court is the H&M Courts at 207-211 South Broadway. Built in 1923 by Annie and Anthony Hock, it features Craftsman bungalow design elements such as fireplaces, built-ins and exposed beams.

A review of the Sanborn insurance maps from 1916 until 1946 indicated that the majority of bungalow courts in Redondo Beach were built on Catalina and Broadway Avenues. Some of the Catalina Avenue. courts were on the west side of the street and were demolished with the city’s urban renewal of the 1960s.

A walk down Broadway south of Diamond Street is a great way to enjoy the remaining bungalow courts. Some are small and very lush with gardens such as the units at 127-129 North Broadway. Others show the Bungalow warmth and charm with excellent Craftsman touches as seen in the 129-133 S. Broadway courts. Other courts are located at 511-513 S. Broadway and 117-121 Broadway. At 518 Catalina Avenue just north of Sapphire still stands a beautiful example of the community court concept. At the northeast corner of Broadway and Emerald is a spanish style court of tightly grouped cottages.

The court design represents a successful attempt to bring gardens and homes together in a community setting of both private and public space. It is truly an idea that has allowed many Californians to enjoy the good life.