The bungalow court came up on a short call with an architect last week, in reference to one building type native to Pasadena (ca. 1909, Sylvanus Marston). Although I was certainly aware of the type from movies (like the Bavarian Village in Silverlake — the apartment complex in “Mulholland Drive”), my knowledge of California courtyard housing is mostly limited to often-Mission Revival courtyards of attached and sometimes stacked maisonettes or flats. However, newly built courts of detached bungalows or cottages have proved popular in the Northwest, and the housing type might have new relevance in the era of the not-so-big house. It seems remarkably appropriate for multifamily infill within established single-family neighborhoods, or for difficult, deep sites within new towns where one might otherwise be tempted to put a cul-de-sac. Perhaps best of all, the small increments of the plan mean that it can be adapted for almost any site or market preference, with an endless variety of plans.
The National Register of Historic Places has a scanned document (ca. 1978; 5MB PDF) giving names, addresses, and descriptions for dozens of bungalow courts in Pasadena. It would be interesting to go around and see what shape they’re in today; I’ll look for a few in June.
For some more photos, scroll down to Bungalow Courts in this slide-show outline from UCSB.
A 1988 survey of San Diego’s bungalow courts and their residents found that not only has this housing type withstood the test of time–80% were still intact, 70 years after their heyday — but that they were well-liked by their diverse residents, with only 5% of the respondents dissatisfied. The courts were primarily located along streetcar lines in the then-new neighborhoods just north of Balboa Park, and many were marketed to single women (then a brand-new household type) as a neighborly, familial middle ground between expensive homeownership and hedonistic apartment life.
Many individual courts acquired social identities over time; some courts were still filled with single women who all moved in decades ago. The reasons for the courts’ passage into history seems simple but stupid in retrospect: “Due to the unfathomable popularity of the two-story ‘dingbat’ apartment complex, eight units could now be crammed onto one city lot complete with off-street parking. It is probably also true that apartment seekers in the 1960s (like everyone else) wanted modern dwellings with gleaming kitchens and green shag carpeting.” In addition, bungalow courts’ small units and lack of attached garages may have turned away potential occupants.