Storybook Homes in East Oakland

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By Douglas Keister

CRENELLATION: On a Storybook house with a faceted tower and battened shutters, perhaps the most unusual feature is the crenellated parapet, conjuring up archers protecting the lord’s castle. Crenellations are rare in domestic architecture, as they are prone to leaks and rot.

CRENELLATION: On a Storybook house with a faceted tower and battened shutters, perhaps the most unusual feature is the crenellated parapet, conjuring up archers protecting the lord’s castle. Crenellations are rare in domestic architecture, as they are prone to leaks and rot.

Turning onto Picardy Drive, East Oakland’s block-long enclave of 1920s Storybook houses, is like entering a fairytale. These effervescent dwellings are meant to evoke vernacular homes in western Europe, a nostalgia imported by American soldiers after World War I. (Picardy is in northern France; Walt Disney drove an ambulance during the war.) Early examples near Los Angeles were designed by moonlighting Hollywood art directors. The style drifted into other cities before being shelved during the Depression. Picardy Drive was developed by builder Robert Cleveland Hillen and architect Walter W. Dixon, whose houses have been called “modest mansions.” Some houses are French Norman; others are Tudor-inspired, but the streetscape has unbroken continuity.