You don’t need an agent, a head shot, or the unlisted phone number of a Kardashian to get to Hollywood. Just take 611 north and make a right on Route 73. A few turns later, the names of the streets will have a familiar ring: Los Angeles, Pasadena, Redondo, San Diego, San Gabriel.
Hollywood, Pennsylvania, located in Abington Township near the edge of Philadelphia’s Fox Chase neighborhood, is an architectural déjà vu. Created in 1928 by developer Gustav Weber, the neighborhood duplicates the Spanish Revival bungalows of early 20th century Los Angeles. They featured pastel-colored stucco exteriors, flat, red clay tile roofs, and arched windows and doors. Many contained Moravian tile fireplaces, stairs, and sidewalks from Mercer Tile Works in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. When they were completed the homes sold for $4,000 to $5,000.
Weber came up with the idea after a trip to the West Cost, but his timing couldn’t have been worse. He went bankrupt during the Great Depression of 1929 and never finished the development as originally planned. When a local developer, Sidney Robin, took over in the 1940s, he departed from the Spanish Revival bungalows, which were no longer in style, and built traditional houses.
Meanwhile, some of Weber’s ideas were abandoned early on. Palm trees that thrived in Southern California didn’t survive Northeastern winters. Flat roofs didn’t bear up under snow and rain and ultimately leaked. Tile sidewalks and stairs cracked and were replaced by concrete.
Weber’s little village of 174 picturesque bungalows continue to be highly desired today for their nod to Tinseltown, distinctive style, and affordable price. While larger homes in adjacent Jenkintown sell in the $400,000 to $800,000 range, these two bedroom, one bath, 986 square-foot homes can be had for around $250,000. Being in the Abington School District, they are considered “bargain basement” deals by area realtors. This makes them attractive to both young couples and retirees. Plus, their thick walls are warm in the winter and cool in the summer which reduces costs, especially during times of escalating fuel prices.
Bungalows first became popular in suburban neighborhoods from 1910 to 1939 as an outgrowth of the Arts and Crafts Movement. In Southern California where bungalows really took off, these modest, one-story houses are often referred to as Spanish or Mission bungalows.
This style was popularized by San Diego’s 1915 Panama–California Exposition which featured both Pueblo Revival and Mission Revival architectural styles. The design was in contrast to previous expositions, which had featured Neoclassical and Beaux-Arts styles. As a result, Spanish Colonial Revival became California’s indigenous, historical vernacular style, contrasting with its previous embrace of Victorian architecture. Entire towns, including Santa Barbara following its 1925 earthquake, were reconstructed in Mission style.
Between 1916 and 1923, bungalows sprang up in Hollywood to house employees of movie studios. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy supposedly shared one before they became famous. Today, a mix of actors, writers, and artists continue to live in these small, stucco homes, but they are no longer priced for wannabes. An authentic Hollywood bungalow now carries a $1M price tag.
While there are 24 cities named Hollywood in as many states, only the one located just outside of Philadelphia’s city limits replicates the distinctive architecture of the Hollywood of Charlie Chaplin, Lillian Gish, and Rudolph Valentino, which makes it all the more worth a visit for film connoisseurs and architectural history buffs. Mystify friends in Philly by posting selfies in front of these quirky American time capsules.
Bewitched by bungalows in Hollywood, Pennsylvania. Photographs by Michael Bixler.