California’s Cinderella Ranch House: A Real-life Fairy Tale

The first Cinderella Ranch built by Jean Valjean Vandruff still stands in its original location in Downey at 9070 Lubec St.
The first Cinderella Ranch built by Jean Valjean Vandruff still stands in its original location in Downey at 9070 Lubec St.

What is known as the “Cinderella Ranch” started on a small scale. In fact, it was a single house in the Los Angeles suburb of Downey, California (home of the Carpenters and later James Hetfield of Metallica) and happened quite by chance.

The first Cinderella Ranch was a custom home constructed by Jean Valjean Vandruff, a builder who born in 1922 with Scotch-Irish and Pennsylvania-Dutch bloodlines who had served in World War II. After serving his country, settling in Downey and buying the family’s first house with his veteran’s benefits, Vandruff later helped his brother Shannon build a family home.

He found he liked the experience and, according to his own website, decided to quit attending USC to begin a career in home building. He and his brother started their new career in their own city of Downey, where they were familiar with the area. In 1954, Vandruff completed a custom house in the low-slung, ranch style that was so popular in California at the time.

Vandruff’s ranch, however, had some twists that distinguished it from others, including steep gables, gingerbread trim and shake-shingle roofs. After seeing the house in its completed form, Vandruff’s wife commented that it looked like a home Cinderella would live in—and the name stayed. That first house was a success and nearly 35,000 people streamed through when it was opened to the public.

The first large-scale tract to feature Cinderella Ranches were located in Anaheim, just minutes away from Disneyland. Many examples survive, including this house.
The first large-scale tract to feature Cinderella Ranches were located in Anaheim, just minutes away from Disneyland. Many examples survive, including this house.

Encouraged by the success, Vandruff and his brother decided it was time to expand from one-off homes to the housing tracts that were blanketing Southern California as the post-War population boomed. They secured 40 acres in Anaheim, where Disneyland was then under construction. The ambitious plan was for 168 houses, with four floor plans designed. As soon as they were offered for sale, the entire tract sold out in three days.

Next, the brothers built a development of 701 houses. Then they expanded again to include more than 6,000 Cinderella homes in several states. Like many post-World War II developments, Cinderella Ranch houses were specifically designed to have solid construction with higher end features but also priced affordably for expanding middleclass.

Today, Cinderella Ranches are a part of Southern California’s architectural heritage, specifically with large numbers in Orange and Los Angeles counties. They are easily recognizable thanks to their gables and gingerbread trim.

Cinderella Ranch Features Include:

Steep gables

Gingerbread trim

Single story

Horizontal orientation

Rustic elements, such as rock or brick

Decorative, non-functional shutters

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