HOME DESIGN : A Stroll in Brookdale : Tour to Showcase 1920s-1930s Homes

Sherry Angel is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

When residents of Brookdale Place in Fullerton open their doors today for the YWCA of North Orange County’s 50th Home and Garden Tour, they will be offering visitors a glimpse of Orange County history.

Most of the 17 homes on the tour were built before 1930 and, although they have been remodeled over the years to accommodate growing families and modern conveniences, they have retained much of their original architectural detail.

“There’s been a lot of integrity in the remodeling,” said Patricia Straube, a Fullerton interior designer and chairwoman of the YWCA event. “Everybody who moves there feels a responsibility to key their remodeling to the style of the house.”


Those who participate in the walking tour from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. will see an eclectic mix of architectural styles, from Spanish Colonial Revival to English country cottage--perhaps a reflection of the diverse backgrounds of early residents, Straube said.

The 300 and 400 blocks of jacaranda-lined West Brookdale Place--part of a city-designated historic district--were selected as the home tour site “because this area has always been known as a very charming neighborhood,” Straube explained. “It’s one of several unique communities in Fullerton that have an identity.”

The neighborhood was developed as “Brookdale Heights” in the 1920s by Lois Weber, an actress who became known as the first female movie director, and her husband, Capt. Harry Gantz, a retired World War I Army officer who had acquired the land when he bought the El Dorado Ranch in Fullerton.

Lots originally were advertised for $1,500 to $3,000, and houses were priced at $8,000 to $9,000--an upscale project at the time. The neighborhood, later promoted as “Hospitality Lane,” wasn’t fully developed until the 1950s.

On another part of their acreage, the Gantzes built a Spanish-style residence with a tower retreat for Weber, a prolific screenwriter who became a controversial figure after forming her own production company to make films on such topics as birth control, abortion, infidelity and interracial relationships. The house was bought in 1931 by C. Stanley Chapman, son of Fullerton’s first mayor, and remained in the Chapman family until its donation recently to Cal State Fullerton for use by the college president.

The former Gantz home won’t be on today’s home and garden tour, but the era during which Weber made such films as “Angel of Broadway,” “The Sensation Seekers” and “What Do Men Want?” is recalled in Brookdale homes dating as far back as 1923.

Betsy Kelsey, who moved to Brookdale Place seven years ago with her husband, Frank, and their two children, said they were drawn to the neighborhood by its sense of history.

“We liked the older, classic, unique kinds of homes,” she said. “We liked the feeling of an old neighborhood.”

The Kelseys added a second story with bay windows that give the exterior of their 1939 home a New England-style look, but they maintained the original character of the home by preserving its hardwood floors and wood-framed windows and using traditional molding as an accent in the entryway and dining room. Straube helped them create an American country look in the living and dining rooms, both of which will be open to visitors today.

Kelsey, who helped organize the tour, said the neighborhood’s residents are a mix of young families who are relatively new on the block and older couples who have lived there 20 to 40 years.

They all come together several times a year for block parties, and at Christmas for a cookie exchange.

“It’s a very close neighborhood, which is why we were able to pull this home tour off,” Straube noted. “There was a lot of camaraderie that we could draw upon.”

Even residents whose homes won’t be open today have been sprucing up their gardens for the occasion, Kelsey said.

Tickets are $20 each and can be purchased from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the YWCA House, 321 N. Pomona Ave., Fullerton, or at one of the three admission tables along the two-block tour (at Richman, Highland and Ford) from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Box lunches will be sold for $5 each at the concession area near Ford Avenue and Brookdale Place.

Parking will be available on adjacent streets. Shuttle service from the rear parking area of Fullerton City Hall, 303 W. Commonwealth Ave., will be provided for seniors or people with walking difficulties.

Proceeds from the event will support projects of the YWCA of North Orange County, including child care and youth employment services. For more information, call (714) 871-4488.