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World War II & Post-War Residential Building Types

World War II & Post-War Residential
World War II-Era Cottage 1940-1950
Early Ranch 1945-1955
Ranch c. 1955-1980
Split Level/Split Entry c. 1950-1980
Mobile Home 1950-present
Modular/Manufactured Home 1960s-present
Contemporary 1955-present

You will notice that floor plans do not accompany the later house types in this guide. In these cases, field investigation has not progressed to the extent that specific sub-categories have been identified. But since it seemed wise to point out areas needing further research, we have included these large, general categories in an effort to acknowledge their importance in Utah architecture. We hope that continued investigation by future researchers will more fully describe and explain these important forms

During the second half of the 20th century, changes occurred in housing design as a result of innovations in construction and technology as well as an unprecedented demand for single-family dwellings. During World War II, a shortage of construction materials led to smaller, more efficient housing designs influenced by the federal government’s plans for war industry-related housing projects.

About this time another major design change was taking place–and that was in how a house interfaced with the street. In prior decades, the primary focus of the Victorian cottage and bungalow 5-3rd-Ave-Helper_largetypes was on the street side, where one could sit on the large front porch and visit with neighbors. However, as the period cottage replaced the bungalow as the most popular house type, the porch became smaller and took on a less significant role. With the development of the World War II-era cottage and the ranch house types, the porch had diminished to little more than a stoop.

Then, during the 1940s and 1950s, as new subdivisions sprang up almost overnight and older neighborhoods became crowded with new infill, residents desired more privacy from the street, and the focus of the house shifted toward the back yard, particularly in the Ranch house. These post-war types influenced later housing types for many decades and can be found in any community, rural or urban.

463-Blaine_largeFrom the early 20th century up to the 1940s houses were designed with a narrow street façade and a plan that went deep into the property, but by the 1940s a transition began to occur. Primarily because of wartime economics, the narrow, deep floor plan of the bungalow and period cottage types transformed to a single-story, square, boxy plan with small rooms situated around a core. This plan economized space and allowed for easily mass-producible housing at a time when resources and manpower were scarce. The earlier period cottage types transitioned in the 1940s as the appearance became less vertical and more boxy and compact. Gables are not as steeply pitched and the overall appearance is simpler. The enclosed, attached garage became a major feature with this house type as the automobile flourished following the war. Attached garages are typically small and found on the side of the house. As demand for housing reached all time highs following the war, the World War II era cottage was constructed in vast numbers in large, concentrated suburban tracts across the country, most notably in the Levittown developments in the Northeastern United States.

Toward the end of the 1940s, post-war prosperity increased due to veterans receiving GI Bills and easier home-financing terms. As the number of marriages and size of families increased, the small early-ranch1-orem_largeWorld War II-era-cottage type was becoming obsolete.

The core of small rooms based around a compact kitchen and living room began a transition to a new plan, a plan that actually originated during the 1930s in California: the ranch house. In response to the compact, tightly confined WWII-era cottages, the early ranch plan stretched the house slightly more across the lot and provided larger window openings to allow the outdoors in. The ranch’s exterior appearance resembled that of the WWII-era cottage, only larger.

With the transitional early ranch house, floor plans changed slightly from the WWII-era cottage. Bedrooms were pulled away from the kitchen/living room section of the house. The overall appearance is that of an elongated WWII-era cottage; slightly less boxy, but with similar details. As with the WWII-era cottage, the early ranch continued the convenience of a garage attached to the side of the house.

Early ranch houses may have some traditional stylistic influence; however, unlike most types, early ranch style is usually evocative of minimal traditionalism—with even less historical reference.

135-S.-200-East-Farmington_largeThe complete transition to the ranch-type house from the WWII-era cottage occurred in the mid 1950s. Stretched even longer across the lot than the early ranch, the ranch house type is still being constructed to this day. Although there are various plans associated with the ranch house, the most basic features the living room/dining room/kitchen placed together on one end of the house with a hallway extending from the side off which the bedrooms and bathroom are located. One major change the ranch house type initiated was altering the primary focus of the house from the street to the backyard. No longer was the front porch a welcome invitation to visit with the neighborhood, now the emphasis was placed on the sanctuary of the backyard with emerging presence of the patio and sliding glass doors inviting nature inside as well. As the 1950s progressed into the 1960s horizontal sliding windows began to replace vertical double-hung sashes, and larger plate-glass windows opened a vista into the living room. New “space age” plastic materials for flooring, countertops and other details were introduced as were shapes and colors. As the type progressed into the late 1950s and early 1960s touches of Modernism appeared in the form of large intersecting planes (wide chimneys, carports, and wall planes that extend out from the sides). The Space Age also influenced the architecture with triangular and swooping forms typically in carport and patio roofs and supports. Attached garages were fairly common in the ranch and are typically incorporated into the design so that the same roof line and pitch are used over the garage or carport area. Like the early ranch type, ranch houses also are a style unto themselves—sort of a stripped down progression of the early ranch. A smaller, simplified version of the ranch is the “box ranch,” which is typically a shorter than a typical ranch, with very few identifying features. Ranch houses are often referred to as “ramblers” in real estate parlance.

The ranch house places the primary living spaces on a single floor, although basements were common in this type. But in the 1950s another house type emerged, which placed rooms on different 210-S-200-W-Orangeville_largefloors according to use–the split level. Although not as popular in Utah as the ranch when first introduced, the split level increased in popularity during the 1960s and 1970s.

The split level has three and sometimes four levels, with one side of the house comprised of a single-story portion and the other half comprised of two levels—one level a half-story above the main level, and the other level a half-story below. The main level contains the entrance, living room, and kitchen. The upper level contains the bedrooms, and the lower level contains the newly introduced family room/recreation room and bedrooms.

In some examples, the lower level contains a garage, which solves the problem of not having enough room on the property for an outbuilding. However, with larger lot sizes, the lower level added living space to the design. Some examples have a fourth level typically comprised of a basement below the first-story level.

The placement of various uses on different floors separates public and private areas are separated, giving more privacy to the bedroom areas and emphasizing the living and family rooms.

In a variation, the split entry type also implements a raised foundation but has two full floors rather than a staggered layout, essentially creating a two-story ranch house without placing the basement completely below ground level. The raised entryway enters onto a landing from which a stairway ascends a half level to the main living/kitchen/bedroom area or descends a half level to the family room/bedroom/basement area.

Many would not consider mobile homes buildings, mainly because they are “mobile,” and not permanently attached to the ground. Nor would they be considered historic in that they don’t seem to mobile-home_largemeet the 50-year age criterion. Probably a majority of mobile homes, however, are only moved once – from the sales lot to the dwelling site, and they are mobile only in that they were moved to the site on wheels.

As for being historical, some existing mobile homes were manufactured as early as the late 1940s or early 1950s. However, probably because of the semi-permanent construction materials and methods (plus the perceived disposable nature of this type), truly historic mobile homes are difficult to find.

Early models are fairly narrow and usually covered in metal or aluminum siding. Double-wide mobile homes came along in the 1960s. Innovations to make the dwellings more permanent include structures (typically lumber) constructed around or over them to support a gable roof, lean-to additions, and porch enclosures. Because the mobile home is unique in its appearance (compared to other residential examples) it is also noted as an architectural style.

Manufactured homes are basically a progression from mobile homes and have become increasingly popular; in part because they represent a dwelling that is more substantial and permanent than a 55-N-100-W-Loa_largemobile home but less expensive than a house constructed on site. The concept is not new, however, and has ties to the 18th and 19th centuries in America, when cabins were often relocated, and more recently in the mid-20th century, when people bought decommissioned military and government surplus buildings for residential and other uses.

Modular homes look similar to mobile homes in that they are long and narrow enough to be transported on trailers (sometimes in two lengthwise halves). However, they are typically larger than mobile homes and resemble a basic ranch-type house in appearance.

Modular homes are also made to sit on a concrete or concrete block foundation, and some can accommodate a basement, and therefore have a more permanent nature. Construction materials come in a wide variety as well, including aluminum or vinyl siding, log veneer, plywood, stucco, and even a thin brick veneer and “permastone.”

Like mobile homes, modular homes are commonly sold from roadside lots and are particularly popular in rural areas. Although various styles are used in manufactured homes, like the mobile home they typically have their own style, and so they are noted in the style section as well.

In the 1950s and 1960s the ranch and split level house types dominated domestic architecture. However, as in previous decades, architects had a minor influence on the mostly contemp1-st-geo_largecontractor-built housing. Noted architects such as Richard Neutra and Robert Venturi were designing boldly shaped, geometrical houses in various parts of the country. These examples influenced local architects who designed residences for wealthier clients.

Contemporary describes both a type and style. Contemporary-type houses are designed primarily with an open plan and large window expanses to take advantage of view lots. The type incorporates geometrical–particularly angular–shapes, particularly in roof design. In keeping with their intended natural environment, these houses often implement materials like rough wood plank siding and formed concrete walls.

Although the architect-designed versions are typically located on hillsides and in canyons, they influenced the more common contractor-designed suburban examples, where “contemporary” refers more to an applied style. Probably the most common types are modified Ranch and Split Level-type houses with larger windows and other architectural details. Another common feature in more-recent examples is a clerestory window in a raised shed roof.