KayLynn Deveney discovered storybook ranch houses back in the 1990s when she was a photographer with the late Albuquerque Tribune.
These houses – which slapped fairy tale elements such as heavy-cedar-shake roofing, long roof overhangs and diamond-pane windows on basic ranch house designs – were being touted back then in a Smithsonian Institution exhibit about scientific and technological advances in the mid-century American home.
Albuquerque homebuilder Dale Bellamah built a lot of these storybook ranch houses in his Princess Jeanne addition in the Northeast Heights in the 1950s. Deveney was assigned to photograph one to illustrate a Tribune story about the houses and the Smithsonian exhbit.
“These houses were among the first to have garbage disposals,” Deveney said. “They had sunlamps to heat up the bathrooms.” They also had intercom systems so moms could hear what the kids were up to in another room. The result was something like Snow White meets the Jetsons.
Deveney, 48, is today a lecturer in photography at the Belfast School of Art, Ulster University, in Northern Ireland. But she grew up in Albuquerque, is a graduate of Highland High School and the University of New Mexico and she spent much of the 1990s working for The Tribune.
She never got the odd phenomenon of storybook ranch houses out of her system. She and her friend Hank Stuever, the TV critic for The Washington Post and another Albuquerque kid who started his journalism career at The Tribune, teamed up to produce “All You Can Lose Is Your Heart,” a photo book about storybook ranch houses in Albuquerque; Las Vegas, Nev.; Orange County, Calif.; and Del City, Okla.
Deveney provided the photos and an interview with Jean Valjean Vandruff, the California designer and builder of custom homes who developed the architectural style, which he called Cinderella houses. Stuever contributed an accompanying essay. The book’s title comes from an ad for storybook ranch houses.
The book is a departure from Deveney’s usual photo stories, which are very personal and often very painful. She has photographed the stories of an AIDS activist, a rape survivor, glue-sniffers in Belfast and an elderly man robbed and beaten by workers he had hired. Her previous photo book “The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings,” is about an aging Welsh man.
“I think that for people who are familiar with my work, this (new book) might feel remote, not intimate,” Deveney said in an interview in a North Valley restaurant. “But when I was looking at these houses, it was like I was looking at people. It didn’t seem unpopulated to me.”
She said each house tells a story.
“There is this one house where they did not finish the trim,” she said. “I’m not sure if they ran out of paint, or didn’t have a ladder, or if it just got dark.”
Deveney said she was interested in the idealism of the 1950s that would produce an “ideal home” with storybook elements such as roof lines that are longer on one side than the other.
“Are those feelings still valid today?” Deveney asked herself. “I think in part they are. I think most people still want to be around people they love in an environment they can control and make comfortable.”
In this space two weeks ago, I wrote about how cowboys were a big part of childhood Christmases in the 1950s, how TV and movie cowboy Gene Autry sang “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and how, because cowboys were all the rage on TV and in the movies back then, most kids wanted some cowboy item for Christmas – a Red Ryder air rifle or a Hopalong Cassidy bike. I must have stirred up a lot of memories, because many of you phoned or emailed me to tell about your own fond recollections of those times. I even got a nice email from the president of Gene Autry Entertainment in Studio City, Calif.
Which brings me to my next point. The third of 10 principles in Gene Autry’s Cowboy Code is “A cowboy must always tell the truth.” In that column two weeks ago, I wrote about a Western music Christmas concert sponsored by the New Mexico chapter of the Western Music Association. I wrote then that I am a member of that WMA chapter and that “the chapter gets nothing out of the show except the satisfaction of making it happen.” I believed the latter to be true when I wrote it. But the turnout for the show was so good that after the chapter paid the act, the venue and promotional costs, there was more than $500 left over. That money will not go into the pockets of chapter members. We’re all volunteers. It will go toward the presentation of our next Western music or poetry show, because promoting and preserving Western music and poetry is the WMA mission. And telling the truth is the cowboy way. It’s also the newspaper reporter way.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Ollie at 823-3916 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letter/new to submit a letter to the editor.