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Flat tops to McMansions
A retrospective of Family City housing
In the 50s, houses took up less of the lot than today, resulting in much larger yards - photo by HIME ROMERO

It’s little wonder that Ozzie was joined by Harriet in the work world.

Back in the 1950s, the typical new Manteca home consisted of a one-car garage, a little over 850 square feet and had two bedrooms and one bath.

Today, Manteca tract homes are surpassing 4,000 square feet and can offer up to eight bedrooms, five bathrooms, three-car garages and a rotunda if you’re so inclined.

Harriet needs to go to work just so she can take a rest from house work.

And if you think 4,000 square feet for a tract home is pushing the envelope, just look to the southeast of those subdivision monsters that cast shadows over streets in Woodward Park and Rose Garden and take in “The Mansion” - a 28,000-square-foot custom home resembling an Embassy Suites hotel that includes a home gym and the ultimate option package of underground parking and elevators just off Sedan Avenue.

To understand how we got here, you have to understand how it all started.

Before World War II tract homes were a unique commodity. In Manteca, that meant homes of contrasting design on remarkably small lots of 3,000 to 4,000 square feet that managed to jam in quite a bit of living space to create a tight neighborhood feel that was kept from getting claustrophobic by an abundance of trees and landscaping.

The streets were narrow. This not only helped neighbors feel closer to each other without a big expanse of asphalt separating them, but it also slowed down traffic.

Cars weren’t kings. Garages were built for one car and usually were detached from the house if they existed at all.

But the birth of Levitown on Long Island - considered by urban planners as the pioneer in tract home building - helped change the face of the United States. And no place was this growth patterns adopted with more vigor than in California.

The 1950s: Flat tops & large lots

The Ozzie & Harriet era in Manteca brought its share of flat-tops.

But what distinguished Manteca homes of that era the most was their relatively large size.

Homes ranged from 850 square feet such as the homes found along the 600 and 700 blocks of Pine and Fir streets to the 1,100-square-foot homes in Powers Tract.

Prices in the 1950s reached an outlandish $7,000 but young buyers told their parents the investment was worth it.

After all, they usually got a stucco home with an attached one-car garage, two bedrooms and a bath along with a yard that was typically almost twice the size of those in the neighborhoods surrounding the current day Manteca Museum.

The big trend was carports and decorative bricks. Crawl spaces were rapidly becoming an extinct commodity. You were uptown if you had a one-party phone line and a TV antenna on the roof.

Definitely when you think 1950s in Manteca, it is Powers Tract, Fir and Pine streets plus the emerging neighborhoods east of Fremont Avenue and north of North Street.

The 1960s: Cookie cutter perfected

While builders in the 1950s rarely built tract homes that had the same general feel to them, that changed in the 1960s when developers turned out perhaps eight different floor plans with some modifications to please families such as the Rob and Laurie Petri family of Dick Van Dyke fame.

The lots grew to a standard 6,000 square feet. Fireplaces became a popular option as an average new home offered between 1,150 and 1,400 square feet. The space came at a cost as prices started heading toward the $15,000 mark.

Roofs were more often than not composition shingles. Three-bedrooms and one-bath homes started becoming the norm with two bathrooms popping into the equation as the decade wore on. Attached two-car garages were the rage.

If there was a swimming pool in the back yard, it was apt to be a Doughboy. Central heat and air started surfacing.

Streets became wider to comfortably allow two cars to pass each other going in opposite directions.

The older Shasta Park neighborhood along streets such as Palomino and Sierra carry a clear 1960s pedigree. Crawl spaces were essentially extinct as concrete slabs and production construction ruled the day.

The 1970s: Shake, mantel and grow

TV families such as the Bradys, the Partridges and the Darrin Stevens clans all had the homes that more and more growing families wanted - a two-story creation with shake roofs.

Manteca got its share of such homes although the single story still prevailed because most Manteca families didn’t have breadwinners who were architects, successful musicians or advertising executives.

Builders started offering typically 1,600 to 1,800 square feet under those shake roofs. Fireplaces were close to becoming standard as they started making more of a statement often with larger mantels while built-in swimming pools started popping up in back yards.

Lots were still hovering around 6,000 square feet as yards started retreating.

The concept of a master bedroom suite was standard fare with the second bathroom in three- bedroom homes off the master bedroom. There were more four bedrooms and sliding glass doors became standard fare for patio or back yard access. Prices were surpassing the $20,000 mark well on their way to $40,000.

The prevalent style of the period can be found in the 1970s trendy Park West and the newest segments of the Shasta Park neighborhood.

1980s: Pushing the barrier

Shake was still the rage as homes crept up to the 2,000-square-foot level. Garages still accommodated two cars but they were getting bigger and most people responded by putting more stuff in their garage when the storage sheds they bought for the back yard became jammed with everything imaginable.

The Jeffersons were moving on up while Mantecans were simply expanding the walls.

Three bedrooms, two baths were still the king but the rooms are all getting bigger.

Lots were typically 6,000 square feet and street standards got a little wider.

The architectural niceties started to multiply. It was a good thing considering prices were soaring upwards past the $100,000 barrier to push the $150,000 mark as the decade ended.

The typical home looked like one that Kristy McNichol and the rest of the cast of “Family” would live in if dad had been transferred to Manteca.

The concept of a great room was becoming more prevalent.

1990s: McMansions arrive

Realtors complained through much of the 1980s and the early 1990s that Manteca didn’t have a wide variety of housing stock. Freely translated, there wasn’t a lot of larger houses that buyers were demanding.

Almost overnight, three-bedroom, two-bath new homes were eclipsed by four-bedroom, three- bath plans. Shake roofs disappeared to be replaced primarily by concrete tile or composition shingles

Three-car garages started creeping into the picture as bigger became better.

Square footage was pushing 2,400 square feet on a 6,000-square-foot lot.

Then as the decade was starting to wind down, Manteca has a Big MacMansion attack. Builders rolled out tract models that were 2,800 square feet, then 3,400 square feet and the 3,900 square feet until one builder offered an option that could give you 4,200 square feet of living space not counting the garage.

Lots got bigger but so did the amount of home covering the lot to such a point that homes built in 1950s now appear to have king-sized lots compared to the house. On some streets, the extensive crop of new, large two-story homes cast long shadows over streets in late afternoons.

The prices, multiplied almost as rapidly as the bedrooms with $220,000 to $300,000 not unusual.

Two-story homes proliferated as did architectural shelves, vaulted ceilings and bigger kitchens. Many of the new McMansions came with swimming pools wrapped up in the mortgage loans.

Even though the McMansions captured the imagination they didn’t dominate the decade as other basic styles did in the previous 40 years.

Manteca saw a proliferation of smaller homes - those that Realtors said were needed for affordable prices - that were anything but affordable. Neighborhoods such as Walnut Place and Curran Grove offered 1,300-square-foot homes for under $140,000 with small lots. But some of those homes were fetching $220,000-plus just after four years.

There also were a healthy number of homes built in the 1,900- to 2,700-square-foot range.

TV antennas were definitely passe while homes with one phone line were archaic as Verizon technicians reported many homes being wired for four to eight lines as people installed individual lines for teens, home offices, faxes, computers and alarm systems.

The TV model for the 1990s: Perhaps it was the Banks family’s humble adobe shown in the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” Granted, Bel Air isn’t exactly a KB Home but that is what a lot of people seemed to aspire for in the 1990s when they were plopping down $350,000 plus for a new home in Manteca or 50 times the threshold of pain for new home buyers back in the 1950s.

The 2000s: Big box retailers, big box houses

Somehow, the idea of building a McMansion - a larger version of homes built in the early 1990s without losing some of the nice exterior architectural touches - went out the window in at least three new developments that started in the early days of the decade.

They were of the McMansion genre but they look more like the same architecture of Home Depot and Wal-Mart than a home - big box, blah side and rear walls and little, if any, architectural relief on the front elevations.

Side setbacks were minimized and homes built in a perfect rigid line adding an ever flatter dimension to the concept of row houses.

And what would you expect to pay for these big box charmers? Believe it or not, they were a lot more per square foot than the McMansions with character. It wasn’t unusual to see the tributes to the box come in at just under $500,000 or the price of roughly 70 Manteca flat tops  50 years prior.