Once upon a time in Albuquerque
Design a house for the wife and the home will be a happy one. That idea was central to the darling houses built by Dale Bellamah in Albuquerque’s Princess Jeanne Park subdivision about 60 years ago. Many of them are featured in photographer KayLynn Deveney’s All You Can Lose
Is Your Heart (Kehrer Verlag). Deveney started her career as a staff photographer for the (now-defunct)
Albuquerque Tribune, and the book’s essay is written by her friend and fellow Tribune veteran, Hank Stuever, who shares a longtime interest in the Princess Jeanne neighborhood. In the essay, he notes the “happily-everafter lifestyle” implied in the Bellamah Corporation’s advertising for the “wife-planned” design of the homes in Princess Jeanne Park.
Stuever discusses the houses conceived in the contexts of the Atomic Age and Disney fantasy, and points out that they also had very little to do with the high-desert landscape around them. With their yellow, pink, creamy tan, and blue-painted facades and their shake roofs, these residences were built “to give off a pleasant whiff of the Teutonic, the Snow White magic, the simple village sweetness.”
“I had known about the Princess Jeanne houses because when I was at the newspaper, the houses in that neighborhood were recognized in an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution about modern science in the 1950s and 1960s in America,” Deveney told Pasatiempo. “They noticed those houses because they were some of the first to have modern appliances like garbage disposals and some of the first to use more modern materials. As a Tribune photographer, I had been sent to that neighborhood to learn more about them.”
Their creator, Abdul Hamid “Dale” Bellamah (19141972), was the son of a Lebanese immigrant. He began building homes in 1947, but his signature development was Princess Jeanne, which opened in 1954 in Albuquerque’s northeast heights. He named the neighborhood for his wife, and he aimed its advertising at other wives, promising conveniences to save them from the “drudgery of household chores.” (He began also building in southside Santa Fe after the city approved the 600-acre Bellamah annexation in 1959.)
Albuquerque wasn’t unique for these “storybook ranch houses.” A similar approach to Bellamah’s motivated Jean Valjean Vandruff at about the same time in Southern California. During Deveney’s research, she found the website of Vandruff, innovator of the Cinderella Home. “All my research was done from Albuquerque backwards. First I photographed houses here, then I went to the Center for Southwest Research at the UNM library, then it was talking to people locally and working backward. I found Vandruff searching for storybook homes and gingerbread
houses. He was wonderful and he’s amazing: He’s in his nineties and he emails and has an iMac. I made a couple trips to California and he drove me around and showed me his homes.”
In their discussions, Vandruff lamented the changes that these houses have undergone in the nearly six decades since they were built. But their outrageous design elements still set them well apart from their neighbors — these include cedar-shake shingles, deep roof overhangs, and gables (and tacked-on fake gables) adorned with scalloped barge boards, sometimes with crazily exaggerated length, pitch, and position, and often longer on one side for a whimsically lopsided aspect.
The first of hundreds of Vandruff’s Cinderella Homes was built in 1954 in Downey, California, and featured such amenities as a fireplace with a built-in barbecue, made of petrified wood and Palos Verdes stones. An open floor plan aided the success of the wife, the homemaker: “She must not be isolated from her husband and children while providing for them in the kitchen,” he wrote to Deveney in an email explaining the history of the homes he built. He added that the Cinderella Home was “specifically designed to bring far more happiness, pride, joy, and family togetherness to its occupants. It must make the wife/mother happy and fulfilled. A happy woman makes a happy home.”
It is interesting how much Bellamah and Vandruff parallel each other, including their ideas about wives and women in the home. Is there a link between the two men? “None that I know of,” Deveney said. “Possibly Bellamah saw what was being done at a home show. The ones in California with the rooflines and cedar-shake shingles have a cottage-y feel, but the ones in Albuquerque are more obviously patterns you associate with gingerbread houses. The brochure I found first was for Bellamah’s wife-planned home.”
Deveney worked at the Tribune from 1990 to 1999, and then decided she wanted to go back to school with an eye on teaching. She researched photography master’s degrees and ended up studying documentary photography in Wales. She earned a master’s and Ph.D. at the University of Wales, Newport. When her Ph.D. supervisor subsequently started a new photography program in Northern Ireland, he hired her. Today Deveney is a full-time lecturer in photography at the Belfast School of Art, University of Ulster.
Her master’s thesis, about the photographic diary as a method for documentary practice, appears in the 2013 book The Reflexive Photographer. “That was looking at the way a documentary photographer could include his or her own voice. The Ph.D. was called ‘Conventions, Confessions, and Cockroaches: Reflecting on Home
continued from Page 25 via Photography and the Diary.’ That looked at some 19th-century examples of photographic albums that women had made where they recontextualized studio photographs by cutting out the faces and putting them into pretty elaborate illustrations to create a narrative. The thesis started with that and then it looked at contemporary fine-art practice and a few artists who are using the diary as a way of presenting work now.” In her first photographic book, The Day-to-Day
Life of Albert Hastings (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007), Deveney documents the day-to-day life of a Welsh octogenarian. “My photography really started out with photographing my grandmother, and I did another project called ‘Edith and Len’ — the two projects before the houses had focused on older people and investigating aging.”
Deveney is now beginning research for another project related to her new book. She intends to focus on the houses in the last place she photographed for the book: Del City, Oklahoma. “In 2014 the city passed a historic preservation ordinance to recognize this one neighborhood where every house is built in the storybook ranch style. I made one trip, and there are five photos from Del City in the book. I’m really interested in that place, because it’s the first I know of that has been recognized as a storybook neighborhood that should be preserved. I want to do more about the houses, but also about the community and what happens to people who live there, what the social pressures are.” Deveney signs copies of All You Can Lose Is Your
Heart at Photo-eye Bookstore on Saturday, Jan. 9. When you have a copy in hand, you will notice something largely absent from all but art books today: beautiful endpapers, in this case a duotone collage of several of the houses she photographed. “My book is a very traditional photography monograph, but it’s nice to have something that pushes that a little bit. For the endpapers, I worked with a friend, Charlotte Cobb, who was an illustrator for the Tribune for many years.”
On her website (www.kaylynndeveney.com), Deveney also is offering a tea towel printed with the endpapers image. “That just seemed to fit in with the ethos of the original design and marketing of some of the houses to women, which I thought was a little ironic. Look at me. My husband and I have no children and I’m very mobile, living two-thirds of the time in Ireland and one-third in Albuquerque. The way I live is a complete departure.”