The Ranch House: Making A Comeback For Young And Old In Kansas City

Apr 28, 2015

Drive around some of Johnson County’s neighborhoods and you may be able to guess when the neighborhood was developed — based on the architecture alone.

Following World War II, ranch houses were being built at record levels. The single-story, open concept style was the perfect starter home for new families.

“It was the first house ever to be mass produced in the United States,” said Mary Van Balgooy.

Van Balgooy is a leading authority on the ranch house and the biographer of influential architect and ranch house pioneer Cliff May. She spoke with Steve Kraske on Up To Date.

For those who may not be familiar with this style of home, a ranch house has clearly defined characteristics: Single story, with an asymmetrical, open floor plan — bedrooms on one side and living spaces on the other, with an attached garage and lots of windows. Most have sliding doors leading to a patio or outdoor space.

Cliff May built the first ranch home in southern California in 1932, but it wasn’t until the late 40s that they style spread across the nation. This is around the same time that J.C. Nichols began developing in the city of Prairie Village, the unofficial “ranch house capitol” of the Kansas City metro.

The cost-effectiveness and easy adaptability of the style lent itself not only to family homes, but shopping centers and businesses as well. Corinth Square shopping center, built in the ranch style, opened in 1955, at the peak of the ranch house mania.

“By 1955, eight out of 10 homes [in the United States] were built in the ranch style,” Van Balgooy said.

In the late 60s, the ranch fell out of style as architects turned to more classic building styles. 

Making a comeback

“The ranch house has reached its 50th anniversary and with that there's interest in this new, historic architectural style,” said Van Balgooy. “I think it’s younger people moving into these ranch houses and wanting to back into that era.”

Though it appeals to young families for its affordability, energy efficiency and vintage aesthetic, the ranch house also has benefits for aging Kansas Citians.

Heather, who called in to Up To Date from her home in Gardner, Kan., will always live in a ranch house. She said it's the best house to age in. 

“Now with the baby boomers, my re-sale is increasing. Our ranches sell in less than 30 days here [in Gardner],” she said.

Due to the amount of land required to build a ranch house, most people hoping to live in in a ranch house in the heart of the Kansas City metro have to move into previously constructed homes, but there are some newly constructed ranch communities on the outskirts of the metro area near Independence.