The single-family homes of Mammoth have evolved since the 1920’s. Prior to the start of condominium development in the 1960’s, homes were really the only housing option short of staying in a local motel or camping.
The earliest structures were often true log cabins. Some of these still exist in the Old Mammoth district. More conventionally built structures came in the 1940’s. Some of these still exist in Old Mammoth and the Sierra Valley Sites.During this era some of the most laughable “structures” evolved in the absence of real or enforced building codes; wood framed structures built around old trailers and mobile homes and all sorts of “kit” and other oddball homes. The general goal for these home owners was simply to establish a summer home or weekend winter getaway place. It was really glorified camping.
Evolution of the Single-Family Residence
The more modern subdivisions of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s brought the proliferation of A-frame structures both large and small. The subdivision lots of that era are typically in the 5-6,000 square foot size which were adequate for a small home with room for a boat and jeep too. The inherent A-frame design could withstand the Mammoth winters without tremendous maintenance (no roof shoveling). Yet they provided adequate utility for summer usage and winter weekends. They also were rather simple to construct and could be constructed in a short time span (remember, there were only a few hundred full-time residents in Mammoth at the time).
Many of these homes were built on “spec” (speculation) by local contractors and offered for sale. Many still exist around town and they have stood the test of time.
Along with the A-frames there was another round of rather oddball structures built, some of which still stand today. These can be found mostly in Old Mammoth, Sierra Valley, and Sierra Vista Estates (the area north of Main St. “behind the Post Office”). And hard to believe, there are still unimproved (vacant) lots in all of these areas.
The more modern subdivisions of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s conformed to California’s Subdivision Map Act and they are far more uniform and the utilities are noticeably underground (no power poles/lines, etc.). These lots were sized larger and typically range in the 7,500 to 8,500 square foot size. They anticipated the demand for larger homes, but certainly not the demand of 35 years later.
These are the neighborhoods that lie between Canyon Lodge and The Village and are known as Mammoth Slopes 1,2,3,4 and 5, The Mammoth Knolls and Holiday Pines which lie north of The Village and back-up to Forest Service land, and Majestic Pines 1,2,3 and Mammoth Vista 1,2,3 which lie south of The Village in the old Chair 15 area, referred to today as Eagle Lodge.
Real Estate Developers Meet Growing Real Estate Demand
These subdivisions were “seeded” with the developer’s conventionally built “spec” homes and are notable today (old brokers called the “Eastern Sierra spec homes” after the developer). They are very boxy 2-story homes and many have been modified and added on to (including garages) over the years. These too were classically designed as second homes with smaller rooms and minimal storage and often without washer/dryer hookups.
During the 1970’s there were many gambrel-style (often described as flat roof A-frames) homes built for speculation. These kit homes came in on the back of trucks and were built in a weekend and sold to vacationers. They are notorious for having little to no insulation. And they too have been remodeled and added-on to over the years.
But this was the era when more and more quality homes were beginning to be built. As Mammoth’s real estate market boomed in the mid and late 1970’s, the design and construction moved away from small cabins, A-frames and gambrels to more substantial homes. A wealthier clientele was attracted to skiing. Many of the successful aerospace engineers from southern California who endeared themselves to Mammoth actually built their own homes, and their legacies still stand.
The most notable “stamp” from this era was that of architect Rick Arlen. Dozens of his classic designs are all over Mammoth including many of the most prestigious locations. He worked in Laguna Beach and that design followed him; unconventional angles, thin and sleek siding lines, always a round window somewhere, and inevitably a roof that shed snow onto the main deck or driveway.
The “Hooper” Era
The demand for new single-family homes lulled during the Mammoth real estate recession of the early 1980’s. But by 1985 there was second-homeowner demand for new, affordable, utilitarian homes. And thus started the long reign of John Hooper as Mammoth’s largest developer of single-family homes. Hooper’s homes have always fit the demands and economics of the era they were constructed in. Most are variations of something that has been built before it.
The inherent box designed is what works in the Mammoth environment to withstand snow loads and heating requirements. The homes of the late 1980’s were simple 3 and 4 bedroom homes often with 1-car garages and large wood burning stoves on the ground floor for core heat. They weren’t glamorous but they worked and there was demand. So much demand that other local contractors were compelled to build similar type homes for the market.
As Mammoth pulled through the slower economic times of the 1990’s, these “Hooper homes” gradually became larger and larger including the garages. By the year 2000 Hooper was carving up any piece of land he could find at a reasonable price to build homes on. As the real estate boom of the 2000’s progressed the older subdivision lots were barely large enough to accommodate the demand of the market due to the site coverage constraints of the Mammoth building code (snow has to go somewhere).
High End Luxury Homes or Modern Mountain Design?
Meanwhile, newer “luxury” subdivisions featured even larger lots to accommodate homes over 3,000 square feet. These included Juniper Ridge, The Bluffs, Starwood, the Snowcreek Ranches and Greyhawk. These are the true luxury neighborhoods. The size and quality of homes in Mammoth Lakes has taken a giant leap forward in these newer subdivisions. Some to the extent of being simply outrageous. Since the year 2000 the number and size and quality of very high-end homes has increased dramatically.
But the demand for the classic ~3,000 square foot modern mountain home expressed itself clearly in 2013-2015 when Hooper returned to the development game and acquired golf course (Sierra Star) fronting parcels and successfully changed the zoning from condo to residential to facilitate more construction of this type of property. There was no more land in Mammoth slated for RSF (formerly R-1) zoned development but the Town met the demand.
Nightly Rentals of Single Family Homes
When Mammoth incorporated in 1984 the new Town adopted the existing Mono County zoning laws prohibiting nightly rentals in the R-1 subdivisions. There has historically been a strong faction of property owners who championed this cause. They desire to protect the residential quality of these neighborhoods. But there has always been debate on this issue.
The rise and success of online vacation home marketing has added to the pressure to overturn this ordinance. Many new owners of the 2000’s purchased with the intent of renting nightly. By the late 2000’s a substantial number of owners were in fact renting. The Town has attempted to enforce the ordinance with some success. But the debate continues. And so do the rentals. I make updates and related comments on this subject in my newsletters and columns.
Today, Mammoth’s older subdivisions are a wide mix of old and new homes. The newer subdivisions are clearly modern homes of larger size and higher quality. The bank foreclosure phase from 2008 to 2014 provided the opportunity for many older or deteriorated homes to fall into the hands of new, more ambitious and motivated owners. That has been healthy for the single-family neighborhoods. As values in this segment of the market remain healthy, many homes continue to be renovated, remodeled and expanded.