How to find a Mid-Century Neighborhood

5 min read I’ll bet you love mid-century house hunting as much as I do – you’re reading this, after all. Here are some handy tips to find more mid mod fun all around you!

map of madison, wi's midcentury neighborhoods

Wondering how you can find a Mid-Century Neighborhood or houses near you? Whether you are hoping to buy a mid century dream house of your own, or are just scoping for fun and inspiration, this will set you on your way.

If you found me through my instagram, you already know I collect the mid-century ranches that I spot and love in my travels and daily life. Check out my page on Mid-century Neighborhoods for some snippets of the mid mod hunting I’ve done recently!

First, let’s start with a graphic summary and then get in to all the juicy details.

infographic how to find a mid-century neighborhood

So, how can you find a mid-century neighborhood on your own?

The fact is, Mid-century is hiding in plain sight all around us. It is draped in invisibility cloaks of beige paint or tucked into little developments you didn’t know were there. When you find them, you’ll feel like you belong to a secret club!

You might drive by one on an arterial road on a daily or weekly basis and never realize there is a charming mid-century development hiding just behind that row of spruce trees.

One of the major downsides of Mid Century urban planning was that, in trying to manufacture a small town America feel in a new society that was bursting at the seems, they generally created pocket developments of curving cul-de-sacs with no through streets.  This did make nice safe streets for kids to play ball in.  It also cut housing areas off from the greater community and made it harder for neighborhood businesses to survive by spanning between several adjacent communities.  

Here are some easy ways to successfully mid-century hunt in your own town or anywhere you are planning to visit.

Take a walk (or a drive)

The easiest way to find mid mod buildings around you is just to open your eyes.  

If you already live near (or in) a mid-century neighborhood, begin by walking out your door.  A little attention will help you fall in love immediately with your neighborhood homes.  

You can time travel from the modest 40’s through the optimistic 50’s to the exuberant 60’s as you aim yourself from center to edge of your town.  

Take a look at the Zillow listings

You can use the modern house-hunting tech to help you find mid mod.  Simply pop in the search terms for mid century or mid mod when you search for recent listings. Zillow, Redfin and Trulia are all great search engines. Zillow is the one I happened to obsess on during my own home search.

(Since the style is popular right now, you’ll find that realtors are happy to attach “mid-century” to anything from modest to magnificent.)

You can also do what I did when I was house hunting; use dates as part of your search thread. I was NOT going to buy anything built after 1965. So that dealbreaker was an element of every house search I ran.

For some other great tips on hunting down a cool Mid Century House of your very own, check out this great article “How to Find Mid-Century Modern Homes for Sale” by Tryscraft, a vintage design and furnishing team in Kalamazoo, MI.

When you find a house you like the looks of, head for that address and then start wandering.  

Spy Satellites (aka Google maps)

When I’m traveling to a new area and want to add a few ranch houses to my route, I harness the power of google maps.  

With a little practice you, too, can spot a ranch neighborhood from the air.  

To start, I run a quick mental calculation of whether the town in question has had any major growth opportunities since the post war.  

In manufacturing towns or smaller midwestern cities surrounded by farm land, the mid-century ranch neighborhoods are sometimes the outer ring of development.  In Madison, there’s a heavy ring of mid-century development surrounded by more rings of 70’s and 80’s contractors special and McMansions on larger lots from the 90’s and 2000’s.

I continue by hunting out a mid-century elementary school.  

The mid century building boom went hand in hand with the baby boom. These new neighborhoods filled up with families of kids who needed to go to school.  You can tell at a street view glance if the school you’ve found is from the mid century era.  When it is, you’ll nearly always find a mid-century neighborhood around each one.  

how to spot a ranch from above

Look for houses 

  • on medium sized lots with generous back yards
  • on curving streets or strongly separated from major through routes
  • elongated and rectangular, not square
  • usually with garages attached
  • oriented with their wide side to the street.  
  • The gables coming off the main roof will be wide (roughly the same width of the main house).  Smaller gables are likely little dormer windows and that shouts craftsmen or other pre 1930’s home.  

Once you find your first mid-century development you’re going to find more near by and about equidistant from the town center!

Make your own treasure map

The most research-based way to find a mid-century neighborhood – made easy with the use of photoshop and google – is just how I made the map at the top of the post.

So … with google and some basic photo editing software, you can create your own mid-century map to highlight all the secret mid-century development of YOUR area.

  • Go online and screen shot a wide area map of your vicinity with google maps.  
  • Search for historic city maps from the 1940’s and the 1960’s.  
  • Pop them all into photoshop as separate layers, set a see through transparency and scale them to match.  Then, subtract the area of 40’s existing city from the edge of development in the mid 60’s.  
  • Fill it with color and overlay it on your google map

Shazam!  You have yourself a treasure map of fun mid-century neighborhoods to explore. 

My own house and neighborhood were an active farm in 1951. It was sold and developed into a growing community – albeit one with dirt streets – by 1952.  Soon there was an elementary school, a middle school, and a library. It is one part of a continuous ring around old Madison full of mid-century ranches, cottages, offices and public buildings.  

Keep your eyes peeled!

You’ll also find infill buildings and houses everywhere.  Especially in down town areas, the 50’s were a time of urban growth and renewal. Cities knocked down lot of older buildings and replaced them with modernist ones … that are now being knocked down and replaced with even newer ones.

Catch them while you can, because they are going down fast.

Let’s Crowdsource in the Comments

I’ve been getting all sorts of great suggestions from my new friends on Instagram.  Fellow ‘grammers have recently directed me to Carmel, Indiana, Midland, Michigan and Oklahoma city to name a few!  I’ve been taking notes!  What are your favorite mid century pockets of the midwest and how did you discover them?