There's nothing like a good urban legend to fuel the imagination, and San Diego has its own enduring one. It's not widely known, but if you've grown up here or gone to college in town, you've likely heard rumors of the "munchkin homes."
Munchkin houses, you say? If you take a drive through La Jolla, you might see a house that doesn't look that out of the ordinary, basically like a ranch, although the stature seems a little small and the roof very low.
The Truth Behind the Legend
OK, so here's the real deal. There aren't any munchkin houses. And it has nothing to do with the "Wizard of Oz," whose author, L. Frank Baum, wrote portions of the book while in San Diego, though the movie did come out around the time the homes were built, perpetuating the rumors that the little people who played the Munchkins in the movie lived in the houses during filming.
The homes (there were originally four) are real indeed. In fact, they were built by famed architect Cliff May, who often built homes to accommodate the lay of the land (in this case, a hillside). There is only one remaining home now in La Jolla. It does have some features that a vivid imagination could construe as "munchkin-inspired," such as cobblestone floors and a round fireplace.
The location explains the optical illusion of the short stature. The homes are built on the hill slope just below the grade of the road, so from the road, the structures appear shorter than normal, even though the houses are of normal dimensions for the time (the late 1930s).
Of course, through the years, the stories mutated into something more interesting: Little people who made money appearing in The Wizard of Oz came down to La Jolla and built a colony. According to Matthew Alice of the San Diego Reader, the myths have grown into tales of Chinese smugglers, Barnum & Bailey circus performers, mysterious European millionaires, midnight signal-light flashes, and dwarf sightings. None of it true, by the way.
So, there you have it. Your own bit of San Diego folklore—a genuine urban legend that you can pass on to others. It makes for great conversation, especially when there's a lull at a party or gathering: "Did you know there are munchkin houses in La Jolla?" Then, of course, after you get the attention of the entire gathering, you have to tell them the truth.
How to Get There
To see this off-the-beaten-track attraction in San Diego for yourself, take Hillside Drive to the 7470 block, on the northwest side of Mount Soledad. You can reach Hillside Drive from Torrey Pines Road.