100 Years

This year marks the 100th birthday of our house, or at least the centenary of when the first resident moved in as I think the house was under construction in 1919. I suspect it was a kit house produced by the Pacific Ready Cut Company. There’s a nearly identical house a block down the street.

The construction of our house took place at the tail end of the last bad pandemic. Apparently, LA city officials did a much better job 100 years ago dealing with the Spanish Flu. Our house’s birthday is overshadowed by the Fyre Festival that was 2020.

To commemorate our 100 year old bungalow I thought I’d post a few pictures I took this morning without tidying up for the photos. The one above shows the room I do most of my reading and pontificating in. There’s usually an unsightly pile of books next to my throne.

We’ve populated the house with a mix of furniture I built and a few antiques in the arts and crafts style. The original inhabitants of this house would have, more likely, had furniture that looks like this:

Our old house requires constant, daily maintenance. Something is always busted, wonky or dusty. As I run about fixing stuff I think of the ancient Greek philosophical conundrum of the ship of Theseus. The story goes that a ship leaves port and, in the course of the journey, the ship’s carpenter replaces every single board. The ontological question posed: is the ship the same ship that left port?

In the case of our house it’s mostly the same ship since the previous residents, thankfully, never did any misguided remodeling (nor did they do any needed maintenance). Nevertheless, our bathroom is a Disneyesque fiction. We gutted, retiled and switched out the cheap 80s fixtures. Essentially we put the room back to the way it was in 1920. Out went the cheap and shoddy shower and in went a clawfoot tub and shower curtain. The salespeople at the plumbing supply store thought we were crazy to do this. They were wrong. It’s fine.

Egyptian Court Apartments, San Diego.

Kelly and I have been living in 1920s buildings since we met in San Diego in the early 1990s. Our first apartment was in a spectacular, if rough around the edges, bungalow court with an Egyptian theme. While the outside was styled like something out of a Boris Karloff mummy movie, the inside looked exactly like what our house looks like now.

There’s a few things I’ve learned living in 20s buildings over the past 30 years:

  • People had less junk.
  • The 20s was cottagecore before #cottagecore
  • Other than the still working phone ringer box in our hallway there were no consumer electronics. Radios stations start popping up around 1921.
  • People in the 20s, because of previous public health issues including the aforementioned flu pandemic, liked clean tiled, somewhat hospital-like kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Double hung windows with weights and cloth cords are easy to maintain and can last for a hundred years. You can make them less drafty but that’s a project I haven’t gotten around to yet.
  • Electricity, a telephone, indoor plumbing and a two car garage must have seemed futuristic in 1920.
  • There’s a distinctive, musty-dusty 1920s building smell. I want it as a cologne.

Between our church, Sunset Boulevard’s commercial buildings, the Central Library and our local movie theater (another King Tut themed building), in the before-pandemic times it was possible for me to spend a whole day in pre-WWII buildings. I have to be honest and say that I prefer pre-WII vernacular buildings to more recent architecture. And I’d say that it’s well past time to bring back the King Tut architecture thing.

Kelly and I are very lucky to own a house in this very expensive city. Many people are facing eviction and homelessness due to the pandemic that has only worsened the housing crisis in LA. This holiday seasons let’s use this crisis to do something for those who don’t have a roof over their heads.

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13 Comments

  1. Looks wonderful. My house (in PA) also turned 100 this year…¡Felicidades! One point of contention: I am fairly sure that there is no such thing as “an unsightly pile of books.”
    Cheers!

  2. Love your wallpaper. William Morris? Perfect with the stained glass lamp and wherever did you get a phone like that? Is it great fun to use?

    I love wallpaper and I think it’s something whose time should return. I’m presently trying to get a British mural wallpaper during their most recent and most restrictive shutdown. ::sigh:: (Like my problem approaches theirs…)

    • Wallpaper is William Morris “fruit.” It’s really nice to look at. We had a pro install it and she did an amazing job. Being a land line the phone only rings for junk calls but it’s kinda fun to answer.

  3. You have done a beautiful job caring for your home. Thank you for the tour. I have been hoping you would post photos. And your place in SD looked to be a real trip! Wow!

  4. I love your home! My house, built in 1902, had its original claw foot tub which I refused to part with for love nor money. The Arts and Crafts style is wonderful!

    • It really was built to a very human and intimate scale. And, of course, the emphasis on our connection to nature and living with simple beauty is something we’ve lost at a great cost to our culture.

  5. I loved the tour. Our house is a 1910 villa in South Australia. What you call Arts and Crafts is called Federation here (Australia became a federation in 1901). Despite all the old house problems I love living in such a nice old place.

  6. Happy centennial, pretty home to pretty people!

    I also like older homes (though my favorite are apartment buildings from 1945-1955) and often wonder how our lifestlyes are reflected by the times’ architecture. However, I haven’t been able to explain why people tend to own more consumer electronics, furniture, clothes and objects like books but apartments keep getting smaller. What gives? Am I looking at the wrong cases?

    My favorite sensorial experience of older buildings is not so much a “musty smelling” as is the beautiful natural coolness during hot days in summer. You come all sweaty from the street, open the door and let that darkness and coolness embrace you, lower your palpitations, let you know that you’re safe now. Nothing to do with AC units but a smart use of materials, positioning of windows and in many cases, a complete disregard for warmth and comfort but from early December to early March that is a game changer.

  7. Ah, another thing. We have a hung window with a system of weights but the steel corde broke and we don’t really know how to fix it. I asked around the neighborhood, as there are other buildings with similar windows, and people tell me you need to disassemble the whole thing and they don’t know anyone who may do it, so we left it as is. With the help of a wooden drumstick we keep it open. I don’t really want to change it… I like how it looks, it’s original and it shuts perfectly. A tradeoff, I guess

  8. My grandparents’ home in Arcadia was built in 1924. Grandpa was injured on the farm in Kansas and they moved to California and lived in that house until about 1994, when they both could no longer live on their own, even with help. Grandma lived to be 100 and Grandpa lived to be 97. They had a huge garden there and also one at my mother’s house. I think gardening helped to keep Grandpa alive, although his blood line had long lives. After they were gone, it was rented out and it was finally demolished a couple of years ago. Their rooms were always COLD, but Grandma’s kitchen was warm and inviting. She canned vegetables and made jam and stored them out in her garage. I’m glad I still have photographs of it. They raised their own two daughters there and took in another girl during the Depression and raised her, too. I have many happy memories of that house and the garden there.

  9. Oh, and Grandma had a clothes line in the back yard, right over the septic tank, so she always warned me about that! While their home didn’t last 100 years, they were in it for about 70 years.

  10. Wow! This is so dang cool! I now have a new goal: Live in my current home long enough to celebrate its 100 birthday. 🙂 Of course, I’ve still got another 32 years to go for this goal.

    Thanks for the unstaged home tour. They’re really more interesting, I think, with the hints of life being lived. Your furniture is beautiful. That is some crazy apartment complex design scheme! Ha! I must confess: I like it. I have a piece of vintage jewelry with an Egyptian theme, also from that era. I guess I knew the style had an American revival, I’d just never fully considered the possibilities!

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