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Friday, September 23, 2011

One of the Oldest, chapter 2

Inside the house pictured yesterday, nearly every room is a work in progress. Yet a young couple and their baby live active lives here. It reminds me of one of my favorite words: palimpsest.

Wikipedia concisely describes a palimpsest as "a manuscript page from a scroll or book from which the text has been scraped off and which can be used again." An old home is like that--each room a chapter, erased when one family moves out, then scraped clean, then written on again when a new family moves in.

The husband bought the house ten years ago. It was a wreck and he got the place cheap. Cheap is relative, of course. He put on a new roof and a new foundation. He redid the plumbing and wiring. That was just to make it livable.

But there are treasures here. The original kitchen tiles. The fireplace. The archways. The tiny hallway connecting two upstairs rooms like a secret passage. Yesterday Pascal Jim spotted the sleeping porch with a view of the mountains. Tomorrow I'll show you the stained glass.

Tucked away in a dark corner, years peel away in layers to reveal an early chapter of the kitchen's palimpsest: a pattern of the linen that once graced the walls.

27 comments:

Shell Sherree said...

It's a wondrous word, Petrea, and suits this beautifully. Those tiles are quaint and lovely and especially nice in that light. There's a sweet and nostalgic air about it.

Katie said...

Cool vintage kitchen. I like the drawer pulls. Very interesting window with the ventilation in the middle too. A lot of work to restore an old house like this, but it must be a real thrill to discover all the hidden treasures.

Michael Coppess said...

This is great stuff. I think it is unusual to find so many original features in old houses around here -- especially in kitchens. These things normally get torn out in favor of modern stuff like linoleum counters and prefab boxes for cabinets.

Petrea Burchard said...

They showed me where archways had been put in--a remodel in the 1920's. They give the living room a smooth look. Yet you can see what they probably covered: pocket doors. One wonders if the doors were removed or if they're underneath the plaster. Because those walls are in good shape, that question may not get answered for a long time, if ever.

I've been reading a book my cousin gave me called "How Buildings Learn" by Stewart Brand. Brand says builders and carpenters will leave messages inside a building. They'll write on it or leave a treasure to be found in the future.

We have a shelf full of odd surprises we've dug up in the back yard, but that's a little different.

Patrizzi Intergarlictica said...

I found a nice architectural rendering of the Physics Bldg. at Caltech inside the wall of my garage.

Petrea Burchard said...

THAT is cool, Patrizzi. We found an old letter in our previous house when we were remodeling. We haven't torn this place apart yet.

True story:
My mother went to summer camp in Idaho in the 1930s when she was 13. In the 1990s, my cousin was at the same camp to help tear down and rebuild an old lodge. Inside the wall he found a small photograph of someone he thought he recognized.
Of course you guessed it. Nick hadn't known her when she was 13, but he knew her.

Steven said...

That's a great story Petrea. I love stories like that. I have knocked down several walls in my house during remodeling projects hoping to find stacks of gold boullions without any success. I did find an old wedding invitation from 49 years ago. I googled the name and found they were living in SC. I sent it to them and got a nice "thank you" letter in return. They said they will display it at their 50th wedding anniversary reception next year.

dive said...

What a great kitchen, Petrea.
I restored the old house I was living in back in the 80s only to discover US airmen had been billeted in it during the War. Sheesh! The porn and poems I found when I stripped off the wallpaper shocked even me.

Petrea Burchard said...

Steven and Dive, you've shown us different sorts of treasures to be found.

I wonder what else Jim and Cybele will find in their house.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Hi ceilings, the best. The little california pottery planters - so sweet. I love those tiles. We had the same color combination in my parents house until my mother got swept up in the horrors of south west 80's design. aqua, mauve and navaho white eek!

Thal Armathura said...

Petrea,
This kitchen is not the original, probably a remodel from the 1920's or 1930's. We've done a lot of research on early kitchens and have seen lots of illustrations and photographs and some originals, but original condition for a house this old would be unusual in the day and age. The 1890's kitchen had a single, usually porcelain covered cast iron, basin with counter top supported by skinny porcelain covered cast iron legs, the whole being open below exposing the plumbing. There were usually no built in cabinets, thus one would find probably a free-standing pie safe and/or a hoosier type cabinet with drawers for silverware an shelves for dishes and bowls. The ice box would have been of course non-electric, often made of galvanized steel, free standing with spindly legs, a compartment to put the ice block from the ice man. Everything was kept off the floor with legs, since the kitchen, along with the indoor bathroom if they were lucky enough to have indoor plumbing, were considered to be "sanitary" rooms, tile work was plain and at a minimum, usually these rooms had wooden wainscotting with sometimes tin splash guards. There were many of these type houses along Washington Street (later Avenue) around the turn of the century but the majority have been removed for multiple family housing. The Adena Mansion is a notable survivor and on Washington the house on the SE corner of Garfield and Washington is also a noted survivor with some famous ghost tales told by the inhabitants back in the 1970's.

Bellis said...

I thought you loved aqua, PA. I'm glad there are people that respect old houses and their fittings. Sadly, so often the houses that seem to fetch the most money have been gutted and totally redecorated in the current fashion. I want to keep my 1947 house as much like the original as possible, but the bathroom and kitchen tiles are very much out of fashion. Maybe people will swoon over them in 2047?

I went to Crown City Hardware today and loved it! Why have I been going to OSH? Also, after reading the discussions yesterday, I visited the oldest house in Pasadena. It's beautiful, with loads of character. I wish I could get a closer look.

Petrea Burchard said...

PA, it's not the colors, it's the combination.

Thal, that makes sense and would be in keeping with the 1920's remodel in the living room. I love your description! I can really picture it.
I'd love to hear those ghost tales about the Washington/Garfield house.

Bellis, OSH serves its purpose but Crown City has wonderful stuff and caters to the Craftsman crowd. I hear Berg Hardware, on Altadena Drive near the freeway, is also terrific. I also love Altadena Hardware. We have fine, locally-owned, family-run hardware stores here and there's rarely a need to go to the chains.

Cybele said...

We have found lots of things in the house! One former resident worked as a Table Captain at the original Brown Derby. We have his union card, with stamps, some of his electric bills, doctor bills. We've found a near full set of silverware, a near full set of dining plates, odds and ends like chandelier bits and large pieces of marble that once probably framed one of the two fireplaces. There is a Sunday school report card from the 1890's... proof of the lead paint used on the walls in the form of a paint can lid that said, "Lead White" in big letters. So interesting!

altadenahiker said...

I got my rat zapper at Berg's. A This Old House necessity. Mine, I mean.

Altadena Garden Hound said...

I love it when a post takes on a life of it's own. I think I need a Rat Zapper to call my own. Nice blog you have.

Virginia said...

Oh I love this scene. The light shining on the dish drainer ( we must be the two families on the planet that still uses one). THe sweet things in the window sill....
I"m glad there is a happy family here.
V

Petrea Burchard said...

Cybele, that's a treasure trove! An eclection, is what I think Pasadena Adjacent would call it.

Hiker, maybe you thought your dog would zap rats. Mine doesn't either.

Welcome, Altadena Garden Hound. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a note. I can see the headline now on Altadenablog: "Altadena Hardware Reports Run on Rat Zappers."

Virginia, who doesn't have a dish drainer? For the love!

Ms M said...

Lovely post, Petrea, and wonderful comments! Looking forward to learning more!

Petrea Burchard said...

Ms. M, I agree about the comments, they've been great! One more tomorrow: stained glass.

Susan Campisi said...

The kitchen reminds me of a house my sister rented many years ago in Oneonta in upstate NY. There were fireplaces in the bedrooms. I love these old houses.

Dina said...

Wonderful stories in your post and comments. Thanks for telling about that book. I see it is also on the Web as 6 videos; I will watch them.

Your photo certainly seems to illustrate the idea of palimpsest.
Do you know what the round thing above the kitchen window is?

Petrea Burchard said...

I think we all have memories of these houses.

Here's the Google search for "How Buildings Learn" by Stewart Brand. It includes the videos Dina mentions, as well as sparking the idea that one might find the book on eBay.

I can't remember ever having read a book about architecture before, or at least not one that interested me enough to read the whole thing. Brand's style is conversational--he's reasonable, knowledgeable and interesting. Every city planner should read it, not to mention every developer, builder and contractor. Certainly everyone who buys a building (industrial or domestic) should read it or at least have an understanding of its concepts.

Petrea Burchard said...

Dina, I don't know what the medallion above the sink is. Maybe Cybele will stop by and tell us.

TheChieftess said...

Nice shot Petrea!!! Especially the top one!!! What a fabulous place to live!!! I'd love renovating this!!!

wv: redos!!!

TheChieftess said...

Love the kitchen tile!!!

Petrea Burchard said...

I don't know how I'd feel about having it as an ongoing project for more than a few months. I think it takes the right kind of person who can keep at it for the time it takes to do it right.