Monday, July 23, 2007

House Adventure Part I

This is the first in a series of posts that I plan to write about our 1909 house ("Before photo, at right), which holds so many memories and stories. I will add posts and photos as time permits.
"This house is going to be a showplace"

Our home-owning adventure began in early 2001 when my husband bolted upright one morning and announced "We're buying a house!". He had grown tired of being woken up at 5am most mornings by the sound of our neighbor's concrete mixer right outside our bedroom window.

After scouring the streets of Northeast LA looking for a house with the right mixture of historic character, affordability (there was such a thing in early 2001) and potential, we found our current house. I fell in love with the place from the curb. One look at the wraparound porch, dormer windows and arroyo stone foundation and I knew in my bones that this was the place for me. That the place was only a mile from where we had been renting a 1906 carriage house that had been saved from demolition, moved and rehabbed by a local preservation group and , in the community where I had spent much of the past 15 years, was the deal closer. I was not dissuaded when we got a chance to look at the home's interior and saw just how much repair it would need. (At right, one of the "before pictures" of our home)

Growing up, I had gone with my Dad to jobsites-condominiums and old houses undergoing remodelling-when he couldn't find a babysitter, which was most of the time. I spent many hours doing homework under his work lights, growing accustomed to the hum of the circular saw, the rhythm of nails going into 2 x4s, and the fresh and clean smell of sawdust that still reminds me of my Dad. And, as a young adult, I had helped my Dad rehab our North Hollywood bungalow, finding solace in the routine tasks and tangible results of making the place sparkle again-removing decades old wallpaper, and sanding and hand-rubbing the finish on the dry and worn oak floors- during what was one of the most difficult times in my life. I had just quit a job where I had been assaulted and the management refused to discipline the guy who assaulted me. I had also left college because of financial and emotional pressures and was uncertain how I would be able to fulfull the potential that all the adults around me claimed I had.

So when I walked into the 1909 bungalow that would become our first home and saw the poorly repaired plaster on the walls, the doors that were out of square, the rotted windowsills and the cracks in kitchen and bathroom tile, I didn't see quite how badly neglected the place had been, I saw an opportunity to make my mark on the place.

My Dad didn't discourage us from buying the major fixer-upper though he probably saw what an overwhelming task we had taken on. He did not have money to help us, so he gave us what he did have: his skills, patience, and hard work. For nearly three years, he spent almost every weekend working on the house with us. He taught my husband how to use tools, he mediated our disagreements over large and small issues, and he debated design ideas with me. He took pride in our progress, beaming his happiness to all around when we'd sit on the porch for our lunchbreak, enjoying his favorite root beer, deli sandwiches from the corner market, and the breezes from the southwest that reached the porch with just enough velocity to cool us off. With a sparkle in his eye, he would take a look around at our progress and tell us "This house is going to be a showplace".


True to his character, on his last visit before his sudden death, he had made up a list of the tasks we needed to tackle in the kitchen and ranked the items in order of importance. He handed me the list after a particularly spirited exchange where we had debated the merits of various schemes for shaping up the kitchen (Photo of kitchen in progress, with free door, at right). Before he left, I realized that my tiredness and frustration about the long project of remodelling the house made me short with him. So as I walked him to the door, I stopped him and gave him a hug and said "Thanks, Dad. For everything." By everything, I meant not only his work on and excitement about our house, but also the love, patience, and guidance he had given me throughout my life that was epitomized by his participation in our house adventure. That was the last time I would see him alive and I still remember how it felt to hug him that day , with the sunlight streaming in through the kitchen windows, the breeze coming in off the porch and the feeling of being protected and nourished by his unconditional love.


Anonymous said...

It's almost difficult now to imagine there was a time when buying a house in LA was not so outrageously crazy as it is today. Nice post!

Keri said...

alexis--your father was totally a planner--making a master plan for the kitchen remodel! no wonder you ended up the way you are, wonderful!