Monday, April 4, 2016

A girl and her house, a love story, Part 1 - The Fixer Upper

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned. 
-Maya Angelou

For as long as I can remember I have loved old houses.  In middle school I loved visiting friends homes in an area called San Mateo Park, in Northern CA.  It was just a 15 minute drive from my own middle class neighborhood of Eichler homes, but a world apart in appearance.  The homes were big, old, and beautiful.  I have no idea where I get this from because I had never lived in a particularly old home, nor were were my parents or grandparents old house lovers.  

When my then husband and I were ready to purchase our first home, we opted for a 1939 home over the similarly priced new track homes that were popping up all over our small city.  The house had been flipped by a contractor and much of it's character was changed or covered up, but eventually we ripped up the carpet  to reveal original hardwood floors and added our own touches to make it look more like it may have back in 1939.  It was a simple house, but we loved it at the time. In the attic we found furniture left behind by the homeowners and undiscovered by the contractor.  After a few coats of white paint, they had the cottage look that I loved.  I learned to garden, sew, and craft in that house.

After a few years of marriage and the addition of two little girls, we decided we wanted a bigger house on a less busy road.  The downside of our first little house was that is was directly across the street from the freeway, something we knew we would eventually want to move away from.  In the Fall of 1995 we finally found "Our Dream Home".  We had been looking in the downtown area, where all the old houses were, and had considered one house pretty seriously, but in the end decided against it because the price was too high for all the work the house needed.  

But here it was, an interesting floor plan, lots of wood floors, crown molding, built-ins, arched doorways, big bedrooms, mullioned wood windows, all the things I loved and wanted in a home.  The house was big compared to what were coming from and sat on 1/3 of acre, atop a small hill on a corner lot.  It was at the entrance to a once very prestigious older neighborhood in town.  At one time if was even nicknamed "pill hill' for all the doctors who lived in the neighborhood.  The house was built in 1938, the third house  in the neighborhood custom built to members of the same family.    

The bad part was that it was a complete mess.  Unlivable in it's current state...smelly, dirty, old damaged plumbing, rotting windows, stained floors, and inadequate electrical.  As I walked through the first time with our realtor while my husband was at work, we started in the living room and made a circle, hitting the kitchen towards the end.  I still remember my heart sinking as I walked into the kitchen.  The bathrooms had been scary enough, but that kitchen was awful.  Except for the light coming in those old dirty windows.  It was late afternoon and the sun was shining through the windows, which were directly over the kitchen sink.   The house was across the street from a very old park with lots of mature trees.  I fell in love with that view instantly.  I have no idea how I could overlook everything else that was so wrong with this house, but I did and  I was excited to bring my husband to see it.   Our realtor took us back that evening with the kids and my mom.  It was dark and there no was no power on, we had a big flashlight, the kind you use if there is an emergency with a radio attached.  It was spooky, but we knew we had to have this house.  Another couple saw the door open and came up to see if they could look at it too.  I remember feeling so territorial, "back-off, his is our house!",  I thought to myself.  Soon after a another visit with all of our parents, we decided to make an offer.

The good part was, since the house was a  true fixer upper in "as is" condition,  it was cheap and to our single income family, affordable.  Our real estate agent was a family friend to the owner and wrote a letter on our behalf to help seal the deal.  There were several other offers coming in, so we offered the asking price and crossed our fingers.  The owner was willing to carry the loan so we wouldn't have to qualify through a bank.  This was good for us, since we hadn't sold our first home yet and he would not take a contingency.  It was go for it and take a chance, or miss out.  We took a huge leap of faith and went for it.

On January 31st, 1996 escrow closed and it was officially our house.  By now our first home was on the market but wasn't getting a whole lot of notice.  It was cute, but with not the best location and it being a buyer's market, we weren't getting too much action.  This was worrisome, as we would now have two mortgages to pay.  Finally in April the house sold, albeit for less than we hoped.  We had to move in with my parents since we had made little progress so far on our "dream house".  It was in no condition for a family with two small children to live in just yet.  Our oldest was 4 and the baby just 7 months old.  I wonder now what possessed us to jump into such a huge project with a 4 year-old and a newborn.  

Here are some pictures of what the house looked like, I wish I had more, but this was long before cell phone cameras...I have neglected to mention the smell of this house, it's not something I can put into words, but hopefully the pictures will give you an idea.  It was awful!
Master bedroom
Alyssa's Room

The Dining Room, gotta love those drippy dirty doors!

Kristil's Room, this room was one of the dirtiest, the woodwork was literally dark yellow from cigarette smoke.  The walls were an awful brownish yellowy green color. 

Jack & Jill Bathroom between the girls' rooms.  That is the shower on the right, it was painted black and white stripes with red around the opening.  Yikes!

The Kitchen

The Kitchen Sink w/ tiles literally crumbling.

The Butler's Pantry

The Library/Office

Library bookshelves.  Notice the yellow tinge, that was all over the house.

The Living Room

The Living Room

Main Bathroom
 To be continued...