Shock and Awe
Once the plans were approved, we secured the services of a local
contracting firm, and after some preliminaries
the work began. We didn't expect to see much activity at first; in our
experience, contractors tend to be a bit short on time-management and
As it turned out, our painstaking search for the right contractor paid
off, because to our astonishment the contractor's men descended upon
House with all the precision and fury of the Coalition of the Willing
upon Baghdad. Literally before we realized anything had happened, they
had removed and marked all the interior and exterior elements that were
to be reused, performed all the demolition, salvaged the usable
building materials, and removed all the plaster. This they accomplished
in two short days.
We were in Pasadena that first weekend to visit our friends Nik and Jo,
who live a mere half-mile from the Farm House, and the four of us
stopped by the Farm House to see if any work had been done. We were
startled, and quite unnerved, to behold the main structure perched on
its now-exposed wood framing that had served as its foundation for 115
years. It was a sobering and instructive sight. I wish I had brought my
I suddenly understood the truth behind our building engineer's
characterization of the house as a "light structure." At the time he
said it, with the Farm House towering over me, it was highly
counter-intuitive to think of such an indomitable structure as light.
But there it stood, resting upon nothing more than a hundred board-feet
of 2 x 3s, and it was obvious that if it weren't a light structure it
wouldn't have lasted 115 months.
In fact, it is the house's light, cellular construction that has
enabled it to survive so well through 12 decades and several major
earthquakes. Light as the structural members are, the building is in
essence over-engineered, because none of the members has to carry a
great deal of weight. That's why the rooms in the typical Victorian
house are relatively small: shorter distances to span means less stress
on the beams, so that lighter beams can be used. Less weight in a
structure, especially higher up, means less twisting of the structure
under the stresses of wind and earth movement. These are the lessons we
have learned from the Sylmar and Northridge earthquakes, but those
nutty Victorians already had it all figured out.
A few days later, we returned to find
the house perched
on neat stacks of timbers four feet up in the air, towering over a
huge, neatly dug hole in the ground. As startling and vertigo-inducing
as this sight was, it inspired more confidence than the previous
situation. After all, the house was now on significantly firmer and
more substantial footings.
The foundation subcontractor wasted no
time in pouring
the foundation. In the pictures accompanying this paragraph, the lower
half of the foundations has been poured, and the forms are being built
for the upper half of the basement walls.
At this point, I took the
once-in-a-lifetime (one hopes)
opportunity to walk under the house to get a closer look at things.
With the chimneys removed, I was able to gaze upon a sight unseen by
human eyes for over a century: the inside of the chimney shaft.
Six weeks or so
later, the house was once again
earthbound, firmly affixed to its fabulous new underpinnings. Walking
around inside was a new experience; no longer did the Farm House
respond to my every step. The framing was already well underway; to the
right is a picture of Lydia and my Uncle Ernest inspecting the framing
of the addition.
At the same time, the basement was
taking shape underneath, and the garage, seen here from what will be
the kitchen window, was already framed and sheathed.
Meanwhile, back in Culver City Lucky
exciting new adventures awaiting him in Pasadena, with all those big