The House and Grounds

Once Lydia and I had learned something about Victorian homes in general, and the Farm House in particular, we were ready to take a closer look at the place, assess its condition, and decide how our lily might best be gilt.

The Farm House is rectangular in form, with the long side facing front; it is one-and-one-half stories high. The roof is steeply-pitched and gabled, with a chimney to each side. To the front, which faces west, are three gabled dormers, the middle one smaller than the others; to the rear is a shed dormer in the middle bracketed by two gabled dormers somewhat smaller than their counterparts to the front. A veranda, hip-roofed, stretches across the front of the house; a small shed-roofed appendage housing the kitchen lies to the rear. The utility room (originally a veranda) lies off the kitchen to the north, the bathroom addition to the south. All the original windows are double-hung, except for a double-casement window in the center front dormer and fixed panes in the center rear. Two single casement windows were added later in the north gable. There is a bay window serving the front north room on the first floor.

Click for larger imageOn the exterior, there is shiplap siding on the first floor, shingles (square with several courses of fish-scale) in the gables, and a belt course in between. The foundation is sheathed in rectangular pieces of wood, chamfered at the edges to suggest massive blocks of stone. The veranda has band-sawed fan brackets and turned posts; the spandrels and balusters are simple, made of rectangular stock. There is a band-sawn, gracefully-curved bargeboard in the north gable, but its southern counterpart is missing (it was probably removed when the vent stack for the 1944 floor heater was installed). The casings in the windows and attic vents are pedimented, with a scalloped figure running under the cap molding; the aprons are curved fancifully.

Inside, the floor plan is simple: four rooms down, four rooms up, with a central hall and staircase and a kitchen to the back. Each of the four main rooms on the first floor was originally served by a tiny coal grate, but the opening in the bedroom has been bricked up. The first floor ceiling height is nine feet ten inches (eight feet in the kitchen).

There are four bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, all opening onto a central hall. The bedrooms are large, but the effective floor space is limited by the intrusion of the roof line on either side of the dormer in each room. The ceiling is seven feet three inches at its highest, and two feet at its lowest.

Detail of casing designThe interior appointments are fairly modest throughout. The door and window casings are made of simple 5/4 by 5 redwood stock, with a triple bead running down the middle. The baseboards also have this triple-bead figure, as do the stiles of the exterior casings. The fireplace mantels bear spoon-carved decorations. There are dado rails in the hallways and picture rails in the four main first-floor rooms. The walls and ceiling of the kitchen are entirely covered with beaded-wood paneling, which is also used for the wainscoting in the upstairs bathroom. Otherwise, the walls are all painted plaster. The doors are of a simple four-panel design, one-and-one-eighth inches thick. The floors are wide-planked, painted wood, with thresholds in all doorways on the first floor.

Click for larger imageThe fixtures in the upstairs bathroom, while quite old, may not date back to 1888. In any event, the toilet probably does not, for it has a low tank with a ballcock valve as does a modern toilet, and as far as I can determine such toilets were not in use when the house was built. It is surely one of the earliest examples of this design nonetheless, for the tank is made of wood lined with copper, as were the tanks of the old-style water closets. I've never seen another toilet like it. If we are able to keep this toilet in use, it is likely to become quite a conversation piece. Of course, this raises the question of what was there before the present toilet. Was there a water closet? Was there anything?

Besides the house itself, there isn't much on the lot besides trees--lots of trees. Over two dozen of them. Most prominent are the six pine trees. I haven't measured them, but they are at least 100 feet tall. They are visible from blocks away; the two that stand in the front yard are in an ongoing battle for air superiority with the coconut palms that line the avenue. Palms and pines together: only in L. A., I suppose.

There are two lovely old olive trees directly behind the house, thirty feet tall, that provide one of the several Farm House crops. There are also two persimmons, a tangerine, a pomegranate, and a whole stand of fig trees. A few oaks, a liquidambar, and several other trees I have yet to identify complete the inventory.

The only other building on the lot is a rotting old board-and-batten woodshed. Old insurance maps reveal another structure of similar size once stood near the woodshed--an outhouse, perhaps? A concrete walkway runs from the avenue along the south side of the property, branches off to the front steps, then continues along the south side of the house to the original rear exits at the kitchen and the room now serving as a bedroom. Because concrete was still something of an exotic material in 1888, I suspect the walkways were added sometime after the turn of the century. There are no walkways leading from the house towards the rear of the lot.

As a matter of fact, other than the woodshed there are no human artifacts in the back yard. It looks and feels like virgin forest. Even though a major thoroughfare is a short block away and there are neighbors on all sides, the trees make such an effective visual and aural barrier that the sights and sounds of the city fade to insignificance, and one is conscious only of the sights and sounds of nature. This is the truly irreplaceable aspect of the Farm House.

Next: State of The House

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