Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Chronicle for The Chronicle

The Petch House in late 2006

I thought I’d do a little recap for any new readers that came to The Petch House blog by way of the article in the April 14th edition of The San Francisco Chronicle. Also, this month happens to be my 2 year anniversary for the blog, and next month is my 5 year anniversary for owning The Petch House, so a recap seemed in order anyway.

The basic plot is this: The house is a 3000 sq ft, 1895 Queen Anne Victorian in Eureka, CA (Remember us, way up north?). The Petch family were the original owners of the house in 1895. Hence the name, The Petch House. Thomas Petch was an electrician and ran The Eureka Lighting Company, which was a subsidiary of a SF company. At one point he also operated the local coal-gas plant and the electric power plant, which were located at the foot of H St here in Eureka.

From the 1898 City Directory

The Petch family fell on hard times in the mid teens and there was a nasty divorce. By the 1920s PG&E was running the show in town and the Petch Family Lighting business was no where to be found. I suspect there were hired goons from PG&E involoved. They probably rolled in to town with a lead pipe and a sack full of doorknobs and strongly suggested that Thomas Petch give up his position. He ended up in Santa Clara, living with his sister and running the power plant there.

The house went to Phyllis Petch, the wife, and she turned the home in to a respectable boarding house. There is evidence that she took up residence in the dining room and rented out the 4 bedrooms to young couples and retirees.

Ca. 2002 with Asbestos siding. Yuck!

Phyllis sold the house in 1919. At some point in the early 1920s the house was officially cut up in to 4 apartments, and a 2 story addition was added to create two new kitchens and bathrooms for the house. You can see the addition on far left, near the back, in the picture above.

In 1926 the carriage house was unceremoniously ripped down and a Mission Revival structure (see above) was built in it’s place. This building had 2 apartments on the second floor, and 6 Model T sized garages on the first floor. The property now had 6 apartments for tenants, and 6 garages for those noisy horseless carriages.

Sometime in the 1940s or 50s the house was Eisenhowered a bit. Some of the gingerbread was stripped off and the house was covered in hideous asbestos siding. Then nothing happened for a very, very long time.

The house remained a pleaceful place to live for many decades. I've met people who lived here in the 1960s and the 80s and both had fond memories of the place. Then in the 1990s the house was taken over by a rental management company. They filled the home with Section 8 drug addicts, prostitutes, and an axe wielding Nazi. The third floor, walk-up attic became a full-on shooting gallery. It was by far the worst house in an otherwise nice neighborhood.

For some silly reason, which I can’t quite remember at the moment, I thought it would be a good idea to buy the place and turn it back in to a single family home. Despite the history, much of the interior grandeur of the house remained intact. With the exception of the two High-Victorian oak fireplace mantles, and some fir decking on the porches, the house is made entirely of old-growth redwood. The grand staircase, all of the mill work, floors, ceilings, doors, windows, joists, studs, casing, siding…..everything. It’s all redwood. If nothing else, this means the house can withstand a lot of abuse and neglect with out rotting and falling apart. Which it did, and it didn’t.

The only upgrade done to the place between 1926 and 2001 was the addition of the charming electrical conduit installed in 1951 that snaked through the house to give outlets to every room. For the most part, when I bought the place in 2002 the house was still using the original 1895 wiring and plumbing, which had been extended in the 1920s during the apartment renovation. Each apartment got one electrical outlet. It’s a wonder the place didn’t burn down. Also untouched were the 1895 and 1920s bathrooms and kitchens.

Working on a shoe-string budget, and doing all of the work myself, I’ve completely replaced all of the wiring, plumbing, and natural gas lines. I took some classes to learn residential wiring, and a neighbor - a master plumber - has given me technical know-how and much more, so I was able to do the plumbing and gas myself. I removed the 2 story addition, all of the asbestos siding, and restored all of the gingerbread.

Last summer I finally painted the house after stripping all of the siding to bare wood (First picture at the top). The original siding, with octagon and fish-scale shingles, and horizontal shiplap siding, was in great shape under the asbestos siding. The house had only been painted twice in more than 100 years. The last time was in the 1920s when the addition was added. In some places you could rub your hand on the siding and be to bare wood in a few seconds.

The 2 story addition was made of old-growth redwood and I was able to salvage about 80% of the wood. This was used to recreate some of the exterior gingerbread, to rebuild missing parts of the interior of the house, make kitchen and bathroom cabinets, and reproduce some damaged millwork. The interior is still very much a work in progress.

During the apartment phase, they didn’t go to great lengths to move walls around. For the most part, getting the house back to it’s original floor plan was not too difficult. With very few exceptions, the house now is as it was in 1895. I’ve been able to use the wood from the addition to do all of the rebuilding, so not only will it look the same on the outside, but the parts you don’t see are also built with historically accurate building materials. Nobody will know this but me, but no matter, I think it’s cool.

I work with salvage and used materials extensively, not only because I think it’s the right thing to do, but also because I really don’t have the money to be running down to the lumberyard or home center every time I need something. Dumpster diving, scavenging, and swinging deals with local shops is all part of the fun. It just makes sense. To date, on the interior, I’ve completed the kitchen and the upstairs bathroom. I’m currently working on the downstairs bathroom. At all times I look to the past for inspiration and design, while thinking about the future and modern necessities on upgrades.

Living in Eureka has made some aspects of the restoration difficult, and other aspects easier. The weather is very similar to The Bay Area, especially the peninsula. The big difference is that Eureka only has about 30,000 people. It’s a lot less crowded and things are more affordable, of course, but there aren’t as many services or resources.

Eureka is a nice town with some amazing architecture, but it does have it’s problems. Even at only 30,000 people, it’s still the Big City for the area. Northern California, and especially Humboldt County are unbelievably beautiful. People often use the term Living Behind The Redwood Curtain, as if we’re cut off from the world by what’s left of the ancient redwood forests. It really does feel that way at times.

Eventually, this place will become The State Capital, so word will get out about just how nice it is up here. Until then, I’ll just keep plugging away at The Petch House, while living in a fantasy world. I’m not sure I’ll ever finish.


Anonymous said...

i'd forgotten the part where the original siding and shingles lay like sleeping beauty, preserved and perfect, for a century under the asbestos siding.
that was hott.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the recap. When I first found your blog several months ago I went back to the beginning and read it all. But so much was forgotten. Today I reread some of the linked items and have been chuckling most of the afternoon. Just out of curiosity, did you give away the needles & bullets at your party?

I enjoy your writing; you are so funny. I wish you had been able to find a way to link to the “stool softener” entry.

Poppy said...

Great recap of all the wonderful work you've done on the Petch House!

Greg said...

"Pictures of My Stools" - I forgot about that one, and yes, I still have the needles and bullets. They are in a box in a closet and I just keep forgetting about them.

It's on the list...

Anonymous said...

Hi Greg,

I just reread “Pictures of My Stools!” published on April 7, 2006. I was sitting here laughing like a mad woman when my sister called, I was laughing so hard I couldn’t talk. Please send this to a magazine, maybe Reader’s Digest, for publication. It is one of your funniest blog entries.

Leslie said...

Thanks for the recap - the article was great!

Anonymous said...

I've been reading for at least a year, but the recap really pulled it all together for me. And, of course, got me giggling. I just love the needles and bullets; always good to keep your guests guessing.