Sustaining the History of Historic Homes

By Ted Reiff

I live in La Mesa, California, a suburb of 60,000 immediately east of San Diego. In early November, the La Mesa Historical Society held its annual Historic Home Tour. The tour included seven residences located in a hilly section of the city called La Mesa Highlands, where every home is different and many sit on coveted view lots.

The tour homes ranged in vintage from 1936 to 1955. Six were mid-century modern and one was Mediterranean. Unfortunately, only two had maintained the integrity of their original style. One of those, designed by C.J. Paderewski and built in 1955, has been designated a local historic landmark. Almost everything in the home is true to the period, including lighting, clocks, cabinetry, doors and windows. Touring this gem was like taking a trip back in time.

The other house, finished in 1959, was built for a late local business leader and member of the La Mesa city council. Succeeding owners made "improvements" over the years that did not conform to the period, and the house deteriorated somewhat. The present owners are slowly bringing back the original design and architecture (although the current furnishings do little to show off their progress).

The other five homes had all been substantially remodeled. In all cases the results evidenced very good workmanship and materials, however most additions were built without much thought to the initial architectural design, and in four of the homes the changes were so stark that I couldn't even envision that design.

My devotion to historical fidelity probably traces back to Columbus, Ohio, where I moved to attend Ohio State. The historic section of Columbus, which is within city limits, is known as German Village. This oasis of homes and businesses is one of the largest privately funded historic districts in the country. Originally developed in the early to mid-nineteenth century by German immigrants, it features cobblestone streets, small quaint brick homes, gardens, and popular eateries known as "sausage houses."

German Village opened my eyes to what could be done to enshrine the past, not for preservation purposes alone, but for understanding and appreciating what prior generations have entrusted to us. Many of the houses were for sale back then, but covenants required that any remodeling strictly adhere to the architecture of the period.

After graduation I tried to buy a place in German Village, but while the purchase price was within my budget, the cost of restoration was not. To acquire the types of materials required by the covenants, owners often had to import the materials from other states or countries. In some cases, they took down distant buildings just to obtain the materials needed for restoration. Then owners either had to learn proper installation techniques or hire skilled tradesmen, who were becoming scarce even then.

Today restoration is easier due to the number of architectural salvage stores and warehouses selling used building materials - materials that are meticulously removed, cared for and transported to centrally located outlets where they can be sold, often over the internet. This convenience makes it much easier for the owners of period homes to maintain the integrity of a dwelling's original design. 

Location and Contact Information

TRP ReUse Warehouse - Oakland
9235 San Leandro Street
Oakland, CA  94603
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Please visit our partnering warehouses:

Reuse Depot
50 West Madison
Maywood, IL 60153
(708) 223-0502
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Salvage Too - Rockford Reuse Center
907 S Main Street
Rockford, IL 61101
(815) 963-6236
Hours: Tue-Fri, 11:00am-4:30pm

The ReUse Warehouse
1400 East Geer Street
Durham, NC 27704
(919) 219-4913
Hours: Mon-Fri, 2:00-6:00; Sat, 9:30-5:00

Second Chance Building Materials Center
1423 West Grove Street
Boise, ID 83702
(208) 331-2707
Hours: Mon-Sat, 9:00-6:00; Sun, 12:00-5:00

Roaring Fork Valley Habitat for Humanity
7025 Hwy 82
Glenwood Springs, CO 81601
(970) 945-7733
Hours: Mon-Fri, 10:00-5:30; Sat, 10:00-5:00; Sun, 11:00-4:00

Stardust Building Supply
3901 E. Thunderbird Road
Phoenix, AZ 85032
(602) 459-9803
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Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Salt Lake Valley,
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Salt Lake City, UT 84101
(801) 263-0136
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Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Summit & Wasatch Counties
6280 N. Silver Creek Drive, Silver Summit, UT
(435) 487-9015
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Recycle Utah
1951 Woodbine Way Park City, UT 84060
(435) 649-9698
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North Haven, CT 06473
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