September 30, 2009

There's no place like Home............ There's no place like home

Yesterday morning our house slowly lowered and settled onto its new foundation. Like riding a cyclone from OZ the house quietly dropped until the fronts of the bay windows touched down, then came the sounds, creaking, cracking, and tearing. When the dust settled and the smoke cleared, she was down and sitting exactly where she should, proudly on strong concrete walls that line up exactly with the footprint of the house. Nearby the 140 year old brick foundation, now nothing more than a sad pile, sits and awaits its new duty as the floor of the wine cave and the adjacent large basement floor.
Reality check... Now that the house is sitting proud, the real work begins. In the next two weeks huge changes will take place on the back of the house. Jim Glazier and his boys will be framing in the new breakfast room, the rear of the kitchen, and the master bedroom. Above the new master they will add the fifth bathroom space and the new roof line. Add to that a brand new roof for the whole house and we will be on our way. At that point its up to us for the most part. Phillip and I will start stripping the inside walls of their lathe, plaster and trim, carefully removing the woodwork for re-installation down the road. In looking over the engineering plans we have come to the reality that sheer walling will be our enemy. In my conversations with the engineer I was lead to believe that we were only sheer walling the new construction and the very front of the house. Boy was I wrong! The plans call for every exterior wall in the original house, all three stories, to be sheered on the inside with 3/8 inch plywood. I am desperately trying to wrap my head around how we make this work.  We have limited thickness available to fit in plywood, blue board, and plaster. I fail to see why a house that has stood for 140 years is better off being turned into a rigid tinder box. But... suck up and bust! and figure it out. If folks that are smarter than me tell me that is what must be done, then so be it! Everyone who knows me, knows I am not one to buck the system, and I politely and graciously do as I am told.
Yeah, Riiiiiggghhhtttt...............

September 25, 2009

NOTICE: Wicked Witches take cover!

Rumors have been flying around town that our house is about to come in for a landing.  Well folks, its true! On Tuesday the 29th of September, 227 North Street will settle down onto a new foundation, stronger, faster, better than it was before! Rob Baggett of Baggett Building Enterprises, House Lifting and Moving, (boy what a mouthful that name is!) and Frank Coleman of All Phase Concrete are going as fast as they can to make this happen. The concrete is being poured into the foundation wall forms as I write this, and by this evening the foundation will be ready. The forms come off on Monday and although things could change, at the moment we have a green light for Tuesday. So buckle your seat belts, grab the children, hold onto the antiques and get ready for the drop!

September 23, 2009

Mister DeMille, please call ahead!

227 North Street certainly has a bit of celebrity flare. It's actually hard to get anything accomplished at times because folks want to look and chat, and if the truth be known... we love chatting! Though the reality of what we are doing is frightening and daunting, there isn't anything we love to talk about more than our house. Talk is one thing, but photos and film crews are a different story. I hate cameras! I don't really want to see how old I have become, so it is easier to simply avoid them, but sometimes they catch you completely unawares. Why is it that only seems to happen at your worst moments, like the waitress who is watching you out of the corner of her eye, and rushes over to ask how everything is, just as you have landed a huge forkful into your mouth. On the day of the lift we were out of bed at the crack of dawn, no showers, no shaving, no preparation at all, and with barely a swig of coffee we headed for the job site to watch the raising of the house. We were half asleep and really excited! When we arrived we actually beat the work crew and had a few early morning moments to enjoy the quiet, when arround the corner of the house came... the camera. Apparently Mister DeMille had not sent the memo to wardrobe, hair and make-up that we should look our parts, or perhaps we did, two beaten down, wide eyed, insane homeowners, about to see their home raised like the Titanic. Justin Whitaker of and his team have created a wonderful short film of the lift, and although we look HORRIFIC! you can see it by visiting,

Now Justin, you know I am just kidding and we truly thank you for the time and effort it took to put together this fantastic piece of film, and if you want to get a tag line... the house is coming back down onto its new foundation next Tuesday the 28th of September.

September 21, 2009

Witty, Nitty, Gritty

Today we will back up a moment in time and pick up the story of our house right after the purchase.
Once we owned 227 North Street, we were ready to roll big time. We already had floor plans and elevations. Our Builder was on board and chomping at the bit to get started. All we needed was structural engineering, and we would be ready to head for city hall to submit our plans for permits. Dave Duncan of Duncam Engineering, was faster than lightning and you could not ask for better. With Daves help we were ready to submit 2 weeks after we owned the house. I heard that we got our permits in record time.... But to us it was 6 weeks of pure torture. The Plan check company is in Sebastopol, and was very dark and mysterious, seeming to never answer their phones, and for some unknown reason they only worked four days a week. So we paced back and forth making a huge rut in the floor of our rental home while we waited, and waited, and waited, worrying about earth quakes the whole time. We had a few wrenches thrown into the pot for our permits, one being the "Historic Evaluation" (see "The Third White Knight of 227 North Street" below) and the second wrench being a handicap ramp, to access the sidewalk from the street. Did you know that you cannot deed any portion of your land to another party if you carry a mortgage on it? There were some who did not know this, and we were in fear of never receiving our permits, but at the eleventh hour an agreement was reached. I will say honestly that I really do not look forward to one of those lovely vibrant, neon yellow, bumpy sidewalk ramps in front of our home. I suppose that the government agencies in charge of creating the whole look and environment of handicap ramps failed to get a consultation from the gay boys, who could have steered them in the direction of "making it pretty!"

On August 19th, the day after we received our permits, our Builder Jim began the demolition of the old East wing of the house. This scared many a folk as it seemed the house was being torn down. The East wing had been added on, most likely, around 1910, and was the worst part of the house. This wing was warren of little rooms and heading south rapidly as its foundation, or that part of it that actually had a foundation, was cracked, and bowed out terribly. Add to that, ancient plumbing that had leaked for years and evidence of a (dare I say it...) a long since gone rat infestation, and we were so happy to see the whole thing razed to the ground.

Sooooo exciting to see it come down and expose the original rear, or North facing wing of the house.
We then took the roof of the rear wing in preperation for adding a second story onto it. You can see floor plans and elevations in a slide show here. Be sure to hit play.

Well folks, with the tear down complete, and the house lifted into the air, the old foundation removed, and forms going up for the new one... we are up to date. And although I know this post was not one of my usual dry and witty entries, sometimes you have to get down to the nitty gritty to propel the story.

September 18, 2009

When Queens come calling

In 1896 Alice Haigh, the Second Floral Festival Queen made a regal stop at our home, 227 North Street. That is indeed our house behind the coach. What could the Queen possibly have wanted? I guess you could say it is the kind of house that a real Queen, with a tiara and everything, would want to drop in on. Perhaps Mrs. Marshall had vital information that only the Queen could hear. Perhaps the royal jewels were delivered into the hands of Mrs. Marshall to be protected and cared for. Perhaps Mrs. Marshall buried the treasure on the land as the ultimate protection. Hmmm, anyone want to meet at midnight to go digging? Holly at the Healdsburg Museum was gracious enough to send this photo to us moments after identifying our house. Below is a picture of Alice and the Royal Court courtesy of

The second Healdsburg Floral Festival held in May, 1896, included the May Day Queen, Alice Haigh (Dixon) and her court. Others pictured include: seated left to right' Zoe Bates (Fuller), Nettie Barnes (Chisholm). Standing, left to right: Violet Lvedke (Smith), Edna Biddle (Stone), Nellie Petray (Lawrence), and Lena Zane (Purvine). Pages (left) Bert McDonough and (right) Van Whitney. Princess is Julia Mehrtens. Ourhealdsburg/festivals
In the vein of the Disney Movie "Holes" we shall now dig holes all over our property until we find that courtly treasure.
Queens Rule!

September 15, 2009

Cement and the Big Boy Toys

I suppose you never really think about the beauty of a cement truck until you need one. Yesterday the footings for the new foundation were poured, and next Tuesday the crew will pour the foundation walls. Very exciting to finally see a move toward having the house set down on a solid foundation. Between you and I, I am most looking forward to not hearing about the foundation anymore. Anytime the house is discussed, it is impossible to get beyond the foundation. I want to talk about floors and paint colors, light switches and bathtubs, cabinets and appliances... but nooooooo, we have to discuss how bad the foundation is, "I can't believe that house is still standing", and how much its going to cost to fix it. So, now can we talk about sewer lines and heating and air conditioning, please?
The big boy toys have rolled in. Just makes me want to get out my tonka trucks and play in the dirt. Here the backhoe is working its way through the old foundation.
And this toy is the valve system for lifting a house. Quiet and silent, with just a hiss of air the house will go up in the air. 
We are now in the position of having to hurry up and think of all those things you never thought you'd have to think about in regards to the new foundation. How does the water main get inside, and back out again for yard sprinklers? How does the air ducting for the heating and cooling system get from one side of the foundation wall to the other? Are there electric outlets and light switches on the basement walls? and if there are do you want them recessed into the concrete? Where do those sewer lines go anyway? As I sit here trying to focus on the Cubic feet per minute of various air ducting sizes, at the same time I have pipes, and wires, and more pipes, and more wires, and sump pumps whizzing through my brain, it just dawned on me that I need a doorway close to the floor for the Garden scale trains to make their entrances and exits into the yard. Sweet! I am going to think of trains for awhile and forget all that other crap. Life's simple pleasures..... Chug-a-Chugga Chug-a-Chugga, Chug-a-Chugga, WOOOOO, WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

September 13, 2009

Half a million bricks and a fence

Another weekend has screamed by, and it is starting to feel like fall with the temperature 40 degrees cooler than it was 4 days ago. That is all fine and wonderful, but rain? I know that the vineyards are probably all in a panic and all I can say is "get in line!" Our 140 year old house is 4 feet in the air, no roof to speak of, its the middle of September, and its raining! Yesterday we arrived at the house to find a fence being erected between our property and the tiny lot behind us that we did not purchase, basically cutting off any thought of access to the back of our project for trucks, backhoes, and any other equipment that might be necessary to complete our mission.
There is so much more to this story that I could say, but being a gentleman, and knowing that I should not write it here for fear of repercussions, I shall leave it at that. Suffice it to say that it was most ironic to find the power tools being used to build said fence plugged into our electric service. All I can say is that I am a firm believer in that old saying... "what goes around, comes around!" and with that... enough said!
We have arrived at Sunday and in the pouring rain we attempted to begin the monumental task of cleaning brick. Every single piece of brick that was removed from the old foundation has to be picked up, looked at, sorted, and if deemed worthy, cleaned and sanded against another brick. Chip off the old mortar, and and rub two bricks together to clean off any residue. Seems simple enough, and it is... but I swear there are five hundred thousand bricks, or pieces of brick in a huge mountain, that must be dealt with. But homes are not built with whining and complaining, they are built with one cleaned brick after another, and so we clean. The rain however did us in and we gave up. Old, disintegrated mortar, vibrant red brick dust, and a fresh dosing of rain water only makes for two options, ridiculously expensive designer clothes, that you paid way to much for, so you to could look like you had been cleaning brick in the rain for years.... or two little pigs that dare not climb into the car for fear of destroying it. Me thinks it was the latter. Beaten and deflated we made our way back to the Shack down by the River, to regroup, strengthen, and live to fight the battle another day!

September 11, 2009

The Third White Knight of 227 North St

Ms. Holly Hoods of the Healdsburg Museum has formally and respectfully been dubbed a White Knight of 227 North Street. Holly joins her fellow Knights, Jim Glazier, and Sharon Vallejo. Holly is an amazing and gracious soul who came to the rescue of two desperate boys in search of help. 
On July 9th, 2009, we submitted our plans for our building permits. We were desperate to get them now that we actually owned the house. OMG what if a big shaker rolls through here now??? It was all fine and dandy when someone else owned the property and we were just playing with the concept. But now that we owned it the idea of an earthquake and what could happen to the minimal foundation the house was sitting on, was very real, and frightening... Insurance.... HA!... but that is a story for another post.
2 weeks after we submitted we were told by the City Planning department that we needed to have a "Historic Evaluation" done for the home. We were given a sample and a list of "approved" architectural historians we could contact. After receiving quotes up to and including $3200.00 and two months lead time, I had a small melt down and was willing to throw in the towel. At the eleventh hour I phoned Holly at the Museum to discuss the issue, and she said she would be happy to do it for us. In a week and a half our newest White Knight turned out a gazillion pages of the most beautiful Historic Evaluation you have ever seen.
Holly's credentials and accomplishments are a mile long and we could not have asked for better.
May the light of the newest Knight of 227 North Street continue to shine bright!
Melissa is a fictional character that we have created, and not the name of the House... read on
Redesigning an existing house is a daunting task.  Especially a home built 1870 with no plumbing, no electric, no heating or air conditioning, no bathrooms, and no in house kitchen. I can't tell you how often I am asked about the location of the old outhouse.... "you know people threw all kinds of wonderful treasures down into the potty hole, and you should dig them up!"   Yeah, riiiiiiiiiight, I think not! I am not going to dig through one hundred plus year old poop! forget it, no how, no way! No matter what anyone tells me, it is still poop!
Even though we are doing some reconstruction, and adding on a Master bedroom, we are still working within the confines of the original house and its foot print. We are lucky in many respects that the rooms in the house are quite sizable for a Victorian home. I have seen many a Victorian home with huge grand verandas, sweeping porches, towers and balconies, only to find a warren of tiny little rooms inside. The North Street house on the other hand has nice sized rooms, not huge, but nicely sized, so we have taken this into account in doing the redesign. A palatial Master bedroom and bathroom with grand vaulted ceilings and a walk in closet the size of Wyoming would not make sense. So we are working within the space we have to create new living spaces that, work with the original house, are contemporary in their appointments, and yet feel as if they could have always been there. It is important to remember that we are two men, and two men may think somewhat differently than, say, (SI hate to use the term) a more traditional couple. Take the Master bathroom for instance, do we need a bathtub? would we ever use a bathtub? most likely not... So we say "what would Melissa say?"
Ahhhhhh... Melissa.   Melissa is a fictional character that we have created based on a woman we saw at an open house. The house was charming, and very nicely done, sitting up on the town edge of Fitch Mountain. We had gone to the open house to see it as a potential home for us.  It wasn't the right fit, but the agent was lovely and we spent sometime talking with her. During our visit another couple came in to have a look around. The woman was tall and very "power walker" thin, with salt and pepper hair, cut in a chic Asian style bob, that you could tell was perfectly dyed to maintain its appearance. She and her poor hen pecked husband flew quickly through the house as she complained about everything it had to offer. They quickly finished their tour and headed for the front door to leave, as they did so the agent simply asked if they had any questions. Well, you would have thought that they had been stung by a cattle prod! They shot for the front door, clambering over each other to get out, as the woman brusquely informed the agent that they were already working with another real estate agent, and they had no questions. BOOM, the front door slammed shut. All we could do was stare at one another...
We named her, Melissa.
As we come upon decisions that need to be made, we have a three way conversation... Phillip, Myself, and Melissa. "How about if the Master Bedroom did not have a walk in closet?", oh, "What would Melissa say?" Not that we ever intend to sell the house, but we never know where life will take us and so we must think on what other potential owners might say or want. We do not base our decisions on what others would want, but we do take Melissa and her best friend Mindy (Melissa no longer shops with her husband, because Men are stupid, and Mindy is a "yes" girl) into account. Do we as two boys really need a big walk in closet? No... but, "what would Melissa say?" so walk in closet it is. Besides, I guess I do need a place to store all my ball gowns, or at least a place to lock away the screaming children of invited guests.
On a last note and to prove that we do not base everything on Melissa... See yesterdays post, Melissa is going to HATE that stove! Sorry Melissa, I love it!

September 10, 2009

To antique stove or not to antique stove, that is the question!

In the midst of a new foundation and the rebuild of the back of the house, we have to think forward.
This is a 1923 Clark Jewel that we are going to purchase and have restored for the new Kitchen.
You might look at it and think, OMG they are doing a "Victorian" kitchen. We actually are not. We are adding great antique/vintage moments to every room, but keeping a very contemporary look. Consequently this stove will stand alongside a Subzero glass door refrigerator and a Miele dishwasher.
The cabinets will be tall and sleek with minimal detail set onto baseboard style bases. The uppers have simple single lite glass doors and soar all the way to the ceiling. All of the cabinets will be painted in a tone on tone color scheme, we are leaning to pale shades of gray or green, and will have a twist of a nod to victorian here and there. Counter tops will be honed white marble with a very clean simple edge. But my favorite part will be a 3 foot by 7 foot work table on big casters. With its marble top this table will make great cooking space, but it can also swing around across the opening of the kitchen, forming a bar where guests can sit on tall stools, watch the mad cooks at work, and wait to be fed.
We are not Victorians, and I don't want to cook in a Victorian Kitchen, so we are finding a way to put a modern kitchen into a very old house and yet not let it look out of place at the same time.

September 09, 2009

Floor plans and Elevations

Concepts and ideas for the restoration/rehabilitation of 227 North Street started early on as it took five and a half months to close the deal. Not being ones to wait around we had completed floor plans for the reconstruction before we closed escrow.  
To view the floor plans and the four elevations click here for the slide show, be sure to press play.

The purchase

Chapter 2, the purchase
To those who say that purchasing a home these days is difficult, you should try a FSBO... otherwise known as For Sale By Owner... Crazy! The former owner of 227 North Street was anything but easy to deal with. I know that many people had tried, but I guess we were the only ones willing to stick it out, ride with the flow, and somehow manage to get to the end. Everyday brought a new hill to climb. Offers made and rejected, or tabled to see if a better one came in. Hundreds of potential buyers looked at the property, seeing the fantasy of the facade, "wouldn't it be wonderful to restore that old house", but as soon as they walked inside to view the toll that the passing years had left behind, the bubble always burst, and any remaining hope was dashed to the ground with a huge thud at the vision of the ancient brick foundation, with monstrous gaping holes in it. We managed to look beyond the downfalls, as others did, only to be beaten down by the former owner. Heels were dug in on both sides as to purchase price, and we were left facing that horrible moment of decision...."how bad do you want this?" so we caved, but that was only the beginning. Over and over terms were agreed to and then thrown out the next day as unacceptable. Contractors came and looked at the house, and then at us with huge drooling teeth, like we were fat little piggy banks to be devoured. We made attempt after attempt to get some kind, or any kind of a contract in place, it was as if we were begging to make the purchase and at the same time being treated like bad children trying to play adult. The former owner had lost 2 previous sales that were for quite a bit more money than we had settled on, and somehow we were to blame for his huge financial losses.

To The Rescue!
There were two White Knights in the process that were instrumental in making the purchase of 227 North Street actually happen. In fact without them it would not have happened.
The first is Jim Glazier, our builder.
Jim is an amazing man. A great builder/Contractor, who is hands on and very up front about what can be done and what it will cost in a reasonable world. Many of the companies we talked with seem to be looking to make up for lost business by inflating their pricing, and we did not come to Healdsburg with great bags of money, in fact we will just squeak by. We were walking away, and in rides mister Glazier on his white horse with numbers that we understood and expected. We have done this kind of work before and we know the process and what it should cost. Jim is licensed in the State of California but actually lives in Incline Village, Nevada, he spends his days as a builder and his nights as in immediate care nurse, unusual combination though it may be, it explains his easy going and soft demeanor.
Looking for a Builder/Contractor? Call Jim at 775-770-4400
The second white knight to the rescue was Real Estate agent Sharon Vallejo. At the eleventh hour when the entire purchase was falling apart, the former owner hired Sharon to handle the details. Suffice it to say that there are a great number of stories to be told that I dare not put in writing, so if you want to hear them you will have to get me liquored up! Sharon managed to grab the rope on the left and the rope on the right and somehow tie the knot. 
If you need an agent and are looking for a recommendation? 
Call Sharon! 707-953-4788
After withdrawing our offer on 25 West Grant Street, on June 15th we became the owners of record for 227 North Street, in Healdsburg, California.

September 08, 2009

Inside a spooky old house

Today I am sharing some photos taken inside the house before we started work on it. See the full album by clicking here. Some of the photographs were taken in the East wing which no longer exists. I have also spent hours giving the blog a whole new look. I think I have done ok considering that I have never done this before. Be sure to check out the slide show of historic photographs to the right. Click on the photos and you can go to the gallery to see large size images.

Today at the house the foundation crew was hard at work. The forms for the footings will go in tomorrow, and the plan is to pour the foundation next Monday! The house should be back down on the ground inside of two weeks.

September 04, 2009

In the Beginning

It all started with these two Ladies. Mimi and Thareen. Reed and Aaurora, Nutty but Nice! Two old show broads that lived across the street from us in Los Angeles. The two ole gals had lived in their home together since 1948. Mimi and Thareen were the best friends you could ask for. Crazy, Wacky, and just plain fun. We had a number of years with these two old girls, laughing, drinking, "Cocktails at 4", and simply hanging out. Two fair damsels who had that spark of life that was infectious!

Through the Girls we met Thareen's Grandson and his husband, Stewart Allen and Thomas Pope of Healdsburg California. They would visit the Girls often and soon we all became fast friends. Phillip and I were invited to Healdsburg to visit Stewart and Thomas. Neither of us had ever been in the wine country and we fell in Love with the place. I was born and raised in Oregon, and Healdsburg and the countryside felt just like home, so we began looking at real estate in Healdsburg.

Over the past four years we had been living bi-coastal. 2 weeks at our home in Los Angeles and 2 weeks in NYC, and then back to LA. But we began to dream of life in small town away from the madness of the big city. We made frequent trips to Healdsburg over the past couple of years to look at houses. Not an easy task for us as we are always looking for property that is challenging and inspiring, not "done" in someone elses idea of style. We were looking at more modern properties, 50's and 60's mid century, and vacant land to build.

Neither of us are afraid of change and moving on, so we put our LA house on the market at the end of last October. Much to everyone's surprise our house sold in 3 weeks. We were packed up and someone else owned it by November 21st. We put everything in storage and moved into our Upper West Side apartment in NYC full time, and continued to look for a home in Healdsburg. Our real estate agent, Dennis Mulvihill, brought to our attention a much older home that was going into short sale, 25 west Grant Street, the 1903 Calderwood Inn, we had not really thought of living in a hundred plus year old home again, but we considered the concept and flew out to see it. Well, we were bit by the bug! Once we saw the house and its beautiful grand rooms we were in love. It was a huge stretch for us financially, but we figured out a way to make it work and made an offer early last December. Now anyone who has tried to buy in short sale will understand the torture of it! We sat in the number 1 position for months waiting for the bank to decide to move forward. The end of that story was a bit sad, but fantastic in the long run. At the eleventh hour another party swooped in with an all cash offer on the Calderwood Inn and took it away from us. Although we were given the opportunity to meet the offer, who has that kind of cash sitting around? No one we know.

In the mean time, back at the ranch...
The short sale was taking so long, and certainly not a sure thing by any means, so we continued to look at houses... About 20 months ago, when 227 North Street was listed by Sothebys, Stewart and Thomas had gone to see it during an open house. Stewie called us and said "you would not believe this house we are in!" He took some pictures to send to us, but 227 North Street was listed for 1.6 Million dollars--way, way beyond our price range. But, the next time we went to Healdsburg, Our real estate agent, Dennis, took us to see it just for fun. It was a wreck and needed everything! But Phillip was in love, he talked about that house for weeks and weeks after, imagining all the things that needed to be done and what they should look like. We both, of course, came back to reality and back to looking at mid century modern... in this town we began to call them "Grandma's House".

The first of January 2009 while we had the offer standing on the short sale, Calderwood Inn, we noticed that 227 North Street was back on the market as a for sale by owner, and listed for $995,000.... and I made the first phone call to the number on the sign...

Next chapter... the puchase of 227 North Street

September 03, 2009

To Oz? To Oz!

We have lift off!
At 9 am this morning September 3rd, the house at the corner of North and Fitch was lifted 4 feet into the air. Expecting creaks and groans, pops and booms, we had moved across the street to view the potential catastrophe from a distance. Before we knew what was happening our house rose slowly and majestically into the air. It was an amazing experience!
More to come....

September 02, 2009

We should be certified and locked away

I am starting this blog a bit into our project, but I will do my best to back up and get the story from the beginning. I will include the purchase, the designing, and the permit process, all of the things that have happened over the last 8 months. I will also include history of the house and old photographs taken when the home was 3 years old, in 1870. Tomorrow, September third is a big day, as the ole lady will be lifted into the air in preparation for a new foundation.