Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Long, Happy Life of Lucian Wilson

First, some old business. I asked in the last post if anyone could identify the car parked in front of the Farm House in that picture the city gave us.


Reader Tim e-mailed to say it's a 1964 Mercury Comet. . .

1964 Comet Caliente Convertible

And he's right! It seems fitting that it should be a Mercury, considering the 1935 Mercury that a neighbor reported finding parked in a thicket next to the house.

Anyway, thanks, Tim, and nice work! I had never before noticed the echoes of the Continental look in its littlest stablemate.

1964 Lincoln Continental

Also, I was utterly wrong regarding the family background of Annie's husband Archie. He did not come from a farming family, and he did not have a brother and two sisters. Who knew there were two Archie Wilsons born on the same day in Wheeling, West Virginia?

Our Archie's father, John E., was a wholesale dry goods merchant, and his mother Corinne Hornbrook Wilson kept house with the help of two servants, according to the 1870 Census. Archie only had one sibling, Lucy, who was two years his senior. I bet Lucian is named after his aunt.

I don't have much more information about Archie's family, but there's enough to suggest that they were fairly prosperous (starting with the two servants in the 1870 Census). The records conflict with each other somewhat, but they suggest that Corinne was widowed by the end of the century, and she spent considerable time, from either 1898 or 1901 to about August of 1915, in London (where I gather she had family on her father's side). She made a side trip to Russia in 1910, at which time she listed her home as Wheeling, but in 1915, when she was returning to America, she listed her home as Los Angeles. It is thus virtually certain that Corinne was a guest within the Farm House walls, and perhaps even a resident for a time.

One last bit of old business: I have a picture of Archie and Annie's eldest son John Encell that I forgot to show you:


This is from his 1921 passport application, dated just two days before his 34th birthday.

* * *
When last we saw Lucian Wilson, Archie and Annie's younger son, it was April 26, 1910. The Census was taken that day, and he was still living at the Farm House with his mother, his nephew Denfield, and a boarder recently come from England. He was 21, and working for Pacific Telephone as a collector.

Having reviewed the record, I'd like to go back eight years, to 1902. I now have it on good authority that this was the year that Annie moved from Cucamonga to Pasadena with her two sons, John and Lucian. That good authority is Lucian himself, believe it or not; happily, he gave a biographical interview to a newspaper late in his life that fills in a lot of blanks. I'll discuss the interview itself at length at its proper place in the narrative, but I'll be using facts from it as I go along.


School Days


We now also know that the school Lucian attended while living in the Farm House was the Throop Polytechnic Institute. This school was unlike any I know of today; it was something like a combination high school and college that placed the manual arts on the same level as the liberal arts and the sciences. Its motivating principle was that learning how to work with one's hands, how to solve physical problems by direct action, helped build a better citizen whether one went on to become a machinist or a lawyer, a physician or a plumber.

Put another way, the principle was that the mental discipline gained by learning how to draw a figure, or machine a bearing, or craft a mortise-and-tenon joint, was the best exercise for teaching young minds how to solve the abstract problems all adults face as responsible members of society.

As a practical consideration, moreover, imparting a solid foundation in the manual arts along with a good basic knowledge of the liberal arts and the sciences produced young adults highly adaptable to a wide range of livelihoods. A Throop-educated man, ideally, would always be able to find a good job.

Lucian attended the college preparatory program at Throop; he says in the interview that his father's untimely death in 1900 prevented him from continuing on with college. As nearly as I can determine, he graduated in either 1905 or 1906, but he apparently remained involved with his alma mater afterwards, because I found an article from 1908 that names him as a judge in a Throop track meet.



On to Adulthood


Even so, after graduation he got right to work in construction, and by 1907 he had a journeyman plasterer's card. I expect it's no coincidence that his older brother John, according to the 1910 Census, was at the time a plastering contractor. But Lucian soon found the work unbearably tedious, so by the time of the 1910 Census he was working for Pacific Telephone, as we already knew.

Lucian continued to live here until he got married, sometime between late November 1911 and mid-January 1912, to Helen Herd, who at the time of the 1910 Census was living with her family in San Gabriel and working as a clerk in a dry goods store. Helen's brother Clifton entered Throop's college prep program in 1908, which quite possibly has a lot to do with how Helen and Lucian met. Clifton was quite an athlete, distinguishing himself especially in tennis, but he also made a name for himself in football and track. It doesn't take much imagination to picture Lucian, standing on the side judging an event, noticing pretty Helen cheering for her brother. The scene almost writes itself.

By 1913, Lucian had become a shipping clerk for the freight division of the Pacific Electric (the company that ran the regional streetcar system), and he'd also bought a house of his own (which is still standing) in the 800 block of Wilson, which is just two blocks east and one block north of the Farm House. On September 28 of that year, Helen had a baby girl, Janet.

They didn't stay in that house long, because in the 1914 city directory, he is listed as the owner of a different house: this house. That fits with what we already know, actually. If you will recall, Annie was listed in the Santa Barbara city directory at her mother's address in 1913. What I didn't mention is that Annie is listed in the 1914 Pasadena city directory back at this address as a resident, not the homeowner. Also, from the city's records, we did know that Lucian was listed as a Pasadena Star subscriber here on January 6 of that year.

It seems clear to me what transpired here: Annie planned a long visit to her mother in Santa Barbara, so she arranged with Lucian for him to sell his house and move in here. That way, Lucian could save some money, and the Farm House would be well-sat while Annie was away. And so, Lucian moved his wife Helen and little baby daughter Janet back into the home of his teenage years for perhaps a year. Annie returned in time for the 1914 city directory survey, wherein it was assumed that Lucian, the eldest resident male, was the homeowner.

Contrast this to the apparent lack of planning when Annie went up to San Francisco in 1926 to be with John and Lena, leaving the Farm House unoccupied while buying a home up there. This convinces me that Annie left in a hurry in response to a sudden need for her presence, and that once she got there it was apparent that need would persist for an indefinite length of time.

Meanwhile, back in Pasadena, the 1914 city directory revealed another big change for Lucian: he was now the foreman of the Batchelder Tile Company.


Introducing Ernest Batchelder


I've come across the Batchelder name a great deal in my research on local history. It's a name that is virtually synonymous with Craftsman architecture in this city, and that's really just scratching the surface of this man's achievements and contributions.

Ernest A. Batchelder

Ernest A. Batchelder (1875-1957) was an artist, designer, educator and community leader. After a childhood spent in and around Nashua, New Hampshire, he attended the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, graduating in 1899 with two diplomas: one in drawing, painting and design, and another in the teaching of drawing with an emphasis on grade school instruction.

Seeking opportunities for self-improvement, he did what Archie and Annie had done: he moved to California. By 1901, he had found his way to Pasadena, and was soon employed as an instructor at Throop Polytechnic.

He thrived at this work, soon becoming known in the American arts community as both an authority on California artists and a leading educator in drawing and design. In recognition of his growing reputation (and to keep him from leaving for greener pastures), he was made a director of Throop's art department in 1907.

Despite this vote of confidence, Batchelder soon found that his welcome at Throop was wearing out—not because the school had soured on him, but because it had soured on drawing, design, and manual arts in general.

Education theory was undergoing a drastic shift at the time. The idea of a comprehensive, well-rounded education for all students was out; in was the idea of specialized, intellectually-stratified education targeted to a student's aptitudes. Under this new regime, study of the manual arts was considered a waste of time for those with a high scientific aptitude.

Largely orchestrated by the famed astronomer George Ellery Hale, Throop Polytechnic Institute made the decision in 1908 to specialize in engineering and the sciences, and began to spin off or terminate the other courses of study. The school underwent a series of name changes to reflect its changing mission, until at last in 1920 it settled on a name it could live with: California Institute of Technology.

Batchelder left Throop in 1909 with the intention of starting his own school to accommodate his students who had also been abandoned by their old alma mater. Having made the commitment to settle down for good in Pasadena, however, the first thing he did was to design and build himself a house on the rim of the Arroyo Seco, a lovely Craftsman-style home.

The Batchelder house.

Once the house was built, he built a shed in the back yard to accommodate his teaching efforts. He put a kiln in, and started calling in his old students. Things got cranking right away, and it wasn't very long before Batchelder was selling tiles to Greene and Greene, the famous Craftsman architectural firm. Soon, everyone was buying the tiles, and Batchelder's students were not only learning how to design and make tiles, but also how to market them.

Perhaps more importantly to Batchelder, they were gaining the dignity that comes from making a living from your work, the satisfaction that comes from having people value it, and the joy that comes from doing what you love. As Batchelder himself put it, "The dignity of labor is of the mind and heart, not of the hand alone."

By 1912, the tile business had outgrown Batchelder's backyard shed, and so he moved the business at about that time to a facility on Broadway (now Arroyo Parkway).


If you'd like to learn more about Ernest Batchelder (and there's a lot more worth learning), read Batchelder: Tilemaker, a biography by local resident and Occidental College professor Robert Winter. You'll learn a lot about the man, his work, and Pasadena history as well. As I said, I've come across the Batchelder name a great deal in my research.

Actually, I've come across that name a great deal in my backyard as well.


These tiles were used for many things by the Wilsons: as stepping stones, as plant bases, for erosion control. 


This one was right next to the house; as you can see, it's been painted the house color. I'm liable to find one or two of these whenever I dig in a new place around the grounds. Now I know how they got here.

 

 

Old School Connections


But let's get back to Lucian. When I first saw his significant upgrade in position, from shipping clerk to foreman, I was baffled. How could he just step into a job that obviously requires so much skill? It was simply inconceivable that Batchelder would put someone with no experience in such a crucial position, especially when at the time in question he'd just gotten a large, high-profile commission to design, manufacture and install a completely tile-lined interior for the Dutch Chocolate Shop on Sixth Street in downtown Los Angeles.


No, that's just the time he'd put in someone in whose skills and knowledge he had a great deal of confidence.


That was when it occurred to me that Lucian must have attended Throop, and was one of the students who worked with Batchelder during the early days at the backyard kiln. It was that realization that caused me to look explicitly for a connection between Lucian and Throop, which first led me to the article mentioning Lucian's judging of a Throop track meet, and then to the golden key of the late-life interview.

Our next bit of information on Lucian is his World War I draft registration, filed June 5, 1917. He's still the foreman of the Batchelder Tile Company, but he's moved from the Farm House to his own place at 395 Hamilton, just a mile away (since lost to the Foothill Freeway). He and Helen now have two more children, John Hornbrook and Helen Muriel. He is also listed as providing sole support to his mother Annie. That may seem like a heavy load for a 28-year-old, but things were different back then. People grew up faster.


Moving On Up


Next is the 1920 Census. He's still at the same address, and no more children have come, but his recently-widowed mother-in-law and his brother-in-law Clifton have moved in, and things seem to have changed for him at work: his occupation is listed as "manufacturer, tile factory", and in the field labeled "Employer, salary or wage worker, or working on own account," he answered "own account." It's hard to reconcile one thing with the other. Let's look on a little further to see if we can make some sense of this.

The 1921 Pasadena city directory offers no clues, listing only his wife Helen and the 395 Hamilton address, but Lucian is also listed the same year in the Los Angeles city directory, and his place of work is listed as the "Batchelder-Wilson Co."


Batchelder-Wilson. Is it a coincidence? Wilson is a pretty common name, especially in Pasadena. Let's see what Robert Winter, Ernest Batchelder's biographer, has to say:

Certainly the prosperous twenties were the most lucrative for the Batchelder-Wilson Company. Significant was the addition of a business partner, Lucian H. Wilson, who most likely managed the business operations while Batchelder oversaw design and production [italics mine].(1)

I would say that this makes our Lucian a historically-significant person hereabouts. Wouldn't you?

I'm pretty sure, however, that the division of responsibilities between Lucian and Ernest Batchelder was rather different from what Mr. Winter surmised. From what I have learned about Lucian, I'm fairly sure that production—or at very least the management and operation of the kilns—was his primary responsibility, while Batchelder oversaw design, sales and service (and conceivably the glazing process as well). Lucian may have had a significant role in the financial-management part of the business operations, because he certainly was smart with a dollar, but other than that he never showed much flair for business administration. Besides, I imagine both he and Batchelder were too busy with their main concerns to be involved intimately with the day-to-day operation of the business office.

By the way, this explains John Encell's listed occupation in the 1930 Census, that of clerk in a tile factory. I guess we now know which tile factory. Lucian was repaying the favor his brother did for him back when he was a plastering contractor.

The Twenties was a fruitful, prosperous decade for the Batchelder-Wilson Company. It moved at about the time Lucian became a partner to much larger digs near downtown Los Angeles, and soon were keeping eleven kilns constantly busy. The use of Batchelder tile had already become a common selling point in houses and apartments all over the county, and the company was doing major installations that dwarfed the Dutch Chocolate Shop: showrooms, building lobbies, entire hotels. By the end of the decade, the company had offices in New York and Chicago, and Batchelder tile was being installed nationwide.

From the Galveston Daily News, May 1, 1929.

The decade was fruitful and prosperous for Lucian and Helen as well. The family grew by four: Elizabeth in 1921, Richard H. in 1922, Archibald Clifton in 1924 and David Lucian in 1929. By the 1930 Census, the family had moved to a parkside residence on Avenue 49, in a bucolic area of Highland Park next to the Arroyo Seco, complete with a live-in maid.

Of course, by that Census the good times had already come to an end for everybody, as the Great Depression set in. Elaborate tile installations had suddenly become a shameful extravagance, and by 1932 the Batchelder-Wilson Company had closed its doors for good. Lucian emerged from that with enough capital to purchase a Chevrolet dealership, but he gave that up before too long. Quoting from his later newspaper interview:

"I had," [Lucian] says, "one short spasm of about a year as the operator of a Chevrolet agency. That’s when I learned that I was not a salesman." He could sell new cars but apparently was much too truthful to peddle the used ones. He could not resist telling potential buyers what was wrong with the old cars and consequently soon had an overabundance of those taken on trade.(2)

Also in 1933, Lucian and Helen saw one last addition to the brood, Constance, giving them a total of eight children, four boys and four girls.

By 1935 the family had moved to more modest digs further uptown on Avenue 40. During this period he worked for a brick and pipe manufacturing company, according to his later interview, mostly at the kilns.

Although Lucian never complains in his interview, it must have been quite a humbling experience to be a mere employee again after having been a principal in a major national company for over a decade. Then again, Lucian always had a job, even in the depths of the Great Depression; his Throop education had functioned precisely as designed. Ironically, his old teacher Ernest Batchelder was unable to find a job from 1932 to 1936, though not for want of trying(3).

By the time of the 1940 Census, Lucian's fortunes had improved somewhat. He was the proprietor of an auto-repair business. Of course, his living expenses had decreased: his three eldest children were already out of the house. Janet and John were married, and as I mentioned in the last post, Helen Muriel was living here at the Farm House with her uncle John and grandmother Annie. She was working as a bookkeeper.

Yes, life was moving on for Lucian. He was 52, he'd been married for 28 years, he had eight children, and had accumulated a very respectable record of achievement. Conditions were ideal for him to coast through a nice, comfortable, quiet second half.

But Lucian wasn't nearly ready for quietude. Stasis had never been part of his curriculum vitae, and it wasn't about to be. For better or worse, Lucian had always been a bold actor, and he was soon to make a major take-no-prisoners stage dive into an entirely new world.

Next: Lucian leaves Los Angeles.

* * * 

The Princess of the Black Forest.

1. Winter, Robert, Batchelder: Tilemaker (Glendale, California: Balcony Press, 1999), p. 67. 
2. Van Dornum, Rae, "Not Even A Broken Neck Could Stop This Fellow", Henderson Home News, October 19, 1972, p. 6.
3. Winter, p. 120.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Catching Up With The Wilsons

Recently, I've been revisiting our research of the Farm House's history, and that of the people involved in it. We of course did our original research soon after purchasing the house, the fruits of which I set down in Volume 1 of the Farm House Journal.

Sadly, those fruits were small and malformed, because we were not allowed access to any source documents except the permit records. Other than that, all we got from any of the several local custodians of historical records was copies of research checklists completed by volunteers in the Eighties who were collecting the supporting evidence to justify the designation of Bungalow Heaven as a historical district. All they were looking for back then was enough information to qualify the house as a "contributing property," and all they really needed to prove that the Farm House contributed to the historical ambiance of the neighborhood was a photograph (of which we didn't even get a decent copy).
 
Can anyone identify that car? I at first thought it was an early-'60s Continental, but I can't seem to match up that grill.

We were stunned by this unwillingness to help us. The Keil-Wilson House, our Farm House, was a valuable, rare historical resource. It's one of the oldest extant residences in the city. Heck, it was here before the city. Very little had been done to the house since its inception. Entire rooms sat essentially unaltered from their original condition. Walking through the front door was like walking into 1885. We had naturally assumed that the local historical preservation community would share our enthusiasm.

We soon learned that historical interest hereabouts is mostly celebrity-driven: to be considered historically significant, a house has to have been associated with people considered historically significant. Neither Victorian businesswoman Jennie A. Keil nor the long-tenured Wilson family qualified in the eyes of the local cognoscenti.

Then again, they didn't give them much of a look. They knew of Anne, of course, and her long, long tenure here. They knew of her reclusive grandson Dick, who had left the happier part of himself in the Pacific theater during World War II. They even knew a bit about Anne's son Lucian: that he had lived here as a student in 1907.

This was apparently enough information for them to decide that the dramatis personae of the Keil-Wilson House included no one out of the ordinary. The Wilson name is attached to a great number of significant things in this city, but as they had not yet connected any of them to our particular branch of the Wilson family, they assumed that no such connection existed.

Happily, the proliferation of the Internet has since then largely democratized access to the relevant sources of information. And so, I have been able to unearth a substantial amount of information about many of the people who have called this house home before us. The following is what we know now.

* * *

The Farm House was built in 1885 on an acre of land on the corner of Illinois Street and Mentor Avenue. The builder was Mrs. Jennie A. Keil, who built the house as a rental property. There's not much more we know for certain at this point about Mrs. Keil, because there are conflicts regarding her records that can't be reconciled online. To get to the bottom of the matter would take some real legwork; for the time being, I'm afraid she must remain largely a mystery to us, a benign presence that got the ball rolling, then faded into the background.

Not so for Anne J. Wilson, the leading lady of the Farm House story in the twentieth century. Anne K. Johnston was born August 25, 1865 in Gloucester, Massachusetts to John S. and Fannie Field Johnston. Her name was listed as "Annie" on the birth record and on many subsequent records, so henceforth I will refer to her as Annie as well.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Annie hasn't made her entrance yet.

City directories from the late 1880s and the 1890s suggest that renters did live here, but it is impossible to know exactly who they were because there were apparently no assigned street numbers on this part of Mentor back then, so house locations were given relative to the nearest intersection. A typical address notation was "E s [for east side] Mentor near Illinois." If we consider all possible such listings (and there are only a few), it seems that a succession of carpenters lived here. The 1890 Census records were destroyed in a fire, so we don't have that information, and the house is not listed in the 1900 Census, so apparently no one was renting the house at that time. That may well have been when the indoor plumbing was being installed; that would be consistent with the vintage of the plumbing fixtures.

The Farm House's stretch of Mentor apparently got its numbers around 1900, and the first listing of its specific address is none other than Mrs. Annie J. Wilson, listed in the 1905 city directory as a renter. We don't know precisely when the Wilsons moved in, but we do know where they were in 1900: on a farm in Cucamonga.

Detail of 1900 Census for Cucamonga, California, showing Archie Wilson and family.

Archibald Campbell Wilson was born in Wheeling, West Virginia on September 30, 1862 to a farming family. He was the oldest of four children, two boys and two girls. By 1880, at the age of 18, he was in Philadephia, at which time he obtained a passport. He and Annie were married in Boston on New Year's Day, 1887, and their first son John Encell was born in Philadelphia in May. The family had moved to Cucamonga, California by the time their second son Lucian H. was born in November 1888.

Annie's parents seem themselves to have come West at about the same time, because we find Annie's father in the 1890 voter register as a farmer living in Montecito, which is just east of the city of Santa Barbara. We don't find Annie's mother there, because women did not have the vote in 1890, but she was with her husband nonetheless.

Why would Annie's parents follow so closely on Archie and Annie's heels, yet settle so far to the north? It's certainly related to the fact that on the Boston marriage register, Archie is listed as a "ranchman" hailing from Santa Barbara, California. If the term confuses you, bear in mind that in California at the time orchardists were commonly called "fruit ranchers," I know this because my own maternal grandfather was a fruit rancher in Berryessa when my mother and uncle were children. Annie's parents in fact became lemon growers, and I'm betting that the younger couple were growing oranges in Cucamonga.

Archie and Annie had a third child who sadly had already passed by the time of the 1900 Census. Even more sadly, Archie himself passed later in 1900, according to John's 1921 passport application. Still, Archie did leave his family with a farm free and clear, and Annie was able to trade that farm for the Farm House, which by 1910 she owned, complete with a mortgage. By then, the lot had been whittled down to a third of an acre.

At the time of the 1910 Census, John had left the nest, but Lucian was still there. Also living at the Farm House at the time were two people listed as boarders: Denfield M. Morse, 19, and Agnes M. Daintree, 52, both single.

Where had John gone? To Stockton!

Detail of 1910 Census for Stockton, California, showing John E. Wilson and family.

Moreover, it appears that John had quite recently gotten married to a lady 13 years his senior (and a scant five years younger than his mother), Lena Parmelee Wilson née Morse, a widow with three children, all born in Connecticut: Denfield M., Althea N., and Walter N., ages 19, 17 and 15, respectively. John was working as a plastering contractor, and Lena was a Christian Science practitioner, one who prays for others of that faith in order to address health, financial or inter-personal concerns.

Wait—Denfield M. Morse? That name sounds familiar. . . oh, yes, he was listed as a boarder at the Farm House in the same census. Well, this is plausible; Stockton's census was taken on April 21, while Pasadena's was taken the 26th. Denfield could have moved in the interim, and thus been recorded in both places accurately.

Nevertheless, this matter reminds us to take census records with a grain of salt. They are at best a snapshot of the moment the information was taken, subject to honest error. People can appear in two places in a census, or in no place. Moreover, people of course will sometimes fib to the census taker in order to hide embarrassing or compromising situations from official notice. City directories are considerably less reliable than that. In fact, only documents that were completed and signed under penalty of perjury, or were notarized, can reasonably be taken more or less at face value. Ultimately, it's all just evidence, to be weighed and evaluated in its proper context.

In Denfield's case, to be sure, we have no reason to doubt that he did just happen to move down here between April 21 and April 26 of the year 1910. Still, it's quite a nifty trick to manage to get counted twice in the Census.

Why would Denfield want to be in Pasadena, and not in Stockton with his new family? Because he more or less grew up in Pasadena, as it turns out. His family moved here from Connecticut sometime after his youngest sibling was born in 1895 and before his natural father, Walter Nelson Morse, passed away in 1898 (when Denfield was seven years old). It's quite conceivable that the Morses moved out here in search of a more healthful climate for Walter; Pasadena was a popular destination for the convalescent until after World War II, when smog began its fifty-year reign of terror hereabouts.

Denfield next appears on our radar in 1917, when he registered for the World War I draft. By then, he'd moved back up to Stockton and gotten himself married. He lived there in wedded bliss for the rest of his days.

His stepfather John was still in Stockton at the time of his own WW I draft registration, but by 1920 he and Lena had moved to San Francisco, at which time he was working for the Public School Protective League. On a 1921 passport application, he indicated that he had been in Europe and Panama in 1918 and 1919. The locations and dates seem to suggest he actually served in the military (or perhaps the Merchant Marine), especially considering that otherwise he'd already have had to carry a passport. In the application, he specified an intention to travel to Mexico on personal business.

At the time of the passport application, he and Lena were living in San Francisco, renting a row house at 1367 Seventh Avenue, just a few blocks from Golden Gate Park, and in a city directory for that year he's listed as working for the firm of Wilson & Williams. Is he one of the named principals, or is that just a coincidence? I can't say, because I have no supporting evidence. I don't know who Williams might be, and I can find no other mention of this firm.

In any event, in the 1923 city directory no employment details are listed for John, and the 1925 directory shows him working at a garage. The couple must have been doing all right, however, because now he is listed as the homeowner at the same location. The 1926 directory has him working as a clerk, and in the 1927 directory he's a "sec" at "Sven Philip & Co".

Meanwhile, Annie has bought a house a few doors up the street! She is listed as a homeowner in both the 1926 and 1927 San Francisco city directories at 1375 Seventh Avenue, and indeed for these years she is not listed in the Pasadena city directory. In fact, the reverse directory for Pasadena shows the Farm House as vacant.

Both these houses still stand. Here's a recent picture, from Google Maps:

Annie's place is on the left; John and Lena's, on the right.

Real estate records indicate that 1375 is now a 2-unit place, and 1367 a 6-unit. I wonder whether they were subdivided when the Wilsons lived there? If they had been, you'd think there would be unit numbers in the addresses. Either way, Annie was certainly close by.

Annie had made forays from the Farm House before. In 1913, she was listed as a resident at her mother's farm in Santa Barbara (Fannie had apparently moved from the Montecito farm in the interim). That time, however, Annie was still listed here as well, so it appears that it was simply an extended visit.

Annie's San Francisco sojourn was far more substantial. I find it curious that she actually purchased a home up there, retaining the Farm House without securing a tenant for it or even having someone house-sit. The situation defies a simple explanation, but it seems to me that Annie's move was quite unplanned, as if she had been reacting to a sudden need for her presence with no idea of how long it would be needed.

In any event, the 1928 city directories show Annie back in Pasadena, and by the 1930 Census John has joined her, working then as a clerk at a tile factory. Meanwhile, Lena has remained at the same address in San Francisco, and will remain there, working as a Christian Science Practitioner, until her passing in 1944.

John apparently never returned to her. While he doesn't show up for us again until the 1940 Census (working as a distributor of advertising circulars), we know he was here in 1935, because that Census asked that question. Also in residence here in 1940 (but not in 1935) was John's niece Helen.

The great surprise of the 1940 Census is that Annie is nowhere to be found. She's not listed as being in residence here, and John himself is listed as head of household—and, by inference, the owner (which he was not).

If Annie was truly not living here at the time of the 1940 Census, her absence was merely temporary. Perhaps she was visiting a relative, or maybe she was in the hospital or convalescing somewhere. Consider that she was 75 in 1940. Finding Annie absent at the time of his visit, the census taker naturally assigned head-of-household status to the oldest resident.

In any event, I can't find Annie listed at any other address in the 1940 Census, and she's back here at least by 1943, when her name is on the permit for re-shingling the roof of the rear porch. She was then 78, a good long life already behind her—but she wasn't done yet, not by a long shot.

Next: We catch up with Annie's other son, Lucian.

Queen of the Wood, niece of the Wily Forest Cat.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Triage

You may have noticed that I haven't posted in a long while. For the most part, that's because I haven't worked on the house for over nine months. In early February, I came down with a surprisingly virulent strain of the flu, which left me with a slightly collapsed lung. Soon thereafter, I got a mighty pain in my right shoulder that my orthopedist diagnosed as tendinitis. That's doctor lingo for "it doesn't show up on an X-ray."

Anyway, he told me not to use my right shoulder at all for an entire month. He said it real easy-like, as if it were no big deal to tell a right-handed guy not to use his right hand for 30 days. I'm no ball of fire, but the idea of doing nothing productive for over four weeks was a nightmarish prospect for me. I might well have refused to do this, had it not been in fact all I was capable of doing.

Truth be told, it was a month and a half before I was able to move my right arm without pain. Unfortunately, the long convalescence caused my metabolism to slow to a crawl. Moreover, it didn't do anything to help my semi-collapsed lung. It was hard to raise my metabolism because my breathing was restricted, and it was hard to strengthen my lungs because I had so little energy. 

Thus, the recovery from my convalescence took the entirety of the baseball season, the course of which did not help matters any. It was a lost year for me and the Angels.

Then, just as I'd gotten to the point where I was able to do light exercise every day, I got a good stout case of walking pneumonia that resisted antibiotics for over a week and a half. But when it left, it left in a hurry, and for the past few days I've felt like my old self, if a bit tired.

And so today, for the first time in over nine months, I resumed work on the north front gable. 


I gave it a good brushing and vacuuming to get off months of dust and debris, and then realized that I had no idea where I'd left off. So, I gave it a thorough looking over.


Okay, I left off here, at the back of the south side. Here we see that I've put on the final putty patches, but I haven't sanded them level. Once I've done that, I'm done patching this side.


Well, not quite. This crack has opened up again. When you have a crack that epoxy putty can't keep closed, it's time to get out the caulk. Caulk has the sticktuitiveness and flexibility to keep this crack closed. Even so, I may putty this up some more just to get it looking a bit more even before applying the caulk.


Ah, yes, the north side has plenty of opportunities for plain and fancy puttying. This is one of the most badly-weathered areas of the house.


It looks as if a lot of errant hammering went on here.


The front. Oy. Yes, now I remember how I messed up my shoulder. You see, even with the scaffold, I can't reach all of the front. I can only reach this far.


Thus, to reach higher up I was hanging off the dormer roof with my left arm while working with my right hand. You'd think that would mess up my left shoulder, but it messed up my right one instead. Go figure.

Unless I can come up with some safe and sane way to get up higher, I may have to accept something less than perfection on the top front of the big dormers, and hope that whatever remaining flaws there are will not be visible from the ground. That, or get a better orthopedist.

* * *

"Don't forget the lolpic."

Monday, January 7, 2013

My Contribution to Western Civilization

As you may recall, I collect records, with an emphasis on coarse-grooved records—what we used to call "78s." The hobby started when I was five, soon after I got my first real record player. It was a Show'N Tell, the deluxe one with the AM radio.


It was my first radio as well. Mine looked just like this. Funny, I don't recall its being made by GE, but there it is right on the top. This was one of the best presents I've ever gotten, in terms of the joy it brought me. It's kinda almost my Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle.

Anyway, Mom came into my room one morning with a stack of about two dozen records, saying, "Here, these have been floating around the house for a long time, and I thought you might like them."

I recognized the records as 78s, because they had only stopped making them at about the time I was born, and my parents still had some in their collection. These 78s, however, were a lot different from those I had seen. Most noticeably, they were not at all shiny; moreover, they were heavier, with bigger labels, and some of them were a swell brick red. I had no idea exactly how old they were, but they seemed positively prehistoric. I was intrigued.

So, I added them to the playlist, and I found that I liked about a dozen of them, and half of those I absolutely loved. Mom had planted a seed. She was always doing that, working subtly to introduce me to the things that she had loved when she was young. Dad did that too, but he was not subtle about it. Both approaches were effective.

Once I grew old enough to travel out and about by myself, I began to add to the collection. Back then, it was easy and quite inexpensive to do so; Honolulu Avenue was lined with junk shops, and they all had vast repositories of old records for a dime or so each. My initial motivation was simply to get new music to hear, but after a time I became interested in the historical aspect as well. I had heard of such illustrious performers as Caruso, Jolson, Paderewski and Rachmaninoff for as long as I could remember, and I was thrilled actually to be able to hear them perform—especially the last two, whose compositions Mom played all the time on the piano.

Once I hit teenhood in earnest, I put this interest aside for many years, until it re-emerged at age 40 with a vengeance, a consequence of the Farm House effect. To review, the Farm House Effect is the extension of one's historical purview that occurs as a result of the activity involved in the restoring of an old house. In other words, when you restore an old house, your mind naturally extends your sense of contemporary familiarity with daily life back to the time in which your house was built, as if you'd lived through it all. Put more simply, your grip on reality weakens.

Adding to my fervor for old records was my deep boredom with contemporary music at the time; it had been nearly a decade since I had found any new performers whose music interested me, and I was desperate to have some new-to-my-ears music to digest.

Thus, my motivations to collect records are the same as they ever were: to listen, and to learn. A significant obstacle to the learning part, however, is the fact that old records have very little information on them: usually just title, composer, performer, and maybe the name of the vocalist or a featured soloist. And so, I rely upon discographies to fill in the blanks.

A discography is a listing of recordings with all available relevant information noted for each recording. They can be organized by pretty much any relevant category, but for the most part one finds them organized by performer, label or musical genre.

Discographies are usually very expensive, because many of them are considered library reference books, and most of them are pretty large. I bought all the basic discographies used, and Lydia has given me some of the more scholarly ones. I duly record all relevant information in the catalogue of my collection, so that I can relate that information to what I hear on the records.

While I now have full discographical information for a great many of my records, there are still lots of them for which I don't know much more than what's on the label. Thus, I'm always looking for more information wherever I can find it on the Internet.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered the Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings (EDVR) online a few months ago. It's precisely what it's called, a comprehensive discography of all recordings on Victor and related labels, combining a thorough examination of the Victor ledgers with all the best scholarly research in one handy place online.

I was insanely elated. There are more than a few discographies covering Victor, and they're all pricey, and I don't have any of them. I had planned to get them eventually, because I have a great many Victors in my collection. Anyone who collects 78s had a lot of Victors, especially if he collects the period prior to 1920, because for most of that time there were only a few labels, and Victor was the biggest of them. And now, here was all that information for free! Well, to be precise, there were a few of our tax dollars at work in there.

And so, I immediately got out my own ledgers and went through them, updating all the Victors. This included the crown jewels of the collection, two dozen Victors dating from late 1900 to 1903, family heirlooms handed down from my great-grandmother. See, this collecting thing is hereditary (as is the packrat thing, apparently). Some of these records pre-date the incorporation of the Victor Talking Machine Company itself.

I have great affection for these records, for they are a connection to an ancestor whom I never met, but who has always been spoken of with great affection in my family. The records are not particularly valuable price-wise, but to me they are priceless.

Naturally, I was particularly interested to learn the history of these recordings. As I mentioned, the EDVR represents pretty much everything known about the discography of Victor. As it turned out, actually, I knew a few things about Victor discography that they didn't know.

You see, I found three of my great-grandmother's records that weren't in the discography. To be more precise, there were three releases not represented; the actual recordings were listed, but these releases weren't. I notified the EDVR staff, and after asking me a few questions about the records, they confirmed my findings and asked me to send some pictures for their files. The changes will be reflected in their next site update.

But you won't have to wait.

Two of the records bear altered labels. At one point early on, Victor changed their numbering scheme, retaining many if not all of their issues under new numbers and re-recording each for the new issues. In some cases, they pasted the new number on the old label and released the old recording under the new number, but until my discovery it was not known that this was done with these issues.

The first was "I Want to Go to Morrow" performed by Dan W. Quinn, recorded February 27, 1901; it was first issued under catalogue number 3150, but here issued with an altered label under catalogue number 12:


Note the obviously pasted-on catalogue number.

When I first saw this label,  I was fascinated by it, because not only does it pre-date the "His Master's Voice" trademark with the dog ("Nipper") listening to the gramophone, but it even pre-dates the Victor Talking Machine Company itself, having been issued under the name of the man who would pilot that company for its first quarter-century. You will notice that Johnson is already using "Victor" as a brand name, however.

Thanks to the facilities of the wondrous National Jukebox (more tax dollars at work), I can link you to a copy of this recording right here on this page:



It's quite a funny song, and I believe its humor has not lost any potency with age; in any event, if you like Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First" routine, you'll love this.

The other altered record is "Come Ye Disconsolate," recorded March 11, 1901 (hey, my brother Jon's birthday! That's the second time it's come up in these pages). It's credited generically, as a "Choir Record," but the EDVR reveals that it was performed by the Lyric Trio with Grace Spencer as the soprano. Its original catalogue number was 3196, but here we see it changed to 718:


Sadly, the National Jukebox doesn't have this one, and I haven't had a chance to dub it myself yet.

Take a look at the runout area right above "Monarch" on the label. Notice that the old catalogue number 3196 is handwritten in the shellac, and the new number 718 is stamped directly below. This indicates that the record was actually pressed after the number change, using the label made before the change and then pasting the new number over it. The other record above is the same way. I guess the labels, and the stampers for the old recording, must have been too expensive to waste.

Notice also that by this time "Victor Talking Machine Co." has replaced Johnson's name. By the way, "Monarch" was the designation for ten-inch records at the time; seven-inch records were simply labeled "Victor," and twelve-inch records were called "De Luxe." There were even some fourteen-inch records, that ran at 60 RPM and lasted up to six minutes; these were called "De Luxe Special."

The third record is by far the most interesting. 


Notice that Nipper has finally checked in; the Victor label would look basically like this until 1914, with "Victor" banishing "Monarch" for good in 1905.

The reason why this record is the most interesting to me is that, as far as the official discographical record is concerned, I discovered it.  The EDVR listed three takes, but each was noted "Believed not to have been issued." And yet, here it is, take 2 as indicated in the runout to the left of the label. You can't see that in this picture, but you can see under the label the recording date, 9-19-02; it's behind "RECORD". Here's a close-up of that area:


Can you see it now? The loop of the first 9 is above the E to the left, and its tail is touching the loop of the R. Once you find that, the rest should be obvious. If it isn't, well, just take my word for it. In any event, this agrees with the recording date noted in the EDVR for take M-2, the M prefix standing for "Monarch" to indicate a ten-inch master.

I hasten to add that omissions in the EDVR were not due to errors on the part of the scholars who created and maintain it; the errors were made by the Victor employees responsible for making the proper entries in the ledgers. The EDVR scholars transcribed the information from the ledgers as faithfully as possible. Recall that with the Arthur Collins record, they made the special notation "Believed not to have been issued" by each take; it seems safe to infer from the use of the word "believed" that they saw some anomaly in the corresponding ledger entries, and since none of their sources had reported seeing actual issues of any of the takes, they reported the situation as precisely as possible. My sighting was the first one that any of them had heard of.

That's one of the best things about collecting old records: every collector has the opportunity to contribute to the body of discographical knowledge. While the Victor production ledgers are the best single source for discographical information on Victor records, they are not enough by themselves. For one thing, they contain errors, as we have learned here. For another thing, no ledger notation can convey the information that the recordings themselves do—and after all, Victor was in the business of making recordings, not ledgers. A record label may contain errors that the ledgers can correct, but there is no trumping the physical possession of a record, no matter what the ledgers may say regarding its existence. Moreover, the ledgers might fail to mention the presence on a recording of a certain instrumentalist, but a trained ear might discern upon listening to the recording the unmistakable sound of his presence.

Yes, no scholarly discography can exist without substantial familiarity with the recordings involved, and there is no group alive today with greater familiarity with Victor recordings than the many scholars who have contributed to the EDVR. Nevertheless, with such a massive undertaking, involving tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of individual issues, certainly a few are going to fall through the cracks.

That's where the individual collector, the amateur discographer, comes in. By doing as I have, by assembling one's own personal discography of the records he has (and most collectors do), he can find the obvious errors and omissions, and make his own contribution to the general knowledge thereby. I am very, very happy that I've been able to make mine, thanks to my great-grandmother.

Oh, I nearly forgot: I've dubbed my "discovery" to the digital domain, and have given it the benefit of my modest restorative skills. I think you'll find it quite listenable; happily, the record is in phenomenally good shape, so it cleaned up quite nicely. You'll find it by clicking upon this sentence.

You will also likely find the lyrics mildly offensive near the end, but honestly I don't think it's anything terribly galling. Bear in mind that this recording was made in 1902, when the Farm House was only seventeen years old. Lots of stuff has changed since then.

Arthur Collins, the singer on the record, was one of the half-dozen most-recorded singers of the Nineteen-Aughts and -Teens. His sobriquet was "The King of Ragtime Singers." He's perhaps best known today as half of the team of Collins and (Byron G.) Harlan, whose long string of recorded hits can be heard at the National Jukebox and the Internet Archive. Besides this, Collins can be found in hundreds of recordings on all labels, under his own name or as part of the Peerless Quartet. That was all just beginning for him when he recorded this song.

* * *

"What an amazing sound! It's as if I could reach right out and scratch Caruso!"

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Part of Our Heart

It grieves me to report that the CEO of our Pet Division, our cat Evangeline, has passed away. Mercifully, she went peacefully, in Lydia's arms, with me and the other dogs and cats around her. We don't know how old she was, for she came to us well into her adulthood over 12 1/2 years ago, but based upon all the evidence we think she was at least 17 or 18.

Evangeline was a special cat. One might with justification say that there was a bit of the miraculous about her. I'll tell her whole story at length in the Journal, but I think one incident in particular will show you why we considered her to be of a breed apart.

Lydia and I quarrel very seldom, and it is blessedly rare for any of our quarrels to get at all heated. The last time we got beyond lukewarm was several years ago.

I remember that we were in the kitchen. Evangeline was there as well; it was one of her favorite hangouts. I started the proceedings by bringing up something that upset Lydia immensely; although it was not my intention to start a controversy, she began to my utter shock to cry bitterly.

I was just beginning to plan my retreat when Evangeline strode over to Lydia with great purpose, reached up and laid her paw gently upon Lydia's leg, looked up at her intently, and meowed a meow unlike any she meowed before or after: whereas her normal voice was thin, reedy and a bit raspy, this meow was clear, full and—well, there's no other way to characterize it but comforting. It was the exact meow equivalent of "Don't cry! It's gonna be okay!"

Her intent was so clear, her actions so human, that we just stared at her for a moment, pondering what she had just done. The only way Evangeline's message could have been more explicit would have been if she had actually spoken in English, and we could hardly have been more startled had she done that. 

Then, we looked at each other and realized that neither of us could remember what we had been arguing about. To this day, we still can't remember. Evangeline's actions had completely eradicated the controversy from our memories.

In its place is the indelible memory of our little Evangeline rising heroically above her natural limitations to give comfort to Lydia when she needed it—an act of genuine love.

It is often said that our pets give back more than we give them. Evangeline managed that with this one act. Lydia and I never again have to worry about having an ugly argument, because as soon as we get anywhere close to one, I know that we'll both think of Evangeline, and poof! the ugliness will evaporate. 

That's quite a gift. You could even call it a bit of a miracle. At least, that's how we see it.

And with that, I am utterly out of words. There's a lot more to say, but that will have to wait until I can manage it.

I will leave you with some pictures of Evangeline. The first one is from this past Halloween; she's wearing her fetching little costume. As you can see, she never lost her looks! The rest are in chronological order from March 2004 to mid-November of this year.

Requiescat in pacem, Evangeline, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.


* * *

Evangeline, c. 1994–November 20, 2012

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Forlorn Dormer


As you have already seen, the dormer I'm currently working on, the front left dormer, has required some serious work beyond the merely cosmetic. Our contractor did a sloppy job on the right side, and did absolutely nothing beyond that.

Here's the right side right after I re-installed the casing boards:


Inexcusably sloppy, really. They replaced all but the top piece of siding, which is swell, but they did a bad job of it, cracking the top piece badly, placing the inside ends right up against the shingles where they are sure to soak up water like a sponge, and cutting the outside ends haphazardly, making sealing that weight pocket a huge pain in the neck.

As a result, the new boards are all cracked and warped, with some large gaps at their bottoms which I am going to have to seal up somehow.

In their defense, however, they merely matched the previous level of work on the dormer.

Now that I've begun to work on the area above the siding, I'm learning that this particular dormer has always gotten short shrift, dating apparently all the way back to its construction. Look at this mess:


At first glance, it's a typical situation I've found over and over on the house, wood cracked and warped by age and the relentless pounding of the harsh Pasadena sun. But let's look closely at the gap between the front and side pieces:


Those nails you see in the gap did not help fix it at all. In fact, they may have caused it. They certainly perpetuated it, and cracked the wood in the bargain. Again, so far this is typical: shoddy repairs causing more problems than they fixed. What is not evident in this picture, however, is that these are cut nails, which indicates that this is a very early "repair". Cut nails became obsolete very soon after the Farm House was built, as the industry moved to the modern style of nail. That of course doesn't necessarily mean that these nails weren't driven much later—I have nails that are 25 years old myself—but these are the first cut nails I have found that are not unambiguously part of the original construction. It's hard for me to believe that this work was original, but it could be, and in any event it's probably from before the turn of the Twentieth Century.

Now let's move up and in a bit:


These are nails—cut nails—that have been driven from the side skirt right through the eave. Because the heads are underneath another piece of trim, they almost certainly were part of the original construction.

And look at this shoddy work!


See that open area next to the apron? That's without a doubt part of the original work, and it's the same on the other side. These gaps open to the inside. Shamefully sloppy.

¡Pobrecito! Poor little dormer! You've never gotten any love, have you. Well, never fear; Otis is here, and he's gonna make it all better.

The first thing I did was get out my trusty Dremel and cut off the end of those protruding nails below the surface of the eave:


There! A bit of putty, and no one will ever know there was ever a problem.

The mess at the corner will be a great deal trickier to resolve. The first thing to do was to remove the errant nails.


Here, I'm easing one of them out by grabbing it with needle-nosed vise-grip pliers and sliding it slowly back out.

There was also the problem of the lower part of the side piece, below the crack. As you can see in that picture, it has warped outwards. I tried to bend it back in and screw it back together with its upper counterpart, but the wood wouldn't have any of that.


You can see that the front piece took exception to my efforts as well. While that piece fell down and was carried off by the wind, I was able to retrieve the large chunk from the side and glue it back in place. As far as the protruding lower half, all I could do was to immobilize it, patch up the corner, then try to sand and sculpt the area so as to fool the eye into thinking it sees a nice, straight, square junction of the two pieces. Here's how I've done so far:


This kind of work is a long process of patching, sanding, and eyeballing. The side piece will have an unavoidable curve in it; the trick is to make the curve so gradual that the eye does not readily see it. I also have to come to some sort of compromise regarding the bottom edge of the junction. The pieces don't line up properly there either, but I can't curve the proud edge in because it's to the front, and from straight on any curve at all will be visible. I'll have to let it jog forthrightly at some location; the trick here is to find the most graceful location at which to do that.

At the bottom of the right side where the siding meets the roof, the shingles were riding up the siding in several places, such as this one:


This will not do, because it will trap moisture under the shingles there and rot the siding very quickly. I had to cut the shingles back neatly, so that the edit is not obvious. In this instance, the cut was simple: straight across.


In other areas, it was more complicated; I had to cut a notch that fit the shingle pattern, as in this example:


The dark area is where I cut.

This part of the work is always like this: myriad varied details to attend to. I have to admit, this is the part I like.

* * *

"I wanna see another Stooges!!"