Last weekend, we broke a water line. Well, not broke, cut it in half with the sawzall. We were taking down the pump shed, and the pipe in question was coming out from the ancient pressure tank. Since said well isn’t working, and the pump has been pulled out, and the pressure tank is inoperable, we assumed it was an old pipe that hadn’t been used since the house was converted to city water. Clearly I was wrong. Why it wasn’t capped, I’m not sure, but since then, I’ve been reflecting on what it is like to own an old house whose history you don’t know.
It means you are constantly playing detective and archaeologist, picking up pieces and looking for clues to figure out what the fuck is going on. As anyone living in a house with any history knows, you are constantly wondering “why did they do that?” or “what was that from?” or, if it has seen remodels, wondering how things used to be.
I like old things, and I’m intrigued by the past. I like antiques, rocks, old buildings and old, gnarled trees. I like that they have a story, a history, and have stood the test of time and watched things pass by. I wanted an old house, not a cookie-cutter condo in a housing track for this very reason. Something with charm, as they say. And this charm could be in the form of high-quality woodwork, or in the form of shitty ass plumbing.
In the grand scheme of old houses, my home is not that old. It was built in 1945, which was one of the few things we knew when we bought it. From the title report, we know the property was bought in 1941, as part of a planned subdivision of large lots ranging from 1/2 acre to 1 acre. It was owned and occupied by a husband and wife, later by the wife and her sister. When they had both passed away, the family flipped the house, and sold it (to us).
I did some browsing of the Sonoma County Historical Society to find out more about the area, and found that Santa Rosa was established in 1854. By the late 1800’s, the city was a major center for processing and shipping produce and livestock. 3/4 of Santa Rosa residents labeled themselves as farmers. When the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1934, industry grew. The city progressively grew, and saw its fastest growth and most changes in the 1940s. The 1940 census recorded a Santa Rosa population of 12,605 and increased to 17,900 by 1950. There was a huge housing boom following WWII, which likely included the building of my home.
So far, we’ve deducted that the office was once the garage, and the current garage was added, clearly before permits and building inspections required. The house once had tongue & groove exterior siding, originally white, then possibly yellow. We’ve discovered the kitchen was at one point yellow and the bathroom was teal. We learned that when laying the pipes for city water, they simply cut the hardwood floor, worked from above, then patched with plywood. At one point, the bathtub did not go to the sewer main but somewhere else, either to the septic tank or was just piped out as greywater. We found a pile of rotting white painted wood and decorative metal fencing, so I’m assuming at one point there was a fence surrounding the front yard.
A pile of canning jar lids found in the pump house tells me that at one point it was likely used for storage. The tag on the pressure tank was from a company in Santa Rosa when only 3 digits were used as phone numbers. Google revealed the company had an advertisement in a Ukiah newspaper in 1939, and the owner was the president of the Lyons Club in 1936. Based on the age, I’m assuming its the original to when the well was dug.
I’ll never know what exactly this place was like before we got here. I can only observe and try to piece together the puzzle. We’ve been here almost 2 years, and we are constantly learning new things about our home, and constantly puzzled (and sometimes infuriated) by the things we discover. And does anyone know why there is a steel oval pipe that runs from under the house, though a wall that I think is the closet, and up through the attic and through the roof? I haven’t been able to solve that mystery yet.
What about you? Any awesome discoveries in your old house?