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These Old Homes : Every Vintage House Has a Story to Tell, and North County’s Gems Are No Exception

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home. --John Howard Payne

In these days of boxy condominiums and cookie-cutter tract homes that have names like “Granada,” “Goldenrod” and “Larkspur,” it is nothing less than thrilling to chance upon a really old house, one with a front porch, sash windows and a fireplace in the bedroom. In North County it is still possible to find these houses, some tucked away in older neighborhoods and others smack in the middle of downtown.

From New England Salt Box to Midwest Bungalow to adobe ranchos, these are the houses that have survived the wrecking ball--and, in some cases, been restored to their previous glory. Most are privately owned, but some are open to the public.

Here are the stories of some of the oldest houses in North County:

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Age 99

The Bandy/Conley House,

638 S. Juniper

Escondido

Gleaming with a fresh coat of cactus yellow paint, this Queen Anne Victorian radiates a kind of happiness and warmth. Total strangers knock on the front door asking for tours of the house and they are not turned away.

The owners, Robert and Joanne Conley, believe they have a chunk of history and a responsibility to share it. They have joined the Escondido Historical Society and are active in preserving old buildings in town.

Since he bought the home nine years ago, Conley has spent much of his spare time painstakingly caring for and repairing the 99-year-old solid redwood structure. From the multicolored gingerbread work on the side of the house to the red and white striped barber poles in the third-story attic window, he has ensured that his house oozes Victorian charm from every crevice.

Julius H. Anderson, a cashier at the Bank of Escondido, bought the lot for $325 in 1891 and built the 3,250-square-foot Victorian for himself and his family. The architectural firm of Comstock and Trotsche designed the 11-room house.

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Later owners included N. Fredrick Hansen, business manager of the Escondido Times newspaper; former Iowa state Sen. Abraham O. Garlock, and more recently San Diego City Councilman Ed Struiksma. But the house was named for Tom Bandy, an Escondido blacksmith who lived in the structure for more than 50 years.

The Conleys bought the house for $125,000 and renovation began immediately. One of the first jobs the Conleys tackled was the kitchen.

“We were living in Mission Viejo and we wanted to buy a period home and restore it,” said Robert Conley. “First, we completely gutted the kitchen and brought it back to the old Victorian period by installing new solid oak cabinets and a wood floor and wood ceiling.”

The lion’s share of Conley’s renovating efforts has been restoring the woodwork throughout the house and completing the wallpapering. He also turned two of the six upstairs bedrooms into an office and a walk-in closet.

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The original fireplaces in the living room and bedrooms are still intact and so is the fire pole next to the kitchen. The fire pole, which extends from the second floor down into the kitchen area, is from the first firehouse in Escondido and was installed when a family with seven children lived there.

Breaking from the house’s Victorian theme, Conley indulged in a little personal whimsy and designed the breakfast nook to resemble a ‘50s-style diner. The small room off the kitchen is outfitted with a restaurant booth, an old Tiffany lamp that was purchased in Mexico, and several malt-shop era Coca-Cola signs.

Conley’s home improvement plans also extend to the property surrounding the house. Already standing in the front yard is a cast iron lamp post circa 1910 that he purchased from the city of Pasadena and restored, and he next wants to add Victorian gazebos to the front and back yards.

The Bandy/Conley home was the first house in Escondido to be named a historical landmark, and it is on the city’s walking tour. In conjunction with the historical society, the house is open to the public at various times during the year as part of a tour of Victorian homes in the area.

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Age 103

The Cunningham House

13624 Aubrey

Poway

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This 103-year-old ranch house had everything Art and Lauren Cunningham were looking for. It was big enough to accommodate their growing family; it was within their price range; and the shadowy figures and peculiar noises in the house were just niggling inconveniences, less a concern than termites.

“I wouldn’t say there are any special features,” Lauren Cunningham said. “It’s an old house, definitely a fixer-upper, and supposedly it’s haunted.”

Cunningham said she has heard many stories from former owners and longtime Poway citizens that date to the turn of the century. Her “haunted” house is always a topic of conversation, she said.

“We’ve heard that there was a baby-sitter here at one time who saw something so frightening in the laundry room that she ran screaming from the house and spent the rest of her life in a mental institution,” Cunningham said. “And the owners before us said they heard things, saw shadows and their daughter said she kept seeing a woman in the house.”

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Cunningham said she wouldn’t have believed any of these stories if it weren’t for the strange happenings she has experienced firsthand. It began on moving day.

While her father-in-law painted the upstairs bedroom, Cunningham recounted an old story about the baby who allegedly fell out of the window. No sooner had she suggested safeguarding it for her own children than the window slammed shut.

More recently, while in the upstairs bathroom soaking in the tub, Cunningham heard a noise like clothes rustling and one of the hand towels on the rack moved.

“I wasn’t afraid,” she said. “I think if they’re here, they’re friendly, otherwise we’d know it by now.”

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There is little information about the former owners, but Cunningham said the 2,200-square-foot house that stands on almost an acre of land was originally the home of peach farmers. In the 1940s, it was known to be a house of ill repute, she said.

“Supposedly the madame of the house came back at one point within the last nine years looking for some jewelry that was dropped out of an upstairs window during a police raid,” Cunningham said.

The wood structure of this two-story home is just as checkered as its past occupants. Cunningham said many owners started different restoration projects that they didn’t finish or didn’t do properly.

The original kitchen was at one time converted into a bedroom and now serves as a laundry room. The Cunninghams use the kitchen that was added in 1940.

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Originally, the upstairs was just a huge loft, and over the years four bedrooms and a bathroom were built. The Cunninghams have since divided one of the bedrooms to make two rooms to accommodate their three children and the twins who are expected soon.

Age 145

The Osuna Ranch

Via de la Valle

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Rancho Santa Fe

Considered to be the oldest house in Rancho Santa Fe, this adobe situated on a 17.2-acre spread on the eastern edge of the Whispering Palms golf course, was deeded by the Mexican government in 1845 to Juan Osuna, the first mayor of San Diego. Its owners have included crooner Bing Crosby and the Santa Fe Railroad, which wanted to farm railroad ties made out of eucalyptus trees.

The original home, with its 3-foot-wide adobe walls, had only two bedrooms, but over the years several new additions have been made. The most significant feature was a new, separate 6,500-square-foot main house with slate and hardwood floors, stucco walls, and heavy wood accenting.

The new house still has only two bedrooms, including a master bedroom suite that has its own sitting room, Jacuzzi, sauna and walk-through closet. Other features include a 400-square-foot breakfast nook, formal dining and living rooms, and a Noah’s Ark-like kitchen with two dishwashers, two institution-size refrigerators, two range tops and two sets of sinks.

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Two one-bedroom guest houses have also been added, as have a swimming pool and lighted tennis court, joined by a covered, open-air pavilion with its own fireplace.

It has three garages that can hold 11 vehicles, plus another garage capable of handling a full-size recreation vehicle.

The house is surrounded by trees, including a 200-year-old avocado that serves as a centerpiece to the back yard, and a gnarly, three-trunk-entwined Australian tea tree.

The last occupant of the adobe was financier Clifford Graham, a founder of the Fotomat chain. When Graham was charged in federal court in 1986 with 22 counts of fraud and income-tax evasion, the house was the only substantial asset in Graham’s name to be tapped by investors, and liens against it totaled $4.5 million.

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After attracting no bidders on the auction block, the Osuna Ranch was sold in 1988 for $2.65 million to Sporting International, a Texas-based company. A spokesman for the company said the house was bought solely for investment purposes and not for occupancy.

Age 84

The Rorick House

Pacific Street

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Oceanside

A couple of blocks south of the Oceanside Pier there are two homes, huge stalwart structures covered with weathered wood shingles. Surrounded by almost an acre of manicured lawns, precisely clipped hedges and blooming gardens, these homes look almost out of place among the bustling beach community.

But they won’t budge. Unlike many old homes that change owners as often as Madonna changes hairstyles, these New England Salt Box houses have remained in the same family that built them in 1906 and 1913.

David Rorick Jr., a partner in Rorick Buick, has lived all his 77 years in the main house on Pacific Street. The nine-room house also serves as a headquarters for the car dealership’s business meetings.

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“We have four bedrooms and a daybed in the small office and two daybeds in the library,” Rorick said. “We can sleep quite a gang here.”

In 1905, David Rorick Sr., a lawyer from Kansas, came to Oceanside for a visit and liked it so well, he moved there a year later, bringing his new bride. He purchased two 50-by-100-foot lots for $500 apiece and built the first house for about $3,000.

Originally, the main house was nothing more than a 34-foot-square with a peaked roof, Rorick said. In 1929 a small library, a porch and two upstairs bedrooms were added to the back of the house.

The fireplaces in the living room and one of the upstairs bedrooms are the originals. Another feature of the house is the cellar, unusual to Southern California homes, that is used for storage and at one time housed a coal-fired boiler that provided hot-water heat through radiators in all the rooms. Gas was piped into the house in 1940.

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Rorick’s father built the second house, the north house, in 1913 for his father. He also purchased six adjoining lots, adding about 20,000 square feet to the property that is mostly garden.

Rorick has raised four children of his own in the main house and seen six nephews born there. His father died in the main house and his mother died in the north house.

He has also witnessed his fair share of Oceanside history, watching the incorporated town grow from 750 people to a thriving city of more than 120,000. He says the government hasn’t changed much, it’s just a matter of more people, more parking lots and mass transit.

Age 138

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Rancho Guajome

Oceanside

Built in 1852, this 20-room adobe is now the subject of a massive restoration project by the county Parks and Recreation Department. About $800,000 has been raised of the $2 million needed to repair the adobe walls disintegrating because of dampness and the elements.

Owned and operated by two generations of the Cave Johnson Couts family, the rancho played host at one time to Helen Hunt Jackson, the 19th-Century author and Indian activist. One of the large guest bedrooms has been named by park rangers, “The Helen Hunt Jackson Room.”

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In its heyday, the 2,219-acre Rancho Guajome was a self-sustaining community. The Couts family expanded the adobe over the years to include a chapel, stables, a blacksmith shop and tack room and a courtyard.

Age 103

The Derby House

649 S. Vulcan St.

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Encinitas

This 103-year-old rambling country style house adjacent to downtown Encinitas was never intended to be a private home, local historians say. It was built to be a hotel that accommodated passengers getting off at the nearby train station.

The second oldest building in Encinitas, the two-story lavender Derby House has not been a hotel for decades, but the hotel’s operating license has been kept up to date. Recently, the Derby House was put on the market with a price tag exceeding $1 million.

E.G. Hammond, one of Encinitas’ first settlers, built the redwood structure for Amos Derby, the railroad stationmaster. In 1887, it cost about $2,000 to construct the 18-bedroom hotel, said Encinitas historian Lloyd O’Connell. Derby’s wife and two daughters ran the hotel while Amos worked for the railroad, he said.

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Around the turn of the century, the home was sold outside the Derby family and has changed hands a number of times since, O’Connell said. It wasn’t until 1964 that the house was restored, repainted and refurbished on the inside, he said.

What remains of the old hotel is the large crystal chandelier in the dining room and the old table that was used in the Friday night poker parties for the local ranch hands.

Age 104

The Magee House

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Magee Park on Beech Street

Carlsbad

Samuel Church Smith, a Connecticut Yankee and Indian trader, moved to Carlsbad in 1886 and built this Midwest bungalow for his new bride, Louise Lehman Coon of San Diego. Ten years later he sold the house to Mr. and Mrs. A.H. Shipley, one of Carlsbad’s first families.

Shipley was a private man, who glared at his neighbors for three years before he spoke to them, said local historian Kay Christiansen. He bought the two acres surrounding the house so he wouldn’t have to deal with anyone living too close to him, she said.

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Much to Shipley’s displeasure, his only child, Florence, eloped with Hugh Magee, a rancher, in 1912, and moved to a dairy farm in Pala. This caused such a rift between father and daughter that it wasn’t until after the death of her father and husband that Florence returned to the bungalow on Beech Street in 1941 to care for her ailing mother.

As the sole heir, Florence Magee inherited the property after her mother’s death in 1943 and upon her own death in February 1972, she bequeathed the property and house to the City of Carlsbad.

Originally, the house was just a square box with a modest living room, dining room, kitchen and two bedrooms. A.H. Shipley added a library sometime around the turn of the century, but that was the only addition until the early 1970s when the city built a screened-in porch area between the main part of the house and Shipley’s library.

The house is furnished with period furniture donated by a Carlsbad woman, Christiansen said. The huge davenport in the living room and all the dining room chairs have needlepoint covers.

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Other artifacts in the house include a loom, a tiny antique typewriter, a trundle bed and an out-of-tune piano. In the privy on the side of the house, there are several quarantine signs that were used in the days of scarlet fever and small pox.

Through the Carlsbad Historical Society, the Magee House is open to the public on the first Saturday of every month from 1 to 3 p.m. The grounds are maintained by the Carlsbad Park and Recreation Department.

Age 128

The Taylor-Johnson Adobe

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Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve

Rancho Penasquitos

Like a cat with nine lives, this 19th-Century adobe has been everything from a privately owned ranch to a Victorian resort to a would-be Mexican restaurant. Today, it is owned and operated by the county of San Diego. The San Diego County Archeological Society offers tours of the house and grounds.

The main adobe was built in 1862 by George Johnson, a ferry boat operator on the Colorado River in Yuma, Ariz. After making his fortune on the river, Johnson moved to San Diego, met his wife, and settled on the land that was given as a wedding gift by his new brother-in-law.

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Making up the ranch are three main adobe buildings, an adobe barn, a redwood lath chicken house and a concrete cistern. Additions over the years have included a kitchen circa 1940 and four rooms that were once chicken coops.

“It was really common during the late 1800s to convert these chicken coops into bedrooms,” said Susan Hector, project manager responsible for planning of the county park in Rancho Penasquitos. “What they used to do is build chicken coops right outside a bedroom and later turn them into an extra room.”

Johnson sold the house about the turn of the century to Col. Jacob Taylor, a pioneer instrumental in the development of Del Mar. Taylor added a spring house and mortared stone reservoir and turned the adobe into a Victorian resort.

When this venture failed shortly after it began, Taylor sold the house and it went through a succession of owners, including someone in the early 1960s who hacked away the high arches in the house and wanted to turn it into a Mexican restaurant. The county purchased the 190-acre ranch in the mid-'70s, Hector said.

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Except for a leaky roof, the adobe has remained in very good condition, Hector said. Restoration work has been moderate, she said.

The main adobe, with its three wings and 14 rooms, also houses the county’s Office of Environmental Education and a research facility for the county’s archeological society. In the fall of 1990, San Diego State University anthropology students will conduct an archeological excavation and field class on the preserve near the ranch.

For a schedule of docent-led tours and programs at the Johnson-Taylor Adobe, call 694-3049.

Age 104

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The Guy B. Woodward Museum

645 Main St.

Ramona

Among Ramona’s main attractions is this adobe cottage--the town’s first house--built in 1886 by Theophile Verlaque, a Frenchman who owned the only store in town and a winery. The house stayed in the Verlaque family until 1962, when it was purchased by Leona Ramson.

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In 1984, Ramson donated the six-room house to the Ramona Historical Society on the condition the adobe be converted into a museum. It is maintained and run solely by the volunteer efforts of historical society members, with no state or federal funds.

The adobe walls of the house are 24-inches thick and the vaulted ceilings are 12-feet high. Each room is equipped with a transom and, combined with a hallway that runs the length of the house, provides a primitive sort of air conditioning.

The basement, which originally was used as a wine cellar and food storage area, now houses thousands of Indian artifacts, memorabilia from both world wars, Ramona’s court records from 1890, 400 biographies, and photographs of Ramona in the 1800s. Several Southern California universities, including the University of San Diego and Chapman College in Orange County, use the museum’s resources for their own research purposes.

The rooms are furnished just as they were at the turn of the century, including a vintage 1870 piano and an organ dating to 1897. The double fireplace that was built with the house also remains as does the wood stove that was installed in 1917.

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The Guy B. Woodward Museum is open to the public Thursdays through Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is $2.


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