It was one of La Mirada's original homes, a 13-room ranch house grown dowdy with peeling paint and decades of grit.
A $1-million face-lift restored the Neff Home's wooden veranda, exposed fireplace carvings obscured by smoke and returned the exterior to its original mustard and cranberry hues. But age was not the house's only enemy.
Since the restoration was finished last November, graffiti taggers have struck the home, a foreman's house and carriage barn on the property about 20 times.
Initially, the city had planned to erect a wrought-iron fence to protect the house against vandals but decided against the plan because of cost. The lowest bid--$38,000--was nearly three times what was allotted for the job.
The graffiti has appeared mostly on electric wheelchair lifts and on air-conditioning units behind the house. One moniker is etched into a window.
"There's always that constant fear of vandalism and pilfering," said City Councilman C. David Peters. "We don't want anything to be irreparably damaged."
The Neff Home was built in 1893 by Andrew McNally of Rand McNally Publishing Co. as a wedding gift for his daughter and son-in-law. Olive and lemon trees were planted, and by the turn of the century, the 2,300-acre McNally Windermere Ranch was one of the leading producers of olive oil in the world, local historians say.
Today, 10-acre Neff Park surrounding the home contains 40 types of trees that were planted by McNally.
Over the years, three families lived in the Neff Home, which was named after McNally's grandson and its last occupant, Bill Neff. In 1963, the house was donated to a park district that later turned it over to the city. It has repeatedly been marked by graffiti and occasionally burglarized, said Richard Pepin, the city's director of community services.
The restoration, which took 18 months, came at a time when the city was coping with state budget cuts and a recession. Last year, officials laid off 10 workers and put other building projects on hold to balance the budget. To fund the Neff Home project, the city relied on state grants and contributions from three local developers totaling $932,000.
Workers cleaned decades of dirt from the parlor fireplace, revealing gargoyle-like faces in its wooden facade. And century-old encyclopedias, smelling of rainy days, were carted from storage back to glass cabinets in the study.
The wrought-iron fence that was intended to protect the property was a low priority because of more pressing needs, including an alarm system and work on the foundation and plumbing, Pepin said.
The $14,000 that was budgeted for the fence probably will be spent on a combination of security measures drawn up by Pepin and a citizens advisory committee. The group called for floodlights throughout the park, wrought-iron bars on ground-floor windows of the house, a fence around the wheelchair lifts and air-conditioning units, and a chain-link fence in place of the gate at the park entrance. The City Council is expected to vote on a plan later this month.
Pepin said patrols by Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies have been stepped up around the park--which is in a quiet neighborhood on the city's western edge--and that two caretakers are scheduled to move into the foreman's house next week.
The city also hopes to buy Rancho Elementary School next to the park and use it as an entrance to the park and as a senior citizens center, Pepin said. The Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District is considering selling the school site because of dwindling enrollment, he said.
The restoration of the Neff Home has helped renew interest in the historic building and draw more residents to the park, Pepin said.
The city, which rents out the carriage barn for receptions, also hopes to attract newcomers to the park with a Nov. 7 fair celebrating the Neff Home's centennial. The city-sponsored event will feature tours of the historic buildings, an antique car show and demonstrations in quilting and woodworking.