Time barely passes at 'clock house'

A landmark home in Eastside Costa Mesa has for nearly 35 years been informally and affectionately known as the "clock house."

And for good reason: In front of its Americana white picket fence and manicured lawn is a vintage clock atop a 12-foot-high pole.

The two-story, wooden clapboard house at East 19th Street and Westminster Avenue is technically at 251 E. 19th St., but the conspicuous clock is associated with the latter thoroughfare.

Above the dials, the gently curved white text reads, "Westminster." That word just has a better, more prestigious-sounding ring to it, said homeowner Marianne Wegener, 66.

"I didn't think that 251 E. 19th did it any justice," she said, recalling when her husband, David, 69, made the old-school timepiece decades ago. He got the idea from seeing town square clocks in Newport Beach, Orange and Brea and thought it would be a unique touch for his home too.

Most of the base, which contains lions and rams painted white, is concrete. The pole and clock are iron. The whole thing is electric-powered and, David said, a pretty accurate teller of time. If it's not, folks will tell him so. They rely on it, he said.

A pair of small lights illuminate both sides of the clock face at night. He got the lighting design idea from a Kansas City rail yard. For a time, David said, the clock contained neon lighting, but it was too much.

"It lit the whole corner up," he said.

David said his clock has gotten some attention through the years. A promotional magazine for Costa Mesa's 60th anniversary mentioned it. Another time, a radio show held a contest asking for the location of "that clock house in Costa Mesa," he said.

The winner? Their neighbor. The prize? A trip to Catalina.

Marianne bought the house in 1976 for $54,000. When she married David a few years later, he moved in.

The Wegeners aren't sure whether the home was built in 1917 or 1926, though county records say it's the latter. It was originally some 850 square feet with two bedrooms and one bathroom. The Wegeners expanded it in the 1980s to about 1,800 square feet, with four bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Marianne said the place felt like a church or a palace when, as a single woman, she first moved in. She says she arrived with only a can of olives and soon furnished the place with her grandma's stuff, much of which is still in the home, where the pair raised their four children.

For years they also ran their ministry, Hope for America, out of the house. The Wegeners hosted people from all around the world. David traveled the country delivering his message.

And while the Wegener home has some homey features outside — a trickling water fountain, little pathways and a birdhouse replica of the house — the inside is a step back in time, reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting. Scattered about are the Wegeners' heirlooms and antiques.

The pair isn't shy to acknowledge that, well, they like old things.

"It's like a museum in here," David said.

Among the tidbits are some Depression-era toys, a Wheelock upright piano that David made into a player piano, a pair of crank phones that communicate between the upstairs and downstairs, and a 1940s typewriter for punching out Hebrew text. In another corner is a wooden high chair that has seated four generations of young Wegeners.

The kitchen is a throwback to some 70 years ago too, down to the 1940s Norge refrigerator and rustic kitchen island in the middle.

The second story has an attic with a low ceiling — a kid-perfect haven for the Wegener children growing up. Like a non-spooky, miniature version of the Winchester Mystery House — an oddly constructed Victorian mansion in San Jose — there are crawl spaces and diminutive doors that open up to other spaces that, in turn, lead to other rooms.

"This was the home for the kids when they were growing up," David said of the attic. "They loved that secret hiding place."

Now their granddaughter enjoys the space, as well the three rocking animals — an elephant, duck and horse — that her grandpa made.

The Wegeners admit that it would be easy for the uninitiated to get disoriented in their unconventional floor plan.

"Oh yeah, they do get lost," David said with a smile.

In the mid-1980s, the Wegeners put their house on the market, and the real estate agent was at a loss figuring out its value. He had never seen anything quite like it.

The Wegeners changed their minds a few months later. Now, being so settled in, they have no plans to leave. It's their home until they leave this Earth, they say.

"I bought this home when I was 26," Marianne said. "Now I'm vintage and this house is vintage."

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