I’m a hopeless romantic…

Marilyn Monroe, The Misfits, 1960 © Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

Marilyn Monroe, The Misfits, 1960 © Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

 

And it’s not only people that make my heart flutter…so can a beautiful building, or the angle of light on a linen pillow case…

That said, I have been taking a long break from blogging, working on the new novel and refining my 1924 Spanish Revival home. Household maintenance is like painting the Golden Gate Bridge, you finish and start over again — throw in much needed restoration projects — and months and money disappear.

Unlike the marvelous Marilyn pictured above most houses and their lives aren’t documented, and they should be. In a few years the house we live in will be 100 years old and when the next family moves in there won’t be a 95 year-old resident on the street to tell the new owners what went on here. Bearing that in mind this is the letter I am sealing up behind the medicine cabinet in the rebuilt upstairs bathroom:

Hello!

These are the broad strokes of this house’s history; it was built in 1924 by Ben Nelson (who built three houses on this street, and incorporated a Swedish love of light with the local Spanish architectural style). The home was custom built for Claudia and Nathan Wilson, she was a concert pianist and he was a violinist. Their son, Robert was a cellist, and their daughter, Harriett, played the violin. In the 1930s Harriett and five other young ladies formed a group called the Singing Strings.

They had a weekly radio show that was broadcast on CBS and played from ladies clubs in Hollywood — like the Wilshire Ebell — to the big venue Palomar… and Harriett lived right here. Harriett dated Edgar Bergen (a radio and film comedian), was on the radio through World War II, met a reporter who later became an editor of the paper, got married and sold the house in the mid-nineteen forties. So, here we are, many years later sealing up this time capsule behind the bathroom mirror…

I had the good fortune to correspond with Harriett Wilson’s daughter about fifteen years after we bought the house. She related that the house was a wonderful place full of laughter and music and Harriett inherited it when her parents died, Nathan in a car accident, Claudia six months later, perhaps of a broken heart. (Robert, her brother, was an adult by that time and had a young family and home of his own.)

Now I’ll tell you a story about when the Mister and I first moved into this house. It was in May, a long time ago (1994), seventy years after the Wilsons had moved in, and the weather was unseasonably cold. Our first night here we built a fire in the fireplace and a strange serene quiet euphoria overtook us both. As if all was right in the world and our parents were upstairs asleep in their beds. I can’t describe it any better than this: where we had landed felt profoundly safe. It felt, in an instant, like home.

When I related this to Harriett’s daughter she told me that when Harriett was besieged by teenage gloom her mother would make a “five minute fire” — gathering up all the newspaper and torn envelopes and emptying the trash bin in a whirlwind — and they’d throw it all in the living room fireplace and strike a match and watch the fire flare and the mean reds would immediately be dispelled.

That pervasive spirit of goodwill and contentment has been with us since we walked into the house twenty-two years ago for our first viewing. The house was owned by the bank, it had fallen into severe disrepair and had gone through many generations of extremely strange, extremely extensive renovations — in other words, it was a wreck. But the bones of this house were gorgeous. We went room to room that first time loving the space, and as we turned to leave I laid my cheek to the wall of the living room, next to the entry, hand to the plaster and said, “Don’t worry house, we will save you.” And we have been, bit by bit over many years.

We wish you much happiness and hope your time here will be as wonderful as ours.

#itsinhiskissbyvickielesterNow it’s back to checking on my order of handmade reproduction tile, and the exploits (fictional, of course!) of a Hollywood nanny who became a studio head…

14 comments

  1. noel86@comcast.net

    Vickie, Good Morning. What a fantastic photo of Marilyn. They say a picture tells a thousands words and I would say this one says a million. A true, sad beauty. I also love old buildings and when I find one I often take time to just walk slowly down and up it’s halls. Old hotels also hold a real fascination for me.   Your house is lucky to have you! If you care to share before and after pictures sometime….that would be nice.   I’ve missed your writing. Have a great day!   Noe’l West

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