Posts Tagged ‘house’


What we’ve been doing all this time…

March 28, 2013

I think it’s safe to say this blog is dead. Sadly (or happily?) I have been busy with far too many other projects to maintain it regularly (read: at all), but on the off chance that any of those 50 daily hits that it’s still getting (still? seriously?!?) are live readers and not spambots, here’s a quick update on what we’ve been up to. Moving forward, I plan to use this space for occasional updates on specific projects, happenings, or other things I want to write about that maybe someone somewhere wants to read about, but don’t look for a return to regular posting any time soon (in case the two-year hiatus didn’t clue you in on that front).

Here are a few posts about what’s been keeping us busy, though.

First up: The kitchen!

1. We finished the kitchen! Huzzah! And it only took 29 months. (Okay, in fairness, it was functional far sooner than that, but the last few bits and pieces have dragged on and on, so we finally gave up and sought some help to push it over the finish  line.)

Here it is, in all its glory (albeit with some wonky lighting):

Remember what that used to look like? (Yeah, I know, I’m cheating because these are the night-before-demo photos so there’s no sunshine or accessories to spruce it up…but it really wasn’t so hot.)

I’m quite pleased with the first-time tile and flooring jobs we (by which I mostly mean D.) pulled off! The walls are actually a soft lime green; for some reason they look accurate on one computer screen and day-glo green on another, but rest assured that we did not save money by coloring them with highlighters. Someone described the color to me as looking like a lime daquiri, and that’s a pretty good approximation. (It’s Benjamin Moore Wales Green, for those who care about such things. The trim is Acadia White and the cabinets are Sea Haze.)

That was great before too:

I love love love my cookbook shelf! And didn’t D. do a nice job with the wood counter? Someday we’ll also get a new refrigerator so that’s why this one looks a little lost in the space, but for now it’s chugging along so we’ll see how many more years we can eke out of it first, especially since it (very surprisingly) turned out to be as energy-efficient as the new (but, granted, bigger) one will be when we cracked out the Kill-o-Watt. Ignore the undersized IKEA cart in the foreground; that’s one of the last few things we have to replace with an appropriately-sized kitchen work table. This photo was also taken before the shelving and shoe bench were in, so you’ll have to scroll down to get a glimpse of those.

I’m personally a big fan of the new-and-improved kitchen entry.

Here’s what we used to walk in to see:

And here’s what we see now. One of my silly goals of this project was to restore the through-the-house view of the gardens that was part of the original house plan, and I’m ecstatic that I can now sit in our living room and see our beautiful fruit trees! When we eventually get a new refrigerator, it will sit flush with the cabinets, so we’ll have an even better view.


D. also tuned up the swinging door with a new hinge once we discovered the original one had been sawed and hammered beyond repair in an unsuccessful attempt to remove the door at some point. Turns out the hinge was bolted to the subfloor, so that’s why that didn’t pan out for whichever past owner was trying to get it loose… Note that it now opens into the kitchen, as it was intended to. (Pre-renovation, it only opened out into the dining room because that ceramic tile was too high for it to clear, which meant it blocked the door to the hallway that leads to the bathroom and bedrooms. Good thinking, past owners!)

The breakfast nook, still with its garden view, but with newly restored and trimmed windows. (Don’t look now, but this photo was taken before we installed the door thresholds! So pretend you don’t see the left corner.)

We restored the California cooler!


We got a new-old back door from Ohmega Salvage that was a perfect fit for the opening, a new Douglas fir screen door, and I finally got my shoe bench and coat rack. (All that junk in the photo is not, in fact, what is supposed to go on these shelves, but right now we can’t store anything heavy down low.)


We still have a little painting left to do here and there, but it’s pretty much a wrap. It was a long time coming—we demoed the old kitchen the first week of November 2010—but I’m loving the wonderful new space, and we even finished it on budget! Everybody around here loves it.


Next up: other things that have been keeping us busy (Hint: we are rocking that 2011 resolutions list!!)


2011 House Resolutions

February 15, 2011

A little late, but hey. Setting the bar a bit lower on these this year given the total lack of progress on the 2010 list…so this one is short ‘n’ sweet.

This will actually get done, for no better reason than that is has to or we will go nuts! Still to do as of February 2011: painting, range hood vent, shelves, breakfast table and benches, shoe bench, backsplash tiles, butcher block counter, and rehanging the doors. Really not so bad considering where we started!

Leftover from 2010.
We will install the medicine cabinet and paint the bathroom. No, really.

(I’m not getting too overly optimistic on the “To Do” list, though, so I’ll leave re-plastering the bathroom ceiling, which is currently threatening to come tumbling down, for 2012 or until it actually falls, whichever comes first.)

Leftover from 2010. Yeah. We will also do this in 2011, I swear!

Leftover from 2010. We’ll keep trying to get this together! Ever hopeful.

Because we need something new to do. The previous owner of our house did a lot of drainage work before selling it, but we still have one little section of the basement that gets water in heavy downpours. Unfortunately, this is also where we put the new furnace (there were good reasons for moving it and also some miscommunication on exactly where the designated spot would be, but it is what it is). So now we really need to fix the drainage. D. has been running test pumps this winter to try to pinpoint where we need to dig to get at the major problem sources, and I think he’s finally found it, or at least found a magic spot that seems to help a lot. So this spring, we need to get digging and route that water back down the hill and out of the basement. If we really get on a roll, this might expand to include tearing up the path in the backyard, digging french drains there too, and putting the path back. But really? That’s more likely to be 2013 or so…

We got really lazy about this one, and never got shelves for the second bedroom, so for the last few years everything’s been all over the floor in boxes. Which is kind of ridiculous given that we’re coming up on four years in this house in 2011! So sometime this year, we (by which I mostly mean D., since he uses this room as his office) will actually get some shelves and put some stuff on them.

…and that should keep us busy for most of the year, at least at the rate we’ve been going for the last year or so!


2010 House Resolutions Check-in: Jul…no, wait, December!

December 6, 2010

Whoops! In the chaos of the wedding, I somehow missed the June mid-year check-in on our house resolutions….which is just as well, since we are making very slow progress on them. But here’s a quick run-down of where we are with just days left to go:

Getting delivered this week! Actually, we’ve made lots of progress on this one, and with a little bit of luck, we will squeak in under the wire, with a working dishwasher (and kitchen!) in time for New Year’s Eve. !!!

Done…for now. Hmm. So I took a great class at Her Majesty’s Secret Beekeeper in San Francisco to learn a little bit more about beekeeping…and I have to say that I’m not so sure it’s the right thing to add to to the mix right now. I did get a book that D.’s been reading, though, so if he gets excited enough about it to compensate for my trepidation, we might still give it a spin. But right now I’m thinking that (in the words of the class instructor!) I’m more interested in being a “bee haver” than a “bee keeper.” Time to plant some bee balm!

Halfway there. Well, so I have the medicine cabinet at long last…but it’s not installed yet. Also, painting the bathroom? Not done either. Argh. However, I think this one is getting close, since we now own the saw(s) needed to hack through the wall, and I now know how to drywall. Kind of. Bumping this to early 2011 at this point, since I don’t want to tear up the bathroom before we’re back in the kitchen.

Done! The grass is in! Still growing a bit slowly in spots, but it’s definitely grassy now.

Grass growing (a little!)

Grass growing (a little!) It's grown much more since this was taken.

Almost done! We ended up stripping and powdercoating the original registers (or rather, having someone else do this) after replacing them turned out to be trickier than I imagined. Now, to find the right size screws to put them back in the wall, since it turns out these aren’t readily available, and I should have kept track of the rusty stripped ones. D’oh.

No progress. Boo. This should be an easy one, too…bumping to next year, but inspired to get rolling on this as soon as the kitchen is done! On the upside, we got a new furnace as part of the kitchen remodel (yeah, don’t even ask…) and took the opportunity to move it to a side room in the basement, which means we now have a huge open space to play with in the main basement. Bike racks, here we come!

More talking, but still no action. We got as far as walking the space where the coops will go in our neighbor’s yard, but then the project stalled again. A friend of our neighbor’s is on board to help design it, though, so it’s looking promising for 2011. We’ll get there one of these years!

So, yes, it’s been an appallingly pathetic year for any project or activity not related to a) the wedding, b) work, or c) the kitchen. *sigh* There’s always next year…


And the 2010 house resolutions!

January 4, 2010

Last week I gave the final rundown on the 2009 house resolutions, which means it’s time for (da-da-daaaa!) the 2010 list.

This year’s projects are mostly short and sweet, because we’re tackling one HUGE project and also getting married in June, so there will be more than enough things to occupy us. Still, there are some projects here I’m super excited about!

1. A DISHWASHER. Well, a whole new kitchen, actually. This a carryover from last year’s list. It’s our one huge gigantic project for this year after a year off from contractors—we did the electrical and seismic work back in 2008—and since we’re trying to do at least some of it ourselves, I’m expecting it to consume a lot of time.

2. HONEYBEES. Thanks to a little bit of a kick in the pants from my sister in the form of a gift certificate to Her Majesty’s Secret Beekeeper in San Francisco (thanks B!!), this jumped up our list a bit, and I can’t wait to get started on it! But first, I need to learn a little bit more about what I’m doing here—so look for more in the months to come.

3. MEDICINE CABINET. I’ve been procrastinating on getting a recessed medicine cabinet for the bathroom for a while, but I’m hoping to actually get moving on that this year, and also repaint the bathroom while I’m at it. This project is a bit daunting because it involves knocking holes in plaster, and I’m still not quite sure what we’ll find in there. (You can still see the shadows of the framing of the original cabinet, but I have no idea how or when it was filled in, or whether the framing is still intact.) We’ll see…

4. LAWN LANDSCAPING. We successfully killed all of our grass* this past year, but we haven’t done much with the space yet. Now it’s time to have some fun with the landscaping, and figure out what interesting natives we can put in. (*Note that by “grass” I do not mean oxalis, which is having a field day with our bare lawn…ack!)

5. HEAT REGISTERS. I started replacing these with functional reproductions this year, but got sidetracked when I discovered the moulding around the registers needed to be replaced. Hopefully I can check this one off the list pretty early this year…

6. GARAGE SHELVES AND BIKE RACKS. We’ve needed these forever, but it’s just never a very high priority project…maybe putting it on the resolutions list will make it one!

7. CHICKENS. Finally, though this may be a long shot, I’m hoping by the year’s end we’ll be involved in a chicken project either at our house or at our neighbor’s house (since they had the great idea of setting up a block chicken coop to share the responsibility and, more importantly, to house the hens somewhere where there is no big black dog!)


Out with the old: Final 2009 house resolutions check-in

December 30, 2009

To wrap up 2009, here’s the status of this year’s resolutions. Look for the 2010 list next week!

Here’s the original list: My New Year’s House Resolutions

…and here’s where we are in the waning days of 2009:

Mostly done. In the end, I ordered 1 3/8″ spring bronze weatherstripping  from Kilian’s Hardware, since the stuff I got from our local Ace was too narrow. They shipped promptly and have everything under the sun on the old weatherstripping front. With instructions from Working Windows, a phenomenal guide, I’ll hopefully finish up the last of the weatherstripping soon. Pictures coming once I remember to take some. (I’m doing a modified version of it without removing the sashes—not the recommended way, but so far it seems to be working decently, and significantly reduces the likelihood that I’ll screw it up and need to call in the pros. But it also means I would be much happier with a staple gun, which the Tool Library has—except that they’re closed till after the new year with all the budget cuts…augh.) And the bedroom window issues will be resolved by early 2010—yay!

Mostly done. We successfully killed the grass, but then went to war with the oxalis. This isn’t done yet, but it’s mostly because I’ve been lazy and preoccupied with other things. I think I can safely say it’s a weekend (and a few hundred dollars’ worth of DG, stones, mulch, and plants) away from being complete.

Done! The garden did quite respectably this year, though it’s definitely still a work in progress. I continue to be in awe of the huge yields from some friends’ gardens, so I’ll keep at it. I put cover crops in this winter, so hopefully that will help, too.

Lettuce bed

Done! Pictures are not exciting here, so you don’t get any…

Done! But no photos till we get the landscaping done, since right now the yard looks pretty icky.

Umm, done? We got stuck on this one, so I’m not even sure it counts as done. Technically, it doesn’t leak anymore. But in the process of trying to fix it, we broke it more, had to hire a plumber to fix that, and then discovered that it had been fixed incorrectly. Fixing the new problem turned out to be an even bigger project that will entail retiling the bathroom, so for now we’re living with a slightly imperfect faucet setup. Moral of the story: hire people who know what they’re doing, especially when you don’t!

Mostly done. After trekking all over town looking for the specific parts D. had in mind for this, we finally found them at Grainger in West Berkeley. He’s off this week, so with luck this might be finished before the new year. Pictures and maybe an instructable to follow once it’s all installed and caulked in, but Gene over at DIY Insanity has some great photos up of the barrels pre-holes on the new platform he helped us build last month (and by “helped” I mean walked us through pretty much step-by-step—thanks again!!)

Gene's photo of the barrels on their brand new platform!

Gene's photo of the barrels on their brand new platform!


Another view

Not done. But…WE ARE GETTING OUR FIRST BIDS ON THE STRUCTURAL WORK IN THE KITCHEN! This is my most exciting news. It won’t make the 2009 list, but it’s within reach at long last. (And it better make the 2010 list…)

In fact, it might be fortuitous that it took so long—if Obama’s Cash for Caulkers program really gets rolling, we’re all set to buy both our dishwasher and new refrigerator under it! And we may apply to be guinea pigs in Oakland’s version of CaliforniaFIRST, which spreads the cost of energy efficiency improvements over a number of years by rolling the cost into property taxes. When we take out our furnace chimney, we’ll have to re-vent our furnace and water heater, and it might be the ideal time to replace both. (They still have a few years left in them, but both are aging, neither is high-efficiency, and D. is itching for a solar water heater.)

So we’re 8 for 9 for 2009—not too bad, actually!


Our house 85 years ago!

October 28, 2009

Another quick post, because as a lot of you know, we have been extremely busy the last few weeks with a number of things! (Updates coming soon…)

But I did receive this incredible photograph today from a great-granddaughter of the Kiedaisch family, who lived in our house from 1921 to 1927. She found my house history post earlier this year and, astoundingly, dug up a photograph taken of our house sometime in the mid-1920s by her great-grandfather Walter Kiedaisch, who was a Bay Area photographer.


Our house circa mid-1920s (courtesy of the Kiedaisch family)

Even the small snapshot yields a lot of intriguing information:

The garage. We now know our garage is at least 80 years old! We’d talked to the City about this at one point since they had no record of the permits to build it; now I know why (and can conclusively prove that yes, it was definitely there when we moved in…) We’re pretty sure it isn’t original since it’s built up against the house and you can see where the doorways were modified at some point, but this means it was probably built by either the Kiedaisches themselves or by Joseph Smith, who owned the house from 1919 to 1921 after buying it from the original owners (who built it in 1915). The garage does have something of a 1920s vibe going on, too, so that would make sense. (Sadly, that look is almost gone today after the previous owner ditched the original garage doors and replaced them with a generic automatic door to get the house ready for sale. Convenient, but man, I wish she’d kept them…you can even still see them in the Google Street View photos of our block, which is just cruel!)

The adjacent rear lots. You can see the buildings on the lots behind us pretty clearly in this photo, which is interesting because both lots were redeveloped in the 1960s into apartment complexes. (The houses to either side of us, in contrast, look pretty much the same today.) I had envisioned cute little bungalows on these lots, and have often griped about how close to the lot line the 1960s developments were built. (Trying to figure out ownership of a shared fence last year, I even found a Planning Commission memo from the 1960s chiding one of the property owners for violating the property line setback rules; he was fined a relatively small amount and the building was unchanged.) As it turns out, though, even the original buildings must have been pretty close to the lot lines to be visible in this photo. (The one on the right looks like it’s practically in our next-door neighbor’s backyard—the condos there today have a bit of a buffer, at least!)

The front steps. We had wooden steps originally! (Our next-door neighbor still does and it’s pretty traditional for a California bungalow, so this isn’t totally surprising—but today the steps are concrete.) I am a little bummed, though, because when we had the foundation inspected recently in preparation for the kitchen remodel, the inspector oohed and ahhed over our concrete steps, noting that ours were in better shape than those of almost any other house its age that he’d seen. D’oh! Now I know why…

Otherwise, though, the house looks strikingly similar today, right down to the curves on the sidewalk. (Even the sidewalk itself looks like it might be the same…guess that really is due for replacement!) The front yard has since been terraced and landscaped, but we knew the previous owner had done a lot of that work, and from what our neighbor says, before then the yard looked, well, basically the same as it did in the 1920s. It’s very likely that this was the original paint job on the house, too, since it would have been barely ten years old (if that) when this photograph was taken. Hard to tell what the colors actually were, but it gives a sense of the aesthetic, at least. (The stucco on the side of the house behind the garage wall is cream, though, so that may have been the original color; in later years it appears to have been painted light green at some point.)

Anyway, just a very cool find! A huge thanks to Michelle for sharing this great piece of our home’s history!


Bringin’ down the house…

August 15, 2009

….but not ours, luckily!

However, this bungalow around the corner from us had a demolition notice posted a few weeks ago, and I finally got around to snapping some photos.

Demolition House

Demolition House

All boarded up...

All boarded up...

This is a 1909 two-bedroom bungalow that’s been sitting empty for years (and from the little you can see, appears to be in pretty bad shape inside). It’s a pretty puzzling house—it’s been flagged for blight (and on the City’s Cleanup/Board Up list) repeatedly since at least 2005, which is especially odd because someone’s been paying some (though not all) of the taxes on it. (Granted, they’re pretty minimal to begin with; it’s assessed for under $40K right now, so I imagine its last sale must have been long before Prop 13 kicked in.) While our neighborhood’s not exactly blight-free, it’s very unusual to see abandoned houses around here these days. You’d think they’d have sold the lot at the height of the housing boom, when they could have gotten a pretty penny for it—oh, well. (Rumor has it that the property is owned by a San Francisco building inspector, which makes it all even stranger.)

Anyway, the notice says it’s now being demolished as blight abatement. (And it does look to be in pretty awful shape—plus there have been squatters there from time to time, which I can’t imagine did wonders for the interior.) It’s also a little unclear who owns the property at this point, given how much is owed in back taxes. The City? Some third party?


But what I really want to know, of course, is what happens after the demolition. A vacant lot isn’t much better than a blighted house. (In fact, it might be worse—I’d initially hoped they’d sell the house so someone could rehab it!) So I’m hoping one of the following things will happen:

  1. The people who just bought the fourplex next door to this house could buy this lot. Next door is a beautiful 1912 apartment building, but it’s pretty much built lot line to lot line, so if they were to tack on this lot, they could create a backyard and potentially even build a garage for parking and storage. Seems like a smart investment opportunity.
  2. The vacant lot could be turned into a community garden as part of a project with Westlake Middle School, just down the street. A co-worker of mine took on a project like this last year (although sans kid involvement), drafting the appropriate legal forms to secure permission from the property owner, and has created a pretty phenomenal garden on the site today. (One of these days I’ll snap some photos of that, too, since it puts our garden to shame!)
  3. Something else??

I’m also pretty curious to see if they salvage anything from within (or if there’s anything worthy of salvaging). When they demolished a house on Piedmont Avenue earlier this year, we were pleased to see that a lot of the innards (including many beautiful redwood joists) were carefully bundled up and trucked off, presumably to some new life somewhere. Who knows what else might be in there?

Anyway. There’s no demolition date listed on the notice (very helpful!) so when I have a moment I may give the City a call to see what’s up, and hopefully find out what lies ahead for this little corner of the neighborhood. In the meantime—so long, little bungalow.


Who’s been living in my house?

December 16, 2008

This month, some great house history posts over at Shaker Heights Restoration and Bungalow Insanity inspired me to finally finish the genealogy of our house. I’d been stuck for a while on who owned the house between 1944 and 1969, but some good advice on how to track the final pieces down (and several trips to the Alameda County Assessor/Recorder’s office) turned up the missing link at long last. Now we know who’s owned the house for every one of its 93 years.


Here’s the full story….

The Wanners (1915-1919)
Emma and Albert Wanner were the house’s first owners. Emma’s father Henry Gloy, a well-known Oakland cigarmaker, built it for them shortly after their marriage, and built the matching next-door house for son Henry, Jr. and his wife and children. The family was periodically covered in the society columns of the Oakland Tribune, so I was able to find out a bit about them. Albert, for instance, eventually went on to help run the General Engineering & Dry Dock Company, an Alameda shipyard that built gunners and minesweepers for the navy until the end of World War II. Why the Wanners moved out after only four years is somewhat fuzzy; why they sold the house for ten dollars in gold coins to a family friend is even fuzzier. (Even in 1919, that was a steal!) [Edit: I’ve learned that ten dollars in gold was a common downpayment for an early mortgage, so it’s likely that this is what was going on. I need to dig a bit more to see if there’s an actual sales price in the record.]

Emma’s brother Henry lived in the house next door until his high-profile 1921 death in a pistol battle (in the backyard, no less!) over union issues; his widow remarried and the family owned the home until 1984. Emma and Albert also stayed in Oakland, but moved up into the hills. Their home there ultimately burned in the 1991 Oakland firestorm. Emma died in 1948; she’s buried at Mountain View Cemetery at the end of Piedmont Avenue, not too far away.

F. Joseph Smith (1919-1921)
Update: Thanks to commenter Roxy, I now know a little bit about Joseph Smith (who had previously been a mystery, mostly because he has the world’s most common name and had consequently been tricky to trace). Joseph and Helen Smith, immigrants from England, lived in the house from 1919 to 1921 and had three children: Frederick, an accountant at a Gas and Electric company; Elizabeth, a stenographer at a bank; and Dorothy, a stenographer at a ship yard. I don’t know too much about why they moved into or out of the house, but will try to cross-reference these names with the Oakland Tribune archives when I have a chance (ha, that would be 16-18 years from now…)

The Kiedaisches (1921-1927)
Walter and Mabel Kiedaisch raised their five (!) children in our home for six years. Walter was a photographer who made his name shooting the 1906 San Francisco earthquake aftermath. The younger Kiedaisch children—Donald and twins Anita and Ethel—attended the nearby Grant Elementary (then at the corner of 29th and Broadway) and Lakeview Junior High (now Westlake Middle), and were periodically featured in the Trib for their school activities. The older boys, Calvin and Arthur, were students at Tech and later at UCLA. In 1927, the family moved to LA (and advertised in the Oakland Tribune that they had to leave town and sell the house as soon as possible—though it’s not clear why). Sadly, the last of the Kiedaisch children died in 2002, so we’ll never get to ask them about their years growing up here.

The Shaws & the Vanderbecks (1927-1944)
Some combination of Shaws and Vanderbecks lived in the house in the late 1920s, 1930s, and early 1940s. Katherine Shaw, a “California pioneer and native daughter” who helped settle the Yosemite Valley, lived here until her death in 1940 (and died in the house—the only death I’ve discovered so far). Her daughter Lucille was married to Earl Vanderbeck, whose name is on the deed. We have the Vanderbecks to thank for our 1939 kitchen remodel, which—amazingly—they even pulled permits for. The Vanderbecks moved to LA and then to San Diego, where they lived until their deaths in the mid-1960s.

I wanna meet the Easter Bunny!

I wanna meet the Easter Bunny!

The Souzas (1944-1957)
Frank and Pearl Souza owned our home in the post-war years, and raised three daughters—Lucia, Nancy, and Jean—here. (The girls’ names are still etched into our garden pathway, along with their parents’ names and a big heart—awww!) Frank worked at the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond during the war, and then went into business with his six brothers. The family owned a restaurant called Oscar’s on Lakeshore Avenue, not far away. It’s long gone, though there is still one piano bar on the lake, a lingering memory of Grand Lake’s past. (The original Oscar’s location is now home to the Gap.) The Souza girls went to Edison Elementary (now swank condos on Kempton), which had opened in 1927 to relieve Grant’s overcrowding, and then on to Westlake and Tech. The family moved to South Lake Tahoe in 1957, where Frank became one of the region’s early real estate developers and was actively involved in planning the area. (South Lake Tahoe even dubbed November 17th “Frank Souza Day” in his honor.)

Oscar's on Lakeshore

Above are daughter Lucia (front center by the fireplace); parents Frank and Pearl (sitting behind her), Frank’s mother Ludvina (in the light blue dress); and family patriarch John Souza (in the chair to Ludvina’s right), among others. Carl Souza (standing by the bar) lived with his family in the house across the street from us. (Photo from collection of; info from the Souza family)

The Wais (1957-1975)
The Wais had me stumped for a long time. The early history was easy to research because there were census and voting records that noted who lived here, and it didn’t take too long to match up names and years to find the deed transfers. Similarly, everything after 1969, when Alameda County started using computers, was easy to find, too. What was impossible to find were the records between the 1944 sale and the 1975 sale. I had a couple of leads, but they had all been dead-ends, partly because the Souzas had a fairly common surname. (To track deed transfers here, you have to know the name of either the grantor or the grantee, and then have to look for the name in the kind-of-alphabetical listings for each year the house might have been transferred; up until the 1960s, these records were handwritten in longhand, making it rather tricky.) All I knew for sure was that in 1969, when the records were computerized, someone named Wai Hing Tong owned the house.

A lot of sleuth work finally turned up an affidavit from Wai Yook Toi in the 1970s declaring that her husband, Wai Hing Tong, was actually the same person as Wong Quok, and had died in 1961, so his house now belonged to her. Apparently the original deed had been issued in the latter name (which was why I couldn’t find it). The wonder of Google got me the full explanation: Wai Hing Tong, aka Wong Quok, had entered the country illegally while the Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect, deserting his ship and refusing to leave the country (a common practice for skirting the immigration laws at the time). He apparently lived under the new name for some period of time. By the 1950s, the act had been repealed and he immigrated formally and went back to his original name, but consequently the house sales and personal records didn’t match. But there they were: our home’s sixth owners.

By the time the Wais bought our house in 1957, our neighborhood was in transition. The MacArthur Freeway (aka I-580), which is six blocks north of us and cuts our neighborhood off from Temescal and Piedmont Avenue, was planned and plotted, and in the summer of 1956, the city began publishing notices to vacate for homes along the proposed route. This took out stretches of homes along nearby Richmond Boulevard, Kempton Way, Santa Clara Avenue, Stanley Way, and Harrison Street, along with hundreds of other blocks across the city. It was also during this stretch that the houses behind us were demoed and the lots redeveloped into apartment buildings. I imagine it wasn’t the best time to live here! (And on that note, I’m not entirely sure the Wais did live here—by the early 1970s, Wai Yook Toi seems to have been living in an apartment on Grand, so possibly the house was rented or even empty during those decades.) The house was briefly on the market in 1973 according to an ad in the Oakland Tribune at the time, advertised as a “great buy for the small investor! (Zoned R-70!)” Fortunately for us, no one bit, and the house didn’t sell until Wai Yook Toi’s death in 1975.

Update: I did eventually find some information on the Wai children—there were four, and they did indeed live here. Raymond Wai was eight years old when his parents bought the house in 1957, and had three sisters: Janice, Marian, and Grace. He later moved to Piedmont and sadly died in 1991; I haven’t tracked down too much on the girls yet.

The Jeffreys (1975-1997)
Wayne and Nellie Jeffreys bought the house in the summer of 1975 after it had been briefly owned by an Oakland Avenue neighbor. (Perhaps he was “flipping” it?) They retired here, as far as I can tell. They may also have done some of the restoration on the house, though that’s a bit unclear. (The spring 1975 listing for the house advertises the wall-to-wall carpets, which fortunately kept our original quarter-sawn oak floors in pristine condition!) The Jeffreys are largely responsible for all of our fruit trees and edible landscaping, and possibly for some of the perennial beds as well. I’m pretty sure the basement workshop was Wayne’s—it doesn’t seem that the previous owner used it much, and there are old newspaper clippings and mailing labels that date to the early 1990s. The Jeffreys also tackled our first earthquake retrofit after the Loma Prieta quake in 1989. They lived here until Wayne’s death at age 80 in 1996; Nellie then sold the house and returned to Utah, where she still lives today. (While we haven’t been in touch with her directly, she continues to exchange letters with our next-door neighbor, who shares updates on the house and garden with her.)

…and today!
Finally, the previous owner bought the house in 1997 and lived here for a decade with her son; she sold it to us in the fall of 2007 and moved up into the hills, and we’ve lived here ever since.

This post was brought to you in part by:

  • The U.S. Census—in 94 years, someone might need to know who lived in your house, so don’t forget to send your 2010 form back today!
  • Betty Marvin and the Oakland Cultural Heritage Survey—please help save Oakland’s historical archives library and staff from budget cuts!