La Jolla has a number of historically significant buildings and cottages that deserve to be preserved, but every time I hear of a movement to preserve the architecture of the 1947 houses in our neighborhood, I feel compelled to demur. Or barf.
Don’t get me wrong: we love our little place (mostly) — but only because the exterior and interior have been substantially upgraded to give it little resemblance to its origins. The house itself still retains its original footprint, however, one of the few in the neighborhood. Pretty much everyone else has already put these houses out of their misery.
I’m not unreasonable. I’d be willing to preserve one of these homes as a cautionary tale so that future generations can see what teeny, dark, poorly constructed cookie-cutter houses built by the lowest bidder were like.
Before we remodeled in 1999, I would tell people that we still had the original 1947 kitchen (except for the appliances) and they would implore us not to remodel it. It sounds so quaint, they said! There are so few of these kitchens left! Maybe you could even find some appliances of the era, even some kitschy countertop mixers, and completely restore it!
Of course, the people who had seen our kitchen said, “Would you like the name of our contractor?”
Retro isn’t necessarily quaint. Sometimes it’s just retro.
Even the contractor who ultimately remodeled our kitchen observed, “They sure knew how to build a depressing kitchen back then.” Think gray Formica counter tops, gray linoleum floor, a single overhead light bulb, cheap pine cabinets, one outlet.
We used the only outlet in the kitchen for the portable dishwasher as that was another invention that hadn’t yet become a standard fixture in 1947. A lot of people have never seen a portable dishwasher, which rolls over to the sink and is connected by hoses to the faucet. Guests would ponder the dishwasher sitting alone in a corner of the kitchen and finally blurt out, “How on earth does that work?” And I’d say, “It transfers water from the faucet remotely.” There had to be SOME advantages to having the most retro kitchen in America.
The single 100-watt bulb as the only source of light in the standard 1947 kitchen was also problematical. The many scars on my fingers attest to what a bad idea it is to use sharp objects when your only light source is behind you.
Another throwback to 1947, of course, is that code at the time prohibited electrical outlets in bathrooms, considering it too dangerous to plug in an electric appliance in the vicinity of a bathtub or shower. Of course, with the advent of hairdryers, curling irons, electric razors and toothbrushes, and of course, ground fault breakers, code changed. But we still didn’t have electric outlets in our bathrooms for the first 26 years I lived here, until Olof married me and decided that living in the 19th century was only charming to a point.
And that leads me to the true downside of living in an original 1947 house from our neighborhood: 50 amps of power. When Olof and I married in 1995 and he moved down here from the Bay Area, that’s all the power the house had ever had. Which he quickly discovered when he’d be working on his computer and the kids would decide to toast a Pop-Tart. All of a sudden the house would be very quiet. And very dark. Well, not totally quiet, as the normally mild- mannered Olof would say a seriously bad word.
The kids and I had long been used to the fact that you could only run one appliance beside the refrigerator at a time so no microwave if the washer were going, and no toaster oven if the portable dishwasher was plugged in. Faster than you can say, “Can this marriage be saved?”, a dedicated line was put in for Olof’s computer.
The 1947 floor furnace was so full of holes that it emitted a lot of fumes and not much heat. Space heaters blew the circuit breaker in nanoseconds.
I recently Googled 1947 kitchens. There were some fairly nice kitchens then. Just not in this neighborhood and price demographic.
As of 1999, we now have a kitchen with a built-in dishwasher, 14 outlets (OK, I got a little carried away there), under-the-cabinet lights and eight can lights in an 11x11 space. Honestly, turn them all on at once and it looks like a nuclear blast. But having spent decades in the land of single 100-watt light bulbs, I wasn’t taking any chances. We rarely blow a circuit breaker, have central heat and even sport skylights to diminish the darkness of small rooms.
So as far as preserving the 1947 house for posterity, I’m afraid the romance is gone for me. I’m happy to have one of these houses preserved — just so long as I don’t have to live in it.
— Look for La Jolla resident Inga’s lighthearted looks at life in La Jolla Light. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org