Category Archives: Architecture

The historic Southern Pacific Railroad depot in Bakersfield

Halls of History

Never fails! When I’m out and about doing one thing, trains seem to crop up here and there.

When I was in Bakersfield on February 11 speaking to the Bakersfield Cactus & Succulent Society, I had to go downtown and check out the historic Southern Pacific depot.

Looks like this:

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

When construction of the Southern Pacific Railroad line had reached the southern San Joaquin Valley in 1874, Bakersfield was the preferred stop. However, a land dispute between Bakersfield and Southern Pacific resulted in Southern Pacific building its tracks two miles east of the Bakersfield, in Sumner, a town laid out by the railroad, as many towns were back in those days. A small depot also was built.

When the Bakersfield depot opened on June 27, 1889, it was located in Sumner, California. Sometime between 1888 and 1892, Sumner incorporated under the name Kern City. In 1910, Kern City voted to become part of Bakersfield.

The depot originally was built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, comprising both a train station and a hotel. One of the station’s most defining features was the long arcade stretching along the north side and connecting the station and the hotel.

In the late 1930s, Southern Pacific wanted to demolish the depot and build a completely new one. Instead, the depot was remodeled, providing a more streamlined appearance by removing many of the ornamental Romanesque features and transforming the depot into a Spanish Colonial Revival style. The steep roofs, part of the original style, were kept. Additional expansions included a section in the Moderne style.

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

The depot served Southern Pacific passenger trains that ran on the San Joaquin Valley Route: San Joaquin Daylight, Sacramento Daylight, Owl, and West Coast.

Eventually the hotel closed and was converted to office space; I could not find the date of its closing. Closing the hotel also resulted in half of the portico (on the hotel side) being enclosed.

It currently is used as an office building and crew change center by Union Pacific, and on very rare occasions (about once every ten years), it serves as a stop for Amtrak’s Coast Starlight when Union Pacific’s Coast Line is closed. When that happens, the Coast Starlight goes through the Tehachapi Loop. Getting a video of Amtrak on the Tehachapi Loop is #1 on my Bucket List. Here’s a video of a long BNSF freight on the Tehachapi Loop in February 2017 showing the front of the train passing under the rear of the train:

BNSF freight on the Tehachapi Loop

The depot itself closed in 1971 with the founding of Amtrak and the termination of individual railroad passenger trains, thus ending Southern Pacific passenger trains through the station. The office portion would continue to be used by Southern Pacific, and later by Union Pacific.

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

There is a nice Amtrak station not too far away, and there are plans for two new rail systems, both having a stop in East Bakersfield near the historic Southern Pacific depot. Kern County also has been toying with the idea of a regional commuter rail system which would use existing Union Pacific tracks. Not to be left out, Bakersfield also has been mulling a future light rail system. Both systems are not on the drawing board before 2025.

Halls of History — The Cardiff Mystery House

Halls of History

When I was in Wrightwood Village a week ago, I immediately noticed that there was not a single brick or stucco home. All were wood. That’s because Wrightwood is built directly on top of the San Andreas Fault. As has been regularly seen in earthquakes throughout the world, brick and stucco homes don’t do so well in earthquakes.

Consequently, building codes in California have changed significantly since the Loma Prieta (World Series) earthquake of 1989 and the Northridge earthquake of 1994. Thus, whenever I see a brick building in my part of the world, I’m pretty sure it was built before 1989.

Recently I found a two-story brick building in Cardiff near the Cardiff Elementary School.

Cardiff Mystery House

There was only one window in the place, although it looks like there were many more that were “boarded up” with brick.

Google Maps shows it as a gray rectangle in a public park.

Location of Cardiff Mystery House

It took a lot of research to find out about this house, known locally as the Cardiff Mystery House.

I did find lots of interesting guesses:

  1. A haunted house to keep the kids close to the school during recess.
  2. The original Cardiff schoolhouse.
  3. The old Cardiff jailhouse.
  4. The Cardiff power station from the 1970s.
  5. A secret lookout or radar facility to guard against a West Coast attack by the Japanese in World War II. Note that many spotter bunkers were established along the California coast after Pearl Harbor but they all are camouflaged bunkers rather than being 2-story structures.

None of those appear to be correct, but #1 and #5 are fun to imagine.

Apparently the “house” was built in the 1940s by Bell Telephone as a telephone relay station to connect services throughout Southern California. It held large, low-voltage batteries that amplified every phone’s handset and powered the phone’s ring.

Bell designed it as house structure to avoid a possible air attack by the Japanese, which would have knocked out communications.

In the 1990s, Bob Sinclair, the founder and owner of Pannikin Coffee and Tea, bought the Cardiff Bell Telephone house, intending to repurpose it for his growing coffee shop chain, something he was good at doing. In fact, he bought the old Encinitas railroad depot, moved it to Leucadia, renovated it, and turned it into a coffee house, shown below.

Former ATSF railroad depot in Encinitas, California

I found the Encinitas railroad depot a couple of years ago and did a blog post about it, which you can find here.

The Cardiff Mystery House was deemed non-earthquake proof, thus requiring massive retrofits to make it suitable for a a coffee house, not to mention that it probably would not have the requisite number of parking spaces.

The school district bought the property from Sinclair in 2001 and now uses it to store the school’s equipment and carnival supplies. Surrounding the building is a student garden.

There are at least two more surviving Bell Telephone houses, identical to the Cardiff house both in size and architecture. I actually have seen both of them but didn’t have time to stop and explore them. One is in the San Onofre State Beach campground, visible when driving southbound I-5, just west of the California Highway Patrol weigh station. The other is at the west end of Ortega Highway 74, in San Juan Capistrano.

I guess you know that I’m going to have to go by those two and take pictures, yes?

Cardiff Mystery House

Cardiff Mystery House

Cardiff Mystery House

Out & About—The new United States Federal Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles

Out & About The World

This morning I went out with the Pacific Photographic Society on a 3-hour walking tour of downtown Los Angeles.

I was quite surprised at how crowded it was on a Sunday morning and how few homeless people there were, and how many theaters are on Broadway.

I always thought all the theaters were in Hollywood.

Following are two pictures of the United States Federal Courthouse in Los Angeles, looking unlike any courthouse I’ve ever seen.

Los Angeles Federal Courthouse

Los Angeles Federal Courthouse

Construction on the courthouse began in August 2013 and was completed in 2016. The architect was Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, one of the world’s largest architectural firms. With 633,000 square feet of office space on ten floors, it houses 24 courtrooms.

It is a green building with a Energy Use Intensity (EUI) of just 31, four points below its design requirement of 35, and 54% below the national benchmark for similar buildings nationwide.

Read more about this interesting building at The Journal of the American Institute of Architects.

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Out & About: Liquid Blue’s “Hippie House” in Ocean Beach, San Diego

Out & About San Diego

This past weekend I went to Ocean Beach because it’s one of the best places to see the tidepools and it was predicted to be one of the lowest of the low tides for 2018. As usual, it was spectacular, and I wasn’t the only one there at dawn.

Ocean Beach is not known for its plethora of parking, so when it gets busy, parking can be several miles away. I was lucky in that I only had to park a few blocks from where I wanted to go.

As I was walking down the street looking for things to take pictures of, I came across “The Music House.” Looks like this:

Music house in Ocean Beach, San Diego

I would tell you to click on the image for a bigger picture but that feature is not working on my posts for the past six months or so. Since I knew that when I was taking the picture, I zoomed in on some of the exterior wall decorations just for you, my wonderful readers:

Music house in Ocean Beach, San Diego

Music house in Ocean Beach, San Diego

Music house in Ocean Beach, San Diego

Music house in Ocean Beach, San Diego

Long-time readers might know of my fascination with everything Beatles, and those words are from The Beatles’ #1 hit, “All You Need Is Love.” So, of course, that just elevated my interest in the house.

A Google search on “music house ocean beach san diego” was of no help. Maybe I should have used initial caps…. However, since I had the address, I went to Google Maps where one can go to Street View and explore the neighborhood. Street View often also provides phone numbers, web site URL’s, and hours of operation if a location is a business.

Ta-da!

This house is a business. Quite an interesting location in Ocean Beach for a business as it’s waaaaaaaaaaay off the beaten path.

The business is Liquid Blue. According to their web site, Liquid Blue is a party band based in San Diego. The band has performed sold-out shows in over 500 cities in more than 100 countries.

With numerous albums and even a single which made the Billboard Dance Top 10 and Hot 100 Singles Sales Charts (Earth Passport), Liquid Blue calls themselves the ultimate cover band, and specializes in private events such as weddings, bar mitzvahs, corporate galas, and fundrasiers.

Numerous awards include “America’s Best Dance Band” at the National Music Awards, “Best Cover Band” at the San Diego Music Awards, “Pop Album of the Year” at the Los Angeles Music Awards, and a Guinness World Record for “The World’s Most Traveled Band.”

Since I’m an editor at Wikipedia, I had to see if they had a Wikipedia page. They do! That’s where I found out that their “colorful center of operations” in Ocean Beach is known locally as “the hippie house.” The three core band members (Scott Stephens, Michael Vangerov, and Nikki Green) live and work at the house. Along with a musically themed mural on the surrounding fence/retaining wall, there is a California native “peace garden” and a peace pole. The house and studio is a San Diego County-certified “Green Business.”

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Halls of History—The woman belongs in the home….

Halls of History

When I was young and living with my wise old grandmother in Kingsville, Texas, I looked forward to the days when the Fall and Spring catalogs arrived from Sears. We also received the Montgomery Ward catalogs, but there was nothing like the catalogs from Sears. Dreamland….

Of course, catalog offerings changed over the years, and it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I discovered kit houses, a common name for the Sears catalog homes sold as Sears Modern Homes.

Sears reported that more than 70,000 kit homes were sold in North America between 1908 and 1940. More than 370 different home designs in various architectural styles and sizes were offered.

Although sold mostly along the East Coast and in Midwestern states, they have been found in Canada, as far south as Florida, and as far west as Alaska and California. Which takes us to Ocean Beach, a neighborhood of San Diego. Recently I discovered that there might be a Sears kit house at 4921 Voltaire Street in Ocean Beach. Looks like this:

4921 Voltaire Street in Ocean Beach, San Diego, California

4921 Voltaire Street in Ocean Beach, San Diego, California

Sears Modern Homes offered the latest and greatest technology available to home buyers in the early 20th Century, including electricity, indoor plumbing, and central heating. Eventually, asphalt shingles and drywall (instead of the messy lathe and plaster) were offered. Kits were usually shipped by railroad and included most of the materials needed to build the house. Perhaps this is where the great Christmas adage—Some assembly required.—came from….

A few years after Sears quit selling kit homes, all sales records were destroyed in a corporate house cleaning. Sad. Since many of these kit homes were not documented when they were built, finding them today usually requires detailed research for correct identification, especially since there were competitors: Aladdin (which offered the first mail order kit homes in 1906), Bennett, Gordon-Van Tine, Harris Brothers, Lewis, Pacific Ready Cut Homes, Sterling, and Wardway Homes.

Sears issued its first specialty catalog for houses in 1908, Book of Modern Homes and Building Plans. It featured 44 house styles costing $360 to $2,890.

Sales grew, and Sears expanded production, shipping, and sales offices to sites throughout the United States. In order to meet demand and lower costs, Sears purchased lumber mills in Cairo, Illinois, and Port Newark, New Jersey, as well as the Norwood Sash and Door Company in Norwood, Ohio.

Sears first offered precut and fitted lumber, pioneered by Aladdin, in 1916. Prior to 1916, the Sears-supplied lumber had to be cut on site to appropriate lengths. The pre-1916 houses are considered “catalog houses” but are not not considered to be kit houses. A Sears Modern Home kit could have 25 tons of materials and over 30,000 parts. Yep. Some assembly required….

Sears started offering financing in 1912, with early loans for 5-15 years at 5-6 percent interest. Sales peaked in 1929, being hit hard by the Great Depression, which led to payment defaults and strain on the catalog house program. Sears even stopped selling homes for a short time in 1934 and, after liquidating $11 million in defaulted debt, quit financing altogether by 1934.

4921 Voltaire Street, Ocean Beach, San Diego, California

The home at 4921 Voltaire Street was built by William Feigley, recently arrived from Kansas. The city has dubbed it the William and Ona Feigley Spec House #1. Sadly, the life of the Feigley House appears to be coming to an end. It has been vacant for years after having been gutted in the 1980s to convert it to a doctor’s office. The doctor left in 1989, and records of its use since then are spotty. There have been lots of complaints about squatters and trash, though.

The new owners of the property want to tear down the Feigley House and build a two-story building with commercial space on the ground floor and two apartments on the upper floor, and a rooftop deck so they can see the ocean. The Ocean Beach Planning Board gave near-unanimous approval after the original design was altered to present a more Craftsman look. It appears that a portion of the front entrance might be retained and incorporated into the new building. However….

In October 2016, the Historic Resources Board recommended designating the Feigley House as a historic resource, which would pretty much prevent its destruction. According to the Board’s report, the Feigley House has maintained integrity in terms of design, materials, and feeling. Assistant Planner Suzanne Seguer, one of the report’s authors, said, “Nearly a century after its construction, the prized characteristics of its Craftsman-style architecture continue to shine through. Specifically, the resource exhibits a gable roof with wide eave overhang, wood cladding, decorative beams, a partial width porch with tapered square columns, wood-frame sash windows, and decorative attic vents,.”

Interesting, the owner’s representative charged that its kit house origin didn’t enhance but actually weakened historical value. The “Historic Resource Research Report,” prepared by the architectural firm Brian F. Smith and Associates for the owners, asserted the Feigley House bears a telling resemblance to a “Crescent” kit home, one of the 120 models described in the Sears “HonorBilt Modern Homes” 1921 catalog. Thus, the home is “not architecturally significant,” according to Scott Moomjian, an attorney who has represented owners with historic properties, told the board. He continued, saying that even if the Feigley House had not been damaged by insect infestation, neglect, and weathering, it would still be nothing but a “common, undistinguished, and ordinary Craftsman home” that falls far short of being “considered an important architectural specimen.”

Neighbors seem to agree with Moomjian, which isn’t really surprising considering the condition of the house. Which would you rather live next door to, a brand new building or a decrepit old buildng?

The Feigley House’s status as a Sears home is not 100% certain, though, which possibly caused only three Board members to vote for historic designation, short of the required six votes. Personally I find kit homes to be intriguing, interesting, and important.

The Crescent, on page 29 of the 1921 catalog (between the Ardara and Martha Washington) and costing as little as $1,704, was described as being for “folks who like a touch of individuality with good taste.” The cost included “all the millwork, kitchen cupboard, flooring, shingles, siding, finishing lumber, building paper, eaves trough, downspout, roofing, sash weights, hardware, porch screens, painting material, lumber and lath.” Everything except “cement, brick and plaster.”

I found it interesting that the Sears Modern Homes plans were “passed upon by women experts.” “Architects and women advisors plan economy of space…. We plan the arrangement of the kitchen to save steps for the housewife.”

Ah, yes, the woman belongs in the home….

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Out & About—Christian Light MBC in Los Angeles

Out & About The World

Whenever I go traveling, I devise a travel plan to get me to my destination by a specific route. Sometimes, though, I find something interesting and unexpected along my route. Such was the case earlier this year when I set out for Fillmore, California, to go to the Fillmore & Western Railway’s Railroad Days Festival. It was the best railroading event I’ve ever been to. Highly recommended.

About halfway there, though, making my way along I-10 in stop-and-go traffic, I saw an interesting church off to the side. The area of town—South Central Los Angeles—generally is not considered inviting to white people like me, and the church had bars and plywood on the windows, but you know me. It’s all about history and photographs, and as my wise old grandmother told me in 1967 when my best friend drowned in the community swimming pool: “When it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go.”

Here’s the church:

Christian Light Mission Baptist Church los angeles framed

Christian Light Mission Baptist Church los angeles framed

Christian Light Mission Baptist Church los angeles framed

Christian Light Mission Baptist Church los angeles framed

The church and its grounds were not accessible due to fences and gates, but I did find the cornerstone near the front entrance:

Christian Light Mission Baptist Church los angeles framed

I know a J.S. Pope but he’s not a Reverend, and if he was head of that congregation in 1944, I’m pretty sure that he would no longer be living in 2017.

I’m familiar with the world’s religions but I had no idea what religion the Christian Light M.B.C. was, so off to Google. While I did not find the history of Christian Light M.B.C., I did find out that M.B.C. stands for Missionary Baptist Church. I’m familiar with the Southern Baptists, having grown up in Texas where the Southern Baptists are many in number, but I had no idea what a Missionary Baptist Church was, although I had my suspicions.

A Google search led me to gotquestions.org where I found this:

The Baptist movement has become significantly fragmented over the years, and there are various types of churches that use the label “Missionary Baptist” as part of their name. This article deals with the Missionary Baptist movement within the African-American community; it does not address other groups that may happen to use the name “Missionary Baptist.”

Most Baptist churches, including Missionary Baptists, believe and follow the essential tenets of Christianity. They hold to the inspiration and authority of the Bible, the deity of Christ, and salvation by grace through faith in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. Also, Missionary Baptists, like other Baptists, teach the autonomy of the local church and practice believer’s baptism by immersion. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the two ordinances of the church. Most Missionary Baptist churches view Sunday as the Christian Sabbath, in which no work or secular activities should be done. Many Missionary Baptist churches also call their pastor’s wife the “first lady” of the church.

Two of the largest groups of Missionary Baptists are the National Baptist Convention USA, with about 8 million members; and the National Baptist Convention of America, with a membership of about 5 million. Other African-American Baptist groups using the name “Missionary Baptist” include the Progressive National Baptist Convention and the National Missionary Baptist Convention.

The Missionary Baptist movement began in 1880, soon after the Civil War. At that time, there were many freed slaves in Baptist churches, and they felt the need to come together in worship and to fulfill the Great Commission. The former slaves formed the Foreign Mission Baptist Convention of the United States in 1880, the American National Baptist Convention in 1886, and the Baptist National Educational Convention in 1893. These three organizations united to form the National Baptist Convention in 1895. About 24 years later, a disagreement within the convention led to a split, and the National Baptist Convention of America separated from the National Baptist Convention USA.

Generally speaking, Missionary Baptist churches place an emphasis on Christian evangelism, promoting missions efforts at home and abroad; encourage Christian education; seek social justice and community involvement; and publish and distribute Sunday school material and other Christian literature. Missionary Baptists embrace their history and maintain a strong connection to the needs in their surrounding communities. As conventions (not denominations), Missionary Baptist groups do not have administrative or doctrinal control over their member churches; such matters are left up to each local church.

One phrase in all that text confirmed my initial thoughts on what a Missionary Baptist Church was: promoting missions efforts at home and abroad.

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Opinion—If I have to use it….

Opinion

Many decades ago in Tomball, Texas, I helped my uncle build a beautiful brick mailbox to match his brick house. A month later he called to tell me that the homeowners’ association told him that he would have to remove it and put a stick mailbox in its place to match all the other stick mailboxes in his rural subdivision. He was furious. I had no monkey in the circus but his experience did convince me that I would never live in a community that had an HOA.

I have plenty of HOA horror stories from my years in real estate….

Along with homeowners’ associations telling you what you can and cannot do to a property you own, sometimes the city gets involved, too, most of the time concerning zoning ordinances. No one wants to buy a beautiful home only to have a brothel built next door….

One of the different ways that the city can get involved is with historic properties. Here in San Diego County, if you buy a historic property and agree to keep it historic, you get a pretty good tax break. With real estate prices being so astronomical, a tax break on property taxes can be significant.

Recently, over in Coronado, the City of Coronado got upset at the owner of a historic property because she had replaced the old windows with modern dual-pane windows. The house currently looks like this:

Historic home in Coronado CA

Notice the windows. That white bar at the bottom of each window is the old, wooden window apron, usually indicating that the home had wooden windows at one point.

Aluminum window on an old historic home in Coronado CA

Now they are aluminum windows. The city is upset because the aluminum windows just don’t match the architecture of the home. Perhaps if she had installed white aluminum windows….

Actually, one can get aluminum windows that look like wood, but they are custom windows, so they are quite a bit more expensive than standard aluminum windows. The City has given her options but she’s still not happy because all of the options require her to remove these windows, which already have been installed and paid for….

Although the property tax breaks can be significant, I’m pretty much a modern guy when it comes to using things, so you’ll never find me buying something historic. If I have to use it rather than just admiring it, I own the latest and the greatest….

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