An Anaheim resident just north of downtown wanted new house siding because of a few bad spots in his redwood frame. He was surprised how much it upset his history-minded neighbors. The redwood, they said, reflects the architecture of the 1920s,when the house was built.
Don’t modernize, they said; restore. Then they showed him how.
His neighbors had helped establish the Anaheim Colony Historic District just four years ago. They want their vintage homes to reflect the thriving Anaheim of the decades just after the turn of the century. They’re stripping plaster, redoing roofs and planting Washingtonian and Queen Anne palms popular in that era. They’re even bringing back old-fashioned street lamps,
to match the original ones now found only on North Clementine Street.
And, when necessary, they’re using their newfound political clout to help protect their spruced-up neighborhood.
Many of the colony’s leaders are opposed to the CenterLine light rail project, whose cars would trundle through the heart of the city, possibly down Harbor Boulevard. With so much community opposition, however, county transportation officials now are saying they may back off plans to run the line as far north as downtown Anaheim.
“The CenterLine would be noisy, a distraction, and won’t accomplish what it’s supposed to,” said Alone Larsen, a leader in the historic district. “It’s counterproductive to what we’re trying to do here.”
What district activists want to do is preserve their city’s heritage, at least what they view as the best parts of it. The district’s boundaries are North, South, East and West streets, the same ones laid out when the colony was settled by German winemakers in 1857.
About 25,000 people live there now. Within the boundaries are more than 1,100 homes built during the first quarter of the 20th century. Porches, lots of fireplaces and huge windows were popular in that era.
“We’re just passing through,” said Megan Shigo, whose North Clementine home was built in 1921. “We want to replicate the original to pass on to the next owners.”
Micky and Mitchell Caldwell, for example, live in a six-bedroom Mission Craftsman house on Broadway, built in 1912, that they’ve been restoring for 17 years. When they moved in, the roof was flat. But they found a picture of their house at the Anaheim Museum showing that it had a steeply arched roof with parapet peaks. They learned that the house once sat on an 85-acre walnut farm farther east, and was about to be torn down for new development.
A resident named Nathaniel Green bought the house to save it and had it moved to Broadway in the middle of the night. But he had to flatten the roof to get the house under power lines during the move.
The Caldwells, determined to preserve its history, have had the pitched roof restored. “All this restoration is contagious,” Micky Caldwell said. “Even people here without homes are improving their lots, because they see their neighbors doing it.” An added benefit, say many residents of historic homes, is watching their property values rise.
Ron Eastman, who has lived with his wife, Gale, in a 1924 home on Illinois Street for 10 years, says hardly a day goes by that they don’t get an unsolicited call from a real estate agent. “It’s really amazing,” he said. “They ask if we’re interested in selling;
we always say no. But we never got these calls before.” The Eastmans say their “French eclectic” home is unique in the district.
They should know. Gale Eastman, working for the city’s historic preservation office, has photographed every home of historic significance in the district -1,130, by her count.
Like most of the others with older homes, the Eastmans spend much of their time trying to recapture its original architecture.
“We all call ourselves old-house people,” Gale Eastman said. “You either love old houses or you don’t; there’s no in-between.”
Not that the old-house lovers got everything they wanted.
When they first asked the city for historic district protection, many of them wanted rules that would prevent homeowners from destroying or covering up original architecture. But they agreed to compromise. Now they can “recommend” approaches to these homeowners. The only rule is this: Anyone who wants to demolish a historic home to build a new one must post a 90-day notice, to give others a chance to buy it.
The activists keep watch for any threat of destruction. One homeowner who wanted to renovate his exterior discovered that they had gone to City Hall to determine whether he had the necessary permits. When he didn’t, that gave them time to persuade him to take his stucco back to Home Depot and get his money back.
Not everything about the past is worth preserving, however. In the original colony, dominated by German immigrants, Chinese residents were encouraged to stay to themselves on one street. Latinos, their children forced to attend segregated schools outside the colony, tended to live in the northeast quadrant, to be closer to their schools.
Today’s Colony is much more diverse. Residents say creating the historic district has brought people of varying cultures together. The demographics are changing in another way: More young couples are moving in.
Megan and Tim Shigo, for example, said a fixer-upper was all they could afford when they bought a historic home four years ago.
“There were five families living in our house at the time,” she said. “It was a disaster. We’ve worked hard to take it back to its original beauty.”
The residents now have another bond: With few exceptions, they don’t want another rail line in their midst. Amtrak and a separate freight line already cut across parts of the district, Gale Eastman said. “We don’t want a third line.”
Word that the county transportation agency may not build the rail line as far north as the colony is welcome news to residents, but it isn’t enough to satisfy them.
They realize how organized we are, and how much we’re willing to fight to preserve what we have.”