Saturday, October 16, 2004

Living History

Apologies in advance; this is likely a long, rambling post. But it's an interesting story -- at least, it is for me.

Our house is, we like to think, distinctive in an unassuming way. It's on a street made up largely of what I think of as foursquare homes. And all of those houses tend to look the same; heck, they often even end up with the same two-tone exterior color scheme. Anyway, ours is different; it's got some features of craftsman homes and bungalows, but it really doesn't look quite like any other houses I've seen.

Kristi has long had an interest in the history of the house. We talked about doing a title search to get a list of past owners, try to find out something about the builder, etc. All we really knew is that it was built in 1921, and a few colorful anecdotes about the last residents before us.

A couple of weeks ago, just a few days after Kristi raised the subject of the house's history again, she got a phone call from a local architectural historian, Paul Larson. Paul wanted to feature our house on a tour! He arranged to visit us on the following Saturday at noon to see the interior and discuss it.

It seems that our house was among the first designed and built by a local architect/builder, Jay Axelrod. According to Paul, Axelrod actually was the first resident; he built it for himself. Later he would be responsible for introducing the bungalow court to the Twin Cities. Unfortunately, his business would fail in the Depression, and he disappeared from history in the early 1930s. Paul was going to be leading a tour of Axelrod buildings, and wanted ours to be the first.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks. It's Friday, the day before the tour comes through. Is Kristi frantically cleaning the house? No, actually. She's painting the kitchen. Have I mentioned that Kristi is crazy? Anyway, Kristi learns a valuable life lesson: never paint the kitchen without finding out first where the cats are.

After I caught Ram and, with Kristi's help, de-painted her, Kristi continued with her insane kitchen-painting obsession.

Saturday morning came the frantic housecleaning. Kristi learned another valuable life lesson: no matter how careful you think you'll be, or how little of the room you're painting, cleanup is easier if you use a dropcloth. There were paint droplets everywhere in the kitchen.

Anyway -- at 1:45, the tour arrived, complete with tour bus. About 25 people in all. They crowded into our little living room/dining room area (overflowing into the freshly-painted kitchen) to hear Paul talk about Jay Axelrod's stylistic choices and design features. The "tourists" were apparently largely involved in businesses related to remodeling/refurbishing, though there were doubtless some who were just interested in getting a look at other people's houses. One of them was clearly an aficianado; he actually has a booklet or brochure published by Axelrod's company, featuring the plan for our house (and possibly pictures); he said he'd bring it over someday. (He called this evening; he's coming over Monday night with the goods.)

After the short lecture, they poked around the entire first floor, complimenting various original features -- as well as things we'd done, such as the bathroom remodel). They also complimented Rambis several times; I refrained from telling them about her fingerpainting experiments of the night before. It was an odd experience, having a large crowd poking around our small house taking pictures of arches and benches and bookshelves. It's suddenly like we live in a museum piece.

I'm going to try to convince Kristi that the dustbunnies may well be authentic period dustbunnies. Wish me luck.

There's actually a whole other half of this story -- unrelated, but intertwined. Pertains to those colorful previous residents I mentioned earlier. I'll save that one for later.