HISTORIC PRESERVATION

On San Pasqual Street in Pasadena, in the newly minted Rose Villa-Oakdale Historic District, lies a stately 1928 Mediterranean Renaissance Revival home that has been lived in by only three families. Thoughtfully restored over the course of the last five years with an emphasis on historic preservation, it is a testament to what can be achieved when a home is lovingly created and cared for over generations.

The six-bedroom, five-bathroom, 5,045-square-foot house was originally built by Edmund A. Gray and his wife, Loretta, for them and their three sons: Laurence, Kenneth and Edmund Jr. The senior Edmund had experienced considerable success after founding the Edmund A. Gray Company in 1910, which became the largest pipe nipple (a short piece of pipe used to connect other fittings) manufacturer in the Western United States. The business still exists today in downtown Los Angeles and is run by members of the third and fourth generations of the Gray family.

To design their family home, Edmund hired two fresh-faced University of Southern California architecture students, Frank Green and Frederick Hageman, to take on the massive project in 1927. Green had graduated that year and Hageman was still in school (he graduated in 1928 with a bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering). It was certainly a leap of faith for all parties involved. The total cost of design and construction amounted to $17,500 at the time. 

The careful planning and attention to detail are evident when perusing the original design specifications for the residence. Every space was planned down to the most minute of elements, with precise product descriptions and measurements.

The highest quality materials were used in the construction of the home. The wrought iron work was exquisite and abundant—from the stunning staircase railing to the decorative light fixtures in the interior and exterior of the house to the intricate door hardware. Gladding, McBean tile was installed throughout the structure in the entry hall, the library, and on outdoor patios. There was also a Batchelder fountain placed in the garden.

There were thoughtful design details incorporated throughout the house to increase the comfort of its inhabitants. For instance, the home did not have air conditioning, as it was not available in private residences at the time of construction. To keep the house cool during the hot summer months it was built out of concrete block, then marketed as the latest technology to achieve this end, and exterior shutters were installed that could be closed to block the heat from the morning sun. Additionally, Green and Hageman designed the window locations to maximize cross ventilation from cool mountain breezes in the evening. Other innovations focused on laundry. A laundry chute was built from the sleeping porch off the master bedroom to the area beside the laundry room. An exterior staircase near the laundry room was installed that enabled the maid to bring the clean laundry up to the bedrooms without disturbing the residents.

The Gray family spent over 40 years in the home, selling it after Edmund Sr.’s passing in 1969. It was purchased by William “Bob” Thomas Hartfield and his wife Mary “Teresa” Carter Hartfield, who lived in the house for the next 45 years. Teresa reportedly wanted a traditional Colonial-style house but couldn’t argue with the purchase of the home given that the family needed more space for its nine children. With so many Hartfield children, it is unsurprising that the home is still known to many in the community today as “the Hartfield house.”

While the Hartfields made some changes to the property, such as planting a citrus orchard in the back yard and bricking in some of the garden paths, the house remained largely original over the years. Whenever there was a change made inside the home, the architectural elements that were removed were kept. For instance, when the doorway from the dining room to the breakfast room was closed off to create wall space for a dining room sideboard, the mahogany door was carefully stored in the basement. This also occurred when sconces were taken down in the living room to create wall space for artwork.  

When the home was put on the market in 2014, it immediately caught the attention of Brooke Abercrombie and Chris Wilson. The couple had toured countless houses in their search for a historic home for themselves and two daughters, but this was the first one that was almost entirely original and had two bedrooms of equal size for their girls. They had a good feeling about the home, which was reaffirmed after they purchased it and were given a walkthrough of the property by four of the Hartfield children. The Hartfield children told stories about growing up in the house and provided special insights (like which was the “good” grapefruit tree in the orchard) and explanations for certain things being the way they were (like the laundry chute being boarded up because the boys used it as a slide and Teresa wanted to prevent further mischief).

“It’s a house filled with happy family memories,” Abercrombie said.

With the house being 86 years old, the couple knew it would need some work. The “Do Not Turn On” sign wrapped around the master bathroom faucets was fair warning. But like most new owners who fall in love with a house, they underestimated how long it would take to make the necessary repairs.

“The good news—that it was almost entirely original—was also the bad news,” Abercrombie said with a laugh. 

For instance, the heating, plumbing and electrical systems all needed to be upgraded. Once walls were opened up, there were also places where undetected dry rot had occurred that needed to be fixed.

“We didn’t start out as preservationists, but we saw so many 1920s houses with bad remodels from the sixties and seventies. Our goal was to update the mechanical systems but keep the house the way it looked when we bought it,” Abercrombie said. “We wanted people who visited to say, ‘Wow, aren’t you lucky that you found an old house in such good condition!’”

Abercrombie and Wilson discovered that Pasadena has tremendous resources for homeowners who want to restore an older home. Through the vendor list on Pasadena Heritage’s website they found Lisa Henderson of Harvest Architecture in South Pasadena, and from there identified other craftspeople to help restore the house. Scouring through old product catalogs and visiting numerous open houses of historic homes helped to fill in missing pieces of various historical details, such as exactly how the pulley system on the 1920s curtain rods functioned.

After years of work, visitors are now transported back to a different time upon entering the stately home through its grand wooden doors. The tiled floors have been restored and waxed by a specialist and the original wrought iron staircase railing and light fixtures pay tribute to craftsmanship of a bygone era.

A quaint telephone closet with mahogany paneling is tucked away off the foyer. Across from it, a small powder room under the stairs still has the original 1920s sink and toilet.

To the right of the foyer lies the inviting living room, anchored by a grand fireplace with a wrought iron screen that replicates the delicate flower pattern on the original sconces and curtain rods that have been restored and reinstalled. Refinished dark oak floors run the length of the room and lead to French doors at the far end that open onto a charming courtyard with a comfortable seating area on a patio made of Gladding, McBean tile and a newly added lion head wall fountain.

Behind the living room is a stately library with dark wood-beamed ceilings. A paneled mahogany bookcase flanks a delicately bricked fireplace. The four sets of French doors in the room had been painted white over time but were restored back to their original finish with considerable effort. A large oriental rug covers the original terra cotta tile floor, giving the room a warm, nostalgic feel.

A large dining room can be entered to the left of the foyer. As a nod to the time period of the house, the homeowners had Lisa Henderson create a butler’s pantry, an area traditionally located between a kitchen and dining room that was used for staging food. To make space, she removed what was originally the maid’s room closet and part of a mudroom. Local craftsmen built a butler’s pantry that closely matches what a 1928 butler’s pantry would have looked like, including a solid mahogany curved backsplash and upper cabinets with glass doors. A spectacular 1920s German silver sink from a home in Madison Heights that was found on Craigslist was also installed to complete the look.

The kitchen, while new, was designed to fit with the style of the home. The light and open space features a dark wood island to mimic other wood elements found throughout the house, white marble countertops and period-appropriate replica light fixtures and hardware.

Off of the expansive kitchen, there is a bathroom and two charming rooms where the maid and cook lived. A separate chauffeur’s quarters, a necessity at the time the house was built in order to prevent any potential untoward behavior between the domestic staff, is located off the garage. It has been transformed into a wonderfully efficient dwelling with cabinetry and details that make the small space feel much bigger than it actually is.

On the second floor, the four bedrooms—one of which has been turned into a music/television room—remain largely unchanged from how they would have looked when the home was built, a result of diligent restoration.  It is the bathrooms, however, that received the most attention in order to address dry rot issues that were not apparent until the walls were opened. All of the bathrooms were tiled using new tile in vintage colors, copying the original patterns found in each bathroom. New vintage-looking water-wise toilets were installed. And for one bathroom, Skip Willett of Architectural Details helped track down and restore a 1928 Standard Plumbing pedestal sink and faucet.

The spectacular master bathroom is a case study of the level of care and attention to detail put into the renovation.

“It was our sixth and last tile bathroom, so it was the beneficiary of everything we had learned over the previous four years,” Abercrombie said.

One lesson was that new tile is all perfect, which is a problem when trying to recreate a vintage look, as 1920s tile was handmade and had subtle variations in color. The owners therefore purchased different batches of kiwi green field tile as well as some seconds (tiles that failed to meet the color tolerances) from B&W Tile Co. in Gardena and had them mixed together to create a patinated appearance. Accent tiles were sourced from three additional suppliers to complete the vintage look. The black box cap tile, manufactured to 1920s specifications, came from Heritage Tile. The decorative tile liner, a copy of a tile from a bathroom in Hancock Park, was recreated by Mission Tile West in South Pasadena. And the 1920s ventilator tiles in the shower (the tiles that hide the shower fan) came from Wells Tile in Los Angeles, a company specializing in antique tile. 

Another lesson was to use what already existed in the house. The master bathroom originally only had one pedestal sink and the homeowners wanted two. They were able to take an identical sink from another bathroom in the home to create a matching set and had both carefully restored and re-chromed to create a unified look.

Finally, the homeowners knew where to source vintage and vintage-looking hardware and fixtures. Various light fixtures, knobs, and toilet paper roll holders were all bought from eBay. An exposed thermostatic valve shower and heated towel bar came from George’s Pipe & Plumbing Supply in Pasadena. 

The outside of the home, which is situated on over three-quarters of an acre with multiple courtyards, also received a thoughtful renovation by Nord Eriksson of EPTDesign. Drawing on an extensive knowledge of Italian garden design, Eriksson enhanced the flow of the outdoor spaces, adding gates to previously walled courtyards. He retained the original decomposed granite driveway and the mature trees and camelias but redesigned the remainder of the front yard for drought tolerance. The clever addition of a fountain, aligned on the same axis as the original Batchelder fountain in the back yard, increased charm while dramatically reducing the size of the lawn.  A path of salvaged 1926 Dimmick stones was added to lead visitors from the street to the front door. A new fence and hedge were also installed to create more privacy.

The back patio of the home saw the addition of Dimmick stones handcrafted by Bob Cook, which have a delicate pattern from burlap they were pressed with while being made. A large lawn flanked by hedges leads to the gorgeous original wall fountain. To the left of the fountain area is the mature orchard planted by Bob Hartfield replete with kumquat, lemon, lime, grapefruit, Valencia orange and tangerine trees. To the right is what was formerly the tennis court, which was removed to create room for a large vegetable garden.

There is also an area in the back yard that has pallets of old bricks and roof tiles. Much like their predecessors, the current owners believe in preserving historical components for the next generation.

Now that the extensive historic renovation is over, they have landmarked the home as the “Edmund A. Gray House” and hope to be able to live in it as long as the previous two families.

“I think preserving our architecture makes our neighborhoods so charming and special,” Abercrombie said. “We’re a community that values history.”