Lilli Ann part 4: short story

1950s Lilli Annette Diminutive suit, etsy • 1940s pink blouse, etsy

I'm short. At 5'4", modern clothes are almost always too tall for me, and I used to have to buy petites or adjust shoulders accordingly. While I haven't really had this problem with vintage clothing at all, sometimes if I see a petite in something vintage, I'll try it, because it might be more likely to fit me. When I found this suit on etsy, I was surprised that Lilli Ann made a petite line.

Lilli Annette Diminutive (petite) label in a 1950s suit.

I can find essentially zero information about it, like when it was produced and how many were in the line, but as far as I can tell, Lilli Annette suits seem to be fairly rare. I've only seen mine and two or three others, plus a couple of jackets. It seems as though the diminutive suits were not simply resized versions of the original, but new designs altogether. This suit fits marginally better than others from the same era from shoulder to waist, but really, my late 1950s non-diminutive suit fits better than this one does just because it's a smaller size. But if you're short, and you've tried unsuccessfully to wear a Lilli Ann, give the diminutive line a try. I noticed that the materials aren't quite as nice as the main tall-lady line - the wool feels a bit cheaper, and the lining is acetate instead of crepe or silk or satin like the others I have. 

I'm squinting because it was bright and I forgot to bring my sunglasses, not because I have a general disdain for everything.

I'm squinting because it was bright and I forgot to bring my sunglasses, not because I have a general disdain for everything.

And that's it for suit week and my four lovely Lilli Anns. 

welcome to suit week

Man, I love a good suit. Sharp, tailored, almost restrictive, a suit will force you to stand up straight and look as elegant or intimidating as possible. Think about Madeleine's gray suit in Vertigo. 


Now, I realize that this is actually Vera Miles, not Kim Novak. Miles was originally cast in the role but her pregnancy interfered. Still, it's a great view of the costume itself. Stiff, straight and tailored. Kim felt nowhere near as happy to see it as Vera looks here.

When Edith Head showed me that gray suit, I said, “Oh, my god, that looks like it would be very hard to act in.  It’s very confining.’  Then, when we had the first fitting of the dress, it was even worse and I said, ‘This is so restrictive.’ 

Ultimately, she found it worked to her advantage.

They made that suit very stiff.   You constantly had to hold your shoulders back and stand erect.  But, oh that was so perfect.  That suit helped me find the tools for playing the role. 

(Read the entire interview here). 

Madeleine's suit was designed by Edith Head, and it was not unlike the suit fashions of the time. I recently acquired a number of pretty incredible suits (the fact that they all came at once was something of a coincidence). I'm going to wear them all this week, just for fun. Here is the first one:

This is me trying to do my best New Look pose and not quite nailing it. An exquisite 1950s Lilli Ann suit. 1940s-style platform heels by Remix–sorry, our dog ate my 1950s pumps.

This is me trying to do my best New Look pose and not quite nailing it. An exquisite 1950s Lilli Ann suit. 1940s-style platform heels by Remix–sorry, our dog ate my 1950s pumps.

 I'm not typically a sucker for designer labels. I buy what I like, because I like it and it looks good on me, not because it's a known designer. Also, I can't really afford known designers. But I recently have become obsessed with Lilli Ann suits. Impeccably tailored and sometimes wildly inventive, a suit by Lilli Ann, particularly from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, is quite the coveted item. Even at the time, the label was synonymous with high quality, excellent fit, and signature style, like extravagant peplum jackets and tight pencil skirts. Adolph Schuman, a native San Franciscan and the son of a Hungarian Jewish delivery truck driver, started his clothing business in San Francisco's Chinatown (later the Mission district at 17th and Harrison) some time around 1934. Schuman and his first wife Lillian created the label as her namesake. After World War II, Schuman imported much of the fabric for his suits and coats from Europe. 

Schuman showed European weavers how to modernize their methods, then placed orders with six mills for their entire output during certain months. The success of the whole plan, he believed, would depend on three rules: 1) buy abroad only what can not be obtained in the U.S.; 2) buy only in areas where the cloth has been made by craftsmen for years (i.e., broadcloth in Normandy, worsteds in (northern France); 3) insist that mills pay at least 75¢ an hour to their employees. Under the plan, Schuman had imported $2,225,000 worth of European fabrics by May of 1953, creating steady employment for many European textile workers. Additionally the mills were able to provide Schuman with top quality cloth at $2 to $4 less a yard than the European wholesale price, meaning the Lilli Ann customer got a gorgeous suit or coat made of high quality hand loomed fabric. (Source)

The company's factory was also located in San Francisco, in the South of Market district, and employed hundreds of local workers, thus the business was critical not only to European textile mills, but to the city it called home. Schuman was the business brain, but not the designer. According to her obituary, Lillian Schuman herself was the company's first designer, though it seems fairly clear from the company's "Original by Jean" label used through 1943 that Jean Miller was the head designer. In 1961, she (or someone else lost to history) was followed by  Jeanne Taylor, who remained head designer until the company closed by 2000. I find it kind of baffling that there is so little information on Jean Miller, whose designs are now so sought-after and celebrated, or if there was an additional designer that I can't even find any information about (like perhaps some anonymous designs by Balenciaga?). Similarly, it's difficult to tell when or why certain labels were used. From what I can tell, the square Lilli Ann label

was used in the 1940s and early 1950s, and the Paris labels were probably used from at least 1957 into the 1960s (though I have also read that "Paris" was added to the labels as soon as "following WWII"). 

The label in the jacket I'm wearing above.

The label in the jacket I'm wearing above.

This is sort of a guess though, because I've seen suits from late 1950s ads with square labels, so it might be related to where the fabric came from. Honestly, I have no idea. I just know this suit is awesome and it was made before 1964, because it has the National Recovery Board label used from 1938 to 1964. It probably dates from 1957-1960, as the post-1960 lines started to get a mod influence. Whatever. On to the advertising!

Vogue, August 15, 1950. 

This is actually an ad for Talon, "the quality zipper" used in Lilli Ann suits, but it's still a great image. It's 1950, and it's fall, so it's the college issue. The copy reads 

"See how deftly Lilli Ann of San Francisco manipulates fabric to minimize your waist and hips, to magnify the soft lines of a feminine suit... to glorify your figure whether you wear size 10 or 20! Masterfully tailored throughout in worsted gabardine–with such nicety of detail as the supple Talon fastener that zips up the skirt placket so smoothly, closes so securely–thanks to its exclusive automatic lock. About $70."

Just so we're clear on how exclusive these suits were, "about $70" in 1950 was almost $700. Then, five years later, a decidedly more grown up tone to the art and the copy:

I know, my scanner sucks.

I know, my scanner sucks.

This is from Vogue, September 1955. Dorian Leigh, the model wearing the Lilli Ann suit here, was possibly the most oft-photographed in their ads. Copy says

"Fabric-of-France 'Bamboo', extravagant blend of mohair, silk and worsted woven in France for Lilli Ann... for this suit-of-the-season... Sleeves are pleated... buckles are hand-cut Austrian rhinestones... red, green, cognac, lido blue, banana... About one hundred dollars... At all stores where young and exciting fashions are being sold."

Again, "about one hundred dollars" in 1955 was almost $900. These were not everyday suits. I have gone through all my magazines and all the images of ads I could find online and haven't found any of my suits, but I'll keep looking. What will I wear tomorrow?


the house!

Finally. After more than four months of moving, painting, refinishing (twice), Bryan and I have sort of gotten to a point where it feels great to walk in the door. I'm breaking a lot of my color rules here (warm sofa next to cool walls, for example), but we really tried to do all this on a budget. The only new piece of furniture we bought is the small red loveseat at the Long Beach flea market for $100, and the living room rug was a $60 craigslist find. All the paint I bought from the mistint pile or mixed myself from what I already had. 

When we first looked at the house, it was covered in the same butter-colored paint and off-white carpet... everywhere. The first thing we did was rip up the carpet, a difficult and stressful process that involved sanding, putting down coats of polyurethane, and being really irritated with each other. It looked great until about a month's worth of foot traffic, canine (x4) and human (x2), scratched the finish so badly that we were peeling it off in strips. Eventually, we re-sanded the entire floor and put down two coats of oil and two coats of wax, and the result is more beautiful and (so far) durable than the shiny poly finish. 

Okay okay, enough chatter. Before:


and the same room after:


We had a slight battle of the dining tables here. Bryan and I both found dining tables years ago on craigslist, and we both refinished them ourselves, and we both liked ours better than the other. In the end, Bryan's table won, because it fit in the room and mine didn't.

Here's the bedroom before:


And while it's really difficult to get a good shot of this room because it's so small, here are two:


The kitchen doesn't look a whole lot different yet, but we did score this awesome 1930's stove off craigslist:


Eventually, we'll want to upgrade the flooring situation here, as well as the cabinets. The tile is either original or it's from the 40's, but either way we want to keep it. The bathrooms aren't really worth showing yet, and neither is the back den/office or the outside of the house (the previous owner had gardeners and it looked lush and wonderful, but we're too broke and have too many dogs so the flora has gone downhill quickly). Bryan is out back right now raking the leaves, which helps, but the poor grass just can't withstand sixteen paws giving it a beating every day. 

Now that we're pretty far removed from the house hunting and negotiating part, it feels good. It's great to have no regrets about how everything went down, and to genuinely feel like we got a wonderful house at a good price. The views from this neighborhood are really stunning, and rival those of mega-pricey Echo Park because yes, you can see downtown, but you can also see the ocean. And that feels good on any day.

Claycraft tile fireplace

claycraft-cottage-fireplace Slowly, and not at all surely, we're moving in. This has been complicated somewhat by getting our two dog families used to living together and several weekend events - family visiting, friends' wedding, oh, and, you know, getting engaged ourselves, and the mess of excitement and activity that comes along with that. It's only been two weeks and we already have a caterer, a venue, a dress, and a DJ.

What does this have to do with Claycraft tile? Nothing. But this tiny space around our fireplace is still the only area of the house that's clean enough to photograph.


Milo's really happy about it too. When we first looked at the house, we thought it might be Batchelder tile, because Batchelder is the only California fireplace tile maker in the early 20th century that we knew of. Turns out there were other tile companies firing quality at the same time. Claycraft was one of them. They were only around for a relatively short period of time - from 1921 to about 1939 (the last city directory reference I could find is in the 1939 directory, below).


Our tile is a cottage scene:



I don't know if this tile was stained over, or if it's just dirty. Apparently, it's supposed to look more like the version this other LA homeowner found when researching her own fireplace.

That's about all I can muster at the moment. I can't promise that this blog won't devolve into vintage wedding planning. Fair warning.

So you want to refinish a wood floor

I do have better pictures of this. But for now all I have available is what's on my iPhone because we haven't hooked up a computer yet. We haven't hooked up a computer yet because the future office is full of boxes, cables, boxes, and other unidentifiable miscellany. We haven't put this away yet because we work full time and somehow have to carry on with our lives until next weekend feeling like we live in a less severe episode of Hoarders. So, before we moved in any of this junk, I decided I was going to rip up the carpet and refinish the hardwood floors. I watched plenty of YouTube videos and read a few articles about refinishing hardwood floors and it seemed easy enough: get a machine to sand/screen the top layer of old finish off the floor, then clean it and apply a new finish. Wait for that to cure, and you're set.


What I didn't account for was the work required to get the floor ready for the machine (which, sorry This Old House, here in LA that'll cost you $40/day, not $25). There was a strip of wood nailed to the perimeter of the floor to hold the carpet in place, plus a hell of a lot of staples. This job alone took me two days with a prybar, a hammer, some pliers, and some swear words. I also found delightful things like this under the wretched carpet:


What the hell is that? Mold? Mold and old glue? The paint situation was bad enough, that some contractor in the 90's had willfully flung tasteless off-white paint across the otherwise salvageable parts of what has now become my floor, but now there were these wide swaths of gray and black, daring me to admit that I needed to hire a professional.

Eff that. Now, I have nothing against professionals. They're necessary and in some peoples' economies I'm sure they work out great. But at this time in my life, when we're hemhorraging money on the actual functional parts of this house, not to mention all the takeout we're eating because we can't scrape together a functioning kitchen between the two of us, it's absolutely out of the question. Plus I got to that single-minded point where one gets if they've already invested a lot of time and energy and money into a project and I was determined to do it myself. So I sanded.


And I finished.


The defeat I did face is that I just didn't have time to do the bedroom before we had to start moving in. But the living/dining room looks pretty good. It's nowhere near as good as if I had hired someone. But there are no more black or gray places, no more paint, no more black spots. I kind of like the weird scratches and light places; it makes me wonder how they got there and what stories the floor was holding under all that pile.

A casualty of this war was Milo, who I think may have scraped his paw on one of these horrid staples and had to go to the vet. Even then, he's pretty happy with everything.


Total cost: $280 ($100 probably avoidable) $160 for the sander, sandpaper and screens (I rented it too early and had to extend a day, and the sheets of sandpaper are really expensive) $60 for a gallon of Benjamin Moore wood floor finish plus supplies (brush, mask) $60 for Milo's exam and antibiotics

Moving sucks and I want it to be over. The end.

A few weeks ago, before the onus of moving was really upon us, I had a lot of smug ideas about how organized I was, how I was "basically done" packing and how I would probably be writing how-to posts about moving and how to make it go smoothly. Now that I'm in the shit, I realize that I didn't know anything about it, and I still have a lot of dumb things in my apartment, and a lot of dumb work to do that I would rather forego in favor of unpacking at the new house. But I can't, because I was dumb. Anyway. This is what our house looks like at night:


Our little tract is full of variations on this theme, sort of an English storybook revival minimalist traditional kind of cottage thing. Looking around the neighborhood, it seems that you could opt for a fireplace or no, front door on the side or in the middle, dormers pointy or cut off (sorry, I don't know the technical terms yet), or a host of other options offered by the Los Angeles Investment Company. Our house was built in 1924, but I think the kitchen and baths were redone sometime in the late 1940's or 50's.


20130831-215337.jpg Note the beige carpet in the first kitchen pic there. It factors in later.

One of my unexpectedly favorite features of the house is the bathtub in one of the weird bathrooms. The assessor's records list our house as a 3 bedroom 1 bath. We bought it as a 2 bedroom 2 bath with the second bedroom being an addition, so I can't imagine what's going on there. The bathrooms are small, so my unsubstantiated hunch is that it was a jack and jill situation and they were divided in the 1940's, but again, I'm dumb. Our bathtub is deep and old and is surrounded by layers of what may be wood and caulk. I don't know. It's weird.

20130831-220037.jpg If you're noticing a color story here, I would agree that it could best be described as something like "living in a cookie dough covered world" or "it's better in butter." EVERYTHING in the house is painted with many, many coats of sickly yellow or white paint. And, oddly, all the windows are painted shut. And there's no air conditioning. And it's 90 degrees outside at night. I mentioned that the bathtub is a favorite. I fill it with cold water and drink cold wine and write.

We quickly noticed this funny little gnome door in the hallway.

20130831-220638.jpg We opened it.

20130831-220706.jpg We have a claw foot tub.

This little door allows access to plumbing and dreams, of a bathroom with hex tile and pretty woodwork and open windows and a refinished claw foot bathtub, with a reclaimed wood caddy stretched across its width.

For now, though, I'm still moving.

Field Trip: Wells Antique Tile

wells-fieldtrip The kitchen in our new house appears to have been redone in the 1940's, along with the bathrooms. The white tile looks like it's in reasonably good shape, but there is one small corner piece missing. I wanted to see how easy this would be to replace, and it turns out: pretty easy.

The first stop in my quest was Wells Antique Tile in Echo Park. This place is basically wonderful. Packed full (in a tasteful way) of architectural salvage pieces like doors and hardware, as well as tiles of just about every kind, it's a veritable wonderland in which one can get lost for a solid 18-36 minutes. Being a Fiestaware nerd, I stood in front of this shining beacon for at least three of those minutes:


There are too many rare and expensive pieces in this case to call any of them out, so let's move on.

Here are some trim pieces:



and some other things I found beautiful:


Some Batchelder field tiles.

They also have doors (not outrageously priced, but maybe not as inexpensive as Silverlake Salvage) and hardware:




Ultimately, they didn't have the tile I needed, but the service was extremely friendly and the inventory is great. They referred me to Mortarless, which did have the piece I needed. Future post. You know, for after we actually move in.


Wells Antique Tile 2110 W Sunset Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90026 (213) 413-0558

Hours: Tue-Sat 11 am - 5:30 pm

Buying a house in a competitive market

Well, it's almost here. Just a few short months ago my sweetheart and I began searching for a home to buy in the greater Los Angeles area, and by some series of hard-won miracles we are astonishingly close to closing on an adorable 1924 cottage barely within the city limits. And when I say barely, I mean I could probably skip a rock down the street and hit Inglewood. But by god, we're doing it. And theoretically we will have the keys in two weeks. There is such a long list of things to be done right away that if I dwell on it too much, it almost sucks the fun out of it. Ripping up the carpets is priority one for me. After, of course, the termite riddance and maybe some roofing repair. I've also been writing and rewriting a moving guide, as though I have the expertise to expound on such matters. One thing I do feel I have some limited expertise on at this point is buying a house in LA in a tight market without a lot of money.

When we first started looking, we asked homeowner friends what they wished they had known before starting the process. Because every transaction is different, not a whole lot of their advice was relevant, but I'll do the same here, just because otherwise it feels like wasted knowledge. I'm no expert by any means, but here are a few of the things we've learned over the last few months.

Know your limits.

We knew up front that we didn't want to pay any more for a mortgage than we were already paying in rent, and our rent was below market. That severely limited our choices of where we could afford to buy to east LA, south LA, or north; we could afford some areas of Glassell Park, Montecito Heights, etc. And though we would love to be in a walkable neighborhood, we just couldn't afford it comfortably. So we took a bit of advice we got from friends who had been there: drive around an affordable area, and see how far you're willing to go and still feel safe. I believe they called it The Sketch-o-meter. Find the cheapest area you're comfy with and start your investment there.

Cast your net wide and be willing to compromise (if you're serious).

I have a few friends that are looking to buy right now, and they say they're being "really picky" and "taking it slowly." That is one approach, and probably one they can afford to take. The problem with that approach is that if you really want to be able to close a deal within six months, you have to be ready to act quickly and submit offers within one day of a property becoming available. We looked at a lot of houses and made offers on any that we felt we could live in, not just on houses we were in love with. The more offers you make, the more you increase your chances of getting an offer accepted. This might only be relevant to our particular situation, because we were looking to move in together, take advantage of lower interest rates, and enter the market for the first time without a large downpayment, so it was much more about getting it done than taking our time.

Be reasonable about offers.

This might only apply to the Los Angeles housing market right now, but it's really competitive out there. Here's basically how it works, as far as we could tell: a property new on the market will be listed at a certain number. If the property is at all desirable and the number is below perceived market value, that number is treated as an opening bid. Within 24 hours of going on the market, that property can receive anywhere from 2-20+ offers, ranging from reasonable to completely f'ing insane. There will usually be a day and time by which you'll submit your "highest and best" offer (meaning the most amount of money you'd be willing to pay for it), along with, possibly, a love letter to the seller about how much you love the house, plus a friendly headshot. No, I'm not kidding.

How much you offer is directly related to how much cash you have on hand and how much the house is actually worth. This might seem obvious, but it's difficult to keep the factors in perspective when you see a house you want and you are tempted to offer your maximum budget for it. There are a lot of cash buyers out there, and the more cash you have, the more likely you are to get a bid accepted. At first, we wondered why this was. Money is money, and the seller gets the money regardless of whether it's cash from the buyer or from the bank, right? Sort of. For example, let's say you fall in love with a house that is offered at $359k. Your budget is $400k, and you have $20k in cash for a downpayment. Looks totally affordable and well within your budget, so you offer $394k because you think it might be the highest offer, and therefore the best. You lose to someone who bids $380k but has $40k in cash, because if the house only appraises for $360k, they have enough to cover a small downpayment plus the difference in the appraisal price (the amount the bank is willing to fund) and the buyer's offer (what they are willing to pay). You can offer a crazy amount of money for a house, but the bank will only give you as much money as they think it's worth. The more cash, the less hassle for everyone involved.

You might have to do some work, and not the fun kind.

If you are like us and not swimming in buckets of cash, you might ask how you ever get an offer accepted. Early on we realized that we weren't going to be competitive in the new-on-the-market scenario unless we happened to make a personal connection with a seller that somewhat overrode their desire for a smooth and profitable transaction. So we started looking at homes that had fallen out of escrow once or twice and had been on the market for more than a few weeks. By default, there will be something wrong with these houses. They might need some foundation, plumbing, electrical, termite, or roof repair. Or, in our case, all five. But pursuing these properties offers an important advantage for the buyer, especially if there are no other offers on the table. We ended up getting our house for far less than the asking price because it needed so much work and hadn't been destroyed by a developer looking to turn a buck. So when we renovate, say, the bathrooms, we can restore the original clawfoot tub and put in tile flooring rather than have to rip out some awful generic crap first. But this is work that's quite far down the road - all those unfun things have to come first, and that was part of the tradeoff.

Be ready for anything.

This whole process has been incredibly stressful, I'll admit. But it would have been a lot less stressful for me, I think, if we had been more prepared to just go with it. A lot of unexpected things will happen during escrow, and by definition you can't prepare for them. I found it much more stressful and less useful to participate in "what if this happens" exercises, because the things that actually did happen were seemingly out of nowhere, and the things we were prepared for never happened. We were prepared to have to make a lot of repairs to qualify for FHA financing. Didn't happen. We lined up moving supplies and gave notice at our apartments in case the closing date happened on time, and the seller suddenly requested an additional three weeks, leaving us to scramble and renegotiate. This will apply just as much during the contractors/repairs phase, but shit will go wrong. Just go with it.

Better Homes & Gardens, June 1939

June-1939-Better-Homes-gardens In the aftermath of the pared-down looks of early 1900's arts & crafts and 1920's art deco, residential design of the 1930's began to get a little schizophrenic. Craftsman bungalows were still being built, streamlined art deco buildings were going up, and a trend toward less fussiness was growing. But so was the revival trend. In American home design in the 1930's, residences started to reference colonial, tudor, and cottage styles popular in early American and late English history, on a much smaller scale. This article/advertisement in the June 1939 Better Homes & Gardens magazine illustrates this transition, but with the lack of a front porch, which I find kind of interesting, as I placed the shift from front porch community to backyard isolation sometime after WWII. "Terraces are fine;" the copy proclaims, "but for the bug-bitten sections of America, a screened-in garden porch is finer." My favorite quote from the oddly sarcastic, reverse-psychology copy:

You're always up to date copying something two or three hundred years old, even if it is kind of a mess.

My sentiments exactly.

at home in the 1920's

As we languish in the purgatory that is escrow, I'm trying to stay positive. The fact that we even have the opportunity to buy in LA is kind of stunning, and I feel very fortunate to be in this position, stressful as it is. At this point, I guess we have about a 60/40 chance of closing successfully. The appraisal came in drastically below the list price, which means that the bank will only fund as much as the appraised value of the house. It remains to be seen whether or not the seller will be willing to lower the selling price that much, because we certainly don't have the cash/desire to make up the difference. So all I can do is wait, and proceed with packing up unused winter items and dreaming about new projects, just in case. The house was built in the 1920's, and try as I might, I have yet to find any comparable plans for it. It's quite small - it looks like it was originally a 2 bedroom though I struggle to see how that would be possible given the original footprint. The outside is sort of cottagey, sort of storybookish, but pretty subdued.

Minimal Traditional: The Non-Style

It seems as though most residential design of the 1920's was either art deco, arts & crafts, or fussy. This house is none of those things. There are no staircases, no elaborate moulding, no fine woodwork, very few built-ins. It just is. It's a middle class house built for a small middle class family in a quiet, middle class neighborhood. The original owner was (as far as I can tell) an accountant whose family emigrated from Norway, like my father's (yes, I'm a creep and looked them up on I've come to identify the style of the house as "minimal traditional," a transitional style combining elements of Revival styles (English Tudor, Cottage) and the pared down, streamlined approach of the 1920's. It's true that 1924 is a bit early for this, but it fits the description here almost perfectly. And while I love a house with character, I also love tofu. So the understated-ness of this one is appealing, as summarized here:

"Of the 20th century house styles, the Minimal Traditional is the most adaptable style to work with. It can be Mid-century Modern, classic cottage, or an edgy contemporary, without destroying its inherent character. Many were built as small houses with a tiny footprint of less than 1000 sq. ft. making it an ideal choice for 21st century sustainable design. It's like tofu ... you can do a lot with it."

If you're wondering at this point why I haven't posted a picture of the house, I guess it's superstition. Once I post a picture, if we don't get it, there will be that visual record out there of what wasn't. I'm afraid of jinxing it. I'm afraid that once we tell the world exactly what we want, the world will somehow be in a better position to take it away. Yes, this is silly. The universe doesn't care. And I don't care that it's silly. I'm not doing it. At least, not yet. So here are some basically kind of sort of plans that match pretty well, from Antique Home Style, an invaluable resource for anyone into old houses.

This one is very close, although sadly, we have no "nook."

This one is also very close, if the kitchen and dining alcove are rotated 90 degrees clockwise.

This one is the closest to the outside that I've seen, though still not a match. The existence of a breakfast nook in most of the plans contemporary to the house make me think that the current laundry room might have replaced such a feature when the kitchen was redone in the 1940's.

Also, something kind of fun I saw this week: a 1920's house lived in by people only slightly more eccentric than I, not updated in any way since 1932.


See the rest of the photos here, and try to ignore the inane content below it.

A city with a great online library

Escrow is that funny time between the proposal and the I do, when you're both pretty sure you know how things will go down but anything could go wrong. We fell in love with a house, a 1924 storybook/English/French/cottage sort of thing, and now someone is holding our money for us while we check out the house and the bank checks out us. I know that the house looks great from the outside, and the interior is beautiful, but I also know that the last potential buyers' offer failed because of their inspection. So we're prepared, and we're not going to give up that easily. As I nervously await our inspection tomorrow (each buyer is responsible for conducting their own inspection), I can't help but eat a lot and do a lot of research. Not about what the inspection might reveal in terms of foundation or plumbing issues, but what the internet can tell me about the house, the neighborhood, and its history. The LA public library. I can't even find my library card, and the resources I have access to on their website are stunning. The photo database is not so new, but its breadth and depth never cease to amaze me. In researching our (hopefully) new neighborhood, I came across a series of photos from 1938 showing off a nearby model home in View Park, near Windsor Hills in Los Angeles.

View Park model home

The home looks largely as it did in 1938, though the trees and the neighborhood has grown up around it.

Some more great shots of the interior:

A model poses inside the "Silver Monterey," a newly completed model home located at 5129 Escalon Avenue in View Park. She is turning on one of the two wall sconces mounted above the fireplace in the living room. A framed card on the mantel identifies all of the room's features: "Real fireplace with Colonial-type mantel, Hardwood of Bruce oak blocks, Venetian blinds, Modern electric light fixtures, Ample windows, New pattern wall paper, Ample electrical outlets, Vented floor furnace, Detailed splayed ceiling." During this open house, 6 framed cards were used to describe a total of eighty-eight outstanding qualities found throughout the home.

A model sits in the "breakfast nook" off of the kitchen inside the "Silver Monterey," a newly completed model home located at 5129 Escalon Avenue in View Park, an unincorporated community in Los Angeles County. The kitchen and seating area include ample storage, tiled countertops, modern lighting, a decorative linoleum floor, and numerous windows.

1930s kitchen

1930s bathroom

See the whole wonderful set here.

But as stimulating as the visuals are, the library isn't done there. I wanted to find out who lived in our potential house throughout the years. First I came across the LA Conservancy's page for researching your home's history. This was helpful, but required a lot of 20th century-style running around town to look at physical records (finding the tract maps is fun, though - you can follow their advice and find your own online). Somehow I discovered that the LAPL has digitized city directories from 1909 to 1987. If you aren't immediately aware of the import of this, it means that you can search by name, occupation, or street address to find almost anyone in the city of Los Angeles in the early part of the 20th century. Coverage drops sharply after the 1960s, but the really interesting stuff is in the 20's and 30's anyway. Obviously, some people chose not to be listed, and sometimes occupations, first names, and street names are abbreviated. You can go ahead and try to search for a full street address, i.e. "4726 Fake" (leave off the ave or st), or if you aren't getting any results you can try for "h4726" or "r4726." The h and r designation is for owning vs. renting. The street directories are a bit different; you just search for the street name and the numbers are listed out. If you get a 500 error, just reload and it should come up. You can find out all kinds of fascinating things, like where Max Factor lived

Max Factor lived at 432 S. Boyle in the 1930s.

or that Marilyn Monroe's mother's first husband, Jasper Baker, was a meat cutter in Los Angeles before taking their kids back to Kentucky.


The address listed is somewhat confusing, as it appears to be Pershing Square, which has always been owned by the city of Los Angeles. But clearly, if you're researching a home or apartment in LA, this is an invaluable resource. I was able to trace the history of almost every home we made an offer on, and even find out who lived in my apartment in the 50's and 60's. If you're an LA history nerd like me, block out a few hours to explore these virtual pages.

I love LA: the 1930's

My sweetheart and I are looking for a house. To buy. In Los Angeles. Yes, in this market. We know. But we're patient, and we're ready, and it doesn't really matter if it would have been a better investment a year ago, because we weren't ready then. If you're unfamiliar with the real estate market in LA, it's a little like applying for college, except the other applicants might be willing and able to pay more than you, and they only admit one student. And you have 24 hours to apply. It's pretty stressful, but it's afforded me another excuse to dig into the history of our enchanting city. I've lived here for over ten years, and it still startles me when I come across areas of LA I've never seen. And being a history nerd, the first thing I do is see what they looked like during one of my favorite aesthetic periods, the 1930's and 40's. Here are some after and before greatest hits from my current street, Beverly Boulevard. Auto body shop where Beverly Boulevard and Silver Lake split. I drive by this almost every day and had no idea it had been there since the 1930's.

Aerial view of an early "mini mall" at 3649 Beverly Boulevard, consisting of Barkies Sandwich Shops, which features a puppy's head on the roof and paws by the entrance. Also shown are the Tip-Top Drive in Market and a bodyshop.

I find this absolutely fascinating. This building on the right has basically always been an auto body shop. And you can still see a bit of the original archway behind the Matthew Perry billboard signpost. Here's another one:

Looking across the street towards an Art deco style commercial building at 8360 Beverly Boulevard containing the De Luxe Super Market and General Cleaners. The sign mounted on the supermarket's roof advertises White King Soap, produced by the Los Angeles Soap Company.

We're looking to move a bit further south, to the other side of the 10, both for its affordability and its historical interest.

Opening of the Ralphs Market at Exposition and Crenshaw. This was one of the "new design" markets--quite different from what super markets had looked like prior to this time. This was one of the highest volume markets ever operated by Ralphs. Today, the local Ralphs sits further south, at Rodeo and Crenshaw, and this location is home to a typical strip mall.

Eighth Avenue between 43rd Place and Garthwaite Avenue. The trees, how they grow!

The same row of apartment buildings on 8th Avenue, ca. 1929.

I wish I had a "before" picture for this one.

Signage was so much more sophisticated then.

drafting table

I've had this for a while, but I don't think I've posted it. Found at the PCC flea market for a grand total of $80, this is an incredibly cool drafting table from the estate of an architect in Whittier or somewhere like that out to the eastern netherworlds. Inside we found old blueprints, pencils, and the beginnings of a family tree he was working on. This photo is a reject from this year's series of photos that I took for the Apartment Therapy Small Cool contest, which I entered again, but I have very little confidence I'll get posted.


The little white thing underneath is an antique toy, a metal refrigerator that I played with as a kid, as did my mother (Mom, correct me if I'm wrong on that, I think it was your aunt's too? Anyway, it's neat).

more on the road

ontheroad Finally got the chance to edit down some of the photos from the magnificent road trip earlier this month. Sunshine and good friends in Ohio, snow in Kansas and Colorado, and a tiny log cabin in Utah.









And some lovely details from our friends' wedding at the end of the trip:



On the road


I'm on a road trip, driving from the saturated air of the eastern midwest to the arid and rocky California desert. I love this drive, the way the earth kind of coddles you at first with lush rolling hills and gradually becomes violent, rocks suddenly jutting out of its surface. Originally the intent was to stop at all kinds of odd thrift stores and museums, but weather and a desire to see friends and family along the way made other stops sort of limited. I did, however, manage to collect a few bits of inspiration along the way.