Today in Anaheim, 84 years of history goes on sale.
The Frederick A. Backs house--a vintage 1902 wood-frame house fitted with lace-like woodwork in the parlor, delicate columns along a patio and a wine cellar in the basement--is being sold by its owner, Andrew Deneau.
But whether the Edwardian-style house, listed in the National Registry of Historic Places, can survive an urban renewal push occurring in its downtown Anaheim neighborhood is another question.
Built by German settlers Frederick and Louise Backs in 1902 on the lot where they built their first home in the 1870s, it is now the last surviving structure on the block at Anaheim Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue. Behind a protective cover of trees, the Backs' house rises like a white ghost in the barren dirt-covered block.
Deneau, an independent consultant on preservation projects, bought the home in 1973 from Frances Backs, a daughter of one of the earliest German immigrant families in Anaheim.
At the time, the house was "the biggest toy I'd ever had," said Deneau.
But upkeep of the five-bedroom home has become too great a responsibility, said Deneau, who lives alone and frequently travels out of town on business. And although he has some fears for the building's future, Deneau said he decided it was time to sell the property, which includes a carriage house.
A few years ago, the homes of his neighbors along North Claudina Street were razed by the city to make room for the widening of Anaheim Boulevard and realignment of Lincoln Avenue. The city also has leveled several commercial buildings along the boulevard.
Although there has been no offer, Rob Zur Schmiede, a project planner for the Anaheim Community Redevelopment Commission, admits that if the city acquired Deneau's property, an empty lot "would make for a much better development parcel."
Zur Schmiede said the Backs house, which sits in the northeast corner of an 18,300-square-foot lot, puts building constraints on developers who might be interested in purchasing the lot.
'What's the Story?'
He said developers who are interested in the one-acre lot often ask him, "Hey, what's the story on this house?"
Deneau said he does not object to a commercial buyer, but hopes that anyone who bought the property would "appreciate and keep up the house." An ideal buyer, he said, would be "somebody who has a little vision."
Deneau called the house a "flight of fantasy" for Louise Werder Backs, a German immigrant who inherited some money in her later years and decided to build a large, luxurious home, even though only two of her seven children were still living at home.
He had an appreciation for the house long before he bought it because he was raised across the street and knew two daughters of the original owners.
Her husband was Ferdinand A. Backs, also a German immigrant and a prominent furniture store owner in Anaheim at the turn of the century. Although the German spelling of the name is Baex or Bax, the family used the anglicized Backs. Even so, signs bearing the German spelling of the name hang on the house.
Deneau would not disclose his asking price for the historic home, but he offered two hints. In 1973, he bought the house for $45,000, which at the time was "enough money to buy the best custom-built home on the golf course in Anaheim Hills," he said. And in 1902, Mrs. Backs spent $11,000 building the lavishly appointed house, when homes of comparable size were usually constructed for about $600.
Inside, spool-and-spindle woodwork graces the entryway to the front staircase and parlor. An original Steuben glass fixture, which reflects purples and blues against gold-hued glass, hangs in the dining room. And a portrait of Herr Baex hangs prominently along the staircase.
It Has Two Kitchens
The house also has two kitchens. One, called the summer kitchen, runs along the back of the house and is designed to keep the heat away from the other rooms.
Before he bought the rambling old house, Deneau said, he would come home from college on visits and hear "sad tales about Frances Backs, alone in the big, old house, and her failing health." She was 76 when he bought it from her.
"You can imagine if it's too much work for a 37-year-old man to keep up, how hard it was for a 76-year-old lady," he said.
As a preservationist by profession, Deneau said he believes important historic sites should be preserved. And Anaheim, as one of Orange County's oldest cities, has a special responsibility to do so, he said.
"To me, it's human nature to want to identify with roots," Deneau said. "If you don't have your own, then with somebody else's, (you) know you have a spot in the continuum."