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Historic Downey House to Be Used as Museum

July 09, 1987|RICHARD HOLGUIN | Times Staff Writer

DOWNEY — After passing a century on the city's busiest boulevard, a small and weather-beaten house last week was loaded onto a truck and moved to a nearby park, where it will be restored and used as a historical museum.

The Downey Historical Society will rely on old photographs to guide the restoration of the 20-by-25-foot Dismukes house, which has been moved to Apollo Park in the southwest part of the city.

The Historical Society plans to offer public tours of the wood-frame house, and Downey elementary schools will use it to teach students city history, said John Vincent, president of the Historical Society.

"The word I got from the experts is that it's in remarkably good condition for its age. There's little termite damage," Vincent said. "I envision it taking a couple of years to get it really in shape for viewing, but I would hope it'll be less than that."

The move cost the city and the Historical Society $9,975, according to Vincent and city officials.

Edwin Price Dismukes, a nurseryman and one of Downey's pioneers, built the house for his wife and his family in 1887 on what is now the northeast corner of Firestone and Paramount boulevards. In the 1920s, it was moved across the street, where it remained for more than 65 years.

"They probably had to move it (originally) as a result of street widening," Vincent said.

The Dismukes house looked increasingly out of place as horse-drawn buggies gave way to horseless carriages and what was once a dirt road was transformed into the main artery running through Downey's modern commercial district. The house passed through a succession of owners; in recent years, it was used as a doll hospital and for storage.

Last summer, the house was to be demolished to make way for a parking lot, but the Historical Society and former owner Robert Kiskadden asked the City Council to help save the old structure. For his part, Kiskadden donated the house to the Historical Society.

One of the Dismukes children, Margaret Dismukes, an 84-year-old resident of Apple Valley, wrote to the City Council in support of the relocation.

The City Council decided to contribute $5,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds to help pay for the move. The remainder was paid by the Historical Society, which has set aside another $5,000 to begin restoring the house to vintage condition, said Joyce Lawrence, a former president of the Historical Society who led the campaign to save the Dismukes house.

The citizens group had initially raised the $10,000 to buy another Downey landmark--the Rives Mansion on Paramount Boulevard and 3rd Street. The mansion was built by Superior Court Judge James C. Rives in 1910 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

But the group was unable to raise enough money to buy the mansion, which sold in 1984 to a private party for $440,000.

Although a final decision has not been made, Vincent said it is likely a walkway will be built around the house. The building's historical displays will be viewed through the windows. The Historical Society is seeking donations of money, materials and labor to fuel the restoration.

"It doesn't look like much," Vincent said. "But it's one of the last remaining buildings of its era."

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