Other than the plywood nailed over the gaping hole where the French doors used to be, the exterior of the grand old Colonial Revival home on Birch Street looks almost the same as it did four years ago.
Back then, 700 admiring visitors strolled through the house and similar historic homes in Santa Ana's Wilshire Square neighborhood.
But few who took that tour would recognize the interior of the 70-year-old, single-story house today. The floors are strewn with litter, and the cherrywood molding that once adorned the walls is but splintered remains.
The mantles from the two tiled fireplaces are missing, as are the thick wood-and-glass sliding doors that separated the living room and dining room.
"Nobody's sure why it all happened, but the place is a wreck now," said neighbor and realtor Irma P. Jauregui, as she walked through the home at 1102 Birch St. "It's one big mystery."
While the vandals who scarred the house last month are unknown, the same coalition of neighbors that organizes the area's annual home tours is determined to restore the house's beauty. Members of the Wilshire Square Neighborhood Assn., who usually busy themselves with newsletters and socials, are hoping to buy and refurbish the house with the assistance of city government.
Lisa Bist, who has been leading the association's effort, said six couples within the group have offered to chip in $1,000 each to purchase the house, a sum city officials said they might be able to augment with low-interest loans. If the sale goes through, other area residents have volunteered their labor to fix up the house. Bist estimated that the house, refurbished, would be worth about $195,000.
"The goal would be to get it back in shape, put it on the market and get enough for it so everyone can break even," said Bist, who also noted that a tangle of two mortgages and three trust deeds have to be sorted out. "No one's going to make any money on this, that's for sure. We just want to preserve what the home once was."
To do that, Bist said, the neighbors are checking area auction houses and antique stores to try to find the items taken from the home, which also included eight heavy, wood doors and the small glass doors that fit into the built-in bookcases. Some damage was done to one of the house's three Murphy beds.
"These are items you can't just find at Home Depot," said Bist, who works as a project leader for a computer systems company. "But it's worth the effort. We're very proud of the homes here. That's why we have the tour."
Most of the 600 houses in the quiet, shady neighborhood were built during the 1920s and early 1930s, and fewer than two dozen have been built since 1950, association members said.
The house on Birch Street has five bedrooms and four entryways. It was built in 1922 by a farming family named O'Brien and remained in its hands until it was sold to Fay S. Craighead in 1939.
Craighead, who had rented the house from the O'Briens for eight years before buying it, remained the owner until her death in 1983. In 1987, her heirs sold it to a family, who put the house on the tour in 1989 but lost it last year to the Bayshore Credit Co. of Huntington Beach. Neighbors said the family remained as renters until last month when they moved away.