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Lone Crusader Losing Hope for Aged Farmhouse : History: Without a buyer, the 1870s cottage is doomed to be razed this month.

October 07, 1995|CHRISTINA LIMA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tom Hall imagines a grand piano near the bay window in the living room, a crib on the shiny redwood floor, a swing on the front porch and dozens of people visiting the little 1870s farmhouse.

But Hall's dreams may never come true. The house--a vacant Victorian-era cottage that sits along California 126--is scheduled to go up in flames later this month during a practice burn by the Ventura County Fire Department.

Hall, a 36-year-old Ojai farmer who does not own the house, has been on a crusade to save the structure since July. So far, he has found no one who can afford to move the house to a new site and renovate it.

The cities of Fillmore and Santa Paula said no, and Oxnard, which has a collection of renovated houses in Heritage Square, also declined. Several historical organizations expressed interest, but, like the cities, have no money for the project.

"I think common sense will prevail and I'll give it up," Hall said. "If I had the money, I would do it myself."

Local historian Judy Triem said the house is one of four traditional Victorian-era farmhouses left between Ventura and Santa Paula.

"It's rare in a sense, because it's one of so many fast-disappearing old houses in the county," Triem said. "I think it's hard for people to care about it because it does not have the outstanding architecture of a grand house. But it's significant because it tells the story of homesteads that once existed all over the county."

Located about a quarter of a mile east of Santa Paula at 18905 Telegraph Road, the 1,300-square-foot house is a ghost of what it was a century ago.

Its off-white paint is faded and covered with brown dust, and the porch's columns are crooked. The foundation, pulverized by last year's Northridge earthquake, needs to be replaced.

Moreover, the house needs a new site because the owner of the land, Gary Cusamano, plans to plant a lemon orchard there, said Fred G. Nehrig, manager of the ranch where the house is located.

It will cost from $10,000 to $20,000 to have the house removed from its location, Hall said.

"It will be expensive to move the house, find a permanent location for it, and refurbish it," he said. "But I hate to see it burn. You can't get lumber like this anymore."

Hall spotted the house about three months ago while driving along California 126. A stand of trees had been cleared from the property, making the house visible, he said.

Being an advocate of old houses and a collector of antique cars, Hall contacted ranchers around the area to find out who owned the property.

When he learned that the house had been donated for a practice burn, he asked the owner for permission to find someone to move and refurbish it. The owner agreed, and Hall launched his campaign.

"I contacted everyone that I knew, but no one seemed to have the money to move and renovate it," Hall said.

Indeed, Stephen R. Stuart, building and safety director for Santa Paula, said city officials considered turning the house into a museum. But the project would have cost from $60,000 to $200,000--funds the city does not have, Stuart said.

Hall says he will continue his crusade, at least until Oct. 23--the date scheduled for the practice burn.

Hall said he may hold a barbecue fund-raiser at his family ranch, which is a Ventura County landmark in upper Ojai.

"I think it has so much to offer--hardwood floors, a wood stove, an old-fashioned icebox and lots of history," he said as he stood in front of the house. "I know if it burns, it's going to go in a blaze of glory."

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