For more than a year, rotting, termite-infested houses with broken windows and charred porches--a cemetery of old homes--lined a deserted block of Atchison Street near the abandoned Union Pacific train station.
But a renovation project over the last two years saved the 90-year-old homes from demolition and turned the area into Anaheim's replica of Main Street, U.S.A.
The effect is a turn-of-the-century time warp: bright fresh paint for the refurbished homes, heavy doors with leaded glass insets, front porches with swings and decorated mailboxes, old-fashioned street lamps along the sidewalk.
"It's like taking a stroll through history," said Phyllis Mueller, the city's neighborhood preservation coordinator. "Atchison Street is now our newest-oldest neighborhood."
In an effort to preserve Anaheim's history, nine California Craftsman and bungalows, and one Spanish Revival house--all built by 1910 and long ago abandoned in various parts of the city--were brought 2 1/2 years ago to Atchison Street near City Hall to be restored and sold.
The city, in partnership with the Anaheim Historic Preservation Foundation, subsidized about $1.7 million of the project's costs, including buying the land and moving the houses there.
Anaheim also offers loan assistance to first-time home buyers who want to live on Atchison Street.
Foundation members pitched in by scouring antique stores for appropriate light fixtures, glass doorknobs, faucets and other items to put inside the homes.
"We're proud of the detail that went into this," said Dinah Torgerson, the group's secretary. "Every shade of every color, inside and out, is authentic."
Families now occupy seven of the homes, which sold for at least $180,000. The two largest ones are still for sale, for $200,000 and $211,900. The third remaining home burned to its foundation early last year in a fire that officials believe was deliberately set.
"It really has been a unique project, but it's taken a lot of work," Mueller said. "It's exciting to finally see families living there."
Besides the fire, the project had other setbacks. Buyers started seeing signs of vandalism in a park built especially for the project. Spray paint marred swings, basketball courts, new picnic benches and the folksy-looking murals reflecting Anaheim's old citrus industry. Copper pipes beneath one of the homes also were stolen.
Residents like Greg and Carmila Doble responded last fall by inviting police officers to their street and forming a crime watch program for the area. Graffiti was removed, the park was cleaned up and the vandalism has dropped dramatically, the Dobles said.
"We moved here to feel like a part of something, and all of us are very proud to live here," said Greg Doble, whose family's last home was an apartment next to the Garden Grove Freeway in Orange. "We're a neighborhood now. We can't let anyone mess that up."