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Their One, True Mission

Seventeen years into remodeling, the owners of an Anaheim house say they have no choice but to keep on restoring it. The house is permanent--they're 'just passing through.'

November 05, 2000|KATHY PRICE-ROBINSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Some nights, when her family is asleep and the house is quiet, Micky Caldwell slips from her bed, descends the staircase and glides in silent awe through her 1912 Mission Craftsman home.

"I just walk around and look at it," Caldwell says, gazing up at the high-coved ceilings, beefy wood moldings and the intricate stained-glass windows that depict various California missions.

"Someone spent a lot of time on this," Caldwell says, sliding her fingers across a leaded-glass scene of San Gabriel Mission.

This reverent attitude has stayed with Caldwell since she and her husband, Mitchell, bought the Anaheim house in 1983, even after the 17 years and tens of thousands of dollars they've spent on one renovation project after another.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 12, 2000 Home Edition Real Estate Part K Page 2 Real Estate Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Architect--The designer of the 1912 Mission Craftsman home featured in "Their One, True Mission," Nov. 5, was misidentified. The architect's name is Frederick Eley.

Through it all, they've maintained a steady passion to restore the six-bedroom, three-bathroom house to its original integrity. They took up the orange shag carpeting, removed the sprayed acoustical "popcorn" from the ceilings and stripped the garish coverings from the walls. One room had a lime-green ceiling, lime-green shag carpeting and wallpaper with big green and orange flowers. Micky Caldwell, 52, dubbed it "the Vietnam flashback room."

Restoration projects have ranged from the painstaking process of stripping paint from moldings to the installation of tiny, historically correct hexagonal tiles on a bathroom floor, to reconstruction of the lofty roof structure, which had been altered and lowered 50 years ago.

"Everything we've done is fixing what other people have done to it," says Mitchell Caldwell, 51, a roofing company executive. "It's taken almost a year a room."

But he's philosophical about the time and money he's invested in the house, which was built by Joseph Fiscus on 85 acres of walnut and orange groves in Anaheim.

"This house will be here forever," Mitchell Caldwell says. "You get the feeling you're just passing through."

Architect Frank Eley, who also designed the old post office on Broadway in Anaheim, as well as the Stanton mansion, now part of Fairmont High School, designed the Fiscus house.

Since then, eight families have owned it, including the Caldwells, and all their names are recorded in documents at the Anaheim Historical Society.

In the early 1980s, the Caldwells lived with their two sons in an east Anaheim tract house and only fantasized about owning an old house.

When the Caldwells saw a "for sale" sign outside this hulking house, they were drawn inside despite its rather dingy exterior. Not realizing it was in their price range, they said: Let's just go look at it like it's a museum.

Once inside, they were struck by the grandeur of the home's living room, library and dining room, the last with its built-in buffet the full width of the room and shoulder-high wainscoting. Moving up the stairway, they found a landing aglow with stained-glass mission scenes framed by three wooden arches.

"Oh, my. . ," Micky Caldwell recalls saying.

By selling their tract house and an acre lot, the Caldwells scraped together enough money to purchase the 4,000-square-foot house for $285,000.

Though their teenage sons had shared a bedroom their whole lives, in the new home they could say to each, "OK, pick a room." (When the couple adopted a 4-year-old girl, they still had plenty of bedrooms.)

The couple's first project, redoing a downstairs bathroom in 1984, was in some ways a false start. After they removed the black, purple and yellow vinyl wallpaper, they installed a rose-themed stained-glass window in the door and put in a modern toilet and sink.

*

As they began studying old homes in general, and Mission Craftsman homes specifically, they realized that their choices for the bathroom were out of sync with the era.

"It looked too new," Micky Caldwell says.

In 1989, they installed the proper elements in the bathroom--an antique highboy toilet with pull chain, a pedestal sink and moldings to match the rest of the house.

What Micky Caldwell learned from that mistake is that fast-track remodeling is unwise in an older home.

"You don't know your house until you've lived in it," she tells those who criticize her decades-long remodeling epic.

In 1985, the couple undertook the next project: the lime-green bedroom and its closet. In this room, as in all upstairs bedrooms, the woodwork--including the baseboards, the molding near the ceiling and the window frames--had been painted over several times.

Taking the paint off required chemicals, scrapers, wire brushes, sandpaper and even an Exacto knife for getting into the grooves. Then, the wood was stained and varnished, the floors were refinished and Arts and Crafts-themed wallpaper was hung.

The biggest project was replacing the roof. When they bought the house, the couple didn't know that its wide, squat hip roof was not original. Only when they came across an antique photo did they realize that the house once had a steeply pitched roof, which was 10 feet higher with an arched "Alamo"-style parapet in front and two peaked parapets, one on each side.

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