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MY HOUSE, MY LIFE

Nana's Home Is Hers Now

April 22, 2001|MARA LOPEZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When I tell people I live in East Los Angeles, the responses are generally: "On purpose?" 'Oh, that's near Larchmont, right?" or, my favorite, "I live there too--in Silver Lake."

Nope.

Good old East L.A.

Unincorporated Los Angeles County--sandwiched between Monterey Park, Montebello, the city of Commerce and downtown L.A.

I had lived in the Miracle Mile and West Hollywood for 14 years to be close to my work, but in 1996 I moved to East L.A. because that's where my grandmother's house was.

Jennie Pacino Lopez and her second husband got the house in 1956 with money she received from the county when the 5 Freeway was being built. (Her grandmother had passed down a family home in Boyle Heights to her.)

While I was growing up in Whittier, this was the place where I'd visit her or get shuttled to on Saturday nights when my father's band had a gig. I'd lie on the living room floor on a bed made of crocheted afghans and watch "The Hollywood Palace" on TV.

It was a place from which I could walk to Community Bakery and get white cookies with a dollop of chocolate on top. Or to Chronis' for a hot dog--better than Pinks, but unknown by the majority of the L.A. populace unless they've read about it in the liner notes from the latest Los Lobos album.

When my Nana died, her husband remained in the house until his death in 1995. When he died, my father approached me with a proposition: He would pass on his share of the house to me. All I had to do was buy out a step-relative.

Since he did not wish to participate in the logistics of the sale, that was left to me. The negotiations weren't easy, but I wanted that house and all it represented. I felt like a piece of me dwelled under that roof, and I couldn't wait to get there.

The house was built in 1926. It is a three-bedroom, two-bath jewel.

My family knew the original owner. He was a judge who, coincidentally, my father had once appeared before as a mischievous teenager.

When most people purchase a home, it is empty. I had 40 years of furnishings, mementos and photographs to go through, searching for clues and finding remnants of my family history.

I found there were few structural changes made to the house since it was built. The biggest alteration I discovered was the removal of a faux fireplace and the tile around it in the living room. The living room has a very high ceiling, with not one, but two, rows of mahogany molding. And a cupola.

All the front-facing windows (and some interior) have beveled glass. There are small stained-glass windows in the bathrooms. It is the type of home you often see in the Miracle Mile or Beverly Hills adjacent. Once the purchase was complete, I set my sights on making the house livable. Saving it from the '70s furnishings and decor that were holding its charm hostage meant pulling up the olive green high-low shag carpet, removing "cottage cheese" ceilings and making other cosmetic changes to bring the house back to its original glory.

For example, there were beautiful odd-shaped beveled windows in the living room. I had never seen them before because Venetian blinds and heavy draperies had always covered them.

Since I only needed to refinish the wood floors and replace the linoleum (some of which covered spectacular tile underneath), plaster the interior and paint, I decided to go it alone, without a general contractor.

I scheduled all the workers in the same manner that I scheduled post-production on the television shows I had worked on. Not a moment was wasted.

I searched out craftspeople and artisans because the work done on this house had to be special. I couldn't just have anybody come in to my grandmother's house. They had to profess their love for the house as I did.

What I discovered is that the people working on your house often become a surrogate family for a short time. Like a vacation relationship--quickly intense and then over before you know it.

The plasterers helped me remove five layers of wallpaper in the bedrooms. Seeing how parts of the house were originally decorated in 1926 was a thrill.

My linoleum installer was a genius--he did meticulous inlay work--and the scheduling of the kitchen floor perfectly coincided with the De La Hoya/Chavez fight, which we watched together at an East Los Angeles ballroom.

I was so enamored of the house that it became difficult to leave it for more than a day. I was more protective of the house than I would have been of a pet.

I needed not fear, for my neighborhood is like no other. Since this was my grandmother's home, I was lucky enough to inherit not only the house but her watchful neighbors as well.

It is quite an experience to see Roxie Aloyan, who has lived on this street longer than anyone, over the white picket fence that separates our houses. I vividly remember looking at her through the pickets. Now I look down at her. She has accepted me, although she has also made it clear that I am no substitute for my grandmother.

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