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Los Angeles

The Skinny on Thin House

Real estate: Long Beach landmark, built in 1932, is full of quirks and charm --and it's for sale.

October 29, 2001|DAREN BRISCOE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Laurie Atherton's Long Beach home, which she has just put up for sale, brings new meaning to the region's tight housing market.

Three stories of charm and ingenuity, seven decades of history, two bedrooms and one bath, all packed into a house a mere 9 feet wide.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 31, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong name--A story Monday about a historic Long Beach house that is just 10 feet wide incorrectly named the real estate agent representing its owner. She is Shannon Jones.

Well, almost 10, if you count the exterior walls.

However you measure, Atherton's thin home, a Long Beach historical landmark, is easy to miss and hard to ignore.

Looking to buy her first home in 1999, Atherton told a real estate agent she wanted a house with "charm and history."

The agent took her to see what locals call the Skinny House, in Long Beach's historic Rose Park neighborhood.

"As soon as I walked in," Atherton said, "I fell in love."

Long before earning landmark status in 1983, the Skinny House drew attention. It was once featured in "Ripley's Believe It or Not" as "America's Thinnest House."

The city's library keeps a Skinny House file of newspaper clippings dating to 1932, when it was completed.

"For a lot of people in Long Beach, this house is a must-see when they have visitors," real estate agent Shannon Moore said.

Odd Lot Acquired to Settle $100 Debt

Tucked onto a 10-by-50-foot strip of land between a Mexican restaurant and a more traditional home on Gladys Avenue, the yellow-stuccoed structure perfectly fills the contours of the slim space and lean times that were its inspiration.

It is said that in the early days of the Depression, a construction firm employee named Newton P. Rummonds accepted the odd-sized lot, created by a surveying oversight, to settle a $100 debt.

Rummonds apparently set out to prove wrong neighborhood speculation that the plot was too small to be useful. He invited unemployed local craftsmen to help him build the house to demonstrate and advertise their skills.

The Tudor-style house ended up being a workman's showcase.

A low-walled entryway patio is dominated by double French doors that open into a first-floor living room.

Inside, rough-stucco walls complement wide-hewn wooden flooring and carved ceiling beams adorned with original gold-leaf stenciling.

A two-person couch, two chairs and a coffee table fit comfortably in the 9-by-21-foot living room.

"It's very livable. It's not just a novelty," said Atherton, who shares the house with her four cats.

The house also features stained-glass bathroom and stairwell windows, and an upstairs bedroom with a beamed and vaulted ceiling. Its stained-wood door frames, baseboards and chair rails have never been sullied by a coat of paint.

Moore, who has listed the house for $225,000, described it as 860 square feet of pleasant surprises and clever touches, most part of the home's original design, but some added by subsequent owners.

Small closets dot the 2-foot-wide hallways. The medicine cabinet in the tiled, Art Deco upstairs bathroom has a paneled mirror that swings open to reveal a deep V-shaped cabinet.

A walled back patio and a 15-foot-deep roof deck with views of Signal Hill to the north and the ocean to the south offer a taste of the outdoors without the yard maintenance.

Only the Worthy Need Inquire

Moore, who also lives in Rose Park, said she has gotten plenty of calls about the house, but acknowledges it's hard to distinguish between the truly interested and the merely curious.

She has no trouble, though, identifying the unworthy, like the broker who called on behalf of a buyer who wanted to raze the house and put in a parking lot.

Moore thinks the house is best suited to a couple or single buyer, though a family of six lived there in the 1950s.

A succession of obliging owners have held open houses over the years for the curious, and in 1959, the Skinny House had to be fitted with a girdle to repair a shifting second floor.

Atherton, a disability rater for the state, said thoughtful design made it easy to forget that the house is only three yards across on the inside. The only problem she recalled was having do disassemble her bedsprings to get them up the narrow staircase.

"I'd recommend a bed with slats," she said.

But it was an unfulfilled love of roses that led her to put the house up for sale. With no yard and no luck with container gardening, she decided to sell.

She said she'll miss the quirks and flourishes: a second-floor stairway so steep you have to back down to descend, a wall nook next to the stove just big enough for a box of matches.

Asked whether there was anything she won't miss, Atherton laughed.

"Well, at 4:30 this morning, there were three drunks outside taking pictures of my house," she said.

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