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Pioneer's Old House in Need of a New Home

Antelope Valley history buffs managed to save the 1880s structure from the wrecking ball. Now, they just need to find somewhere to put it.

November 03, 2002|Carol Chambers | Times Staff Writer

After more than a century on an Antelope Valley almond farm, the old Godde place is a house without a home.

Built in the 1880s by pioneer Max Godde on land along what is now 55th Street West in Quartz Hill, the farmhouse was set to be demolished recently to make way for a housing development.

But the day before the bulldozers were to roll, area activists and historians moved the four-room structure -- with the developer's blessing -- to Quartz Hill Town Councilman Ed Frommer's property as a temporary solution.

The Town Council, which now owns the house, hoped one of the area's historical groups would find a permanent site for the structure and restore it as a library or museum. That was in April.

Now, Frommer is in a bind. Instead of the pool, horse arena and fruit trees he planned to build on his property, he's got a piece of history.

"My immediate thought was to save the house, save history," said Frommer, 45. "But I also want to be able to use my property. People called me up and said they would take some of the wood. But I don't want to see this place go for scrap lumber. I'd like to see it used by the genealogy society. It suits their purpose."

The Antelope Valley Genealogical Society hopes to move the farmhouse to Lancaster to use as a research library. A resident has offered to donate a one-acre site at 85th Street West and Avenue L, society President Beverlee Gurel said. But the hitch is funding the move. The society, which got one quote for $9,000 to do the job, plans a fund-raising raffle at its Nov. 12 meeting.

"We firmly believe in saving Antelope Valley history," Gurel said. "Of the five pioneer family homes left here, this is in the best shape. It's one of the oldest remaining structures in the valley."

According to records and family accounts, Godde and several of his brothers arrived in America from Germany in the 1880s, settling in the Quartz Hill area.

"The story in the family is that Max and his brothers got off the train in Lancaster and started walking west to stake their claim. This is where they stopped," said Max's granddaughter, Marge Cox.

She said the brothers chose a sloping site west of what was then called Soledad Township, because almond trees don't freeze on a slope.

Godde was the area's first farmer to claim his land under the Homestead Act of 1862, which required that he build a structure, farm the land and live there for five years. Records show he was granted title to his 160-acre parcel in 1891, which suggests the house was built in 1886.

His descendants often wonder what attracted Godde to the high desert, which was so unlike his native Germany.

"Sometimes when I'm out riding my horse in the desert, I think, 'Why did they ever come here? Why couldn't they have kept going to someplace like, say, Santa Barbara?' " said great-granddaughter Kim McBride. "Then I remember hearing that the year they came here, there was so much grass that, if a cow lay down, you couldn't see it. Must have been an El Nino year."

The old Godde house has its detractors, some of whom call it the "Godde Outhouse." Some neighbors have complained that the boarded-up "shack" is an eyesore that negatively affects property values, Frommer said.

Frommer does not intend to keep the Godde place forever. If the genealogical society is unable to move the house, he said he may just run an ad: "Free house circa 1890. Must take all."

It is likely he could unload every board and nail on EBay. But most folks don't want to see that happen. A 116-year-old farmhouse may be commonplace "back East" or in Europe, they say, but it's a rare gem in the West.

"You never see anything of that age anymore," said neighbor Bob Sundstrom, 44, who has been driving past the house for 30 years, always wishing to take a peek inside. Now it sits directly across the street. "It's very important that it be saved," he said.

"That's right," Frommer said. "Once it's gone, it's gone forever. It's toast."

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