The Fresno High Holiday Home Tour 2017

This fall, we were approached by the organizers of the Fresno High Holiday Home tour, which raises money for projects in the Fresno High neighborhood and for Fresno High student scholarships.  Happy to share the house and its history with others, we said yes and embarked on readying the house for its visitors.

This meant getting into deep cleaning and Christmas decorating mode immediately after Thanksgiving – tree(s), additional ornaments, stockings, candles, more outside lights, table settings, etc. Everyone pitched in as no room was off limits to tour attendees. Throughout the preparation, we worked with a home chairperson and provided them with house descriptions and historical information. We also coordinated traffic flow and safety plans.

 

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The tour annually draws several hundred people, so there is a lot that goes into organizing the event. Fresno High School students volunteered as docents and received an evening of training. The house even had its own professional photoshoot. The pictures can also be seen below:

 

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On the night of the tour, we vacated the house, and let the volunteers take over. Members of the Fresno High band played Christmas music on the porch. The student volunteers were assigned rooms and were placed accordingly. Each student provided tour goers information (historical and present) about their area of the house.  Adults were also on hand to help with crowd control and security.

 

It was a bit strange not being present on the night of the event, but for this one, the house was the host and had the party without us!

 

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A Refrigerating Machine

The electric refrigeration unit (the refrigerator) was introduced to the domestic American market in the 1920s; therefore, it is likely that the first residents of the Pine house had a traditional icebox, and that was probably why it was situated on the back porch.  As mentioned earlier, this allowed the ice man to deliver and refill the ice box with ice without disturbing the family.  In addition, sawdust was often used to insulate the ice, so it could be a bit messy. We are not sure which resident purchased a newfangled electric refrigerator, but Virginia, who lived in the house in the 1930s as a teenager, remembered the electric refrigerator being in the back porch where the ice box once stood.  

These 1920 ads were probably from the mid to late twenties.  The one mentioning Friday, March 22 was probably from 1929 based on when that date fell on a Friday. In the 1920s a refrigerator selling for around $215 would have been the equivalent of approximately $3000 today. The one in the ad is a single door unit. The one that had been in the Pine house was a double door unit, which probably would have been even more expensive. 

general-electric-1929-1920s-the-advertising-archivesGE Refrigerator 21920s ad for GE refrigerator

When we moved in, a modern style refrigerator had taken its place, but the 1920/30s refrigerator hadn’t moved very far.  We discovered it in the basement.  This appliance was solid and extremely heavy. We still have no idea how they moved it down the staircase.  In fact, when we purchased the home, it was written in the purchase agreement that the refrigerator was part of the sale.  The seller would not move it.

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Refrigerating Machine
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GE – it was electric, so no need to add ice.
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The all steel electric refrigerator

 

We spent a couple of months wondering what we would do with this monstrosity living in the basement.  There was no practical use for it, and it just seemed to take up a lot of space at the bottom of the basement stairs.  Apparently, if restored, these units can be sold for quite a bit; however, we had no knowledge of where to begin on that kind of project. Steve, our contractor, talked to one of the local heating and air conditioning company owners who agreed to move it out for us. In return, he could have the refrigerator – it was a win-win! Moving that appliance was quite an endeavor. It took five men part of an afternoon to complete.  I still do not know how they got it up the staircase without injury.

Our 2016 refrigerating machine can be found where the original icebox stood.  It’s location is now considered quirky as it is not part of the kitchen; however, you can appreciate its location when you know the background behind it!

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Our very own refrigerating machine.

 

 

 

A Pine Time Line

A building permit for this colonial revival home, located in the Historic Wilson Island District (block 8, lots 9 and 10), was issued on November 17, 1919 (98 years ago today!).  Shorb and Meade were the homebuilders/contractors, and the work was completed for the amount of $15,000. The house was built on two city lots, which is why the current property is larger than the standard size lots in the area.

The following time-line of residents has been created by using the information gleaned from the local city annual directories. Once the names and years were identified, additional information has been found on a variety of ancestry-related websites and census documents.

1919-1923: Lee Blasingame (1861-1936) and Armita Ellen Blasingame (1877-1967) were the first residents of this home. They had two daughters: Dorothy and Mary (twins born in 1903). Lee was a cashier at the First National Bank. He eventually left this job to join his brother in farming and raising sheep and cattle. He also owned a vineyard. Lee’s father was Jesse Augustus Blasingame, who came to California from Alabama in 1849. His goal was to find his fortune during the Gold Rush, and he later became a successful rancher. The extended Blasingame family was honored as a Clovis Founder’s Family in 1999.

1924-1933: Harry J. Craycroft (1877-1932), a surgeon, and Grace S. Shaver Craycroft (1885 -1943) lived in the house for almost 10 years. They had two children: a daughter, Marion S. (1913-?) and a son, Burr (1914-1967).  Harry was part of the Craycroft Brick Company family.  Grace was the daughter of C.B. Shaver and Lena Roberts Shaver. Shaver Lake was named after C.B. Shaver.

1933-34: Eugene Ainsworth (1891-1938) and Elizabeth Steinbeck Ainsworth (1894-1992) and family lived here for a short time. Eugene was the manager of the Fresno Cotton Compress and Warehouse while living in Fresno. Elizabeth was the sister of John Steinbeck, the novelist. Their children included Robert born in 1927, and twins Elizabeth and John born in 1930.  John died in 1933 in a drowning accident (irrigation ditch nearby).  Some records indicate that Eugene and Elizabeth had another daughter, Jean, after leaving the Pine house.  From Fresno, they moved to Stockton, CA.  Eugene died of blood poisoning a few years later.

1935: Frank G. Pringle and Grace Pringle are listed as residents in 1935. Frank was a district manager for Safeway Stores Inc.  I have not been able to find any information on this family.

1936-1977: Walter Stammer (1891-1969) and Dorothy Wilhite Stammer (1899-1977) spent multiple decades in the home.  Walter was a lawyer. They had four children: Mary (1921-1935), Virginia (1924-), Joan (1929- ?), and Walter Jr. (1934- ).  Their daughter Mary (1921-1935) was fatally shot in their Fig Garden home. They moved to the Pine Avenue home shortly after this incident. After Walter’s death, Dorothy stayed in the house until approximately 1971 when she moved to an assisted living home. The family wasn’t sure but thinks the house was empty until it sold in 1977.

1977-2016: Sylvia Foraker, an Irish Catholic single mother, raised six children in the Pine house. Sylvia worked at the Diocese of Fresno Chancery and Pastoral Center for 29 years before retiring in 2016.  Her St. Patrick Day parties were renowned according to friends and neighbors.

So many people, so many stories.  Hopefully some can be discovered and shared. The research continues…

The Servants’ Quarters – Part 1

Tucked in the corner off of the back porch is a section of the house that was once the living quarters for the servants.  This area included a bedroom (14X9) and a small bathroom. Both rooms can be accessed from the back porch and the back door.  The basement is also accessed from the porch.

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This porch area has a small pantry closet and the remnants of a built-in ironing board.  The ironing board cabinet is not usable, but we have kept it because of its character.

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This entire area is separated from the rest of the house by a door leading into the kitchen. It is peculiar that this is the location of the present day refrigerator as it is completely separate from the kitchen. However, when one realizes that this is where the old-fashioned ice box would have been located, it makes a bit more sense. This location was strategic – it allowed the ice man to deliver the ice without disturbing the family.  He would have been able to come in through the back door and fill the box with ice without ever entering the main quarters of the house.  The original “ice” box is long gone, but when we moved in, there was an old- fashioned electric ice box in the basement. Stay tuned for more on that.

 

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As I have been researching the families who have lived in this grand house, I have come across a variety of census documents listing the names, ages, of heads of household and family members.  Included in the list is the same information for each servant living with a family.  I have found it interesting that most of the families affiliated with this house had one or two servants.  These were mainly young women in their late teens or mid-twenties from Denmark or California.  According to Virginia Eaton (who lived here as a teenager in 1936-1940 – you met her in a previous post), her mother also employed two servants (maids) while living here; however, after World War II started, it was harder to keep the help.

 

 

Tea with Virginia

It has been a very long time since I have added anything to this blog.  Our construction team finished up the contracted projects, packed up their tools, and moved the trailer off of our driveway to their next client.  We settled into the daily routine of life. Blog writing was overshadowed by other things; however, there are still many stories to write and pictures to share.  So, let’s get to it!

I have been spending some time trying to uncover information on the families who have lived in this house over the last 100 years.  I am not really sure what I will find, but I feel so fortunate to have been able to connect with Virginia who lived here with her parents and siblings in the 1930s.  She lived her from 1936 to 1940 during the years she attended Fresno High School.  After high school she went on to college and then to medical school where she completed her training to become a pediatrician. During her time away at college, she spent summers in this house.  Although her father died in 1969, her mother remained in the house until 1971 when she moved to an assisted living facility in 1971.  The house may have been empty but furnished until her death in 1977.

I had the privilege of spending part of an afternoon, way back in February, over a cup of tea, with both Virginia and her daughter Joan.  Virginia is now in her 90s, but is full of life, and I think she enjoyed seeing the old house, and she shared some memories as she walked through the main floor.  She told me that their family had added the pink pool bathroom off of the library as well as the pool.  She remembered the beautiful fountain/pond outside the living room.  She also remembered the GE icebox being in the back porch when they moved in (1936).

She shared that her mother always had the best of everything.  In fact, Virginia commented that the kitchen sink had a garbage disposal before almost everyone else they knew. With the invention of this gadget in 1927 and patented in 1933, it would have been a cutting edge appliance when they lived in this house.

She had fond memories of grand dinner parties where the guests were entertained in the living room. The thick folding doors separating the living and dining rooms would remained closed until right before dinner was to be served. At that point the maid would open the doors with much fanfare to reveal an elaborately decorated table with a decadent meal waiting to be served to the guests.

She also provided some clarification regarding the connection to the author, John Steinbeck. According to Virginia, John’s older sister, Elizabeth, lived in the house before Virginia’s family lived here.  It was during this time that Elizabeth’s young son, John drowned in a canal or irrigation ditch nearby.  He was only 3 years old, and after this tragic event, Elizabeth had a hard time staying in this house.  They moved out shortly after, and Virginia’s family moved in.  Virginia did say that John Steinbeck would visit his sister in the house and continued to visit Virginia’s family.  I like to think that maybe he found inspiration during his visits and spent some time writing in the backyard.

I will always cherish the time Virginia gave me that afternoon.  She is a wonderful wealth of information, and I am glad I had the chance to hear about some of the history of the house first hand. I know this house has so many stories, and I would love to uncover more of them.Virginia and Joan

It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas

This colonial revival house begs to be decorated for Christmas.  Not the type of people to go over the top crazy when it comes to decorating combined with a lack of time available to commit to that endeavor, we have kept it simple this year.  However, with a goal of being warm and welcoming, I think we have achieved our purpose.

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A real tree

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Stockings were hung…
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We hosted the Dove-Tail company Christmas party

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