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 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.

 

 

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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Room by Room – the Great Room

A wonderful feature of this old house is the grand living room. It is huge!  Several comments have been made about pushing the furniture against the wall and holding a full-fledged dance party.  It could happen.

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In the process of restoring the floors.

This room has a grand old fireplace with intricate wood detail and two sets of French doors (one to the front porch and one to the back yard). We have not used the fireplace as we do not know the condition of the chimney and there are very few wood burn days in the Central Valley.  The wood trim and the crown molding continue in this room and add to its character.

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The wood floor in this room is also spectacular – old growth timber, quarter cut, gorgeous patterns. When Tim, our floor restorer, saw the floor in this room, he said not to let anyone else touch it – he wanted to be the one to bring it back to life.  We all agree that he did a great job!

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One of many designs in the floor

We elected not to penetrate the ceiling to install built in light for this room. This meant less holes (and less expense).  However, now we need to add more floor and table lamps as the lighting is just a little too subdued.

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Minor wall penetrations for this room!

There was no wallpaper in this room (thank goodness!), but it was painted a washed out shade of yellow and the crown molding had a wide blue stripe.  As  result, the fine wood trim and molding were not well showcased. In addition, the bold stripe in the crown molding made the ceiling feel lower.

Before…

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Painting the trim in the room would have been a huge job, so we cleaned it up a bit and decided to paint the walls a shade of latte. This color is enough to provide some contrast and really highlights the trim.

After…

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We have enjoyed hanging pictures in this room (and in the dining room and entry as well) using the original picture rail molding.  We purchased picture rail hooks and wire, which allow us to hang pictures without making holes in the plaster walls.  If we want to change the location of a picture, we can just slide the picture rail hook along the molding.  Cool.

 

Room by Room – Kitchen and Dining

The kitchen, butler’s pantry, and dining room all received fresh paint in the renovating process. The kitchen and butler’s pantry were covered with the same wallpaper that had graced the breakfast nook.  This wallpaper was next to impossible to remove.  We did get most of it off in the kitchen; however, in the butler’s pantry, we ended up just using some primer and covering it with paint.  I was a bit nervous about the bolder color (ryegrass) that we chose, but now that it is on the walls, I really like it.  A new light fixture to replace the wooden/brass ceiling fan was a final touch.

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The dining room’s once pale pink walls were brightened up with the same shade of blue as in the entry. Besides painting and refinishing the floors, the dining room was also subjected to multiple penetrations as part of the electrical upgrade.  We really wanted to keep the original chandelier and wall sconces; however, when the fixtures were reattached, we discovered the very old wires within these fixtures caused major shorts in the circuits.  The sconces are still in the process of being painted and wired, and we are still hopeful that we can find someone to re-wire the main chandelier. Stay tuned.

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We had the privilege of hosting 20 plus family and friends for Thanksgiving 2016, so one final set of pix!

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