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VICTORIAN VALLEY SAN FERNANDO LANDMARK GETS A NEW FAMILY - AND A NEW FACE.

Byline: Barbara De Witt Staff Writer

WHEN Gretchen Guerrero saw the ramshackle San Fernando house that appeared vaguely Victorian, it was love at first sight.

For her husband, Abraham, it was shock. ``It's going to be a lot of work,'' was all he could say as he walked through the 1,600-square-foot house that had seen better years more than a century ago.

In spite of five years of renovation work and more hard labor ahead, they have never suffered a moment of buyer's remorse.

Quite the opposite.

While Abraham scraped old paint and rebuilt walls, Gretchen played detective.

She discovered their dilapidated house - with its creaky floors, rotten wood siding, crumbling mortar and walls covered in dead ivy - is the second-oldest home in the city of San Fernando. The house was built in 1885 for one of the city's founders, Sen. Charles Maclay and his wife, Catherine Paxton Maclay, according to the original deed. At that time, the rest of the Valley was still cattle ranches and groves. The oldest home still standing is the Lopez Adobe (near the city's post office), which was built in 1882.

The Guerrero home was once a stately Victorian with a grand wrap-around porch set on spacious grounds at the corner of Fourth Street and Griswold Avenue. It had fallen from grace as the neighborhood changed and owners became long-distance landlords. Other larger Victorian homes that had dotted the neighboring streets finally crumbled during the 1971 earthquake, but the Maclay house survived. Barely.

``When we first looked at the house, it was listed at $125,000 but it was too much for us, knowing all the work that would need to be done. I guess everybody else thought so, too ... so when I was later asked to make an offer, I threw out a figure thinking they'd never go for it. But they took it,'' says Gretchen, adding that they paid less than $100,000. To finance the restoration work, she and Abraham bought several other old homes, fixed them up and sold them for a profit. In the meantime the couple, along with son Adrian, 12, daughter Jennifer, 19, and family and friends, worked on their labor of love.

Neighbors are delighted with the progress.

``People drive by ... slow down, look and wave. They're so friendly, and many of the longtime residents are curious and have asked to see the inside,'' says Gretchen.

``They've done a beautiful job, and now it's a show stopper,'' says Ross McFarland, president of the San Fernando Historic Homes Preservation Group that the Guerreros have joined. ``Their work inspired the next-door neighbors to clean their yards up, too. It all helps give San Fernando a better image,'' he adds.

San Fernando real estate broker Gage Wilson agrees. ``When you fix up the worst house in the neighborhood, everybody's property values go up, and in this case so does the awareness of historic homes.''

The Guerrero home was even noticed by location scouts for ABC's ``George Lopez'' sitcom, and the exterior is included in the opening credits.

A work in progress

As the Guerreros worked on the house - removing a broken fireplace, adding a new staircase and two more bathrooms and turning the attic into a private suite with bedroom and bath - the couple hoped to discover secret panels or a treasure in the basement. No such luck.

``It was so disappointing. All we found was an 1890 penny placed under the floorboards in a front bedroom, which I think builders put there for good luck,'' Gretchen recalls.

The Guerreros hope to get their house on state and national historic registries. ``This house was never on the original list of 300 homes for the area because the list didn't start before 1900, so we had to provide the paperwork for it,'' she explains.

And they must restore it to its original look. Luckily, they found wood in an outside closet painted an olive green, which they think is a clue to the original exterior color. They plan to use this color along with a palette provided by the Denver-based Color People company, which specializes in Victorian homes.

The inside was easier. ``I wanted it to be light and bright and whimsical,'' says Gretchen, whose whole family pitched in and put in new walls and crown molding, painting it in the palest shades of pink, pistachio and vanilla to enhance the huge medallions on the ceiling where the original light fixtures hang.

The medallions, however, are replicas because the originals were solid plaster and too heavy to hang on the new ceiling, according to Abraham, who did much of the major work while Gretchen did detail projects such as stripping white enamel off the original light fixtures until the brass gleamed again.

A professional touch

Other projects have been turned over to professionals. One of the most outstanding results is the pale red oak floor with a bird's-eye maple border and inlaid marquetry.

``People just love the designs Efren Ramirez (of Speedy's Floor Covering) did, especially the design that mirrors the medallions on the 12-foot ceilings,'' says Gretchen.

Ramirez, who spent 30 days installing the hardwood floor, piece by piece, says he knew when he walked in the house it needed something special.

``I put a branch of grapes on the floor leading into the kitchen because that's where you'd find good food and wine, and flowers at the threshold to welcome guests,'' says the Canoga Park contractor, who sketches the designs and then cuts the wood by hand.

Instead of going to a local hardware store for new window latches and door hinges, the Guerreros fixed the fixable and had others duplicated. ``Nothing is easy, though,'' says Gretchen. ``We learned that no door or window is the same, and you've got to number each part before you take it apart, or it won't ever open or close properly.''

The kitchen had never been changed, so it needed a complete overhaul, and the result was dark green marble counters with dark wood cupboards and appliances with matching wood fronts to blend in with the cabinetry.

Once boasting only one indoor bathroom, the house now has three, but the original still has a footed tub. The bathroom sink is now installed in an antique cabinet found at a garage sale for $10.

As she points to the cabinet, she says, ``Everything was a challenge for us, including the furniture. Since we didn't have a lot of money, we found everything you see, except our piano, at flea markets and garage sales.''

Now that the inside is finished, right down to the curtains and Victorian knickknacks, real estate agents have already predicted the value of the home has increased four-fold.

But the couple isn't moving.

``I'm looking forward to seeing my daughter get married here and having grandchildren come to visit,'' says Gretchen.

Secret sources

Older homes have charm, historic value - and, with any luck, hardwood floors. But sometimes they've been ``modernized'' so much over the years - or neglected - that you've got to work from the ground up.

To help you get started, we asked rehab maven Gretchen Guerrero of San Fernando to share some of her secret sources, which you'll want to clip and save:

-- The Color People: This group of architectural color consultants will create a color palette based on the age and architecture of your home and your responses to a questionnaire. Guerrero liked them because they took her personality into consideration (whimsical) and were less expensive than color consultants who charge by the hour. Located at 2231 Larimer St., Denver, CO 80205. Call (800) 541-7174 or see www.colorpeople.com. Or see owner James Martin's book ``The Art of Exterior Painting'' at Barnes & Noble and Benjamin Moore Paint stores.

-- Van Dyke Restoration: A South Dakota-based company that specializes in authentic replicas of hardware, plumbing, light fixtures and furniture that has been featured on the Discovery Channel's ``The Christopher Lowell Show.'' Guerrero found them to be a great source for the decorative bronze and copper sash locks for windows, priced at one third the cost of other sources. Order direct or request a catalog by calling (800) 787-3355 or (800) 558-1234 or see www.vandykes.com.

-- Melrose Mattress Factory: Since Guerrero did not want to alter her antique beds, she opted for a custom-made bed. Melrose Mattress at 8241 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, will come out and measure the frame and create a customized mattress and box springs within two weeks. Prices vary from $490 to $900 depending on the size and shape of the bed frame. For more information, call (818) 982-2234.

-- Speedy's Floor Covering Contractors: Although her dream house had hardwood floors, they were a wreck after more than 100 years - and also painted an ugly dark brown. Not only did Speedy's in Canoga Park do a great job installing new hardwood floors, says Guerrero, the designer also added several traditional Victorian touches, including inlays of fruit and flowers. Call (818) 701-9585.

-- Old House Interiors: This magazine and also Old House Journals, says Guerrero, can be purchased at newsstands and book stores and they're filled with ideas for renovating old homes. Among the tips she picked up: Number each part of a window or door with a pen so each will be rehung in the original place.

-- Rose Bowl Flea Market: Guerrero's favorite place for finding vintage furniture and decorating accents. She also likes the Saugus Swap Meet and never passes by a garage sale without stopping. Among her best buys are a pair of vintage sofas for $300.

- B.D.

CAPTION(S):

9 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) Renewed glory

San Fernando couple restores 1885 Victorian house

(2 -- color) BEFORE: A crumbling fireplace, creaky wooden floor and original light fixtures painted white, above.

(3 -- color) AFTER: The Guerrero family installed new floowring and a staircase and restored the brass light fixtures, before adding antiques purchased at flea markets, right.

(4 -- 5 -- color) Hand-cut marquetry that mirrors the original medallions on the ceiling are a new addition but typical of Victorian homes.

(6 -- 7 -- color) Above, a back view of the San Fernando home the Guerreros found five years ago. At right, Gretchen Guerrero in her remodeled kitchen.

(8 -- color) Hardware for the Victorian had to be either repaired or duplicated.

(9) Gretchen Guerrero in the master bedroom. She found the antique bed at the Rose Bowl Flea market, but she'll need a customized (shorter) mattress for it.

Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer

Box:

Secret sources (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 21, 2002
Words:1752
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