Where the past meets the present: Preserving historic homes in Alhambra 阿市古厝維護記:被時間藏起來的美麗

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When Edwin Geer and his wife Daisy moved into their Bungalow style house on 6th Street on March, 1912, they had no idea that the Titanic would sink one month later, or that World War I would break out in two years. Their house would withstand years of wind and rain and, a hundred years later, looks nearly the same as it once had.

For a while it was showing its age, however, as it had been neglected. It didn't receive restoration care until Oscar and Joyce Amaro, co-founders of the Alhambra Preservation Group, bought it in 2001. “It was cosmetically a disaster,” said Joyce. Upon walking in they saw old linoleum covering the floor, and an off-kilter color scheme that included brown wallpaper and a green dining room. Still, Joyce saw potential.

Archive photo of the Geer family's house | Photo courtesy of APG

The Amaros repainted the house, stripped the wallpaper and polished the oak floor. They restored most of its character back to its original look. “We brought them back to life. Because we value the history,” said Joyce. And, through restoring the house, they learned the history of the place and the people who had lived there, including the Geer family. “We feel like being part of the ongoing history. It is so beautiful to me,” said Joyce.

As one of the oldest cities in Southern California, there is a full range of architectural styles represented in Alhambra, said Joyce. “ We have Spanish Colonial Revival homes, Arts and Crafts homes [also known as American Craftsmanand almost every style of home in Southern California,” Joyce said of Alhambra.

The Amaros' house nowadays

However, some homeowners in Alhambra prefer tearing these older houses down and building new ones, instead of preserving them. "Four similar houses like ours around my house were torn down since 2001,” said Oscar.

This was what inspired the Amaros and a few other neighbors to co-found APG, an all-volunteer NGO, to help local residents restore and preserve historic architecture in Alhambra. “We have two goals. One is to recognize the homeowners who are dedicated to preserving historic architecture. Second is to educate the public about the diverse historic homes in Alhambra,” said Oscar.

The Amaros play with their dog in the backyard of their house

The Amaros would also go on to start the Heritage Home Awards program in 2008 with other board members, “to showcase historic homes throughout Alhambra" and to recognize "the efforts of their owners to maintain these architectural treasures," says the group's website.

Janet Klein and her husband were among the Heritage Home Awards winners in 2015. They live in a two-story Arts and Crafts home on Hidalgo Avenue, which was built in 1908. Janet adores the Arts and Crafts home because it is a combination of Eastern and Western architectures. “This style was popular in the early 1900s and it was influenced by Asian architectures, such as Japanese temples,” said Janet.

The Kleins' house

The Kleins, like the Amaros, found that the more they learned about their home, the more they discovered about the surrounding history. In Janet's case she found that there had always been music in her home. “The first owner went to USC as a music student. The APG found his music at the library. And there were two sisters living here who taught music,” she said. Janet, too, is a musician. As she learned more about the house, she discovered the joy of establishing connections with stories from the past. 

It does require, however, energy and money to do so. There were various problems with their house when the Kleins first moved in. “When we run the washing machine, all the electricity would flicker,” Janet said and laughed. They have been repairing the house gradually over a long period. “We did almost everything to the house. Plumbing, working on the foundation, electricity and the garden,” she said. They've just painted the exterior last year and plan to fix the fireplace and chimney, whenever they have the budget to do so. “It is where you are everyday, so it is worth,” said Janet.

The Chengs' house

Linda Cheung, another winner of the Heritage Home Awards, owns a Spanish Colonial Revival home that was built in 1927 on Poplar Blvd. She was surprised when an APG member knocked on her door and informed her that she had won. “I did not consider my house a historical home, as there are many other very charming homes built in that era in the Alhambra area," said Cheung.

Her family bought the house from a house flipper and moved from South Pasadena to Alhambra in 2011. “My neighbor told me that the yard was a jungle and the fence was collapsing,” said Cheung. The flipper fixed the problems and restored much of the home's character. If this hadn't happened, said Cheung, she would not have bought the house and do the restoration herself, even though she has been fascinated by Spanish style homes.

A buddha head statue in Chengs' house

“We were hesitant when it comes to purchasing one, due to our limited experience and knowledge in the various disciplines involved in the restoration process,” said Cheung. "Especially for the first generation immigrants, it is a life-long learning process." As an immigrant from Hong Kong, she understands why some homebuyers, especially some immigrant buyers, prefer building a new house instead of restoring an older one. "Having access to the right contractors, and tons of passion and energy, are the foremost important steps towards this goal," said Cheung. "It can be daunting." 

She thinks that homebuyers who have similar concerns may opt to build a new one, which might be easier in practice, and could be a financially smarter move. This can be especially true when the person has a big family and needs more rooms. For some immigrant buyers, living in a spacious and modern house plays a significant role in their perception of the American Dream. In addition, many homebuyers choose to tear down older homes because of certain cultural traditions, such as Feng Shui.

Archive photo of Edwin Geer and his daughter | Photo courtesy of APG

Joyce says they respect every homeowner’s rights and freedom to deal with their own properties. She adds that the APG can provide resources and information to homebuyers who want to restore and/or learn more about historic homes. She notes that architecture preservation has been a lingering problem in Alhambra. “Many historic houses were torn down during the 1950s and 1960s to build apartments which look like huge boxes,” said Joyce. They are worried about losing Alhambra's character and degrading the value of the city. “If you maintain the character of buildings like in Pasadena, you will not only get loyalty from residents, but [you will] also get people from other cities to come here,” said Oscar.

The Amaros say the city doesn’t have an ordinance regarding historic preservation. Other cities around Alhambra don’t only have ordinances to ensure that proposed construction on historic buildings are reviewed for appropriateness, but have also set up databases to catalog their historic architectures. “Our ultimate goal is to have the City of Alhambra adopt a preservation ordinance,” said Joyce. They want to share a lesson that they'd learned long ago: Inheriting the past is to take part in a story that is still being told today.

Some interviews were translated from Chinese, edited and condensed.

            1912年3月,埃德溫·吉爾和妻子黛西·吉爾的新居落成。當他们興高采烈地搬進这座位於阿罕布拉市第六大街的“邦格魯”(Bungalow)風格小屋時。他們怎麼都不會想到,僅一個月後舉世聞名的泰坦尼克號遊輪不幸沈沒;短短兩年後第一次世界大戰爆發。而自己的小屋卻能耐住這一百年多的風雨和變遷,如今看起來依舊如昨。

            吉爾夫婦的這座舊屋並非一直保存完好。在奧斯卡·阿馬洛和妻子喬伊斯·阿馬洛於2001年買下這座舊屋前,因為前任屋主疏於照顧,這座飽經風雨的舊屋也曾一度顯得些許磕磣。喬伊斯說,他們第一次進屋時看到地板上鋪著塊舊油布,綠色的廚房和棕色的客廳牆色看起來極不搭調,她說:“那裝修看起來,簡直就是‘災區現場’”。然而,這對在後來聯合創立起“阿市舊居古厝保護小組”的夫婦,依舊以他們獨特的眼光洞悉出了舊屋背後的美。

阿馬洛夫婦家1920年代舊照 | Photo courtesy of APG

            買下這座舊屋後,阿馬洛夫婦撕掉舊牆紙,拋光了老橡木地板,重新上漆配色。經過一番修葺,終於讓舊屋重煥昔日光彩。“我們這麼做,是因為我們在乎房子所承載的歷史。”喬伊斯說,修葺舊屋不僅是一個折騰的過程,更是發現歷史的途徑,由此他們才得以跨越時空去認識了吉爾一家。她說:“我們會覺得自己只是歷史洪流中的一個頓點。於我而言,這樣的領悟何其美妙”。

            作為南加州最早建立的城市之一,歷史在阿罕布拉市留下的,是各色各樣的建築風格。喬伊斯說:“我們這有‘西班牙殖民復興式’建築 (Spanish Colonial Revival)、‘19世紀工藝美術式’建築 (Arts and Crafts)[又稱‘美式藝匠’建築 (American Craftsman)]等等。幾乎囊括了南加建築風格的各種類型”。

阿馬洛夫婦家現狀

            然而,並不是所有的阿市居民都了解或重視這些舊屋和歷史。比起繁複的修葺與維護,許多業主更傾向於推倒舊屋重立新居。奧斯卡說,從2001年他們搬到這塊區域後幾年內,就有四座與他們家類似的老房子被陸續拆掉了。

            出於保護舊屋古厝的目的,阿馬洛夫婦連同幾位街坊,一起建立了全志願性質的非政府組織“阿市舊居古厝保護小組”。以幫助社區居民修葺與維護阿市範圍內的歷史建築。奧斯卡說:“我們有兩個目標。一是:表彰社區內為保護歷史建築做出努力和貢獻的業主;二是:在社區居民中教育和推廣保存阿市歷史建築的多樣性”。

阿馬洛一家在後院與寵物玩耍

            隨後,這一組織更在2008年創立了“古厝傳承獎”項目。該組織在其網站上宣稱,此項目所創立目的為“宣揚阿市內各式舊屋古厝”和表彰與鼓勵“為維護這些歷史建築珍寶做出努力的業主”。

            珍妮特·克萊恩和她丈夫居住在位於伊達爾戈大道上的一座修建於1908年的兩層“工藝美術式”舊居中。克萊恩夫婦對這座舊屋的精心修葺,為他們在2015年贏得了一座來自保護小組的“古厝傳承獎”。珍妮特說,她對這類“工藝美術式”建築向來情有獨鍾。因為這類建築是19世紀末期和20世紀初期,英美工藝美術運動中,集東西方建築風格為一體的大成者。她說:“這類風格在20世紀初期非常流行,並受到亞洲建築風格的影響,例如日式寺廟等”。

克萊恩家現居

            正如阿馬洛夫婦一樣,克萊恩夫婦也在修葺的過程中發現了許多與這座舊屋相關的歷史。她說這座房子“餘音繞梁”,“第一任屋主曾經就讀於南加州大學音樂學院。保護小組的人還幫我在圖書館找到了他的音樂。後來,又一對教音樂的姐妹花住在這裡,”而克萊恩自己也是一名專業的歌手。她說發掘這些舊屋和故人的過去是一種樂趣。因為她住在這裡,而歷史也曾住在這裡。

            然而,這樣的樂趣是有代價的。既得花精力,花時間,還得肯花錢。克萊恩夫婦剛搬進這座舊屋時,曾經一度麻煩不斷。“一開洗衣機,整個樓的電器、電燈就不停地閃,”她大笑著說。而修葺更是一個循序漸進的過程,花了他們好長一段時間。“從下水管道、地基、電網到庭院,我們幾乎對所有東西都修正了一番,”她說。他們去年剛重刷外牆的漆色,正打算攢夠錢就把壁爐和煙囪給修了。然而,她說:“天天都得住這啊。修這麼多,值”。

陳家小院

            張曉瑩是另一位住在阿市的舊屋業主。她住在白楊路上一座修建於1927年的西班牙復興式建築。當保護小組成員敲門告知,他們家獲得了“古厝傳承獎”時。她著實吃了一驚。“我根本沒想到這座老房子算古厝。附近比這房子有味道的舊屋多了去了,”張曉瑩說。

            她和先生在2011年從一個“炒房手”(house flipper)哪兒接手了這座舊屋。“鄰居給我說,之前這座房子的院子看著就跟個叢林似的。前院的土牆都快塌了。”她說,儘管自己向來都特別鍾意紅頂白牆的西班牙式建築,但要不是那個“炒房手”把房子修好了,格調也提起來了。她當初是不會考慮買這個舊房子的。

陳家園內佛頭裝飾

            “如果是要買個舊房子,我們是會猶豫的。因為既沒有經驗,又沒有涉及修葺舊屋古厝相關的知識。”她說,“特別是對第一代新移民,這個學習過程會是很漫長的經歷。”作為一名從香港來美的老移民。她說,她理解一些業主,尤其是移民業主,為什麼會偏好推倒重蓋。“要想修好,維護好。就必須得認識靠譜的工匠們,還得投入大量的時間和熱情,這些都很重要。”她說,“但也會令人卻步。”因為新移民根本沒路子,也沒精力去找這些資源。

            她認為,許多有類似擔憂的業主多半會選擇修新屋。因為執行起來,可能更直觀和容易。從花銷上看也可能會更划算。特別是拖家帶口,四世同堂的大家庭,必須把房子修大些,多幾個房間才夠住。而對於很多移民來說,住在一個寬敞而現代化的美式別墅才是他們心中美國夢的重要組成部分。另外,傳統文化也是一些業主推倒重蓋的的原因之一,例如“看風水”。

埃德溫·吉爾與女兒舊照

            喬伊斯說,他們尊重每位業主對於資產處置的自由和各項權利。“阿市舊居古厝保護小組”能夠為想修葺、維護或想要了解更多關於舊屋古厝信息的業主,提供資源和信息。她表示,舊屋古厝的維護問題一直都是阿市的“心頭病”。她說:“很多舊房子在上世紀五十年代和六十年代就被陸續拆掉,用來修公寓房。很多房子修得跟個大盒子一樣”。因此,保護小組擔心阿市會失去其城市魅力,同時也會導致房價貶值。奧斯卡說:“如果能像帕薩迪納市那樣保留住城市特色。不僅本市老百姓會更有歸屬感,還能吸引來自其他周圍城市的消費者和遊客”。

           阿馬洛夫婦說,阿市迄今為止仍未出台任何與舊屋古厝維護相關的法令。而周圍許多城市,不僅有法令規定業主在申請對舊屋古厝進行拆除或修正前,必須經過檢視以確保採取適當的維護工作;更建立了數據庫對舊屋古厝進行分類管理。喬伊斯說,“我們小組的終極目標是督促市政府正式通過舊屋古厝的維護令。”他們想透過這一方式,傳達一個他們從修葺古厝中所習得的經驗:傳承歷史是為了延續那些被時間藏起來的美麗。

3 thoughts on “Where the past meets the present: Preserving historic homes in Alhambra 阿市古厝維護記:被時間藏起來的美麗”

  1. I grew up in that house on Hidalgo! My mom sold it to the current owner! Loved that house! The only music coming out of that house was my dad playing the stereo loud!

  2. Linda Trevillian

    Every time I see the demise of another historic Alhambra home or even read about one – I get angry. I was introduced to a present City Council member (and former mayor) at an event a couple of years ago and couldn’t resist asking WHY the City Council can’t take historic preservation seriously. His response was so lame – that if the City spent the money (he didn’t specify what was so costly to the City) on preserving old buildings, they’d have to take it away from another worthy cause. Like what, I wonder! Maybe taking down those signs above Fremont Avenue that support the 710 freeway extension could free up a bit of cash. I’m almost certain that the majority of Alhambra citizens are not in favor (especially if it were being built as a toll road). Our downtown area once was charming and interesting, much like Mission Street in South Pasadena and Myrtle Avenue in Monrovia, to name a couple of good ones. Now, it’s dominated by ugly, multi-story condominium developments that include virtually NO open space and are set too close to the street. Plus, what the city needs if AFFORDABLE housing. When and where did we go so wrong!

  3. Great article! But something is wrong with the column formatting–you can’t see many of the photos.

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