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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.
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 Craftsman] and almost every style of home in Southern California,” Joyce said of Alhambra.
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 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, 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.
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.
“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.
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.
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”。