Sunday, September 28, 2008


I've always had a fascination with old houses. I grew up in an 1870's home in the heart of Piedmont, California. Our home had been extensively remodeled in around 1920, but it had old bones and was held together with square nails. My favorite homes as a kid were old, wood frame houses, painted white, but with the paint peeling off--untouched for years. I developed a keen interest in architecture and in junior high school started designing homes for friends and family. My career as an architect never materialized, but in college I came across a couple old house-plan catalogs and a garage sale and started collecting them. These were usually soft cover and full of floor plans and illustrations of houses. Builders and homeowners could find the home they wanted to build and order blueprints from the publishers. These catalogs started to crop up in the late 19th century and are still being made today. Here is a photo of one of the first two books I collected:

I would also pick up old photos of houses now and then. About ten years ago, I discovered photo postcards and those of houses. My interest has always been mainly in the everyday houses, not necessarily the big, landmark homes. I collected other postcards as well and discovered postcard shows. As my collection grew, I also started buying them on eBay. My collection now numbers about two thousand and I have them arranged by states:

In Spring of 2000 I was living In Tillamook, Oregon and my mom, my friend Karen and I took a trip up to Astoria. I had a photo postcard postmarked from Astoria in 1909 of a very nice house. I thought it would be fun to look for it while we were up there and I took my camera along. We drove up and down the streets of Astoria for quite a while before spotting it:

In 1909, it was occupied by the Noonans, but was next lived in by an Astoria lawyer by the name of Walter Norblad who later became governor of Oregon. It was great fun and I've hunted for well over a hundred houses since, usually accompanied by my good friend and copilot Karen. So far my hunting has been limited to Northern California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho (just a quick trip to Moscow). Along the way I've had so much fun looking for houses in quaint little towns and gritty urban areas. Sometimes I talk to the homeowners, other times I discretely take my photo and head on down the road. The postcards with exact addresses written on the card are usually not much of a challenge, but it is still fun to see if the house is still there and how it has changed over the years. The most fun are ones that require detective works either because the location isn't immediately obvious and requires some research, or because the house has been altered almost beyond recognition. Sometimes I've had a photo for years before getting a chance to look for it. The internet has opened up some opportunities for cyber sleuthing and a friend who has access to online census data has helped me track down the locations of some homes that have only the name of a homeowner. My dream is to one day travel around the country looking for all these old homes I've collected.

No comments: