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Friday, March 16, 2012


CALIFORNIA CRAFTSMAN--Our modest one story 1915 Craftsman bungalow that we immodestly call The Shess Bungalow sits on 28th Street in San Diego's historic North Park Arts & Crafts era district just a couple of cracked sidewalks away from famed Balboa Park.

Our pride and joy sits fence to hedge among more stately two-story neighbors with more impressive designer pedigrees. At birth, our one-story bungalow fell between the kit homes created by Sears and the cherished work of local icon builder and designer of the Arts & Crafts period David Owen Dryden. Its total lack of embellishments and its exuberant naïveté were its main key to survival over the years.

Our bungalow withstood well-meaning owner improvements over the years. It came into our hands 23 years ago in need of some immediate affection.

We too were naïve. We first believed we purchased an older home. Unbeknownst to us at the time we had a Craftsman bungalow, a fact we realized when we read our first issues of American Bungalow and Old House Journal magazines at the home of North Park historians Don and Karon Covington.

From that day forward we realized a Craftsman bungalow is much like a cat-it owns you and not the other way around.

So educated into the genre, our family began a love affair with our home that continues to this day. Because our home did not come with many built in adornments, we were able to choose what improvements were important to us.

Two home elements were created by my wife, Phyllis. She designed a replica of a Batchelder fireplace (using San Diego area Craftsman tile artist Laird Plumleigh and chimney builder Jim Crawford of Authentic Fireplaces)) and a guest bathroom that might have appeared originally, complete with hexagon floor tile. Our bath’s triple door built-in medicine chest is copied based on master builder David Owen Dryden’s bathroom cabinet from Della Tanner’s home two doors down. Phyllis also designed the nook table in the kitchen.

Our work, hand scraping all the lead based paint exterior and interior, replacing ruined windows and termite damage with modern period equivalents. Plus, furnishing it and accessorizing it with a comfortable mix of antique and reproductions. We beam when visitors insist that our new work appears original. And, in 2000, we were paid a huge compliment by the Save Our Heritage Organisation (Soho) when they included our 28th Street home on its popular Arts & Crafts Weekend Home tour.

A common thread in our family was the love of actually being surrounded by the heritage of our town and our neighborhood. Corny as it may be the love of restoring our home created a loving family bond. It focused us on heritage and in this shatterproof age it gave all of us the understanding that all things old are not automatically trashable.

In this old bungalow, we raised a family and our Craftsman home helped raise us.

Images: Kitchen nook and fireplace design by Phyllis Shess. Art tiles by Laird Plumleigh.

Top of the Tank is an occasional series on life in historic North Park, one of the nation's most diverse and architecturally significant neighborhoods with special emphasis on the Arts & Crafts Era (1890-1920).

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