Friday, December 21, 2007

old el paso

I was inspired by my last post to recount what once was in downtown el paso. With the help of the public library's photo archives I picked out some of the pictures that most caught my eye. If anyone knows the whereabouts or specifics of the buildings here, please feel free to comment. I love this kind of stuff. Thanks!

Old El Paso photos

Thursday, December 20, 2007

downtown preservation

I ran across an interesting commentary regarding the de-emphasis on downtowns in the latter half of the last century. The article is specific to Louisville, KY but I think there are some lessons to be learned here for the vast majority of downtowns across the nation, mine included. I think El Paso has felt the effects of several of these problems, if not all. According to the article, there are seven factors that lead to urban decay:

1. popularity of the automobile and good roads
political myopia
fear of crime
a trend toward downtown vertical construction
a general notion

You can read the article here.

Downtown El Paso still has many of it's beautiful old landmarks, although many are in various level of decay. It's interesting that among these old turn of the last century buildings, they themselves replaced older victorian buildings in the name of progress. This city experienced tremendous growth in that transition period and many of the older buildings fell to the wrecking ball. Thankfully it seems people are finally becoming sympathetic to the historic nature of downtown. A downtown plan is in place to (hopefully) return the city center to it's once proud image. I'm hopeful the historic integrity of the area will be kept intact as much as is possible.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

refinishing woodwork

I'm not sure what is the best way to go about refinishing my woodwork. I've seen plenty of different opinions on how to go about it, but it's a little confusing. There's several options that I know of: You got shellac, varnish, stain/polyurethane. Seeing as how I'm trying to restore my house as much as possible to it's former glory (more or less), I'd really like to get this right.

1. The shellac. I've heard lots of good things about this. It is what was most likely used in homes of this period and I'm all for doing the resto thing if the wood was in fact shellac'd originally. I've been lazy to actually try out the alcohol test to see if my wood is indeed finished in shellac. And therein lies my second problem. The vast majority of the wood in the home (aside from the painted woodwork) has already been altered. Meaning the original finish had already been sanded (somewhat superficially), stained, and polyurethaned. The last bit of original wood finish that remains is on my pocket doors and the inside of a closet door. Some appear to be molested a bit more than others. Another thing to consider is I've already refinished my kitchen stairs with stain/poly and now wonder if perhaps I was a bit too hasty without considering all my options.

2. The varnish. Honestly, I don't know much about this and haven't really considered it.

3. The stain/polyurethane. I already have experience using these from my kitchen stairs. It can be a bit of a pain to work with and if it gets scuffed in some way you dont have the option to fix it as easily as shellac. Plus it's not original.

So what do you think folks? I've got a few weeks before I get to the point where I seriously have to decide what I'm going to do. The nursery will be the first woodwork project on a large scale and I don't want to regret how I do this.. Help!!

Monday, November 26, 2007

tulip shades

Finally got around to ordering some new shades for the light fixture in the upstairs hallway. Not sure what happened to the old shades, but it looks to be original.. it's pretty old although a little plain. We decided to spruce it up a bit with the tulip model from rejuvenation. It totally changes the feel of the upstairs with the new shades. It always felt too bright without them, but now it has a warm, amber glow. I love it!

Monday, November 19, 2007

nursery in progress

Well today was my day off and I got back to work on the nursery. I hit it hard from the moment my wife left for work to pretty much the moment she got back. I was hoping to get a bit more done today, but I guess it's a good start. I'm about 1/3 the way through scraping down all the paint minus the doors which I'm sure are going to be a fun little side job in and of themselves. I psyched myself up to have the whole room scraped down by the end of the day, so it was a bit of a let down to not even come close. This is going to be harder than I thought. :) I'm thinking a few more solid days of this and I'll be able to try out some citri strip or something to get the last layer of paint off.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

office desk

I'm still trying to find time to work on the nursery and the dining room windows. My actual work has had me busier than I would like. Oh well. In the meantime, here's the office desk we had custom made a while back by a local carpenter here in el paso. This guy's good. You may remember me mentioning him here. We're still waiting for our file cabinet and sofa table, but I have hopes I'll get it sometime before xmas. I hope.

Back to the desk. We had it made in quartersawn oak with a mohagany stain. The hardware pulls are a pretty cool craftsman style my wife and I picked out. Solid hammered copper with the pyramid screws. I love this desk. I'm into the whole heirlooms thing. It's taken a while to actually furnish the house because we've been stubborn to buy things that are good quality & solid wood. The design for the desk was something I got off the internet and my guy was able to reproduce it beautifully. The chair's from pottery barn. For anyone in the el paso area wanting custom furniture, Octavio of D.O.G. prestige woodworks is the place to go.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

new template

What the heck I was bored. I've seen a few blogs with the same template as mine and decided to mix it up a little. Hope y'all like it! :)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

dining room windows

I've decided to ignore the rear basement window for now and move on. I tried grinding the damn thing off, but I need smaller tools to give me the angle to wrench the bolts off. I still plan to get these done by the time I finish painting the 1st floor. This time I'm working on the dining room windows on the adjacent wall. These windows are in considerably better shape than the rear dining room windows, but are still a little beaten up. I started scraping them down a bit and while the condition of the paint is pretty good, the wood I have uncovered is a little soft and punky. Nothing my de-rot stuff won't fix. Last night I got the majority of the loose paint off, so I'm thinking one more once over and some light sanding should do it. Then I need to fill in the holes where the iron bars were drilled into and reinforce a few pieces of wood that had been chipped out with epoxy. While these windows were in pretty good shape, I think the last time someone tried prepping these for painting, they gashed out a few good chunks of wood while scraping. Hopefully when I'm done with this set of windows you won't even notice.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

the magoffin home

Today I really wanted to do something different and check out some of the touristy things around town I've always wanted to do. I've been trying to coordinate going to the Magoffin home with my wife for the past few months and today we finally went down and checked it out. I'm always a sucker for an old house and this was no exception. The Magoffins are commonly regarded as the first family of present day El Paso. They are largely responsible for putting this dusty town on the map, bringing the railroad and the ecomonic boom that followed in the 1880s. I tried to get some pics, although it's kind of hard to see the actual home with all the trees. I borrowed the 2nd one from the TX state parks website, since I failed to get a better detail shot of the exterior. Built in 1875, it it a prime example of territorial victorian architecture. I would have loved to get some interior shots, but no flash allowed. Take my word, though, if you're ever in town and have an inkling for old houses, you got to check this out!

For those interested, you can read more about it here.

We don't really go over to the magoffin historic district often as it's kind far from sunset heights, but I love the architecture in that neighborhood. Sunset heights is pretty old, but Magoffin is even older. Meaning, there are a lot more examples of victorian homes there. I'm not one to anger a hungry pregnant woman, but I did manage to get a pic of the house across the street.. A bit weathered, but still an amazing house!

Friday, October 26, 2007

the nursery (aka the tv room)

Our friend Sarah alluded to "the nursery" a while back. The temperature has started to drop and I'm beginning to focus on my plans for this room. It was probably a freak cold front we had a few days ago, but it got me thinking I need to start knocking out a little at a time here. Time is something I don't have much of before our bundle of joy comes home so I gotta get started. Here's the plan. Strip all the paint and refinish all the wood detail. We plan to paint the walls something a little more interesting (color still undecided). Going by my other refinishing projects this could go slow as hell or relatively smoothly. I'm hoping for the latter.

You'll notice the tv happens to be situated in this room. This has been designated the tv room since we moved in, but we always had plans to make this the bedroom of our first child. The tv will eventually be relocated across the hall to the sleeping porch (we use it as the office). You can see a bit of it in the 2nd pic.. Now to the question of, should I refinish this room?

The upstairs bedrooms were originally painted. You can see the straw-yellow color in the bottom pic, so I was concerned maybe I should leave it as is. The new paint matches pretty closely to the original. That thought lasted about two seconds after I uncovered what the wood looks like. I've heard that wood that was destined to be painted wasn't as a high a quality as that which was stained. I was worried about knotty wood and the like, but judging by the little bit I've uncovered, it should look great. :) The master bedroom had previously been refinished (albeit not very well), but well enough to want me to continue the look throughout the upstairs. I don't have the heart to cover it up again.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Two Republics Life building

I first discovered the original owner of this house to be Joseph H. McBroom a few months ago and have since been wondering about who he and his family were and what their life was like 93 years ago. I know if I stroll a few blocks to the downtown library I'd surely uncover tons of info about Mr. McBroom (hopefully). That hasn't happened yet. That's on my to-do list. But I did find a few little tidbits in the 1927 city directory. One, the McBrooms were still living in this house in 1927 (13 years after it was built). Two, Mr. McBroom was an attorney (I already knew that) and his offices were in the Two Republics Life building downtown (Didn't know that).

After doing some websearches on this building, I found somebody that sells vintage postcards and lo and behold, I finally get to see where this man worked. It's a beautiful victorian era building. Unfortunately, it's no longer standing. In it's place is a forgettable 60's era hotel. Oh well. I ordered me a postcard and plan to proudly display it in the house. Hopefully the Two Republics Life building will live on in some small way here in the old McBroom house.. :)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

street trees

I've been on a tree kick lately as I recently came across this document regarding the El Paso greensweep initiative. It got me thinking that I really need to get some trees planted along the street in front of my house. One, it looks pretty. Two, these historic neighborhoods seem barren when devoid of plantlife. Much more so than the newer developments springing up on the outskirts of the city. So, I decided to do my part. I went to a local nursery in the upper valley and brought home some vesuvius plum trees.
I kind of went back and forth on what kind of trees to plant (and annoyed my wife in the process :) ). My biggest fear with this was planting something that would completely block the view of the house from the street. What's the point in fixing up a house if you can't see it right? :) As you can see in the pic, the retaining wall is about 3 to 4 feet off street level, then another 2 feet or so for the foundation of the house. So I figured the tree either had to grow really tall to form a canopy over the house or really small so at most it would block the first floor view. These specific plum trees grow to a max height of 18 feet by 12 feet so they should complement it well. Plus I love how they flower in the spring! This is what they'll look like when mature. A little unwieldy, but with some vigilant pruning they should look great.
I'm still thinking about what to do about the rest of the area between the sidewalk and the street. I don't know if I want grass down there. The sprinkler system isn't set up for the street level, so it would have to be manually maintained. Don't really want to do that. I'll probably use some low-lying native ground cover that doesn't need any help from me, but still looks great. That'll probably wait till next spring. The tan rock theme is a little plain.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

parking woes come to an end

Some of you may recall my whining about the parking problems on account of the elementary school across the street and the students from the local university. I wrote a bit about it here (first parapgraph). Well, the pain and suffering is finally over as our street got our no parking signs installed. Now, only residents will have the privelege of parking in front of our homes! Who would think? :) I saw a metermaid writing out a ticket for an illegally parked car firsthand too. I couldn't help but strum my fingers together with an evil Mr. Burn's "Excellent".

Here's a pic from the good old days. It doesn't look like that anymore aside from the few stragglers who didn't get the memo. The metermaid really needs to make sure she's catching all the violators too. I mean, really, it's free money for the city.

Friday, September 28, 2007

front door complete

Keeping the house projects moving along. I put on one final coat of stain (just a smidge darker) then followed up with 2 coats of polyurethane on the front door. This should prevent further deterioration of the veneer. I must say it looks pretty dang good.. Hopefully that door won't be disturbed again in my lifetime..

And don't think I forgot about the basement window on the rear of the house. I wanted to move on to start refinishing other windows, but.. How can I ignore it? Unfortunately it's going to be a real pain in the arse to get those bars off. The angle and tight space certainly isn't going to make it easy. :(

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

lower rear windows complete

Well, I thought I would never get to this post, but the rear windows on the first floor of the house are done. Yay! I wonder if Mr. McBroom would approve?

Gratuitous doggie shot:

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Stand against ASARCO

They say a picture's worth a thousand words. I sure hope so. There was a demonstration today to photograph protesters at the foot of the Asarco smelter to put in the hands of the governor. Many hope this will help sway the reopening of this environmental hazard in the community's favor. It was great to see many people from my neighborhood and the surrounding area at the rally.

The local copper smelter has been a part of this city's existence for the last 120 or so years. It helped spur it's rapid growth, but as the community grew so did the health dangers literally in their backyard. My neighborhood is situated in the shadow of one of the tallest smokestacks in the world. The smelter has been closed down since the 90's. However, the community is in danger once again as Asarco is seeking to regain permission to start up operations this fall. For those of you who haven't seen this monolith, it is huge. And it is equally out of place in the middle of an international community of 3 million people. Hopefully the TCEQ (which will be ruling on this issue) will vote in favor of the community. Our livelihoods and the positive momentum of the region depends on it.

More info about the rally HERE.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

El Paso St. carnage

There are some days that I feel like saying "what the hell am I doing here"? Today was one of those days.

There's a house in lower sunset heights (east) that I've had my eye on for several months. Reason was it recently sold at auction by the city. Foreclosure is my guess. Anyway the city was getting ready to condemn the building before it sold, so it appeared that the days of agony for this former house turned apartment building might soon be over.

Not so fast.

Seems the new owner doesn't care that he just purchased a property in a historic district and applied to the city to demolish it anyway. After several recommendations that the home was still salvagable structurally, it looks like they're tearing the damn thing down. So it seems the potential for this house has ended. Honestly, half the homes in this neighborhood don't look much better, so what's the use of being in a historic district if people come in here and just tear them down? Why don't we just tear down half the neighborhood and be done with it? It would be nice if people who want in on sunset heights had the foresight to preserve these beautiful homes. Granted this one looked like hell, but it still could have been saved. We'll never know now. What a shame.

The application to the city for demolition is here.

UPDATE: Hopefully I've rustled up some discussion about this topic.. People do care. My thoughts and opinions for this house were too late seeing as how it was already doomed. I hope we can get the media to reflect on what's happened and what we might be able to do to prevent this from happening again.

The carnage:

Sunday, September 9, 2007

progress is bliss

Well, I finally got off my butt and made some decent progress here at El Paso foursquare. The front door has been in a deteriorating state for a while and I've been putting off fixing it for too long. As you can see it's a pretty nice looking door. It has a quartersawn oak veneer (not sure what's under it) which has probably led to it's rapid decline over the years especially since it had been in an unprotected state for who knows how long.
Here you can see a good close up of the grain. Lots of cracking and some minor chipping, so it's pretty fragile. You can't really see it here, but someone actually tried to stain over the original wood using a more reddish tone. I think it's the same stain as what's in the living room. While nice, I'm trying to restore all the wood to the natural patina and hue. This red stuff was pretty blotchy and you could still see the older color under it in some spots, so evening out the finish was a priority. I've experimented a lot with my kitchen stairs to get it as close as possible to the original color. What follows is probably as close as I'll be able to get it to.
Here I started lightly sanding with some 150 grit sandpaper as I didn't want to damage the original patina, but I also had to get the red stain off as best I could. You can see the bottom part of the door is a little darker. At one point I think there used to be a kick plate here..
This is after giving it a lite 220 grit sanding and my second coat of the magic stain I also broke out some oak wood filler to fill in the chipped out veneer. I also evened out the finish between the top and bottom (or close to it). As it ages it should come pretty close to what the original finish should be.
And now for the piece de resistance! The back windows have finally got a coat of primer on them. Honestly it took me longer than I thought, but I guess since I'm not slathering it on a blank wall it takes a bit more time to get in all the nooks and crannies of the wood detail. Next week's goal is to put on the first (hopefully second) coat of the paint combo. It's the third one down. I'm stoked! :)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

the window treatment

Not much to post about, but what the heck. Two days ago I had the window people out here to reglaze my rear windows. While they were at it I figured I'd replace the last two cracked windows in the house. When we first moved in there were several windows that were broken, but we kind of ignored the other two since they weren't going to be a big deal during the winter.. The only thing that pained me about replacing the glass is they still had original wavy glass. Unfortunately, it had to be done. Oh well. Since we were just replacing the glass I figure it's not too blasphemous to use regular old glass. Most people don't notice details like that (usually). I'll notice.

So we're one step closer to getting these rear windows repainted. All that needs to be done is get some epoxy to fill in the holes where the iron bars were drilled in on my kitchen window. Some quick sanding and I'm ready for primer. I am sooo ready to get this done.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

living room furniture

Well it took a while, but we finally have some real furniture in the living room down at the old McBroom House. Up until spring sometime we had been using the prior owner's living room furniture. It was a case of him wanting to unload them on us and getting some easy money out of a young couple with no furniture in their first home. Problem was, it wasn't really our style (old & a little ratty) and we told him we weren't interested. Of course, he left it there for over a year until he called me up asking when he could swing by to pick it up. Honestly, I don't think I had to give him anything back but I wanted to be a good sport. I guess we got away with not having to blow some money on furniture while we didn't have to. So it worked out for everybody for a while..

After purging the PO's furniture we borrowed my mom's old couch for a few months. This was a temporary stop gap until we laid down the green for some new furniture. Behold, our new couch (Pottery Barn) and new coffe table (crate & barrel). The rug is an antique persian we inherited from my in-laws.