Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Chinese ginger jar and a house of my dreams

If you read this post before today, January 8, 2019, you read an earlier, somewhat truncated version. After reading that version, Wayne suggested a number of additions and other changes. Those have been woven in below.

Most of us accumulate a lot of stuff during our lifetimes; but I'll bet that few of us leave behind any sort of documentation to help others give significance (other than monetary) to those things. Here's the story behind the Chinese ginger jar in the image above. I doubt that it's worth anything on the market, so its significance is not one of dollars and cents; but it's a tangible reminder of a neat day trip Wayne and I experienced one August day a few years ago.

During the 20s and 30s of the last century magazines sometimes contained advertisements placed by lumber companies selling house kits. One example caught my eye long ago, and when I later purchased a Dover book on 20s house designs (see the image above), I found that very house described. Judge of my surprise (has anyone else used this phrase since pre-WWII times?) when a Google search turned up a surviving example about two hours away in western Virginia. It was in a small town just east of I-81, one we pass every time we visit Wayne's mom.

We had attended a family reunion held earlier in the day in the Luray, Virginia area. When we left the reunion, we headed west, with the massive Massanutten Range spread out before us. And we could see a storm roiling and churning the valley sky on the other side of the range. When we eventually got onto Route 11 beyond Massanutten, we saw plenty of evidence of what that storm must have been like for people living there.  Evidently it was yard sale day in that part of the valley. Here and there along Route 11  we began to see the havoc caused by that powerful wind storm: items for the prospective yard sales were scattered over lawns and adjacent fields. By then it was late in the day and getting dark,  and people were scurrying about picking up the pieces.

 That storm did us a favor: I didn't have contact information about the current owners, so we just took a chance and drove by. The goal was simply to get a close look at the house, maybe even knock on the door and have a chat with the people living there now. As we approached the house, we could see activity in the driveway. We lucked out: the occupants were home and were out on the driveway picking up the pieces of their part of the yard sale. So we went up and introduced ourselves, told them why we were interested in the house, and then discovered that they evidently knew little about the history of the house.

They had no idea that nearly a century ago magazine readers would have seen that very model pictured in several publications. Those magazine photos even had a name for the house: "The House Beautiful".   When we showed them the photo of "their" house in the Dover book, it created a stir. It should have: the editors of that Dover book chose an image of that model for the front cover of their book. The book itself is a reprint of a house kit catalog originally published in 1923. Something gave me the impression that the current occupants did not own the house - maybe they were renters? And they were not prepared to have visitors inside the house. We did learn that the house had originally been built for a doctor, and he made certain changes to the basic design. These included changes to the interior floor plans and the election of an exterior other than stucco. When we saw it, the exterior had been painted with a disagreeably glossy white paint which produced a plastic-like effect on the faux block siding.

I really like stucco, and I've seen houses on the east side of the National Zoo, houses probably built a century or so ago, with stucco in good shape. I'm still hoping that a future Google search will turn up another existing example of my dream house, one in better condition and in particular one with a stucco exterior.

In the meantime, I have that Chinese ginger jar, selected from the detritus on my dream house's driveway,  to remind me to continue the search.  

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