Will the circle be unbroken?
By Michel Miller 04/04/2013
There is a somewhat ordinary street in midtown Ventura where rows of charming old houses have inconspicuously sheltered somewhat ordinary people for many decades. The majority of these dwellings have been modified and modernized to accommodate changing times and new residents. One of them, however, has remained virtually frozen in time since it was built in 1927. Every detail, from functional to decorative, is gloriously pristine in the house where three generations of one family rode out the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st.
Built by Albert and Maud Schaffer after purchasing the lot from Gilpin Chrisman (developer of the El Jardin Courtyard in Downtown Ventura and the Chrisman Tract), the 2,000 square foot Spanish revival house will, for the first time, be going on the market, and the hope of the family as well historic preservationists, is that the buyer will continue the tradition of care and preservation of the house — there is plenty of tax incentive to do so. The home will be open to the public on Sunday, April 7.
If the walls of the Schaffer house could talk, they’d tell the story of a quintessential American family working hard and living well — back when those things went hand in hand. Indeed the walls, the floors, the Batchelder fireplace, the original light fixtures in every room and the built-in china cabinet with its etched glass as lovely as the day it was crafted, all seem somehow animate, as though the warmth of the people who lived and loved among them, lingered sweetly like a mother’s perfume.
It is the love of a mother that begins the story of the Schaffer House and the love of a daughter that ends it — at least where this family is concerned.
Ostensibly a simple homemaker, but a woman of obvious talent for design with a firm grasp of form and function, Maud designed the house based exclusively on the needs of her family. (The hand-drawn plans will be on display along with the original deed during the tour.) Her daughter, Lois, had only 17 percent vision, so Maud made sure there was plenty of light — 66 windows worth. She also saw to it that there was ample storage space; the many closets are cedar and have built-in dressers. Lois later married and raised her own family nearby on Jones Street. A natural historian, Lois kept a personal archive of precious family photos — some of which were printed on tin — and saved newspapers from pivotal moments in national and local history, all of which will be displayed during the one-day tour. When Lois’s children were grown, she returned to the house her mother built, and lived there until she died last November in the bedroom where she spent her entire youth. Her daughter Mary cared for her until her passing, but has decided it’s time to move on. The rest of the family is scattered around the country.
“This house epitomizes the best of American living,” says Cynthia Thompson, a local historian and founding member of the San Buenaventura Conservancy. And that is something certainly worth preserving. The first time Thompson walked into the house, she was awestruck. “The home is literally a time capsule,” she says.
To the untrained eye, the Schaffer House might look like any other old house, albeit in extraordinary condition. But preservationists, architects and history buffs will find plenty to drool over throughout the surprisingly large home which also boasts a rare (for California) basement, a laundry shoot, a large backyard with clotheslines and the original garage with mechanic’s pit and workshop.
Thompson is convinced that there are hundreds of “history mysteries” behind the closed doors of Ventura’s older neighborhoods. Garages and attics with treasure waiting to be discovered, stories to be told about people and places too soon forgotten. Places like Albert Schaffer’s sporting goods store on Main Street where Tipp’s Thai restaurant is now located.
The fate of the Schaffer House and its valuable appointments will depend entirely on its next owner. Will the circle be unbroken? Will the home be gobbled up by a greedy investor who finds all its appeal in a number? Will it be adopted by a loving family, eager to add its fingerprints, yet wary of leaving a footprint?
“The right owner will add to the life stories embedded in a house like this,” says Thompson. “Their story will become part of the stewardship, and be passed on to the next generation.”
This Old House: Schaffer House Tour, presented by the San Buenaventura Conservancy, Sunday, April 7, from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. 134 Chrisman Avenue, Ventura. Free. For more information about San Buenaventura Conservancy, visit www.sbconservancy.org.