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I Walked Through History:

During the years I’ve lived in Santa Monica, I’ve never seen much of its northern end.  But recently I had a chance to visit some of the historic homes on Adelaide Drive, a street that runs along the northern edge of the city above Santa Monica Canyon.  It boasts a collection of some of the City’s oldest and most beautiful homes, several of them landmarks.

I took a “self-guided” tour courtesy of the Santa Monica Conservancy, who provided brochures and docents to inform us of the styles and histories of the homes.

First up was the “Second Roy Jones House,” named for its first owner, the son of Santa Monica co-founder Senator John P. Jones. Roy Jones commissioned prominent architect Robert Farquar to design this house, the first to be built on Adelaide, in 1907.  The style is a blend of Colonial Revival and Craftsman, including a gable roof with three dormer windows. (The first Jones House is now the California Heritage Museum on Main Street.)

We were permitted to enter, but we had to put plastic booties on over our shoes.  Shuffling a bit, as the booties didn’t quite fit, I walked through a series of rooms that all seemed to be either living or dining rooms.  They were big rooms – a century ago, dining rooms were important for socializing.  The kitchen was massive and painted white.  Upstairs, we were only allowed to see the master bedroom, which featured a huge bed and a great view from the windows.  The light fixtures had unusual square bulb encasements, but they contained modern compact fluorescent bulbs.

Next was the Henry Weaver House, named for its original owner, a hotelier who retired to Santa Monica.  It was another Craftsman, with a large front porch.  Indoors, the house had a romantic, old California feeling, with much use of wood, for instance dark wood beams and built-ins of oak and leaded glass. 

An amusing architectural quirk: the staircase to the second level ran from the back of the house rather than from the front room.  “Maybe [the original owner] didn’t like staircases,” suggested one of the docents.

The third “open” house was named for Bishop Conaty, for whom the house was built as a retreat in 1907.  Another Craftsman, with English “arts and crafts” touches, the house featured a swimming pool (added later) and a spacious guesthouse. The architectural features included stained glass windows and built-in cabinets, but visitors were more distracted by the docent’s notorious tale of one of the former residents, Mary Miles Minter, the silent movie starlet whose career was ruined when her alleged lover was murdered in 1922 – a crime that has never been solved.

Minter, in her later years, kept to the guesthouse, where visitors found her confined to her bed, obese and wearing too much makeup, reciting poetry in answer to questions.  Scattered around the guesthouse bedroom are pictures of Minter as a lovely young blonde, and several books about the mystery murder are on display.

It was hard to tear myself away from the Hollywood scandal, but I continued along the street, glimpsing some elegant Spanish Revival houses, the red-shingled Gillis House, former home of the publisher of the old Evening Outlook, and the pueblo-inspired “Zuni House” with stucco walls and wood rafters.

And there was yet another Craftsman, the Milbank House, which featured in its back yard a massive Moreton Bay fig tree – the roots alone seemed as long as a limousine.  “Can you believe, “ someone said, “that this was planted from a coffee can in 1913?”

On the way back, I walked along the edge of Adelaide, looking down at full spring in bloom in the canyon below.  It seemed like a different place than the Santa Monica of the downtown area and the beach, a street stuck in Southern California’s past.  But the current residents have filled the houses with modern appliances, computers, big screen TVs, and sustainable energy sources; not surprisingly, expensive, late-model cars are also to be found in many driveways . Adelaide Drive seems to be that ideal combination we dream of – the best of the old and the best of the new.

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