Ever wonder what your house looked like when it was first built? Who the original owners were? Where the furniture was placed? What the landscaping looked like back then? These are the things vintage enthusiasts become curious about when they buy a home that has a few decades under it’s belt. But since most post-war homes have at least half a dozen owners by the time a millennial real estate transaction happens, it’s extremely rare to get this kind of retro insight.
Fortunately, David and I are well-versed in extremely rare retro insight.
Our curiosity became reality on a rainy Sunday afternoon just a few weeks ago, when the family of the original owners joined us at the Retro Ranch for light refreshments. Currently in their early nineties, they had spent nearly 50 years visiting their now deceased siblings (the original owners) in this house, and were excited to return to happy memories and also see our recent improvements. They were even thoughtful enough to dig up some original 1960’s photos of our original 1960’s house, effectively blowing our retro-loving minds.
The Original Story of the Retro Ranch
Yearning for a quiet spot near the river, Woody & Charlotte (the original owners) purchased a half-acre plot of land in 1964 with the intention of building their “forever home.” They worked with well-known Portland architect Louis Brunier to find the perfect home plan for this site, and meticulously selected every custom feature of the home, from fireplace brick, to flooring, to kitchen appliance color (mad props there, guys!). Building began in spring, and they moved into the home in October of 1965, placing those original house blueprints on the hall closet shelf where they remained for exactly 49 years, until we moved in during October of 2014.
Woody was a WWII veteran who spent his post-military service years as a professional piano tuner, and Charlotte was, of course, a housewife. No kids, no pets, just a fun and stylish (according to their niece) couple looking to spend their existence together in this lovely house. Yeah, I can dig that logic. Except for the lack of pets, of course.
We also learned that horticulture was more than just a hobby for them. The entire quarter-acre backyard area was One. Gigantic. Garden. This also clarified why it was nothing but a barren wasteland of dirt by the time we got to it. The riverside sandy-loam soil is optimal for gardening, and they were taking full advantage of it by growing every type of fruit and vegetable that the Pacific Northwest climate supports, some of which still randomly pop up in the corners of the yard (rhubarb and carrots, I’m looking at you). Along the back of the lot they planted 6 apple trees (still here!), and on the side they planted 3 varieties of grapes, the vines spanning 50 feet (also still here!). The original junipers, Japanese andromeda, rhododendrons and laurels that frame the property are still present and healthy, growing faster than we can trim them each spring and summer.
Our conversations with the family also confirmed our suspicions that NO pictures were ever hung on the interior walls, because apparently Woody did not like seeing nail holes. Seriously. They spent almost 50 years here and not one picture or poster or painting ever made its way onto a wall? Huh. Maybe no one told Woody about the modern miracle of Spackle.
We also discovered that each room was assigned a specific paint color when the house was constructed, and these were never changed or repainted. All bedrooms were done in soft pastels, the living room an eggshell, and the kitchen, family room and laundry room were a lovely, light aqua (clearly scoring major points with yours truly). And aside from a few scuffs that likely happened during the final estate sale, all walls were in near-perfect condition when we moved in. This meant that we had basically the same initial move-in experience as the original owners did nearly 50 years earlier. And for two people as concerned with era authenticity as we are, this was pretty darn incredible.
Woody and his brother had such a strong family resemblance that I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t actually Woody who was sitting in front of us, cracking jokes and regaling us with stories about the good old days.
But it sure felt like he was in the room too. Nice to finally meet you, sir. Swell house you have here. And thanks for not wrecking the walls.