The Chilton House
A (House) Moving Story
by Diann Marsh, from Eye on Santa Ana, Fall 1993.
We've found a great old house that we want to move into French Park, but it'll be demolished the day after tomorrow if we don't find anyone to accept the responsibility of moving it," said David Fraunfelder, then president of the Historic French Park Neighborhood Association. At the time (February 1985) our family was living in Anaheim but had hoped to eventually move to French Park because of Santa Ana's respect for its historic buildings and their interest in protecting and preserving them.
The Chilton House was built at 612 East Sixth Street by Robert Chilton in 1883. Mr. Chilton was a banker who came to Santa Ana in 1875. He worked for William Spurgeon, the founder of Santa Ana, when he first arrived. He served as city treasurer and postmaster during the 1880's and went on to become associated with the First National Bank and the Orange County Savings Bank. The house is one of fewer than a dozen surviving two-story Italianate Victorians in Orange County.
The moment we saw the Chilton House, we knew it was destined to become the historic house of our dreams. Even though most of the paint had been stripped off and the house had obviously seen better days, the formal Italianate beauty was apparent to my husband and I. Fortunately the house had changed little since it was built more than 100 years before we saw it. That evening we made our decision to take the house.
A little over a week later we stayed up all night to watch the house as it moved out onto the street at 1 a.m. and made its journey to a lot a few blocks away on Mortimer Street. It sat boarded up, resting on criss-crossed timbers, at that temporary location for several months while we went through negotiations to purchase a lot to move it on.
Larry Moore, a developer who was building a large office building on Spurgeon, had promised the neighborhood he would buy a vacant lot so the Dr. Whitson House, located on the Spurgeon building site, could be moved and preserved instead of demolished. The Historic French Park Association realized that the new site, on Eighth Street, could fit two houses. That second house was to be ours.
We became quite anxious as the house "sat" while we waited for the land details to be worked out. So it was pretty exciting when the paperwork was completed, the plans were approved, and the day came to dig the hole for the basement. Yes, a basement! The house was just 1800 square feet on two floors. Because we needed more room we decided to build a full basement and move the house on top of it.
At first not everyone was as impressed with the house as we were. Remarks such as "what are you going to do with that shack?" and "you're better off burning it down," were typical. It was true, the house needed a lot of work. It had to be gutted and all new systems, including heating, electrical, and plumbing, installed. In addition, many of the things we take for granted, including water, sewer, and gas hook-ups; telephone and electrical lines; driveway, gutter, and curbs; and even a street light had to be arranged for and installed separately.
During that initial restoration, one of the worst times involved an evening rainstorm that occurred in early October 1987, before we had the new roof finished. Robert, my husband, had to climb a ladder in the howling wind and rain to re-secure the tarps on the two-story-high roof before the wind could blow them entirely off. I even had to climb out on the porch roof to hold the ladder. In spite of the covers, we still had to run around inside with towels and buckets, cleaning up the water as fast as we could.
The next morning, we surprisingly found our late night efforts not to be in vain; there was no visible damage on any of the walls or ceilings.
As time went on, the kitchen presented one of the bigger design problems because the original one included only a sink and china closet. We planned the kitchen to fit our modern needs, but making it still look "old" was quite formidable.
Then there was the bathroom. When the house was built, it had no bathroom. In the 1930's, bathroom fixtures were added on the back porch. A tiny bath was added in the corner of the second floor in the 50's. Neither was usable. We decided to convert one of the second floor bedrooms into two bathrooms.
In time, we re-plastered and re-painted and re-papered most of the house. Victorian houses are fill of a myriad of detailed decor and we are still working on completing the job of decorating the house. But living in a Victorian house is a very unique experience and we enjoy and appreciate it every day, not regretting for a moment what we did eight years ago.