Sunday, December 28, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Reviving history: One of Davis’ original homes is restored with loving care

Rhonda Reed and Ken Gebhart sit on the steps of the historic home they've owned and have been remodeling since 1980. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Rhonda Reed and Ken Gebhart sit on the steps of the historic home they've owned and have been remodeling since 1980. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

By
March 4, 2011 |

It’s been three decades since Rhonda Reed and her husband Ken Gebhart purchased the almost century-old Williams-Drummond-Rorvick house on I Street in downtown Davis. When they bought it, they dreamed of restoring the Davis historic landmark to its former glory.

Today, their dream is well on the way to completion. Reed and Gebhart are carrying out an extensive restoration of the house, fixing weak spots and replacing earlier mid-century renovations with features truer to the original architecture.

A historic landmark

The Williams-Drummond-Rorvick house is “a pretty simple Italianate style,” Reed said. The original house was T-shaped, constructed of rough-cut, full-measure lumber. The house was built with no electricity, no gas and minimal plumbing. There was no garage, but there was a space for carriages in the back of the house.

The few closet spaces that populated the rooms were minuscule, barely large enough to hold what constituted a full wardrobe at the turn of the century — a weekday outfit and their Sunday best.

“There’s not a lot of high style ornamentation,” Reed said. She attributed the simpler style to Davis’ more rural location. “If you go to Woodland, you see fancier houses. Woodland was an affluent community, with its Opera House. Davisville was its less sophisticated cousin.”

The house was built in the 1870s by W.S. Williams and financed by John Drummond. It is one of the oldest structures on its original site in Davis (then called Davisville), according to a 1961 report of the property. After Williams went bankrupt, Drummond took over the property in 1880 so his four daughters could attend school in town.

“I’m sure those farmers thought it was really tiny,” Reed said, laughing.

The house was passed down to the three remaining daughters after the death of their mother, Sarah Drummond, in 1917. Lillian Hafner, one of the daughters, purchased it from her sisters in 1918. Though Hafner lived in Oakland, she came by the house every summer to can fruit from the trees in the yard.

Hafner was an “eccentric woman,” according to the 1961 report.

“There were rumors in the neighborhood that she was a witch,” Reed said.

After Hafner’s death, children vandalized the house, breaking every window except for one, which Reed and Gebhart are preserving.

Because Hafner left no will, the house was auctioned off after she died. It then cycled through various owners throughout the 20th century, including Marcia and Kurt Kreith, who still live in Davis today and served as a source of information for the project.

As the owners changed, the house collected alterations made to the structure.

In the 1920s, a toilet and sink were added within a room built onto the back of the house, Reed said. Later, a bathroom with a toilet, sink and tub was installed upstairs. Three chimneys serviced five stoves for heating, as well as a wood-burning stove in the kitchen. One chimney was removed in an early remodel, and the others were removed in 2003 due to instability.

With the installation of a forced-gas furnace in the 1950s, the kitchen ceiling was lowered and several downstairs walls removed to create two rooms. A large kitchen and dining area and a living room were created from four smaller rooms.

The ’50s also saw the addition of asbestos shingles, a large carport on the north side and plumbing for an interior downstairs toilet and sink. In addition, “several windows were removed due to dry rot,” Reed said.

The original single-pane  windows were replaced by plate glass. “It was very modern in the ’50s, but not true to the character of the house,” Reed said.

Other original exterior features were removed in the earlier remodels.  A bay window on the south wall was removed because of dry rot and was replaced by a rectangular picture window. A downstairs window and transom over the front door also were removed and boarded over.

Many of the porch boards and the lower pillars were damaged by dry rot by the time Kurt and Marcia Kreith acquired the house in the 1960s. They rebuilt a smaller front porch, put in patios and walks and salvaged what they could of the rotted original pillars, moving them to the back yard to create a grape arbor.

The asbestos tiles were removed from the house prior to the Reed-Gebhart purchase.

The house was granted historical landmark status by the city of Davis based on its age, architecture and ownership by the Drummond family.

That house — a mixture of faltering old structure and several rounds of renovations and modernizations — was what caught Reed’s eye as a student in the 1980s.

The beginning

The Reed-Gebharts bought the house in 1980 when Rhonda was in graduate school at UC Davis and Gebhart was working in Sacramento.

“We were watching housing prices go wild on the coast, and wanted to get in on the housing market,” Reed said. “We saw this house, and said, ‘What a neat old house,’ and decided that we’d fix it up.”

The house attracted them because of its uniqueness.

“It had a lot more character than a lot of the tract homes back in the ’80s,” Reed said. “It was a little out of our price range, but we got help from family, and it was definitely worth it.”

“It’s not your standard cookie-cutter home,” Reed said.

“We had more ideas and time than money back then,” she added. Still, during those first years, when their first child was born, they managed to stabilize the foundation, re-attach a badly sagging front porch and replace absent exterior siding. They also patched and repainted the plaster walls, which were weakening and bending as the horsehair reinforcements used in the original plaster decomposed.

However, when a rare job offer came from Southern California, the family packed up with their baby and relocated. They rented out the house with the intention of returning to Davis in a couple of years to continue the project.

However, “we ended up being landlords for 22 years,” Reed said.

In the interim, Gebhart became a licensed structural engineer and the couple gained experience with a major remodel on a home in the San Joaquin Valley.

Renovating

The Reed-Gebharts moved back in 2002, and restarted the renovation process in 2005 by replacing the foundation. Then they embarked on a planning effort to map out the changes they’d make.

“We’re putting back a lot of those features that were part of the original architecture,” Reed said. They also wanted to update the home to be a comfortable residence for a modern family.

The restorations include strengthening walls, installing a zonal ventilation system, updating bathrooms and adding back original window frames and single-pane windows.

They also will restore the bay window, the front window and transom over the front door, rebuild the front porch and replicate the original pillars. Any rotting trim or siding will be replaced with replicated material.

Linoleum flooring, which covered the parlor and kitchen, was pulled up and thrown out to reveal the original wood floor. Though the parlor floor was intact, the kitchen floor showed lots of wear, Reed said.

“It’s interesting to try and match old wood,” Reed said, of finding wood to repair the kitchen floor.

They also will preserve one of the principal features of the house, a self-supporting curved interior walnut staircase. Originally, all rooms, upstairs and down, opened into an entry room with this stairway.

In order to preserve its landmark status, the house must retain its exterior, Reed said. In the front yard, the original orange trees still remain, as does a lone palm tree whose partner was killed in the 1990s by a lightning strike.

“They’re vintage oranges, so they’re not as sweet as today’s modern supermarket oranges, but they’re great for juicing,” Reed said. Each orange tree bears a different variety of fruit.

The Reed-Gebharts have a little more flexibility with renovating the back yard.

“The yard is going to be quite a lot of work,” Reed said. She plans to maintain the shade trees already in place, and install vegetable and rose gardens. She also wants to create a rock garden below a back window.

The original house featured a plain, flat back, but today, additions from over the years jut out from the back.

For the overall plans, they received help from Chris Campbell of Red House Architecture in Woodland, who has had many opportunities to work on vintage structures. Elma Gardner, of By Design in Davis, advises on period details, especially in the kitchen and baths, and John Hill of Roseville was selected as the general contractor.

Nearing completion

The current phase of construction has been going on for two years. Though the construction is a little behind schedule, Reed and Gebhart, who currently live in a home across the street, plan to move back in soon.

The history of the house is fairly well-documented. In 1961, a UCD student, Marilyn McShane, researched the history of the house for a class project.  Her report included photographs of the original bay window and the detail of the original porch pillars, as well as accounts from local people who were alive near the time that the house was built, an invaluable resource.

This report, and others relating to early Davisville structures, is archived at the Madden Library in Berkeley under the collections of Dr. Baird.

The Reed-Gebharts plan to carry on the tradition.

The keys to a successful restoration and respectful renovation are documentation and photographs, according to Reed.

The current changes to the house are being photo-documented and they intend to seal a time capsule showing the changes in the house for future stewards, Reed said.

Though the renovations will beautify and restore original architecture, Reed hopes they will serve a bigger purpose for the future.

“The restorations will hopefully keep the house in good condition for the long run,” she said.

— Reach Chloe Kim at ckim@davisenterprise.net. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com

Comments

comments

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

     
    Yolo makes hydrogen connection

    By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
     
    Sacramento man convicted for 2011 bar shooting

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

    Drugs, stolen car lead to women’s arrests

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

     
    NYC officer mourned at funeral as tensions linger

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    N. Korea uses racial slur against Obama over hack

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    AirAsia plane with 162 aboard missing in Indonesia

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Pedal around Davis on weekly bike ride

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Nominate teens for Golden Heart awards

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    USA Weekend calls it quits

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Supplies collected for victims of abuse

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Sweet success: Cancer Center helps young patient celebrate end of treatment

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3 | Gallery

     
    Reserve tickets soon for Chamber’s Installation Gala

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Holiday hours continue at The Enterprise

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Covell Gardens hosts New Year’s Eve dance

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    UC Davis debate team wins national championship

    By Kathy Keatley Garvey | From Page: A3 | Gallery

     
    Portuguese breakfast set for Jan. 25

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    At the Pond: It all started with kayaking on Putah Creek

    By Jean Jackman | From Page: A5 | Gallery

     
    Long will talk about value of hedgerows for adjacent farms

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6 | Gallery

     
    Find the first cabbage white butterfly, and win a pitcher

    By Kathy Keatley Garvey | From Page: A6 | Gallery

    Does pre-eclampsia raise autism risk?

    By Phyllis Brown | From Page: A6

     
    It’s a wonderful life — and a wonderful state

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8 | Gallery

    College sees benefits in loan guarantees

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

     
    Tickets for New Year’s Eve party going fast

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A12

    .

    Forum

    This cat is on life No. 7

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B4

     
     
    It was a busy, black-eye year for disease control

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

    Say thanks to the caregivers

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    Bombing is not the answer

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

    Just Us in Davis: Despair and hope for the new year

    By Jonathan London | From Page: A10

     
    Commission’s list needs vetting

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Rifkin’s statement is offensive

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    Cuba policy changes highlight a momentous opportunity

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11 | Gallery

    Writer’s arguments fall flat

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A11

     
    .

    Sports

    Sacramento survives Knicks in OT

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Kings cruise past Sharks

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

    Lady Blue Devils top Tigers to reach Ram Jam title game

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    DHS boys get good film in tournament loss

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Sports briefs: Republic FC to host camp series

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

     
    College bowl roundup: Sun Bowl goes to the Sun Devils

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B10 | Gallery

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    .

    Business

    Rob White: Davis tech community is growing

    By Rob White | From Page: A9

     
    Yolo County real estate sales

    By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A9

    First Northern adds Peyret to agribusiness loan team

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

     
    Kaiser’s trauma center in Vacaville earns verification

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    .

    Obituaries

    Ruth Allen Barr

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Charles ‘Bud’ Meyer

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Sunday, December 28, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B8