By Bert Rinkel
As Judy Boyer and Joe Johnson walked past the burned boarding house at 638 First Street, one November day in 1981, they envisioned the place rebuilt as the beautiful Victorian it had originally been.
It was known as “Gilbert’s Gables” and was operated as a boarding house with about 9-10 boarders. On November 8, 1981, a fire started in a boarder’s room upstairs at the front of the house. The entire top floor was burned. Major architectural features had gone up in smoke or were charred beyond recognition. The owner decided to demolish the house, but Boyer and Johnson were able to convince him otherwise.
Boyer and Johnson had renovated two homes before, so they knew what they were getting into when they purchased the burned shell.
It is a Queen Anne-style home, built in 1893 by N.H. Curson, for T.S. Spaulding, a local merchant. The architect was Joseph Johnson Hall, who designed other Victorian homes and commercial buildings in Woodland. Almost one hundred years later, in 1991, Boyer and Johnson’s 10-year restoration project was awarded the “Great American Home Award”, by the National Trust For Historic Preservation. It took them that long to research, restore, rebuild and improve the missing elements. They had lots of help from surrounding neighbors assisting in their research.
The exterior features moon arches on the front porch and the horseshoe opening on the upstairs balcony. Boyer and Johnson carefully had removed the charred wood on the outside and stored it for two years, until the structural part was rebuilt. The turret on the left corner was already long gone, even before the fire. None of the neighbors remembered if there ever was one or what it looked like. The handrail down to the front yard was an iron pipe construction.
A neighbors’ family member found a box of old photos at an estate sale in Los Olivos, which was a wonderful find for the restoration project. They found a wedding picture showing the Spaulding bride posing next to the original wooden balustrade at the bottom of the stairs, as well as a picture of the turret. This is what led them to reconstruct a copy of the original.
The stained window in the front is still the original with the yellow ribbon, which is found back on the tiles with the angels around the fireplace. The pattern is repeated with cherubs and ribbons on the ceiling medallions, which form the decoration around the chandeliers.
Inside, the wooden floor in the dining room is the only one they could keep mostly intact. The mahogany fireplace mantel was salvaged, but some styles were missing. The neighbor across the street was a hobbyist wood-carver and replaced the missing styles, which he gave them for Christmas one year.
Three Eastlake-style solid sliding doors had been nailed shut and covered over, which may have protected them from the fire. The other 13 Eastlake doors were found and salvaged. All moldings are authentic, or were milled to match.