Gratitude and an Instagram-Perfect Life

A couple of days ago I was walking across the lawn in my front yard, and noticing the pretty purple Jacaranda blossoms that litter the sidewalk this time of year. My feet were bare, the grass was soft and damp, the sky was brilliant blue, and the sun was warm. And I was filled with such gratitude.

My life may not be perfect, but I have so much of what I always wanted! I may not own the little old house I live in, but hey it’s a Victorian from 1910, and that’s been my dream home since I was a little girl, so I’m happy. I have a convertible again – a cute one! I am healing and feeling better, and I got through my first year of law school. It’s true that I have a less-than-stellar grade point average–C+ Baby!–but I’m not in danger of getting kicked out, and I’ve now proven I can handle it, so I’m happy with that as well. Things are good! Life is good!

Instagram-Perfect LifeInstagram-Perfect Life

So when I left the house a short time later, I pulled out my iPhone and shot a couple of photos of the house and the jacaranda tree, and posted them on Instagram, which then fed them through to Facebook. I was feeling grateful, and so I shot some happy shiny pretty images and uploaded them, and went on my way. Both images generated a few comments and the photo of the house got over 40 Likes on Facebook. And I had to admit that it looked pretty good on my iPhone! But later it hit me that I hadn’t mentioned that I was only renting half the house – the left half – the half without the great front porch. And then today, looking at the image again, I realized that it actually looked a little better than reality. And that bothered me.

I shoot beautiful things all the time, and I’m always attracted toward the beauty in everything. Obviously I’m going to shoot from the best angle possible, and try to make whatever it is look as attractive as possible – even if it’s just a cell phone photo, meant to show where I live.

But this felt different. If felt like I had accidentally deceived everyone who clicked Like. Would they have still clicked Like and left such nice comments if they saw the house in person? Or if I had thought to mention that it was divided into two apartments in the 1950s, and I’m only renting the left half?

Instagram-Perfect Life

So I decided to shoot the house again today. Instead of an iPhone, I used my new little Canon that I bought to shoot video – just because I wanted to play with it. I tried to shoot the house, as it really is, and not disguise the not-so-great parts. Where the Instagram version sort of hid the satellite dish in the tree branches, this time I didn’t try to disguise it. Where the Instagram version deemphasized the junk on the front porch and the multiple mailboxes, this time all that clutter is more visible. Where on Instagram the yard looked large, with a big lawn, today’s version shows just how small the front yard is – which is typical for downtown Riverside, and nothing to be ashamed of, but it is different than the impression the other image gave… The biggest change is that the Instagram version was shot in the middle of the day, so the sky is bright blue and everything looks lush and verdant – and the image today was shot at sunset, so it’s got a much softer feel.

Oh, and the neighborhood cats decided to pose for me today, so that was an added bonus!

I don’t think either image makes the house look unattractive. And I like them both. And the Instagram version is not a lie – that’s how the house actually looked at that moment in time, in that light. But even so, it gave the impression that the house was just a bit grander than it really is, and by association, that my life was maybe a little grander than it actually is. But guess what? My life is grand to me! The house I live in may not belong to me, I may only be renting half, and it may be a little less than Instagram-perfect – but it’s my favorite kind of house, and I love it. I may not have the great front porch, but I have ten-foot tall ceilings and vintage woodwork – I’m happy!

Jacaranda blossomsfriendly neighborhood cat

big orange male catVW Convertible

I also love my cute little convertible with one missing hubcap, and and the scruffy neighborhood cats that follow me around the yard, and beg for love and affection.

My life may not be Instagram-perfect, but I am very grateful for everything that I have!

Heritage House | A Victorian Christmas

Heritage House | A Victorian Christmas

Every year Heritage House in Riverside hosts a Victorian Christmas Party, and this year I finally got to go!

Heritage House | A Victorian Christmas

Palm trees in the background, oranges in winter, and a pretty girl – all the elements of a vintage ad meant to entice people to move to beautiful sunny Riverside, circa 1895!

Heritage House | A Victorian ChristmasHeritage House | A Victorian Christmas
Me and my Mom in front of the Christmas deer. Notice the orange trees in the background. I love the California Christmas look! And one of the strolling musicians.

Heritage House | A Victorian Christmas

The Steam Punk Contingent! I don’t think these three were officially connected with the event–they were guests–but they were so cool as they serenely strutted around the circular pathways. True Victorian spirit on display. One of the real highlights of the event, in my opinion!

Heritage House | A Victorian ChristmasHeritage House | A Victorian Christmas

Hollyhocks! In December? How cool is that?

Heritage House | A Victorian ChristmasHeritage House | A Victorian Christmas

There were women demonstrating traditional domestic arts in the carriage house – these two were spinning and knitting.

Heritage House | A Victorian ChristmasHeritage House | A Victorian Christmas

My Mom and Grandma enjoying the garden area. That interesting piece of citrus fruit smelled fabulous. I’m a big fan of all citrus smells, and this one was really good!

Heritage House | A Victorian ChristmasHeritage House | A Victorian Christmas

Caroling and handing out programs.

Heritage House | A Victorian Christmas

We heard a rumor that each of the thirty docents was responsible for baking twelve dozen cookies each, and that they would still run out by the end of the afternoon. That’s over 4000 home baked cookies! It may not look it in these images, but there were a lot of people there – very popular event!

Heritage House | A Victorian ChristmasHeritage House | A Victorian Christmas

A couple of shots from inside the house. I couldn’t resist shooting the toilet – it was just so pretty!

Heritage House | A Victorian Christmas
And finally, the fountain in the front yard.

Mansion last piece of 19th-century dynasty

On March 30, 2012, the Press Enterprise ran a couple of my photos of the Estudillo Mansion in an article on the San Jacinto landmark, that was featured on the front page of their Local Section of the Sunday paper. They also featured a couple of quotes from me, on the history of the house.

It’s always fun to see one of my photos on the front page of any section of a traditional printed newspaper!

Home > Local News > Riverside County > Hemet-San Jacinto > Hemet-San Jacinto Headlines

SAN JACINTO: Mansion last piece of 19th-century dynasty

Estudillo Mansion, San Jacinto, California
CHERYL SPELTS/CONTRIBUTED IMAGE The Estudillo Mansion, built in 1884, fell in and out of disrepair throughout the 20th century. It’s since been restored by a local group and is part of the Francisco Estudillo Heritage Park in San Jacinto.

Published: 30 March 2012 10:39 PM

A stately home on 6 acres in central San Jacinto is an elegant token left over from a 19th-century dynasty.
The Estudillo Mansion was built in 1884 by Francisco Estudillo, according to a history posted on the city of San Jacinto’s website: “The mansion and a twin mansion, built by his brother, (Jose) Antonio Estudillo, near Soboba Hot Springs, are all that remain of a 35,000-acre Mexican land grant given to their father, Jose Antonio Estudillo, in 1842.”

The father was in charge of the San Luis Rey mission, hence the land grant from Mexico, which the region belonged to until 1850, said Sharon Terracciano, an Estudillo Restoration Association volunteer.

Francisco Estudillo — the younger of the brothers, born in 1844 — traveled with the family’s cattle, which grazed in the San Jacinto area. Initially he lived in an adobe that later burned. After his marriage, he built the mansion.

Estudillo was San Jacinto’s first postmaster, the city’s website notes. He was also a Mission Indian Agent for the U.S. government. Estudillo served on the school board and was San Jacinto’s second mayor, from 1890 to 1892.

Perhaps befitting Estudillo’s high profile, his two-story home had eight rooms, graced by soaring ceilings, Terracciano said. “They had beautiful cross breezes for ventilation,” she said.

Upstairs are four bedrooms. Ground-floor rooms include a “gentleman’s parlor,” said Cheryl Spelts, a photographer who posts her images of the mansion on her website. Estudillo’s safe is still in the wall. A music room displays a piano, and a china pantry lies near the dining room.

Estudillo’s income came from ranching and farming, Terracciano said, but he also kept race horses. Though Estudillo came from an aristocratic family, he sold off some of his land.

“These people were land-rich but money-poor,” Terracciano said. Over time, Estudillo also donated land for a railroad depot and to the Catholic church, she said.

He lost the property to foreclosure in 1901, she said. At that point Estudillo moved to Los Angeles, where he remained until his death about 1920, Terracciano said.

The mansion passed through 26 more owners by1992, when an earthquake rendered it uninhabitable, she said. It was sold to Riverside County, then to San Jacinto in 1998. A local group obtained grants for a seismic retrofit and historical restoration. Those efforts started around 2004, Spelts said.

The mansion was restored to its likely appearance in 1885, Terracciano said. None of the furnishings now in the home belonged to Estudillo but they are authentic to the period, she said.

Spelts feels a personal connection to the mansion.

“I love the house,” she said. Her grandparents’ close friends, Dick and Del Kroker, were among those who launched efforts to get the mansion restored, and she has at least one other relative who also worked on the project.

Meanwhile, the “twin” house near Soboba Hot Springs has been unoccupied for decades and is in disrepair, Spelts and Terracciano said.

The Estudillo mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. Located at 150 S. Dillon Ave., it is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. There is no formal admission charge, only requested donations.

For more information, call 951-654-4952.

Estudillo Mansion
CHERYL SPELTS/CONTRIBUTED IMAGE The Estudillo Mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places.

©2012, Enterprise Media. All Rights Reserved • 3450 Fourteenth Street, Riverside, California 92501

Estudillo Mansion in San Jacinto | 2012

Estudillo Mansion // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsI’ve shot the Estudillo Mansion twice before – once in 2006, when a family friend took us on a private tour of the inside, and I was able to document some of the damage that still existed from the Lander’s Earthquake in 1992. And then I shot it again in 2010, after the renovation had been completed – but that time I didn’t go inside, I only shot the exterior.

So it was time to go back and shoot the inside! And of course, a little bit of the outside… The grounds are just so beautiful, and the exterior of the house is what I love most, so I couldn’t go and not shoot a little of the outside.

I’ll start with the staircase, since that’s what you see when you first walk in the front door. If you’d like to see what that staircase looked like in 2006, before the renovation, click here! It’s just as steep, and the banister is still exceptionally low – which is just as it was built back in 1885. It’s fine going up, but a little scary coming down, if you’re tall. My mother is much shorter than I am, and for someone her size, the banister height is fine! The big difference from 2006 is that the walls are now back to the original color – a muted blue-green – it’s actually darker in person that it appears to be in my images. And that the floors have been refinished, and the staircase painted.

Opening off of the staircase and entry hall are two front rooms – a men’s sitting room and the music room with a really magnificent rectangular grand piano. I didn’t shoot many of the furnishings, since I was focussing more on the house itself – but I couldn’t resist that piano – it was magnificent. And I loved the vase of peacock feathers sitting on it – that is a very Victorian touch! Especially in Southern California, where Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, the founder of Arcadia, imported three matched pairs of peafowl from India in 1880 – and almost all the peafowl in Southern California still today, are descended from those same three pairs. So it would not be a stretch at all, to imagine peacock feathers in the Estudillo home in the late 1880’s.

Victorian Era Music Room // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsStaircase in the Estudillo Mansion // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Hand-Painted Frescoed Border // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

The hand-painted frescoed borders in the first floor rooms are original to the house – they are mentioned in an article that appeared in the San Jacinto Register on May 2, 1889. They are not stenciled – they are frescos – which is a process where pigment is mixed with water and painted on a thin layer of wet, fresh plaster – so the pigment is absorbed by the wet plaster. It’s an old Italian classical process. And since it is hand-painted by an artist, there is some variation, as the border continues around the room. They’re beautiful, and special, and can’t be duplicated – and the committee steering the renovation and maintenance of the house has wisely decided not to touch them or change them in any way, despite the fact that they were damaged over the years. They were evidently covered with wallpaper for many years, and so were “saved” from being painted over – but the wallpaper itself damaged the painted surface, and then the Lander’s Earthquake did more damage. I have a photo from 2006 that shows what the renovators first found, as they first uncovered the borders.

Hand-Painted Frescoed Border // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

This border is in the back parlor, across from the dining room, and behind the music room. It’s a room that gets a lot of sun, with big windows, so it seems appropriate that it would have a lighter, simpler border. The fireplace is also in this room – and I have a photo of it in 2006, but I didn’t shoot it this time, because it just doesn’t feel like it’s original to the house – to me. I have no insider knowledge – but I just don’t think it fits – so if you want to see it, click on the link to the older photos!

Hand-Painted Frescoed Border // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Next up is the dining room – and I love the frescoed border in this room! Throughout the house the same palette of blues and greens is used, and the dining room is the darkest room in the house – so the border is of course darker and more vibrant as well. I’ve included a close up, so that you can see just how vibrant the paint once was. It must have been beautiful when the artist first finished creating it!

Vintage Doorknob // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsVictorian Era Butler's Pantry // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Victorian Safe // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsThis doorknob leading to the dining room is authentic – it was either original to this house, or it came from this house’s sister mansion on Soboba Road, built in the same era, with the same floor-plan. And the little room off of the dining room, is actually the china closet – a very common feature in upper-end Victorian homes.

An finally, the last room on the bottom floor is the men’s sitting room – and it includes the original safe! Fransisco Estudillo owned the Rancho San Jacinto Viejo, which totaled over 4000 acres – so he had a lot of employees – and thus probably needed a safe for his payroll. The safe is built into an interior wall, under the staircase, and is actually rather small inside. There are some tiny wooden drawers that are barely visible in the image.

Next I headed upstairs…

Just like downstairs, there is a wide center hallway upstairs, with the staircase – and four rooms open off of that hallway. Three of the rooms are bedrooms, and they are so stuffed full of vintage furniture that I wasn’t able to get a good shot of any of them. In person, it’s really interesting to see all the antiques from many different eras – and some of the furniture is really spectacular!

The fourth room was originally the bathroom – the house had hot and cold running water when it was first built, and there are stories of a huge clawfoot tub and oversized bathroom sink – but supposedly they still used an outhouse in the backyard. I can understand locating the kitchen separate from the rest of the house – kitchens were dangerous back then, and it was a safety precaution to locate the kitchen elsewhere – plus it kept the whole house cooler in summer. But an outhouse in the backyard? I can only imagine having to head down that staircase in the middle of the night, and then across the dirt backyard to get to an outhouse? It’s probably a good bet that a couple of chamber pots were in use in those early days!

Estudillo Mansion Staircase // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsVintage Hinge // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

This is the view of the staircase from the second story, looking down. And an original door hinge. There is one door hinge upstairs that is a reproduction – but it’s hard to spot which one it is! The artisan who created it, did a good job of matching the vintage hinges!

Inside the Estudillo Mansion // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

An antique desk in one of the bedrooms.

Upstairs deck at the Estudillo Mansion, San Jacinto, California // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsVictorian Brackets // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Outside a veranda wraps around three sides of the house, and that means upstairs there’s a great deck that wraps around the house!

From the roof of the Estudillo Mansion, San Jacinto, California // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsRed Flowers // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

On the left is the back edge of the orginal house in the foreground, and then a brick addition – which was the first kitchen that was added to the actual house – and then beyond that is a clapboard addition that was the second kitchen added. Guess the owners that came after Estudillo wanted an indoor kitchen!

Estudillo Mansion in 2012 // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

There are two doors leading outside from the second story – the main door leads off of the wide central hallway, but there is also a second door that leads directly from one of the bedrooms – and it’s on the shady side of the house, so there’s a beautiful little breeze that blows and it’s just the best place to hang out on the entire property. If I lived there, that would definitely be the bedroom I’d choose!

The Grounds of the Estudillo Mansion // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsHallway in the Estudillo Mansion // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Pink Blooming Tree // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsCalifornia Poppy // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I can never resist pretty flowers… Especially when we’re talking vibrant pink blossoms and bright orange California poppies! Definitely some of my favorites!

Pair of Ducks // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

And finally a couple of ducks that showed up on the grounds that morning – someone evidently dropped them off, hoping they’d be cared for at the Mansion. I just can’t imagine how anyone could think that was an okay thing to do? To drop off your pets at a park, and hope someone else decided to feed and care for them? And these ducks were completely tame, and okay with people – and they were so sweet with each other – they were definitely a pair, or at the least very good friends. And they sure were cute!

Old San Juan Capistrano

I spent some time in one of my favorite places yesterday – on Rios Street, in San Juan Capistrano – near the Mission and the train station.

O’Neill Museum in the Los Rios Historic District // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

My favorite house was built in 1870 by Jose Dolores Garcia, as a gift to his wife. He wanted to build a unique home, so he did extensive research on horseback, in Anaheim, looking at other homes built in that era. It was the first wooden house built in San Juan Capistrano and is now the O’Neill Museum.

O’Neill Museum // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsPink Rose // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

O’Neill Museum // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Pink Bougainvillea // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

A wrap-around porch with pink Bougainvillea..

Bougainvillea // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsO’Neill Museum // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

O’Neill Museum // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsOverblown Rose // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I’m a big fan of the Victorian penchant for mixing flowers and fruit – if you look at the art from the era, still life paintings, with ripe succulent fruit and overblown flowers were extremely popular. They also combined the two in their front yards – as witnessed here – an orange tree, with a few oranges still clinging to the bottom branches, and one overblown, past it’s prime, rose. Perfectly Victorian!

Amtrak Train // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

The train still runs through the center of town, just as it’s done for over a hundred years. The Metrolink is a commuter train that can take you to Los Angeles, Riverside, or San Diego.

Rios Street, San Juan Capistrano // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsTwisted Vine // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Old San Juan Capistrano // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Red Santa Fe Railway Caboose // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsGraffiti Cactus // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Hidden House Coffee // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Orange Flowers // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsTrain Station // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Chains // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsYellow Berries // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Artist Courtyard // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Pretty Alpaca // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsWhite Alpaca // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

There’s a petting zoo right on Rios Street – and I did a portrait session with a very pretty Alpaca who posed for me. We did a few headshots, and then a full length shot. She has that hair in the eyes thing going on that I just love!

Alpaca on Rios Street // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Brown Alpaca // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsOrange Bougainvillea // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Eventually one of her Alpaca friends wandered over, and wanted in on the action…

/ Photo: Cheryl Spelts

The houses in the Los Rios District range in age from 50 to over 200 years old. You can read more about the individual houses, and the Los Rios District at

Rios Street, San Juan Capistrano // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsRios Street // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Rios Street, in San Juan Capistrano // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

White picket fences seem to be quite popular on Rios Street.

Rios Street, San Juan Capistrano // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

San Jaun Capistrano Train Station // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsOld San Juan Capistrano // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I arrived on Rios Street just before sunset, and by the time I left the sun had set, and the the restaurants were hopping, and the movie theater across a side street was open for business…

What I dream of…

Old houses in Riverside, CaliforniaDreams. You hear the word and some of you immediately think of goals and plans and making your dreams come true. And others will hear the word and immediately think of sleeping, and fantasy and the part of your life that happens subconsciously, deep in the night. The two definitions are so different, but sometimes I think, intimately entwined.

I dream about houses – in all senses of the word. I definitely dream and plan and have a goal to buy a house – absolutely! And I also dream about houses while sleeping. I think the overlap happens because it’s one of my deepest and purest desires – a little old house of my very own…

When I was a little girl I remember being attracted to old houses – if there was a Victorian house on a street, my eyes would immediately be glued to it, and I’d turn around in the back seat of the car, to look as long as I possibly could. It was a huge attraction. And I could tell the difference between truly old houses, and new houses that had been built to look old – and had big disdain for the latter. My parents built three different brand-new custom houses while I was growing up – houses in the best neighborhoods – with tile roofs and huge yards – but there I was lusting after the little old Victorian cottages we only saw when we went to Downtown San Diego. Even so, I’m definitely my father’s daughter – he may have liked brand new construction and perfect newness and I liked worn wood and wavy vintage glass windows – but deep down, our passion for houses was very similar – just different in the details.

My first apartment was the bottom story of an old house in San Diego, and since then I’ve lived in lots of rented old houses – but I’ve never owned one.

About a year-and-a-half ago I had a dream – I woke up thinking about this little old yellow house with a dusty yard. It was run down and needed work, but in the dream it was mine – my house – my home. And I was going to get to paint and repair and restore it, and make it look like it did in it’s heyday. It was such a vivid dream! And when I woke up I couldn’t shake it. At the time I was still thinking I wanted to live in LA – for business reasons – and this house just did not fit with the plan. But the dream and this dream house kept pulling at me…

I’ve always heard that when you dream about a house, the house represents you – and the different rooms represent different aspects of your personality. So if you find new rooms in your house while dreaming, you’re discovering new parts of your personality or new things you’d like to try. So I wasn’t quite sure what it meant when I was dreaming about a run down little old house in another city, when I thought I wanted to be in LA? How could I reconcile that?

But there was something about the dream that stuck with me. The house just felt like home. It felt like me. Even if I wasn’t sure I liked that.

This week, on a whim I did a search on and the house in my dream popped up – and I was instantly drawn to it. Built in 1893, a Victorian cottage with a front porch on a dusty, weed-filled lot. Then I saw the photo of the kitchen – two-tone 1930’s tile work and 1930’s cabinets. Yes, it’s definitely the personification of the house in my dream.

And while I’m not ready to buy right now, Riverside has lots of similar homes, and when I am ready, there will be one for me. I know that. I dreamed it!

The image on top is the house as I saw it in my dream – sort of blurry and happy and soft. And the image below is how the rest of the world sees such a house – run down, and needing work. I’m honestly in love with both views. I’m easy when it comes to my dream house…

Victorian cottage in Riverside, California

Estudillo Mansion in San Jacinto | 2010

In February of 2006, in one of my very first blog posts, I blogged about the Estudillo Mansion. An old family friend was deeply involved with helping to save it, and gave me and a few of my family members a private tour – it was incredibly cool! I got to see it in the middle of the restoration – and shoot it…

Since then a lot has changed at the mansion! I was there this weekend on Sunday, so I wasn’t able to go inside this time, but I was able to roam the grounds freely, and they’re beautiful. Hopefully soon I’ll get there on a Saturday – the only day it’s open – so that I can see the inside again. I’m excited to see what they’ve done to the interior.

Estudillo Mansion

If you know me, you know how I feel about fruit trees used in landscaping – I love it! It’s very Victorian – fruit and flowers – all mixed together. Just lush… And oranges? Just so Southern Californian!

Estudillo Mansion

The mansion was built in 1885 by Fransisco Estudillo, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001, and dedicated in 2004. The plaque above is located on a stand in front of the house and reads… “May all who visit this distinguished edifice enjoy it’s beauty and remarkable history.”

Estudillo Mansion100-year-old Pepper Tree // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

The pepper tree on the right is huge, and old, and I’m definitely not an expert but I do know that pepper trees this large can be 100-years-old, so I like to imagine that this tree was planted right around the turn of the last century, and has been there almost as long as the house. Known as the California Pepper Tree, they were actually brought here from Peru by the Franciscan Friars – they were planted at the California missions – so they’re definitely historically correct! The whole inside of this particular tree is hollow, so I’m not sure how much longer it will survive, but it’s lovely to see still standing – so many people are so quick to chop down trees that are not “perfect looking” but this tree is still beautiful in it’s own way – and all the huge old trees make the back yard at least ten degrees cooler than the front yard – it was 95° F in San Jacinto on Sunday, but in the shade of all those trees in the back yard? It was wonderful!

Old Bricks // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

If you look closely you can see all the different shades of mortar that have been used to repair this wall over the years.

Garden at the Estudillo MansionGarden at the Estudillo Mansion

These guys are located out in the side garden – if I remember correctly this garden was originally the “kitchen garden” – meaning it was where they grew spices and vegetables – and when it was time to start a meal, the cook would wander out in the garden and pick whatever was ripe and ready, and then go cook it in the kitchen – which was not attached to the house – too much of a fire danger. The attached kitchen was added to the house much later.

Estudillo Mansion

Sorry, We're Closed // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Yeah, only open on Saturday afternoons… Oh well!

Green BranchEstudillo Mansion // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Brick wall at the Estudillo Mansion

I was surprised by the number of donors with the last name of Estudillo. This wall is located in the garden, it’s not part of the house – as you can see it’s made of modern bricks – not the more narrow vintage bricks of the main house.

Cactus FlowersLilly Pads

Garden at the Estudillo MansionVIP Parking

Above is a garden, where every plant has a little plaque. It could be worth exploring all on it’s own – on another day…

And isn’t the sign on the right cute? I don’t know who it refers to? But it’s definitely fun!

For more on the Estudillo Mansion, there was an article in the Press Enterprise in 2008, that describes the 15-year-old mission to save it, and mentions my grandparents’ old friends, Dick and Del Kroker.

Old Houses in Riverside

Craftsmen Houses in Riverside, California

I’ve had a thing for downtown Riverside for years. I’ve always loved little old houses, and streets with lots of old houses are just heaven for me. But I’d never seen so many old houses, in such good condition until I found Riverside.

In 1885, Riverside California had the highest per capita income of any city in the United States because of the orange groves. And a lot of the houses built in that era still exist – huge Victorians on tiny city lots, with no backyards, but big trees in front. The economy stayed strong into the next century, and the houses built reflected that – the Craftsmen Homes pictured above were probably built between 1900 and 1905. And a decade or so later, art deco bungalows started to appear. Nearly every house in the downtown area is charming and full of authentic period details – and the styles represented range from Victorians in the 1880’s through 1940’s modern.

But a funny thing happened after 1950. Riverside’s economy started to suffer, and the wealthier people started to move out of the downtown area. In downtown San Diego and Los Angeles lots of old houses were torn down in the 1950’s and 60’s – they were just old houses, and out of fashion, and the land was valuable, so the houses had to go. But in Riverside, the land was not in demand – so the houses stayed. And in many cases there was very little effort made to renovate or redecorate. The houses may have been old fashioned, and not as desirable, but they still made good homes for less wealthy families.

When I first discovered downtown Riverside, it was in 1995 at the very bottom of the market. Cute little Victorians that were completely authentic and totally untouched by misguided renovators were selling for very very little. I went to an auction and saw several go for less than $10,000 each – and they were livable homes.

That was the bottom. But the real estate boom of the early part of this decade changed everything. I spent six months living in the top story of a hundred-year-old house in 1998 and paid $450 a month in rent – it was great! And I looked at cute little bungalows selling for $90,000 and wondered where the $10,000 houses I’d seen three years before had gone? Then in 2005 I saw those same houses going for $350,000 and up. It was madness. But compared to Northern San Diego County, where the same house would go for $750,000, they were still a bargain.

The worst part for me though, is that all that money meant that almost all of those houses have had significant “improvements” made in the last ten years. Most people that like old houses, don’t reallllly like old houses – they want it to look old, but still have a modern kitchen and bathroom. Not me! I loved the original ceramic tile I had in one house, and the little drop leaf table. I love old plumbing fixtures, and doors that creak, and windows that let a draft in, around the edges. It makes me really sad to think about all those improvements.

The fact that Riverside suffered economically in the middle of the last century protected all those great old houses – and the fact that Riverside prospered more recently means that a lot of them have been gutted and renovated recently. It’s sad.

Even sadder is the fact that more old houses have been lost in the last two or three years, than in two or three decades before. There are way too many empty lots where old houses used to stand. They claim it’s progress, but it’s not even close to progress in my opinion – it’s short-sighted greed. And I remember those houses – they may be gone – but I remember.

I love Fallbrook, and it’s my home, but I also love downtown Riverside and the tree-lined streets and so many beautiful little houses. Streets like the one above call out to me…

Elder House, Fallbrook, California

Elder House, Fallbrook, California // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsI’m planning to shoot some images of the exterior of my studio once I get my new signs, but I thought I could at least show Elder House today! You can see the stairs leading up to my front door, and the large deck, and the wonderful skylights that flood my main room with soft beautiful light. And in the image below you can see my little balcony, and the edge of the deck.

Elder House has an interesting history. According to an article that appeared in the Village News in 1998, it was built as the result of a competition between three local men in 1883. They each were to build a house for under $3000, and the one who built the best house would win. One of these three houses, described as a “beautiful, ornate home,” was built on Juniper Street, and later moved to West Elder. It didn’t win the contest, but it is the only one of the three still standing.

Elder HouseI’m not sure when this photo was taken, but it’s a fairly early shot – probably from before the house was moved to Elder Street. The staircase on the side of the building is long gone, and the house has been extended on both sides, at some point during the last 100 years. But the bay window downstairs and the tiny balcony upstairs look almost exactly the same today as they did when the home was new.

There are stories that one of Fallbrook’s first newspapers was located here. In the 1980’s it was a popular restaurant, then in the early 1990’s a construction company was located here, and in the late 1990’s it was first Fallbrook Country Day School and then The New School in the early 2000’s. And now it’s the home of Fallbrook’s Village News downstairs- and I’m very lucky to have the upstairs!

Elder House | Fallbrook, California

If you’d like to read more about The Building Contest in 1883, go to:

Edited on 6/23/2011 to add…

Grandma's House Restaurant

Even though I no longer have my studio in Elder House, I’m still interested in it! And I found this old postcard featuring Elder House, circa 1970! Evidently it housed Grandma’s House Restaurant at the time – and it looked a little different 40 years ago. The spindles on the railing on the second story deck and balcony are much narrower – and more authentic for the time period. The wider style in place today is charming, but I like the 1970’s version! And it’s hard to tell for sure, but the window on the top story, on the far right, may be the original narrow Victoria-era window. At some point it was replaced by a wider window – which lets in more light – but isn’t quite as authentic to the period of the house. And the staircase on the far right, is clearly different – it seems to be oriented east/west, instead of the current south/north.

But perhaps the biggest change is that there was no porch area in 1970. There’s a tiny little landing, leading to the front door, with a tiny railing – a very simple entrance for such a big house. Today there’s a covered porch that’s still small by most standards, but definitely a lot grander than what was there in 1970!

Other than that? Not much different! Even the color isn’t too different. It looks blue in the photo – and it was gray when I first came to Fallbrook – and now it’s a nice warm tan – but still all in the same vein – a nice medium tone, set off by the bright white railing and black trim. It’s a good look!

Estudillo Mansion, San Jacinto, California

The Estudillo Mansion was built in 1885 by Fransisco Estudillo in San Jacinto, California. It’s still the most beautiful home in the town, over 120 years later!

We got a special tour from Dick Kroker, a friend of my grandparents from way way back. He and his wife Del have been involved with mansion for many years, so he was a great tour guide!

Estudillo Mansion Staircase

The staircase is beautiful, but it’s very steep and the railing is really low. The average person one-hundred-years ago was significantly smaller than we are today, but this railing is so low, it makes me wonder if the Estudillo family was even shorter than the norm?

Upstairs are several bedrooms, and if you look in the closets you can see traces of wallpaper from several different decades. This house was a home for many years.

Estudillo Mansion

The old plaster has cracked away in places, and you can see that even though the brickwork on the exterior is even and perfectly aligned, on the interior they used left-over bits and pieces, since they planned to cover it up with plaster anyway. The house was recently retrofitted to withstand earthquakes, but I believe this damage was caused by an earthquake in the past.

Estudillo Mansion

A bit of the past is visible through the flaking paint in the dining room. How far back this goes, I don’t know? Could it be original to the house – or was it added later?

Estudillo Mansion

The fireplace mantle is carved marble – and features two cameos, one on each side. It’s got a dorky little modern screen in front of it now, but I’m sure they’ll eventually remove it and get a more authentic solution in place.

Estudillo Mansion

This interior is of a window on the front of the house. You can see the bricks are more evenly aligned here, and you can see the curved brick-work above the window. On the exterior that curved brick-work is visible in the top photo.

Estudillo Mansion

Estudillo Mansion

Several years ago the wrap-around porch was accidentally destroyed by an overly zealous construction crew. The gingerbread was salvaged and is back in place today, but the columns and porch roof are unfortunately all new construction. Even when a building is well-loved by the community and on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s still at risk as long as there are people who don’t understand the historical significance.

Edited to add: I went back in 2010, and got some really beautiful shots of the exterior – definitely worth checking out!