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…