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Welcome to the Neighborhood

A loving makeover reclaims a Hillcrest home for history


SAN DIEGO’S ARROYO LANDSCAPE makes for some interesting nooks and crannies. One notable example: a short stretch in Hillcrest, just to the north of Balboa Park. The 3500 block of Seventh Avenue, with its canopy of mature trees, is easily one of the most beautiful and historic cul-de-sacs in the city. It’s here that Bud and Kati Stratton found a rare fixer-upper, a weather-beaten home that was a thorn among roses.

Despite its run-down condition, the two-story house was love at first sight for the Strattons. Kati just wanted a bigger home so the empty-nesters could have new grandchildren visit and have space to play. Bud, a businessman whose holdings include a construction company, wanted a project he could sink his teeth into.

Built in 1911 by the Pacific Building Company for real-estate agent George L. Barney, the four-bedroom house shares the block with several historic homes designed by Irving Gill and William S. Hebbard. To the north of the Strattons’ place sits a house designed by Richard Requa; to the south is an Irving Gill creation. Across the street from the Strattons is the 1905 Marston House, now a museum.

John Lloyd Wright, son of Frank, is believed to have been the head draftsman for Pacific Building Company when the Barney House was designed and built. Although no proof exists that John worked on the residence, the house certainly has the strong Prairie-style look made famous by the senior Wright. The redwood paneling in the public rooms is remarkably similar to the Wright family home in Oak Park, Illinois, where John grew up.

Bud says the Barney House was a victim of serious deferred maintenance. For two decades prior to the Strattons’ ownership, the 3,400-square-foot residence had been a makeshift rooming house.

“One person rented it officially and unofficially sublet it to seven other tenants,” he says. As a result, the house was a warren of jerry-built room dividers and temporary solutions. The previous owners finally sold it when they realized how much it would cost to repair.

The house was literally crumbling from dry rot. Many of the additions were done poorly and allowed leakage; water damage accelerated the structure’s decay. “It was a mess,” Bud says. “One of the walls upstairs on the deck collapsed as we were looking at it.”

SAD THOUGH THE HOUSE LOOKED, Bud isn’t the type to walk away from what he sees as a needy friend. The day after escrow closed, the Strattons moved into an on-site granny flat over the garage. Bud assembled his work crew, and reconstruction was complete eight months later.

“Given what it looked like before, I’m really proud of what Bud accomplished,” says Kati. “He insisted on doing it right and doing justice to this great old home.”

There wasn’t much that didn’t need attention. Mold and dry rot had attacked. Interior walls were replastered over existing cracked stucco by using a poly-mesh system.

Cabinets were rebuilt, and floors were redone. The foundation and walls were reinforced.

Most of the original redwood woodwork was saved in the living and dining rooms. The Douglas fir trim throughout didn’t fare as well. The woodwork had been previously sandblasted so extensively that the walls and doorjambs were gouged. Bud repaired what he could and painted the rest.

No original plans were available for the Strattons to follow, but Bud and his crew could discern where the original bones of the house had been set.

There was one lucky occurrence. The Strattons were shown a clipping from a 1911 San Diego Union that included an artist’s rendering of the home. It revealed how the original plaster railing surrounding the second-story front terrace appeared.

“It also showed us how the original French front windows looked,” Bud says. “We replaced the windows the way they were originally installed.”

Bud claims he’s a “blue-collar type” because he was more concerned about saving the historic home than furnishing it with designer labels. “Putting this house back together was very costly, but we felt a tremendous responsibility to restore it first,” he says.

“In the grand scheme of things, we’re only owners for a short time, but when you choose to live in something that is obviously historic, you assume a caretaker’s responsibility. There’s a good feeling that goes with restoring this home to its proper place as a proud example of early San Diego architecture.”

Thanks to the Strattons’ excellent restoration, the home on Seventh Avenue should shine for a long time.

Didier Jantz Construction, construction manager, 619-421-3331
Pechtel’s Woodworks, Bruce Pechtel, 619-596-8094
Classic Tile Installations, 619-250-1419
Beyond Audio Video, Kevin Jones, 619-778-0011
Richard Magargal Floors, 619-441-1376
Ray Electric, 619-846-8720
Rocky Mountain Plastering, 619-296-0816
Frank Sciarrino, marble, granite and tile, 858-695-8030
Wayne Stratton Plumbing, 858-278-2078
Blisscape Landscape, Steve Bliss, 619-275-4137
Astra Coatings, terrazzo and waterproof decking, 619-542-1916
Helix Mechanical (formerly Pat Harrelson Heating & Air), 619-778-0076

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