There are homes in my Hollywood Heights neighborhood that we all keep an eye on. That’s because we secretly long to own them. I’d venture to say pretty much everyone I know has lusted after this historic Spanish Colonial at 918 Valencia. The charming 1938 white stucco home trimmed in blue could just as easily be on Ibiza or in one of the white villages of Cadiz and Malaga. It’s that authentic.
Maria and Patrick Luna purchased the historic Spanish Colonial in Hollywood Heights about two years ago. And yes, they knew what they were in for. Remodeling a home in a conservation district is not for the faint of heart, nor the impatient.
The Lunas are uniquely suited for the task. Patrick has a degree in architectural engineering and is a structural engineering consultant. Maria has bachelor’s degrees in art and textiles, and associates degrees in both construction management and fashion design. Along with running her design company, Maria A. Luna Design, she teaches classes on textiles and perspective drawing at El Centro College. It seems fated that the Lunas should end up with this historic Spanish Colonial.
They lived in Hollywood Heights in 1990 and remodeled a house on Clermont Street. It was such a beauty when they finished it was chosen to be on our home tour — twice. Then they moved to Auburn Avenue in Lakewood and did it all over again on a much larger home. After their kids were grown, they decided it was time to downsize.
“I don’t think we ever envisioned coming back to Hollywood,” Patrick said. But then their friend Joe Kacynski, who is also a Realtor, let them know this historic Spanish Colonial was for sale. When it went under contract immediately, the Lunas put in a back-up contract. Call it fate, destiny, or just pure luck, but the first contract fell through, and the Lunas had their new home and next project.
As I mentioned, they knew what they were in for, when most buyers do not. “When you buy an old house, you have those expenses that aren’t visible,” Patrick said.
A Feat of Engineering
The infrastructure is critical in any restoration. It’s not the pretty part, but if you are going to have pretty, you must do the gut work. Replace plumbing, and electrical and installing new windows are necessities.
“We knew it would be a lot of work,” Maria said. “But it’s so important to preserve these homes. The front alone was a train wreck. We probably spent $20,000 before anyone knew we even lived here. For instance, we had a drainage issue. The dirt was draining onto the sidewalk. We wanted to put in a retaining wall 30-inches tall, planted with grass. However, the ordinance for our conservation district only allows for a 6-inch stone height at the parkway. So, we had to take the stone down that we’d installed. We made it work. You must always have a plan B.”
The Lunas had to challenge the often outdated and arbitrary conservation district rules regularly. One of the things they succeeded in having approved was the ironwork on the façade, which quite honestly seems as if it were always there. And after all, isn’t that the point of preservation? You take what history gives you, do the research, and improve it.
They took care of the infrastructure and the exterior in the historic Spanish Colonial then added on about 400 square feet to the existing 1,618. Maria drew every fixture, and piece of iron to ensure it would pass the district guidelines. Living in a house while working on it may not seem ideal. But, a home will speak to you. You learn what will work, living in it each day.
The Lunas are in the home stretch and hope to be celebrating Christmas without construction materials underfoot. It’s been a long haul, camping out in one room and spending hours navigating the conservation district codes.
“The conservation ordinance passed in 1993,” Maria said. “It needs to be revisited because people get frustrated and give up.”
Times change and ordinances should change with them. New products constantly hit the market that are better and last longer, which improves the process of preservation. For instance, there are new synthetic clays, which are affordable if you need to replace a clay tile roof. They look fantastic, and the savings are considerable. If you’ve never replaced an original tile roof, it’s about $100,000.
“We need to adjust the conservation rules, not only because of cost but also because of pollution,” Maria said. “Think about all the roofs replaced due to hail damage. Those oil-based shingles are polluting our landfills.”
Although the conservation district rules can prove challenging, they have succeeded in saving the neighborhood from what others are experiencing. But the ordinance does need updating.
Restoring a historic home is not all challenges. Fun and adventure are also part of the process. The Lunas went to San Miguel to absorb the architecture, get inspiration, and collect items for the house. They shipped back doors, tile, and hardware. They sourced light fixtures and designed a living room fireplace that looks like it’s been there since the house was built. There is no doubt this is a labor of love.
The Lunas are well-suited for taking on a project like this historic Spanish Colonial home. If you are not ready to read a conservation ordinance and jump through the hoops, then pay someone to do it for you, that understands historic renovations.
“You need a lot of patience, a sensible time frame, and of course, money,” Patrick said. “But patience is the most important element. Know when you are done, it will be worth it.”
The Lunas have accomplished what everyone in the neighborhood had hoped for with this historic Spanish Colonial. They paid attention to detail, did the research, and fought the battles for what they knew was authentic and historically correct. The result is a vintage home, updated for modern living, that does justice to historic preservation.
Karen Eubank is the owner of Eubank Staging and Design. She has been an award-winning professional home stager and writer for over 25 years. Karen teaches the popular Staging to Sell class and is the creator of the online course, The Beginners Guide to Buying Wholesale. Her love of dogs, international travel, champagne,and historic homes knows no bounds. Her father was a spy, so she keeps secrets very well! Find Karen at www.eubankstaging.com