Author Archives: Jason

Thank You For Being A Friend: Visiting The Golden Girls House

Golden Girls House in Los Angeles

Picture it: Lake Forest, Illinois, 2001.

A skinny young man sits in the basement of a multi-million dollar home using a big device that costs more than his car to iron bed linens, the price of which could’ve covered student loan payment for more than eight months. This is a new world for this young man. He was raised in a blue collar household where sheets were laundered at the coin-op and nothing was ever ironed.

He had started this new job just weeks before. He had seen an advertisement in the free weekly city newspaper and couldn’t believe his eyes. After spending his high school years in food service and college career in retail and then desk monkey jobs, hopping from one unfulfilling situation to slightly less unfulfilling situation, this job seemed like a dream come true. The advertisement listed the job title as household manager but the young man preferred to think of himself as a butler. As a professed homebody and Martha Stewart wannabe, the job description read like a list of the man’s favorite activities. Cooking, shopping, laundry, organizing and other household tasks for a couple in the suburbs.

The young man was also excited about the opportunity because he knew that this job – a live-in position with a healthy salary – would help him dig out of the debt that he accrued through college borrowing and sporadic employment. But the young man was also bored by his new surroundings. He had moved out of the city and to this tony suburb where he was considered “the help.” If not for the televisions in every room – including the basement, where he spent many hours toiling with an iron – he may have gone mad.

There was one television show in particular that kept the young man company during the darkest hours of that winter in the suburbs. A show set in sunny Miami, Florida, about four ride-or-die friends who had created a family for themselves. That TV show was The Golden Girls. And that skinny young man was me.

Image via IndieWire

In the early 2000s, Lifetime Television relied on The Golden Girls to fill hours and hours of airtime. There were four-hour blocks of the day when the network aired back to back episodes of the show. Suddenly, just when I needed them most, Blanche, Dorothy, Rose and Sophia were there to be my friends. The ladies kept me company over the winter months, when my employers, the owners of the house, traveled and I was left to keep a watch over the big, empty and eerily quiet home. The ladies cracked wise while I sat at the ironing machine in the basement for hours on end. They helped me hone my one liners and witty replies while I prepared dinners and canned vegetables from the garden that the landscaper tended.

I probably watched all seven seasons of the show many times over during the year that I was in exile in the suburbs. Back in the early 2000s, The Golden Girls was just a sitcom that filled Lifetime’s airtime. Fast forward a decade-and-a-half and The Golden Girls has become a cultural touchstone and shorthand for “yes, I am indeed a gay man of a certain age.” Lifetime has since become the network of sensational movies and reality shows, but The Golden Girls has survived its domination of reruns on different networks and, just recently, on Hulu. The girls still bring me comfort – it’s my go-to show when I’m sick or depressed or just need a mental checkout – and my ears can pick up the theme song from miles away. We were visiting The Mister’s aunt in a nursing home recently, I heard the familiar opening notes of the theme song echo its way from another patient’s room and down the hallway. Remarkably, I resisted the temptation to ditch The Mister’s aunt and go hunker down with the girls in whichever room the were airing that night.

Given my undying love for The Golden Girls, it seems only fitting that I should visit them, right? On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I did just that. You read that right – on a recent trip to Los Angeles, NOT Miami!

While the fictional house that Blanche and George built is located at 6151 Richmond Street in Miami, the actual house that was used for the exterior shots is in California – 245 North Saltair Avenue in Brentwood, to be exact. (Note that this house was only used for exterior shots for the first few seasons of the show. A replica of the house in Brentwood was built at the MGM theme park at Disney World in Orlando. In later seasons the MGM theme park house was used for exterior shots for the show. The replica house was demolished in 2003 – but the original home in Brentwood is obviously still standing.)

The Golden Girls House on This American House

It was raining the day that we drove to the Brentwood location of the house that was used for exterior shots of The Golden Girls. If it had been an episode of the show, Dorothy would have walked into the house wearing an oversized, yellow raincoat and slouchy boots. She’d shake the drops off an umbrella before she collapsed it and dropped it into the big vase by the door.

“Dorothy,” Rose would say from her seat on the sofa, “is it raining?”

“No, Rose,” Dorothy would reply, “I was just auditioning for a role as a geriatric Morton Salt girl.”

Cue laughter from studio audience.

As we stood outside the house, I actually found myself feeling a sense of disappointment. This doesn’t look anything like the Girls house, I thought. Perhaps it was missing a late-80’s sedan in the driveway. Or maybe I just needed to hear that familiar melody that opened every episode  as the establishing shot of the house filled the screen.

Of course, I knew that this wasn’t the actual home of Blanche Devereaux and that the interior, if I had access, would look nothing like the sets used in the show. And yet it was still difficult to overcome the temptation to run up the driveway, ring the doorbell and wait for one of the girls to answer.

I don’t know who I would expect to answer the door. Maybe after Blanche, Rose and Sophia sold The Golden Palace they decided to move back to the house. And since they were getting on in years they might have had a need for a new household manager. Coco the houseboy hadn’t lasted past the pilot episode, but since Dorothy had married Lucas Hollingsworth and moved to Atlanta, the girls would have needed some help around the house. (Hey, I have experience as a household manager. That should’ve been my job!)

All but one of the Girls has now gone off to the big lanai in the sky. Even if The Golden Girls lived in this house, the only remaining resident would be Rose and whatever houseboy they picked up in later years. And maybe that’s why the house seemed disappointing in real life. I recognized that not only was this a fake house but most of the women who inhabited it and the characters I loved are no longer with us.

After we snapped photos of the house, we drove to nearby coffee shop. As we waited in line for the coffee, I flipped through the photos on my phone.

“Oh,” I said to The Mister, “there it is!”

Whereas standing in front of the physical structure had made it seem too real, seeing the photo of the house through the lens of my phone screen allowed me to picture it as the home of The Golden Girls. The disappointment dissipated and I was happy to have made the journey after all.

Winter Reflections on Corner Windows

You know how I was saying that I love the windows in our house? Well this is why.

Frank Lloyd Wright really knew what he was doing when he placed corner windows in his homes. Each of the three bedrooms in our American System Built Home have corner windows like this and the effect is huge. Pushing the windows to the corners of the rooms brings in some of the most amazing light. And when you first walk into a room your eyes are drawn to the corner, to outdoors, to treetops and light.

One day last week I caught this sunset just as it was shining its brilliance through the windows in the front bedroom. I paused for a moment to think about all the previous owners who have probably had moments of reflection inspired by the house’s design.

I think back to the house’s first winter in 1918. I wonder whether Mr. and Mrs. Meier admired the sunlight streaming through the windows. I wonder whether they watched the snow fall and the windows frost and thought about how happy they were to have finally moved into their American System Built Home.

I think about the kids who have probably looked impatiently out the windows in hopes that it’ll be a snow day. I imagine them pushing one of the casement windows open and reaching out to catch a few flakes as they drifted toward earth. “See, Mom,” they might have said. “It’s really coming down out there! It’ll be a snow day for sure tomorrow.”

I imagine the teachers who inhabited the house for 30 years who might have had the same feeling about snow days. Perhaps they counted on snowstorms to deliver unplanned days off that would allow them to hole up in the warmth of the house. And maybe they would see the sun setting through the windows and, refreshed by a day of rest, would feel revived for the new day ahead.

This is our fourth winter in the house and I still find myself being inspired by its beauty. I hope whoever owns the Delbert Meier house one hundred years from now knows that it has been filled with love.

How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

In taking a year to rehab the kitchen in fits and starts I ended up experimenting with my approach to painting the cabinets. By the time I got to the second half of the job, I had perfected my method. And now that we’ve lived with the painted cabinets for a few months, I’m proud to say that my method worked! The painted cabinets are holding up nicely and are easy to clean. In other words, my trial and error is your guide to doing it right the first time.

When I first started the project, I used my Craftsman Nextec tool to sand the doors and drawer fronts before applying primer and paint. That was a messy and time consuming job that I thought was necessary to get good paint coverage. I soon realized I was making more work for myself than was necessary. So without further adieu, here’s the method for painting the cabinets that I finally landed on.

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Dinner at the Guy Smith House
American System Built Homes

Taking ownership of a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home means becoming the steward of a piece of architectural history. The people who are willing to undertake such a responsibility share a passion for history and architecture. (And we may all have a screw loose, too.) After buying the Delbert Meier house in 2013, we started reaching out to fellow owners of American System Built homes. Birds of a feather and all that.

Last weekend we were invited to a gathering of some of the Chicago area American System Built Home owners. The owners of the Guy Smith house hosted The Mister and myself along with the owners of the H. Howard Hyde house and the Oscar Johnson house. We had all met last summer when the Guy Smiths* celebrated their 100th anniversary with a party. This weekend’s dinner was to bring us all together again to share house stories.

The Guy Smith and H. Howard Hyde houses are located on the same street in the Beverly neighborhood on Chicago’s far south side. The Guy Smith is one of the larger ASBH models and has been lovingly restored and maintained over the years. The H. Howard Hyde house is very similar to our own home and is under new ownership. We had been inside both houses last summer during the Guy Smith’s anniversary party but it was nice to return to spend more time in the Smith house.

(The Oscar Johnson house is located in Evanston, a Chicago suburb. We’ve also had the opportunity to visit the Johnson house on a couple of occasions.)

Bringing the four owners (we’re all couples so it’s actually eight owners) together was a great idea. We’re all in different stages of ownership and conservation/renovation. The Guy Smiths have been in their house for over twenty years and have done a lot of work to maintain their home. The Howard Hydes purchased their home just last year and are in the beginning stages of exploring the history of American System Built Homes. The Oscar Johnsons, a couple with two small children, have owned their house for about ten years and rehabbing their home in fits and starts when times allows. And then there’s us – the owners of the Delbert Meier house. You probably already know our story. We’re the guys who are also taking the tortoise approach to the rehab race – slow and steady.

We all traded war stories about rehab surprises, architectural features that have been lost to time and why you should never tell a contractor that you own a Wright house. (There’s no quicker way to see the price of a project skyrocket than to let someone know that your home has some historical significance.) The owners of the Smith house had prepared packets of information that they had gathered from the Wright archives. As we supped at the Prairie-style dining table, we perused the documents and talked about our different experiences as owners of ASB homes. In going through the documents and sharing experiences, it became clear that we all view our homes as passion projects. Birds of a feather indeed.

Our hearty thanks to all the owners for gathering for the dinner. And a special thanks to the owners of the Guy Smith house for coordinating and hosting.

The Guy Smith house was recently featured in a segment on WTTW, Chicago’s PBS station. Watch the segment to learn more about that house as well as the other Wright-designed homes in Beverly.

*In the interest of privacy, I’m referring to each owner by the the name of their house. 

ASBH Features: Our 100-Year-Old Windows

For a 100-year-old-house, the original wood casement windows in our American System System Built Home are in excellent condition. This is largely due to the fact that the house has been fortunate enough to pass from caring owner to caring owner. We learned from the grocer’s daughter, for instance, that it was her father who had carefully reglazed the windows and built the interior (storm) windows and screens. And according to a longtime neighbor, the windows were a point of pride for the teacher who owned the house for many years after the grocer sold it. The neighbor told us that the teacher spent his summer breaks tending to the house and preserving the wood windows.

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