Category Archives: history

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.

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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All We Owe We Owe Ioway

We didn’t make it to the 2017 Iowa State Fair, alas, so we missed our chance to see the famous butter cow (literally, a cow sculpted out of butter) and her companion this year, a butter likeness of Laura Ingalls Wilder, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Little House on the Prairie author’s birth. Given that this year also marks what would have been Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150th birthday, and that like Wilder he also has an Iowa connection, we wonder if he was also under consideration for this honor. After all, other buttery boys have served as milkmaids in previous years at the Fair, including a simply creamy Elvis Presley, John Wayne, and Garth Brooks.

But let us not be bitter over butter, or churn up any controversy here. Laura Ingalls Wilder was a fine and fitting choice, especially given the dairy-themed nickname her Pa famously gave her, “Half Pint.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder Butter Sculpture via USA TODAY

via USA TODAY: Sarah Pratt standing by the Laura Ingalls Wilder butter sculpture

The Iowa State Fair also brings to mind that wonderful old movie, State Fair (the 1945 version, that is), with music by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Especially this delightful little ditty in which they really spread it on thick – the butter, AND the good ol’ Iowa “corn”.

Given the house and half acre of Iowa we’re paying a mortgage on, we might slightly adjust the song’s title to read, “All We Owe, We Owe in Ioway.” But putting aside that IOU we owe IOWA, we do also owe Ioway our thanks for its brand of good wholesome fun, which of course is not just limited to state fairs and butter sculptures. After all, Iowa is home to several Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings, if not a Butter Frank – not yet anyway. We’ll do our best to butter up the selection committee for next year’s State Fair sculpture.

American System Built Homes: A Complete List of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Early Prefab Homes

Burnham Street Two Flats

When most people think of Frank Lloyd Wright they think of his impressive roster of spectacular custom designed homes. But Wright was also an early proponent of design for the masses. While his Usonian homes might be more commonly known, Wright was dabbling in prefab as early as the nineteen-teens. By 1915 Wright had partnered with Milwaukee builder Arthur Richards to create what would come to be known as American System Built Homes. The venture was interrupted by the United States’ entry to World War I (as well as infighting between Richards and Wright) but not before a number of ASB homes were built in the midwest. How many were built? We’re not sure, actually. There are a few ASB homes that have been demolished over the years and some others that are still being discovered.

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