A Santa Barbara Sweat Equity Success Story
Downtown Home Converted With Help of Homes for People
Address: 329 West Ortega Street
Thomas and Janet Rhodes have lived in the home at 329 West Ortega Street for more than 35 years, and they helped convert it into three condos. They own the first floor and were part of a group called Homes for People. This nonprofit group began in 1980, and its goal was to make housing in Santa Barbara more affordable. The motto was “people helping people help themselves.” This organization, which was headquartered at 17 East Haley Street, rehabilitated older properties such as this home, and built new homes as well.
In 1986, the Homes for People organization bought the home and began the renovation process. Much of the work on the home was done by professionals, but prospective homeowners were also required to provide “sweat equity,” and the Rhodes did just that by nailing drywall, etc. Mark Lurie, one of the founders of the group, told me that the organization was active until the late 1990s. He estimates that they created about 115 affordable housing units.
Attention to Detail
The overall simplicity of this Victorian home is highlighted by the flowing curves of the spandrels that ornament the top of the porch posts. These are flat pieces of wood that were cut with a scroll saw. A scroll saw has a narrow-toothed blade that moves up and down as the operator guides the wood past the blade. Early scroll saws were foot-powered, and later ones were powered by machine.
A low sandstone wall separates the yard from the sidewalk. Thomas told me that the iron fence atop the wall, while appropriate to the home’s age, is a later replacement. (During World War II, some iron fences and trim were removed from homes and donated to scrap drives.)
The actual year that this home was built is uncertain, but it appears on the 1892 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map. The first owners were probably Charles Marcellus Fulton and his wife, Maggie. Charles was a farmer who owned the City Feed Store at 733 State Street, which sold hay, animal feed, and coal. I was amused to find the store’s ad for a lice treatment that read, “Hello, Mr. Chicken … Just the thing for your growing family.” Maggie was the daughter of a Goleta farming family named Hicks. Charles also served as a deputy sheriff.
The Fultons appeared to have moved out of the home by 1902 when I found an ad in the paper stating that the house was for rent. “Two story frame, nine rooms good repair, barn, cistern, city water, $15 per month. You’ll have to hurry.”
The home’s proximity to downtown attracted homeowners who had a variety of occupations over the years. These included: cigar and sporting goods store owner, architectural firm foreman, butcher, carpenter, meter reader, newspaper agent, exterminator, plumber, jeweler, and chef.
What do the Rhodes like about their home, apart from the pride of having helped with the renovation? They really appreciate the location that is just three blocks from State Street. Janet pointed out the Victorian-style wallpaper that she had installed in the front entrance. They are also proud of the large jacaranda tree on the parkway, as well as the avocado tree in the corner of the backyard. That tree was planted on the site of a former outhouse. When the hole was dug for the tree, several bottles were unearthed. Thomas showed me one of them.
In the years before regular garbage service, many people burned their trash in a backyard incinerator and threw other items down the outdoor toilet hole. Bottle collectors treasure old outhouse holes, which are a great source of collectible bottles. One bottle collector that I interviewed years ago said that you had to dig carefully to avoid breaking the bottles. The other thing to remember, he told me, was to avoid licking your fingers!
Please do not disturb the residents of 329 West Ortega Street.
Betsy J. Green is a Santa Barbara historian and author of Discovering the History of Your House and Your Neighborhood, Santa Monica Press, 2002. Her website is betsyjgreen.com.
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