Three Mysteries – Solved!

by Nika

Every old house has an element of mystery, and 815 17th Avenue is no exception. There are so many things about the house that have had us scratching our heads. This week I found the explanations for three of those mysteries.

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The first mystery is: when was the house divided into six apartments? I know that the house was built in 1838 and occupied by the same family until 1912. I always suspected that it was divided into apartments soon after, but had no clues about an exact date. The answer to this mystery involved the claw-foot bathtubs.

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This is a photo of the bottom of the claw-foot tub, a perspective rarely seen. It is clearly dated July 17, 1915. Mystery solved! The bathrooms were added in 1915 and that was likely the year the house was divided – no family home would need six bathrooms in that configuration. I am so happy we are refinishing the old plumbing fixtures. They will be gorgeous and keeping them really helps maintains ‘soul’ of the old house.

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Mystery number two: When the house was last painted in the late 1980s, why were the third floor gables left off? I have really puzzled over this question. Did they run out of paint? Or, lose momentum (something i can empathize with)? Why paint two stories and then just quit?

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A chance internet search yielded an answer, which was seconded by my lovely neighbor. The house was painted by a local crew using scaffolding. Safety regulations precluded building the scaffolding tall enough to reach the third floor gables. Rather than rent a personnel lift, the painting was halted. Another mystery solved.

The third mystery: what are those openings at the bottom of the four first floor windows that face the front porch? At first, I thought of them as transoms. Alabama is very hot and humid in the summer (which lasts from May-September) and I thought it logical that ventilation was the purpose. But why have them at the bottom instead of the top of the windows? A visit from an architect friend yielded the answer to this mystery. The openings are called “jib doors’ and when they are opened and the windows are up, they provided a way to move easily between the double parlors and the front porch.

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It is a good week of work at the old house.