08 January 2016

Finding Physical Evidence: Second Back Door

My modest little bungalow was built in at least two stages. The first, the main house as seen today from the street, was built in the 1920's, likely around 1922-1923. As I've featured in a few previous blog posts, the rear portion of the house, which currently contains our living room and the third bedroom, was built as an addition with at least part of it built in 1946. With a back door exiting the house onto the back wood deck, I've always assumed that this was the entrance to the house's second living unit back when it was a duplex-- a neighbor had confirmed that tenants entered the house from a rear door. The wood deck was built within the last 15 years by my house's previous owners. Since the house is raised a few feet from grade, it was never difficult for me to peek underneath the deck to see the small set of concrete steps leading to the back door, as well as a concrete patio at the bottom.

However, after speaking with a woman who lived in my house from 1958-1961, something seemed off about her description of the house's previous duplex layout. Having seen the current photos of the house which I had sent her, she had relayed to me that the addition of the deck onto the back of the house had made it look quite different from what she knew. Then, in running through the sequence of rooms which were part of the second unit, she described entrances into the house at both Catherine Cantlin's bedroom (my current living room) as well as into the kitchen of the second living unit. Glossing over this fact at first in my mind, it did not quite register-- during the conversation I simply listened as she ran through the layout, assuming that tenants or family member occupants had shared the front entrance door with Catherine.

But looking back at this conversation the next day, and revisiting the layout she described, the access to the second unit wasn't making sense in that arrangement. Then for some reason, it clicked in my mind and realized that what she was describing in that brief instant was a second back door to the house, one which gave direct access to the unit. Looking at a straight-on view of the rear addition, you can see the main A-framed gable roof portion of the old addition to the left, taking up about 2/3 of the back elevation. To the right is a former porch which was enclosed, with the current back door all the way to the right.

Look at the main structure on the left, and at the blank portion to the left of the windows-- this blank space throws off the symmetry of the gable elevation. In my wandering daydreams of future additions, I have often thought of making this whole rear addition one big "great room", and perhaps relocating the rear entrance to the location of that blank space. Now, it makes perfect sense why I might have thought to do so-- because it had already been that way!

Now, let's looking even more closely. The asbestos shingle siding at this area is not quite straight and true, as you can see some variation as if this portion of the wall is "bubbling" out a tiny bit. There are a few areas where courses of siding are not quite exactly aligned (look below the left edge of the window trim, and also right near the deck railing)-- evidence that a former opening had been covered over and new siding patched in.

Now, even closer. At the junction between the siding and the wood deck, you can see evidence of a wood door threshold I had never noticed before, just peeking out. It may be a bit difficult to tell in the photo, but it is about 3 feet long, the right size for a door, and is clearly different wood than that of the exterior deck:

And finally, let's take another peek underneath the deck at this area. I had done so previously, but only with a quick glance and never with a flashlight, as this corner of the house is blocked by a plastic toy/bike shed which we use and has been there since we moved in. Now, we look underneath the deck here and what do we see?

A second set of concrete steps, with presumably jack-hammered pieces of the old concrete patio piled on it! It is now clear that this was the back door referenced by my neighbor (he never had a reason to get more specific with me). This was the direct entrance into the second living unit in the house, entering directly into what was the unit's kitchen. In their remodel of the house and in the process of reclaiming it as a single-family house (which I still need to get an account of), the former owners of 2001-2014 appear to be the ones who have covered over this entrance, and eventually placed a new closet here on the interior side, turning it into the house's third bedroom.

This was quite an exciting discovery, fueled by my conversation with someone who lived in my house over 55 years ago!

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