Rutherford Dr.

Up a winding Hollywood hill, at the end of an ungenerously narrow cul-de-sac, stands a 1920s Tudor style home painted brown and tan. It is meant to whimsical and in many ways it is. The realtor greets me from the door while I am still getting out of my car. She has short hair a la the Golden Girls and red lipstick that had been applied earlier in the day, all that remains of her efforts is a stain of the color on her lips. When she says hi she is friendly and jovial and well-intentioned. I walk through the door and understand that such a personality is precisely what is going to be needed in order to sell this place.
What has become a common expectation of mine in this house hunt are strange smells. One I am particularly fond of is cat piss and this place provides plenty. Confirmation of the owner’s pet of choice is in the form of two bags of Friskies near the entrance. The carpet is a deep and dark ruby red, obviously worn over the course of time to something more accurately resembling drying blood. The ceilings are coved and completely cracked with water damage, the old sooty cream paint often morphing into a muddied brown. Glass Christmas tree ornaments hang from the fifteen foot ceiling.
I ask the woman how long the previous tenant had lived here although the answer is an obvious “forever.” She tells me the man had been here since the 1940s and had passed away this year (not in this house she assures some other prospective buyers…a pair of contractors that leave within five minutes, knowing that this place is in need of more than cosmetic resurfacing). An easel sits in the corner, covered in drawings that I assume to be his own. “He was an artist,” she tells me, “An eccentric old codger.”
The place is categorically frightening, but an odd feeling of dilapidated calm prevails in this crumbling old house. I walk into the room with two chairs and “a million dollar view” as the agent puts it. And that it is. The house faces the entirety of Los Angeles…the beach, the hills, downtown, the flats, all of it. The clouds are big and rumbling today. It is clear. This man literally watched LA develop from dust. Piece by piece by piece the surface of the city changed in front of these lead glass windows. Airfields turned into office buildings. Barren dirt turned into shopping centers. Freeways sliced through stately neighborhoods. I wonder if he was sad about it. Disappointed in some way. This place was his city much more than it is mine.
I agree with the woman about the view and move into the dining room with lumberjack plaid wallpaper peeing away from the walls. From there I go to the kitchen and then out a door to the patio. The breeze blows hard from the beach and my hair whips back behind my shoulders. There is something about this place that reminds me of Disneyland and what would happen if its dreams were abandoned.
More details are provided to me by what has turned into two realtors, a man in addition to the woman with red lipstick. It was supposedly quite the Hollywood party place. “Swank,” she calls them. The owner was ninety-eight when he passed. The house is 2500 square feet. There are maid’s quarters on a detached lower level, complete with laundry chute. There is an attic upstairs…
On second floor are the bedrooms. The first is quite small and I try to relate to the gentleman realtor by saying that my brother always got stuck in rooms like this growing up. The master room shows the same signs of neglect as the res of the home. There are few things in it aside from an uncomfortable and dusty looking bed and a few old lighting fixtures. The next room is cluttered with pictures and birthday cards and stacks of books. An adjustable hospital bed points at me from the door. I offer that this was maybe the old man’s room but he tells me that he thinks this is where the granddaughter who lived with him stayed. Yikes.
The realtors direct me back upstairs and to the attic. When I am told that there is an inoperable bathroom there I sense it is less to tell me about an convenient design feature and more to warn me not to venture into it. There are windows on three of the four sides of the roof. This was his artist’s studio and I can see why. It is 4 in the afternoon and the light on the wood floor is generous and still.
Before I head down to the maid’s quarters, the man walks me over to the outdoor stairs and makes sure I watch my step. These people feel like grandparents and I want to have holidays with them. Twenty some-odd rough-hewn steps later I am in a floor of the house that hasn’t been occupied or used in at least thirty years. Leaves lay carelessly on top of paper thin wood floors. Slats underneath the walls peer out of gaping holes in the plaster. Window panes are missing. There are two industrial wash bins that were probably used before the advent of washing machines. The view is still spectacular and despite it’s ill repair, there is something quite lovely about it. At some point in time this housed one of the luckiest maids in the word.
When I walk back to the main floor I talk to the realtors for some length. I feel slightly guilty knowing that I am not going to buy this home. They offer to contact me about another that needs “less work” and I agree. I say that I hope someone else does right by this house and I do, if it’s even possible. I get into my car thinking about that house as less of a piece of property and more of a testament of time and of life, of how a house deteriorates as you deteriorate…everything sinking into disrepair until the day you’re not there anymore to care about it.


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