Crimes Against Victorians

One of the things that you can't help but noticing, even in a town with as many fine examples of Victorian architecture as Alameda has, are the travesties done to old houses in the name of either expediency or beautification. So I give you a short tour around to some of the horror stories of our neighborhood.

This is a typical story: the old wooden front porch is falling apart with rot, and you don't ever want to have to deal with it again. So you tear the porch and steep front steps down (many of these smaller Victorians are duplexes with one unit downstairs and one up) and make this fancy 1974 brick arch. That goes really well with the Victorian facade. At the same time, how about we fill in that side porch and make an addition?


Another very common crime committed against the Victorians here is stuccoing the exterior. I have some other great examples, but this one is great because a) that orange, and b) the extra-classy job painting the trim white.

Sloppy painting

Even growing a massive, ugly shrub in front of your house cannot hide the fact that the wood siding has been replaced with asbestos shingles, and the wood windows have been replaced with aluminum. As an added touch of class, the wooden steps are now concrete. Because nothing says aging gracefully like concrete stairs.

Bad siding job

The main problem I have with the asbestos shingles a lot of people stuck on their houses in the old days is that they seem to think that not having wooden siding means not having to perform even the barest maintenance. That is how you end up with the porch roof growing mildew. Bonus: somebody stole all the trim off the house on the left.


This looks like just about innocuous midcentury apartment building. Ugly, yes (primarily because it should be white, not mauve), but not offensive. But what is that in the background?

Apartment complex

It's a big old Victorian mansion, stuccoed over and converted into apartments! And painted to match the building next door, because naturally they should match. As a bonus, there's a crappy shed dormer stuck on in the attic, and what appears to be an apartment under the porch. And those brick stairs? They just sort of pasted them on top of the original stone stairs, so the level of the porch had to be changed (the sides and base are original).

Stuccoed victorian

No matter how tempting it is, a metal awning never looks right on a Victorian. I know, that Southern sun can be a real drag, but there are many other options that will make your house look less like a Weinerschnitzel.

Metal awnings

More of the fake-stone siding. I'm not sure what offends me more about it: the sheer ugly, or the fact that it's fake. I mean, would I find a real stone wall as irritating? I'm guessing a stonemason would do a better, more authentic-looking job, but if you had the money to pay for a stonemason you could just replace the front siding already. Bonus: replacing the wooden columns and porch rails with metal, then replacing the double-hung windows with single-pane vinyl jobs has turned your cute Victorian cottage into a cheap imitation of a 1970's tract home. Congratulations.

Fake stone

The fancy stucco pattern. Nice paint job, too. Did they run out of paint before they got to the bottom?

Swirly stucco pattern

There is just no reason for this fake stone wall. It looks horrible, it doesn't cover anything really large, and by the way, it looks horrible.

Fake. Stone. Wall.

Here's another gorgeous old house covered in stucco. But this one has something interesting: they didn't quite finish the job.

Queen Anne drowing in stucco

If you look to the left of the stairs, you can see that they stopped the stucco short of completely covering the building. Why? Who knows, but this does illustrate the fact that they didn't strip off the old siding before doing this to these poor houses: they slathered that stuff over the top. Unfortunately, being buried in stucco is not so great for wood, so it's usually pretty much impossible to salvage all of it.

Stucco gap

Multiple crimes here: the fake stone siding, painted white, an unfortunate stair paint choice (and concrete replacement stairs) and the inexplicable decision to paint part of the front patio blue, too. And they don't seem to be able to decide what trim colour to paint around the windows.

Blue stairs

If you wanted to live in a box, maybe you should have bought a box. What a hideous addition. And the security gate around the front porch just amps up the period charm.

Bad addition

Sometimes, you wake up in the morning and just feel an overwhelming need to put a square hat on your house.

The ship

This storefront is completely stripped of all gingerbread, has had various types of windows patched in and torn out and replaced with something else countless times, and has basically lost all charm.


I put this house last because this one breaks my heart. Completely empty, rotting to bits. It would be so wonderful with a lot of care and attention, and the ability to buy out the Baptist church next door (this house needs a yard and barely has one, and anybody who has ever lived near a church knows what a pain in the butt they are).

Sometimes I drive around the island and try to find a house I would want more than my own. This is the only one that comes close, modulo the yard issues.

Neglected to death

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posted by ayse on 05/01/06


Um, that reminds me. When and what are you going to finish siding your house after your new foundation?

Thanks for the tour. I'm a native alamedan living in Oregon and your blog makes me a little less homesick. I'm shocked at the condition of the last house, having grown up nearby, it seems the work has been going on forever.

Greg, we're auditioning a carpenter this week who we may hire to do the siding this summer. We're just going to replace what was there with the same stuff (basically). I know! We should do the fake stone; that would be so classy! Wait until you see what we're doing with the front porch.

Mary, glad to share the island with you. I hate to say it, but I've seen no sign of work on that last house, apart from things falling off it. It kills me.

Enjoyed the tour, and thanks for taking the time to snap the photos and post them for readers. As I read your comments, I decided to explore more of your blog and house so I stayed awhile. You've got a great chronicle here of work you've done over the years.

Love your photos and comments.

The former owners of our "neoclassic rowhouse" had a simple solution to the stucco over redwood problem: they put vinyl siding over the stucco.

All I need is 30 grand or so to fix it.

Oh yeah, our front porch is a lovely brick and wroght iron '50s special. Presumably installed by the stucco people.

I am soooo glad that you mentioned the pain of living next to a church. They tore down my classy wooden fence to put up a chain link fence, they cross said fence to Roundup wild roses in my yard, etc. etc. Not to mention the Wednesday night youth "singing" in the backyard. HELP!!!!

Did you ever think that the Victorian houses might be the real crime? Lord knows, I certainly hate mine. Dark, cramped, fussy.

Hmm. I can't see how hating your house is a good reason for making a mess of it. That'd only make me hate mine more.

Victorians are not for everybody; I love the small rooms and compartmentalized space, so you don't have to see everybody at once; I am somewhat asocial. But others don't like the smaller rooms with walls and doors between them, and long to break down the inside walls to make one big, structurally unstable space. On the other hand, if I didn't like the shape and form of the rooms, I don't think I would have bought my house in the first place. It's not as if there are no other houses out there at all.

And there is a lot to be said for not fighting with the house about what it is.

Sure--I wouldn't mess up my house just because I consider Victorians a sorry stop-over between two much more elegant eras. The ugly messes that occured in between Charles Bulfinch and Frank Lloyd Wright.

But I was sorely tempted by the recent Dwell issue titled Traditional Outside, Modern Inside. When I weigh the options between hanging hand-blocked wallpaper in every jewel-like little room and painting the whole joint stark white... well, I think stark white may win this fight.

By the way, Victorian towns are AWESOME. The whole pre-automobile walking town thing is utterly civilized. So I live in a fabulous neighborhood and pay the price with a completely irrational house.

Note: We're getting pummeled with spam comments, so I've turned off the ability to use any HTML or include any links for the time being. Email with any issues.

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