The amazing thing about living in an historic home in Los Angeles is that you can very nearly reach back and meet the previous owners. Because Los Angeles is relatively young, even our oldest historic homes only date back about a hundred years, and if you’re lucky you can even find traces of the lives of past owners still within the walls.
For Marita Geraghty, it’s bittersweet to sell her home of nearly three decades on historic Wilton Place. Not only is she leaving the house where she raised her children, and from which she also served as a pillar of her neighborhood’s association, where she met many of her dear friends including her cherished next door neighbor and local historian Ginny Kazor, but she’s also ending the stewardship of the house, where she’s proud to claim that she’s only the second family to live in this important Los Angeles home.
“There were three generations of Churchills [who built the home], and I bought the home from Beverly Churchill’s estate,” explained Geraghty.
Naturally, she’s hoping to find buyer who will cherish the house as she has over the past twenty years.
“I did feel like I was the “caretaker” of something special, but I wouldn’t want people to feel like you have to be careful to live here,” said Geraghty. “Old houses are so sturdy!” Many would argue that old houses are much better built than new houses, especially those like Geraghty’s, which was built for well-to-do, upper-middle-class families like the Churchills.
Situated in the Wilton Historic District, containing 63 single family residences dating from 1907-1925, the home has remain unchanged over the years. Built in 1907, it was rebuilt in 1909 after the original home was destroyed by fire (along with two others on the street), record time for a house featuring this level of English Craftsman detail. In 1972, the whole neighborhood was threatened with destruction again, for a highway improvement planned by the city. Fortunately, the neighborhood was saved when the Kazors secured the area’s designation on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The home was also designated the City’s 568th Historic Cultural Monument in October 1992.
At the time, the news of the designation was reported in the Larchmont Chronicle:
“The City Council has accepted the recommendation of the Cultural Heritage Commission and named the Thomas A. Churchill Sr. residence, 215 S. Wilton place, the city’s 568th Historic-Cultural monument.
The Churchhill family were among the pioneers who settled the Willamette River Valley in Oregon. Thomas Churchhill lived for sometime in Montana before moving to Los Angeles in 1907. The two-story craftsman style house was built at 215 Wilton Place for Churchill in 1909 and he lived in it continuously between 1910 and 1932. The architect was Francis Pierpont Davis, who in partnership with his brother Walter, designed many private homes in Los Angeles as well as Saint John’s Episcopal Church and the Villa D’Este Apartments in West Hollywood.
The Wilton Place residence is a frame construction with a brick porch extending across the entire front of the house. Let it glass light in the front door bears Churchill’s initials and bookcases and cupboards inside the house also both doors with Lane glass. The pre-world war one lighting fixtures are intact and original to the home. Only a few minor changes have been made on the interior of the house and are presumed to have been executed during the years the Churchill family occupied.”
Interestingly, Davis, the noted architect who designed the home, came to Los Angeles in 1907. He lived, with his family, for many years in a home he designed at 500 South Rossmore in Hancock Park, until he died in 1953 at the age of 68.
Geraghty and her former husband Michael Maguire were also recognized by the Cultural Heritage Commission in 1999 for their restoration of the house. The couple replaced all the rafter tails along the roof edge that had been removed.
“The rafter tails had been cut off to install modern gutters,” explained Geraghty. “After replacing the first and second story rafter tails in both the front and back of the house, we also had custom gutters made for the home that were like the original gutters.”
Using the blueprints they found for the house, they also re-built the original flower box that can be seen on the front of the home in the historic pictures, but which had been long gone by the time Geraghty bought the house in the 1990s. They also stripped the paint off the oak front door and the ceiling of the porch, and re-painted the exterior in historically appropriate colors. Geraghty explained that many historic homes were painted in lighter colors or white to reflect the fashion at the time. In addition, she removed inappropriate shutters from the front facade and replaced lighting fixtures. Geraghty said she resisted the temptation to alter the interior of the house. All the wood floors in the home are original, and there’s still just one bathroom upstairs…but that didn’t bother Geraghty and her two daughters.
Geraghty invited us to share the story of this amazing house and photos of the house dating back to the 1910s as evidence of how the house has remained intact with very few alterations. While so much of the house is just as it would have been when the Churchill family resided there, it feels bright and cheerful, like an old house with a new coat of paint. It’s been lovingly cared for, so it doesn’t feel old and stuffy, proving the old adage that good design ages well.
Geraghty shared photos with us of the house when they purchased it in 1992. She was careful to document everything and even found some papers from the previous owners, the second generation of Churchills to live in the house.
Another wonderful relic of the house’s past is a spectacular Cecil Brunner climbing rose that covers the backyard fence. The recent photo was taken after the rose had been trimmed this summer. Geraghty expects the rose to come roaring back.
Though the house has a rich past, there’s plenty of life ahead for the next family. Click here for more photos.