153 Race Street, San Jose, California

Updated April 2015

Floorplan    Living Room     Dining Room    Kitchen     Bedrooms    Original Bathroom     Details       Back Yard      Front yard

"Hollywood" Driveway       Adding Public Art         The History of the House         House Family Tree       Other "Relatives"   

This is how the house looked in May 2005 when we saw it for the first time.

This was the house in January 2006. We removed the camellias from the front, and planted California natives and drought-resistant plants in the front beds.

On October 1, 2005, we were part of a tree-scaping project that added 28 trees to our street, including one tiny new tree in front of our house, just to the right of the front walkway. Compare to the photos below to see how much it grew over the next few years.

May 2006. We had just cleaned 4 coats of paint off those bricks on the front porch. Compare to the photo above. It is spring and the tree in front is leafing out.

August 2008. The tree out front, still hard to see in this photo, is over 8 feet tall now. The garden has matured nicely.

The street tree we planted in 2005 (on the right) is now 12 feet tall and actually casts a bit of a shadow.

May 2010. Lots of changes in two years: The big street tree out front died of Red Ring Rot which was hollowing it out. It was taken down in April of 2010. We replaced it with another Australian Willow (you can just barely see it in the photo on the left).

And we took out the lawn! There is a brick walkway from the central walkway in both directions - to the driveway and to the fence, ending in a small patio. Plantings are almost all drought-tolerant and on a drip system. Good-bye lawnmower! Want to see blow-by-blow photos?

November 2012. Two more years have passed. The trees are taller and the garden has matured. What you cannot see on the right is that we put in a new driveway.

Behind the taller tree you can almost see the cherry tree we added.

January 2015. Big trees. In the far left corner can you see our latest addition? It's a Little Free Library! [Google "Little Free Library Images" for more photos from around the globe.]

Below are two close-ups of ours. Our go-to guy for house-related construction built it for us, the smallest project he's ever undertaken. He even put stucco on the outside to mimic our house, and did what he could to match the roofline. We love it!

The trees are huge, fully leafed out when we took this photo right after we painted the house in June 2017.
We painted the Little Free Library to match, of course.

The Living Room          Back to Top

Several views of the living room. It is a lovely, spacious room with "egg and dart" ceiling molding.

We've gradually acquired furniture and fixtures appropriate for the house.


Spring of 2006 we had the fireplace refaced with tile, and the bookcases that were free-standing on either side of the fireplace replaced with built-in bookcases that were there originally and a prior owner removed (you could tell from the "shadow" on the flooring).

More photos of the fireplace and bookshelves.  

Our "Egg and Dart" Molding! It's been painted 8-9 times, so it's a bit hard to see the detail.

For a better look: "egg and dart on line"


The Dining Room         Back to Top

The dining room is another large room. One of the prior owners decided to open up and modernize the dining room hutch by removing its original double glass doors cabinets on top. Then they added a Tyrolean-esque border with curved corner shelves. What were they thinking? It probably looked better when all the woodwork was white. See BEFORE and AFTER photos below.

Note the small square windows at the top of the cabinet doors which mimic the small square lights in the outside windows (third photo).


The dining room table is the one that was in Sabine's house when she was growing up. We had the top refinished. The chairs in the "BEFORE" photo went with the prior table. The chairs in the "AFTER" photo were purchased to go with the much older table, and the styles work well together. We have since added some beige light-weight curtains.

The only slight embarrassment we have is that we removed the original dining room light fixture. Okay, we thought it was ugly. We sold it to someone who wanted it for an old house in downtown San Jose. We should have kept it, at least in the basement, for some future owner who might have preferred it. We like the fixture we have now, but still feel guilty about it.





The Kitchen            Back to Top

In the kitchen we swapped out the stove. The prior owner had a 1950's Wedgewood gas stove and we put in a 1940's Wedgewood gas stove that was actually in better condition. We also added the kitchen island. At the time the house was built, a kitchen might have had a work table instead of an island.

The red cabinet in the corner is original, although it was painted white for most of its life. We like the red, the color chosen by the previous owner. The rest of the kitchen, as you can see, is very modern. At one point there was a built-in breakfast nook to the left of the refrigerator, with windows looking out onto the backyard. That, alas, was also removed by a previous owner, but we have plans to remedy that!

We backdated the lighting in the kitchen. We have no idea what was there originally, but a prior owner had put in recessed lighting, which is absolutely WRONG for a 1920s home, no matter how much you've updated the kitchen cabinets. Recessed lighting shining on a1940s stove? Nooooo! Fans of older homes refer to recessed lighting as "ceiling acne." Another owner had put in a ceiling-fan-and-light-combo, presumably because the room got so hot in the summer because of the glass back doors (more on that below).

Anyway..... as I was saying, we backdated the lighting in the kitchen. We removed the recessed lighting and did a bang-up job covering up the holes. We bought light fixtures more typical of the era. We thought about trying to find antique lights, but didn't have the time or patience.

This was the back door area when we bought the house. Lovely French doors, but they are much too modern for this house. They only locked from the inside, so you couldn't exit and lock the house. You had to go through the front door and down the driveway, if you stored the car in the garage (which we prefer to do). The big glass doors also let in a lot of afternoon sun in the summer, which heated the kitchen at least 10 degrees warmer than adjacent rooms. We had a small table and chairs for eating in the kitchen.
Spring of 2007 we removed the doors and putting in a more typical door on the right and a window on the left. See below.

For the step-by-step
photos of this project: click here.

The original house had two windows where the door and window are now, with a built-in breakfast nook. We couldn't put the nook back precisely where it was, because then we'd have no back door, which is required (to say nothing of practical). So, we rotated the location 90 degrees and now we have:

Designed and built by Paul Davis who, unfortunately for us, left the San Jose area to go to architecture school in San Diego. Paul is a master with wood!

We had to paint the wall because the light-colored maple and the light-colored paint on the wall just didn't work well together. We painted just the lower part of the wall, leaving the band near the ceiling the original color. See below. Then a drop light was installed to match the others put in earlier in the spring, and the light switch was swapped for the antique push-button style we prefer.

For more details on the breakfast nook, click here.

Our design also called for a cat door in the wall under the window. The photo was taken before the breakfast nook went in. The cat door is now hidden by the right seat of the breakfast nook shown above. Outside, we have a really cool litter box. Click here for more details.


In the summer of 2008 we finally got around to removing the dishwasher (which we had used once in three years, after a large crowd gathered for Thanksgiving dinner), and replaced it with cabinets. We took the opportunity to remove the cabinet that had been stuffed between the two windows, cutting into the distinctive windows frames:
Then we decided it was time to reface the kitchen cabinets. We wanted the cabinet fronts and drawer fronts on the 2004 remodel by the previous owner to match that red cabinet in the corner, which we knew was the original cabinetry. Although the cabinet had been painted white and aqua during its lifetime, the style is pure 1920s, with simple flat panets, door hinges on the outside, and latches on the inside. We were lucky enough to find a cabinet maker who was willing to do the copying and we love the look.

You might also notice the addition of curtains in the window and our new, smaller refrigerator.

Our next project (waaay down the road) is to remove the too-thick-for-our-height granite counter top and put in a simpler slab counter top and backsplash and possibly a old-style, refurbished sink.

Two of the Bedrooms          Back to Top

The prior owner had a young boy and this was his bedroom. We took out the beige carpet to expose the original 1922 Douglas fir floors (hiding under linoleum), repainted the walls brown and cream, added new wooden blinds -- and the boy's room became our office. The third photo was taken December 2010 after we had moved things around a bit. This is one room that satisfies my wife's occasional urge to move furniture.
The daughter's room also had beige carpet which we removed to expose the original floors (also under linoleum). It also got a paint job, a new bed, white blinds instead of the curtains. It's a very peaceful and cozy guest room. Our dog, Charley, is on the bed. In 2009 we purchased a smaller bed with a trundle underneath, and painted the room a lighter green. We love the way the original Douglas fir floors shine after years under linoleum and carpet!
The original bathroom          Back to Top

When we bought the house, the bathroom was all yellow (the owner said when THEY bought it looked like it was a bathroom in a bordello, complete with red and black flocked wallpaper!). We put in some accent colors, but hadn't done anything with it until the spring of 2014. We swapped out the tile and gave it a new paint job.

For a blow-by-blow on the flooring and paint job, click here.

We replaced most of the light switches in the house. At some point someone had put in modern plastic light switches with the toggle we now see in every home. We purchased old-fashioned switches (www.classicaccents.net) and have returned most of the light switches in the house to their original look.

We didn't have to do anything to the doorknobs. They are all original, as are the doors:

Another interesting feature, which is difficult to photograph, is the ceiling in the hallway. It has wallpaper on it! It was evidently pretty common in the 1920s and 1930s, a cheaper version of the tin ceilings used in the Victorian-era homes. We found out from a new acquaintance who has lovingly restored a 1878 Italianate Victorian that this kind of paper is called anaglypta. This is not true anaglypta, just slightly raised old wallpaper. We didn't notice until we'd been in the house for several months (who studies the ceiling?)!


The hallway in this house is a distinctive feature of this floorplan. The house was built at a time when hallways were minimal, usually little more than a rectangle with 2-3 doors leading off to the bedrooms and the only bathroom in the house. Hallways were something of an extravagance. Hallways had to have floors and walls and ceilings, which added to the cost of the building, and a hallway was not really very useful space, but still had to be heated and cleaned. To have a hallway like the one in our house -- it runs from the kitchen, behind and along one side of the liviing room, giving access to all three bedrooms and one of the bathrooms was extraordinary.

The Back Yard         Back to Top

The back yard had an ancient redwood fence overgrown with ivy and bamboo along the back and a chain link fence on the side yard. Spring 2006 we took them out and put in new redwood fencing. It was a MAJOR operation removing the ivy and bamboo! See before and after photos below.

The side yard above eventually got a white nectarine tree, some kiwi vines, and zucchini during the summer.


The corner by the garage got some special attention. The garage was repainted, the broken door replaced, the old slate patio removed, and we built a covered patio that doubles as a second parking space. For a complete look at this process: Transformation.

In the spring of 2008 we did a re-design of the back porch/deck. The deck had been built by the previous owners when they turned the house's original service porch, half-bath, and back exit into a full bathroom, and moved the back exit to the kitchen.

Over the past few years the lovely old oak tree that had been planted too close to the house had grown enough to be pushing against and growing around the outside edge of the deck. Now the stairs come straight away from the house and the tree has about 2 more feet in which to grow. You can see in the last photo how much more space was created.

Manuel Alvarez and his brother did the work for us and salvaged the wood from the old staircase. They only had to buy wood for the hand rail and upper deck rail (you can see the newer wood).

We really liked the work these two men did so we asked them to help with the backyard again in the spring of 2008. We ripped out the water-guzzling lawn and replaced it with a patio extension and some planter boxes for vegetables and herbs. Below are the simple before and after photos. If you want to see the transformation step-by-step, click here.

In the fall of 2010 we decided the back porch needed a roof. We were tired of slick decking and that funky diagonal roof over the basement entrance (when all the other lines in the house are horizontal!). The result was this:
Three photos: (1) When we moved in [remember those huge French doors?], (2) spring of 2008 after the stairs were reoriented, and (3) the fall of 2010, with a new roof [notice how the wood stair railing has aged]. For details, click here.

The Front Yard         Back to Top

Except for some plants next to the house, we have grass everywhere. Water it, mow it, edge it, repeat. We were tired of it! Our old street tree (planted in the 1930s) was dying. We wanted lower maintenance, less watering. I took out the grass myself, an hour on my hands and knees at a time, for about a month. We composted the sod in the side yard and later used it to fill in the strip down the middle of the driveway (we save everything!) For a blow-by-blow on the demolition and rebuilt, click here.

BEFORE from the porch 2010 AFTER in 2012
BEFORE from the front sidewalk AFTER in 2012
BEFORE front the driveway AFTER in 2012



We brought Manuel Alvarez and his crew back again in June of 2012 to put in a new driveway.

We started with an old asphalt driveway that was probably put in when (or soon after) the house was built and ended with an old-fashioned "Hollywood" driveway. For all the details, click here.

In the winter of 2018 we decided to become part of the Public Art Movement. We hired Catrina Sida. a local artist, to paint a small mural on the driveway side of the house. She used our concept and gave us a delightful product (photo on left).

We loved it so much we decided to hire her to do a second piece of art on our driveway gate (photo on right). The idea was to create the illusion that there was an old car in our garage.

Read all about the process here.

Read all about the process here


Our House's Family Tree          Back to Top

Compare these photos to the photos at the top.
The house on the left is five blocks away (built in 1913) and the other house is across town (built in 1915). Frank Wolfe (a well-respected local architect) designed the two homes after coming under the spell of Frank Lloyd Wright's Praire architecture. Our house is a miniature of these two -- same floor plan, same egg-and-dart ceiling detail. The house on the right and ours have the same door frames (close-up below). We have been told that Frank Wolfe sold the plans for this house to local building contractors who then built several versions in this area, and that is how our house came to be built some years later.  

Detail of the door and window frames. All of the doors and windows in our house (except one small kitchen cabinet) have this distinctive corner detail, which is identical to one of the houses above. We've never seen this detail anywhere else, except in the house next door to ours, which we know was built by the same builder at the same time. In fact, our lot and the one next door were originally (back in the 1920s) one large lot.

This house design requires a WIDE lot. Most of the lots in this area of San Jose are 50 feet wide and 135-150 feet deep. The houses built for these lots were usually two rooms wide and three rooms deep --- living room, dining room and kitchen on one side and the bedrooms on the other side. The two houses above were built on triple lots. Our lot is an odd shape and was cobbled together from two small lots and pieces purchased from neighboring lots. [Want more details?] It is 62 feet wide, and rather shallow, only 100 feet deep. A special house was required, wide but not too deep.

Other "Relatives"         Back to Top

This house is just around the corner. For some time I suspected it might be a relative, but I could never see inside because the resident(s) always had the blinds or curtains drawn. In the summer of 2009 the resident(s) moved and the owner had the place open and uncurtained for about a week while it was cleaned, repaired, and repainted.

I got inside and took dozens of photos. It is a little sister of our house, and everything is done on a smaller scale to fit on the much smaller lot. It has the same basic floorplan, but is a 2-bedroom-1-bath home. The living room and dining room have egg-and-dart ceiling molding. The hall is there, but much abbreviated. The kitchen is spacious, and there is even the swinging door between the dining room and the kitchen as in our house. Standing in the dining room is rather eerie because it feels so much like our own.

In our wanderings around our area, we discovered this house with the same floorplan on Menker Avenue. The front porch has been enclosed, and shrubs hide the windows, but you can see the overall similarity.

Sally Hawk, the woman still living in the house, moved into it in 1929 when she was a few years old, just after it was built for her grandparents. She told us that her house was a copy of a house on West San Carlos (a major street in this area). Her grandparents knew the owner/builder of that house, and they asked him to build their house. He did so, with slight modifications. The house on San Carlos was demolished some time in the 1960s.

This house has the same floorplan, but lacks the high ceilings, egg-and-dart molding and door frame detail.

This house was built about the same time as the first house mentioned above, in 1913, architectural plans by Wolfe & Wolfe (father and son). It is on a double-wide lot. The facade and the front half of the house are the same -- same central living room, dining room and kitchen on the right, bedrooms on the left. It has egg-and-dart ceiling molding, but different door frames. This house also does not have that distinctive hallway behind the fireplace, but had a small patio instead.

This house, unfortunately, has gone through some serious renovation and now functions as a seniors adult day care facility.

This is the house next door. Our house and this house were built by the same man who owned both lots. The facade is very similar and he used the same door frames in both houses. However, he swapped the middle section and the right section -- in other words, the living room is on the right and the dining room and kitchen are in the middle.
This house is in downtown San Jose, a few miles east of us. The porch is shallower and it has an outside door leading from the room on the left side. It was built "sideways" on a corner lot.
Sad, but true. We have been inside the Paver Depot and it really is a first cousin of our house, with the same floor plan, the same egg-and-dart molding, similar but simpler door frames. Before becoming this commercial establishment, it was a restaurant and a used clothing store.

The History of Our House           Back to Top

I have done research into the families who lived at 153 Race Street since it was built in 1922. This house and the one immediately to the south were originally on one lot, purchased by Antonio Parisi from the Peninsula Land & Improvement Company in February 1922. We have a copy of a very interesting map showing how a double-wide lot was cobbled together by swapping some land with the neighbor on the west so that each property was a more desirable shape for development. Details

Mr. Parisi then had the two houses built (as mentioned above, they are very similar), then evidentally rented them out. He lost the houses back to the bank in foreclosure a few years later. The Bank of America divided the property into two parcels, rented them for a few years, and finally sold them in the mid 1930s.

Over the next 15 years, our house was lived in by George W. Leslie (a tank truck superintendent), Robert Early (an engineer with Western Water Works), Frank Glover (an "auto trimmer" -- whatever that was) with his wife and two children, C. B. and Raymond Costa (occupations unknown), W.A. Sinclair (a chiropractor), and F. O. Kuntz (a painting contrator) and his wife.

Then we come to the one resident in particular who has captured our imagination: May Duignan. In August of 1939, Tom and Delia Duignan bought the house from Mr. Kuntz. In May of 1940, May (then in her late 30s) was added to the deed to the house on Race Street and moved in with her aunt and uncle so she could care for them in their old age. [May's aunt and uncle had raised her when her own mother died when May was just 4 years old.]

May never married and continued to live in the 153 Race Street home after her aunt and uncle died, for a total of 49 years, until her own death in 1989! Miss Duignan taught at San Jose High School, was the Dean of Girls at Lincoln High School, and was later a dean at San Jose City College.

Another interesting note: a woman named Clara Barnes lived in the home to the north, first with her husband and later alone when he died. Clara and May lived next door to each other for over 35 years!

An Internet search discovered that May's niece and nephew (Peter and Francis Duignan) lived nearby, in the city of Cupertino. I contacted them by email and later by phone soon after moving in the summer of 2005. In October 2005 we invited them over so they could see their Aunt May's house (they hadn't been inside it for almost 20 years).

During their visit they talked about how the house looked when May and her aunt and uncle lived in it -- where the sofa and her small desk were located, which bedroom belonged to May, and which to Aunt Delia, which to Uncle Thomas, what the kitchen looked like, how the hallway was hung with family photographs, etc. They brought and gave us a small color photograph of May taken in the 70s that we now have on the mantel over the fireplace in the living room.

They brought a small photo album and promised to locate more of the albums, which they inherited when May died, that they believe are in storage. The photo album they shared showed May with various friends and family members at special occasions, but none showed the house. We hope the other albums will give us a look at what this house looked like in the 40s and 50s!

I've also been in touch with a daughter of Peter and Francis, who is the family historian. I had a very nice chat with her about her memories of the house, having a snack in the breakfast nook, the color of the living room, Aunt May's *seven* china cabinets full of her china collection, etc. She even sent me some great photos showing May as a young woman.

I hope to update this section as I learn more about the history of the house.

Who's Been Living in YOUR House?

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