Paul Greenstein is not scared off by a fixer upper. He has restored a prize winning 71–year-old automobile and has rewired and repaired portions of the 127-year-old Lincoln Heights Victorian home he shares with girlfriend Dydia DeLyser. But cracks in the wall of the Griffin Avenue home, recently declared a city historic monument, convinced Greenstein he faced a major problem that not even he could not repair. “I started to notice that the cracks I had lived with had started to get bigger,” said Greenstein, who purchased the home about twenty years ago. Posts began to wobble and the foundation under a towering brick chimney began to split.
Greenstein, former owner of Millie’s diner in Silver Lake, knew he had to do something but he was not looking for a typical foundation fix. he He wanted his home to rest on a solid footing but also preserve as much of the original foundation composed of natural but crumbling blocks of sandstone and river rock hauled up from the Arroyo Seco. The project scared off many contractors accustomed to simply replacing existing foundations. “They just ran screaming,” Greenstein said.
Late last month, however, a crew of workers began to carefully work on the 18-inch thick foundation that holds up the front portion of the Greenstein home. Instead replacing the blocks of sandstone, which still bear the chisel marks made by workers more than a century ago, and arroyo stones with a wall of concrete, builder Steve Pallrand of Home Front came up with a solution that preserves as much of the original foundation as possible.
The original part of the foundation certainly has character but some serious problems. The sandstone blocks crumble with the brush of a hand. The mortar between the rocks has crumbled away. The thick foundation was weakened in part after dirt was pushed up against the surface, helping draw moisture into the seven-foot high of wall of sandstone and rock.
Pallrand’s solution was to build a structure behind the original foundation to hold up the house. His crew has been working underneath the house to build two large concrete platforms composed of a 14-inch thick, steel-reinforced pad that support thick concrete walls. The two large platforms and several other smaller concrete pads support a framework of thick wood beams that run under the front of the house. This new structure of concrete and wood will now shoulder the weight of the house above instead of the crumbling sandstone and river rock.
Pallrand estimated the foundation will be completed within eight weeks and should cost only about 20% more than a conventional foundation that would have obliterated the old sandstone and rock walls.
“People get scared of preservation because it might much more expensive,” said Pallrand, who sits on the board of the Highland Park historic preservation district. “It does not necessarily have to.”
The Eastsider will return to Greenstein’s home once the work has been completed.