Victorian Modern: Echo Park couple embraced the past when they built a new home

Photos by Becky Koppenhaver

By Becky Koppenhaver

Five years ago, Alison Julian and Darrell Dooley were tired of being landlords and were ready to sell the little Echo Park rental house on Lemoyne and Avalon streets that Julian had inherited from a friend 17 years earlier. But after the two of them climbed on top of the roof of the house one day, they were greeted by awe-inspiring views of Catalina Island, Mt. Baldy, and the Hollywood sign. Instead of selling the property, the couple decided it would be the site of a new Victorian-era home the couple had dreamed about for years.  And so they demolished the old house, and set off on an adventurous building and construction journey that has so far lasted five years.

Stars under the eaves

What they built resembles a colorful, 1870s-era Eastlake-influenced, Italianate row house with all the modern amenities – including an elevator and rooftop solar panels. It’s not the work  of experienced architects and designers but of two creative and talented people with a vision who have conscientiously constructed every intricate detail of the authentic looking house inside and out.

Dooley and Julian designed the 2,377-square-foot, two- story, three-bedroom, two office, two-bathroom home.  Dooley, who owns a small Internet technology business, learned computer aided design so he could create the blueprints himself. Finally, after waiting almost two years for the their plans to be approved by the city, they hired a contractor to create the shell of the house, and finished the exterior first. Everything else is the result of the couple working together seven days a week, including nights and weekends.

The colorful purple exterior of the house is covered with intricate carvings and details reminiscent of an authentic Eastlake Victorian. The eaves of the house are painted with small stars, a gift from Alison to Dooley, an amateur astronomer who belongs to the Los Angeles Astronomical Society

The interior of the house is filled with ornamental woodwork, carvings and hand-painted anaglypta.  Doors are framed with detailed trim, the staircase custom built, and two antique beveled glass doors flood the living room with light. Some of the construction materials are new, but most materials are either recycled or come from a salvage yard.

Period furnishings and lighting fixtures, collected over the years, adorn half –finished rooms and construction zones around the home.  “Alison trolls Craig’s list ready to pounce,” says Dooley. Both of them proudly admit that they haven’t paid full price for anything, including any of the magnificent treasures they’ve accumulated so far. A 19th-century carved bed frame, a restaurant sized stainless steel oven vent, period bath fixtures, flooring, architectural accents and building materials, “everything has either come from Craig’s List, EBay, Direct Buy, or Habitat for Humanity” says Julian.

Julian, 66 years old, has the energy and the looks of a woman half her age. Her daily attire consists of work boots, a tool belt and jeans, but her hair and makeup are meticulous. She has lived in a house on the nearby Avalon Street stairs since 1976 and met Dooley in 1989 while he was visiting a friend who lived across the street. They have been married for 20 years.

Dooley, age 60, credits his wife with most of the work. Julian is a former illustrator who after 30 years in the animation business found herself out of work about the time she and Dooley decided to build the house. Now she spends her days in the house doing everything from tiling and installing plumbing fixtures to sanding and painting while Dooley is at work. “This house is one big canvas for Allison,” says Dooley. “The artist in her is bursting out everywhere.”

The couple have done almost 100% of the work themselves, partially to save money but also because Dooley says they wouldn’t know how to direct someone who was hired to help. “This house tells us what it wants to be as we go along. We try something and if it doesn’t work, we change it,” says Julian. “It wouldn’t work out with someone else doing the work.”

Unlike the Victorians built in the late 1800’s, this one is filled with modern- amenities including an elevator, a sauna, a small workout room and a gourmet kitchen (Julian is also a gourmet cook.) There are 32 solar panels that sit atop the roof, a feature that has already earned them enough credits so far that they won’t have to pay an electric bill for at least another year. The couple estimate that by the time they finish the home,  they will have spent less than $500,000 on the whole project.

Dooley and Julian hope to spend no more than one more year to finish the house. It’s not a job they would recommend to everyone, says Julian. Both say although they have enjoyed the experience.

“Some couples get divorced over this stuff,” said Dooley said referring the stress that construction and remodeling can cause between a husband and wife, “We are five years worth of tired, but I think we’ve actually grown closer doing this.”  Julian agrees.

No comments

  1. Blooming in Echo Park

    Amazing and inspiring!! I have driven past this house many, many times and could never figure out if it was an original that was moved or restored or just a damn fine recreation. Nicely done!!

  2. Gorgeous…..enjoy

  3. This is so awesome! I’d love to see more pictures if that’s possible. Way to go Alison & Darrell!

  4. A standing ovation for the Dooleys! If there isn’t a way to bestow instant landmark status on this amazing place there should be.

  5. Thanks so much for this story! I have admired this house and have been dying of curiosity about it and who was building it! Very, very nicely done!

  6. I’m sorry, but it seems like a great story but a miserable house. I’ve driven by this thing for years and it doesn’t fit in the neighborhood at all, the color choice is tacky, the proportions are all off, it just seems so clearly amateur. Exactly why you hire an architect, or at least educate yourself on design principals first. Of all the dreams to have, what on earth inspired these people to build a knock-off victorian that takes all the bad parts of victorian architecture (useless, over-wraught ornamentation) but takes advantage of none of the movement’s qualities (elegant proportions, beautiful rooflines). I wish a friend would give me a prime piece of real estate too!

    • Well, I for one have seen plenty of architect-built new homes and remodels that suffer the same attributes* you use to so completely reject this residence as a “miserable house.” You’re certainly entitled to your point of view, but such a scathing critique seems anchored to a spite towards this couple for daring to independently build a home that suits their tastes instead of yours.

      *Here’s an excellent example a block from me completed in 2009: http://tinyurl.com/7u8t87n

  7. Truly inspiring, especially to those of us who have often wondered why there aren’t more recreations of classic house styles, and hope to someday follow a similar path.

  8. Thanks for this story! often have gone by this house on walks and wondered what the story was. It’s going to be a great place to live!

  9. Envious of their friends who will get to enjoy this lovely couple’s company and cooking upon the completion of their labor of love. Looking forward to follow-up photos! Well done!

  10. That is absolutely amazing. I would love to begin to even attempt something like that one day. Congratulations on building your dream.

  11. Stunning home Alison and Darrell!
    Good to see great homes like yours.

  12. Love this house!! Have had the privilege of seeing inside a few times. These 2 are amazing people – and this home is a work of art. The stories of how they re-used items and reinvented them is the real treasure! Can’t wait to see the final product. Arch review guy… sounds like there is something personal going on with his comment…. Bitter? You bet!

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