A live and let live approach to Highland Park historic preservation

The homes of Great Oak Circle.

When they moved to Great Oak Circle a dozen years ago, Jeanne Reece and John Stowers began a detailed restoration of a 1912 Highland Park bungalow. The couple stripped layers of paint from the exterior of the Craftsman-style home to reveal the original redwood siding and chipped away the stucco that had concealed the brick porch.  Since they moved on to Great Oak Circle, many other old bungalows on the block shaded by billowing Camphor trees have also been restored, turning the street into a poster child for historic preservation. In fact, on Sunday, the Highland Park Heritage Trust honored the entire 5900 block of Great Oak Circle with a Community Preservation Award.  But not everyone is a fan of the Craftsman style or wood siding, even on Great Oak Circle.

During the preservation awards ceremony, Highland Park historian and preservation leader Charles Fisher mention that a contractor had purchased a home on Great Oak Circle (top right photo) and was in the process of remolding and expanding the property, apparently without any intention to preserve what remained of the existing wood siding or covering the new portion of the home in a similar material.  Fisher said he spent 20 minutes on the phone with the contractor, who indicated that he would be living in the house,  to try and convince him to stick with wood. “He said that he really didn’t like wood siding,” said Fisher. “It was obvious that I wasn’t going to convince him.”

It turns out the old house being ripped apart sits right next door to the bungalow that  Reece and Stowers have spent a dozen years restoring. But, instead being angry at their new neighbor, the couple say there are more important things than a picture-perfect Craftsman bungalow. Of course, the couple was not exactly thrilled when they heard about their new neighbor’s plan. Reece, a payroll manager, said her first reaction was, “Oh, no he’s going to stucco.”  But, as Stowers, a singer songwriter, said, the new owner has a different vision and “it’s his property. I am sure whatever he does is going to be tasteful.”

Dictating paint colors and house style would seem at odds with the neighborhood’s reputation for serving as a home to many free-thinking artists and musicians, said Reece.

“There are people in this neighborhood who are very accepting of other people just being who they are and kinda of having their own beliefs and their own values,” said Reece. “We are all very different and we all get along.  Nobody has told anybody what color they should paint their house. We definitely have our preferences but that’s not our job to tell other people how to lead their lives.”

The couple’s goal is to have a good relationship with their new neighbor, Reece said.  “We would like to be friendly.”


  1. I used to hate seeing old houses covered in stucco. But now that I’m a homeowner that has to deal with termites, I realize that instead of “death by stucco” it’s more like “stucco stasis”. Better to stucco over it than let the termites get at it. Of course, cement fiber board offers the best of both worlds and is what we plan to do eventually.
    Great to see people being tolerant of others aesthetics though. Yay.

    • sorry, skr but that’s not quite right.

      Stucco-ing over a house doesn’t halt termites. It can actually make things worse.
      Stucco is not waterproof, it absorbs water. If stucco is run all the way to the ground (as it usually is by cheap, minimally skilled labor), water can’t wick and is held against the wood framing members promoting rot, mold, and termites.

      Termites usually come up from underneath the home from the ground. Doesn’t matter what the exterior of the house is. All stucco does is hide the fact that the termites are eating your house from the inside out.

      A properly maintained wood sided house is no less or more susceptible to termites than a stucco’d house.

  2. So if this was in an HPOZ, the contractor who doesn’t like wood siding would have to comply with preservation of said siding, correct?

  3. Well sure Mr B. a properly maintained wood sided house isn’t as susceptible but let’s face it, more often than not they are not properly maintained. Its not fair to compare a crap stucco job with a well maintained wood siding job. A simple layer of paper helps considerably, and most of the poorly maintained houses also have either a lot of concrete around or a lack of irrigation meaning that there isn’t much moisture to worry about in our dry climate. But sure, a stucco job can cause more harm than good and poorly maintained wood siding has more things to worry about than just termites like water and uv.

    And subterranean termites aren’t the only termites we have to worry about.

  4. @skr – We’ll be doing the cement fiber board remodel in the next month or so. Feel free to check it out. I too suffered from a nasty drywood (flying) and subterranean (tunneling) termite infestation and was hesitant about Hardiplank, but after seeing lots of before/after photos, I’m convinced it’s the right decision for me. The only thing I’ll miss having is a stained wood look.

  5. That pink house was such a dump before, the neighbors are probably happy for ANY type of improvement. For the record, it already has some stucco on those panels right below the roof.

    Still, it’s got a lot of original elements in place and would luck great with wood siding, plus it would probably hold more value long-term.

  6. Althou not common succo was sometimes used on the exterior sections of traditional craftsman homes, mostly around porch pillars and spmetime on the facia of upper stories. If done well stucco can look good on a traditional home. My only bit of advice if you are going to stucco is to keep the wood frames around the windows. The easiest way for stucco to look bad is to apply it all the way up to the window eliminating the exterior frame. If you don’t want to use wood you can add stucco window trimming to define the windows and avoid that cheap stucco look.

  7. Nice job.
    Hope y’all followed proper “lead safe” procedures to protect your neighbor’s children from lead dust during demo.

  8. I agree — any improvement is better for than none at all. Still miss my 1924 Spanish that got a Heritage Trust nomination.

  9. I looked at that 1907 pink property when searching for a home in December 2011. I believe that the asking price was about $300K but I decided against purchasing it. The property was in pretty (actually, really) bad shape, highly termite infested and the garage was beyond habitable (for cars) since it could have fallen any minute. I bought a 1917 property on Avenue 51 and could not been anymore happier with the purchase. If you drive up towards Townsend, you’ll probably recognize it since it has a nice fresh coat of paint(s) ; )

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