Peace of the Past in Spreckels
Thursday, October 7, 2004
Gene and Elaine Hicks grew up in Spreckels and stayed on to raise their children there. The Hicks’ house was built with the story of Spreckels in its bones. The town was created for employees of the Spreckels factory, the largest sugar factory in the world, begun in 1895 and torn down in 1987.
“When they went to bring it down, it was so well-built and the steel of such high quality that they finally had to hook it to a train and pull it apart,” Gene says.
Behind the town ran the factory railroad, the source of Gene’s father’s income.
“My dad was the engineer on the hand-pump carts going down the tracks to service the switches,” he says. “As it happens, at the rear of this property is the garage where those pump carts parked. That building was historically preserved a long time ago. We only got Spreckels declared a historical town five years ago, after fighting tooth and nail forever.”
Much remains of this rare Victorian home and much has been done to reunite it with its past.
“At some point, someone lowered the ceilings,” Gene says. “We wanted the original twelve feet, but when we knocked through, we found disasters. So we gutted it, saved all the original windows, put in new walls and ceilings, and did the job right.”
All the electrical wiring is new with extra outlets in every room. The fireplace surround and mantle are gorgeous original golden oak from the 1890s construction.
“Sure, it’s perfect now, but you should have seen it with a century of layered paint on it,” Gene says. “We chipped and scraped off every color you can think of.”
Gene got the maple hardwood floors from an old San Jose dance hall demolished twenty years ago.
“I’ve dragged that flooring around so long,” he laughs, looking down, slowly shaking his head. “See that grate between these two rooms? We had to floor around that because the heating contractor took one look at the original gas furnace underneath it and told me not to even consider removing it. Said they’re the best ever. So right.”
The house was built with original first growth, tongue-and-groove redwood, the kind immune to termites, the kind no longer around. The Hicks just finished the Victorian trim outside and the little nooks and slants inside charm the eye. The spirit of this home is genuine, devoid of repro-cuteness sometimes seen elsewhere. The house offers its welcome from a time before the world outgrew itself, a time when even a factory house was a solidly built home.
“Spreckels is very special,” Gene says. “It’s unique in many ways, one of which is this strong community. The park up the street was made by all of us. Everybody donated some time to it, and now it’s a square block of green grass, playgrounds and safe fun.”
Spreckels still has its own post office, elementary school and grocery store. Once, it boasted The Louvre Saloon, Smith’s Livery, Rouse’s Plumbing, a bank, meat market, lumber yard, bicycle shop, doctors, and two newspapers. Photos of the old Spreckels Hotel show a huge, multi-story building accommodating the town’s many guests.
“It’s such a peaceful, quiet place to live in now,” Gene says. “This huge lot, this historic house, and Spreckels is such a family town. My mom still lives across the street.”
Price: $629,000. 32 Railroad Ave., Spreckels. Contact Kevin or Lisa Spedaliere of Coldwell Banker Gay Dales, Inc., Realtors at 776-3136 or 776-3137.