The Cross House
It was a mystery.
I felt compelled to solve it.
There were some old boards hidden inside a wall adjacent to the kitchen. Why were these boards there? Why were they inside a wall? Why had they obviously been cut? Why had they been stained? I mean, this indicated that they were originally meant to be seen.
I love pouring over blueprints. And I really love pouring over old blueprints of the Cross House.
See the orange oval I drew? It looks like two small closets, right? But why? And why are they unequal sizes? This would indicate that each had a specific use, right?
The closets, or whatever they were, were long gone, having been replaced by a pink bathroom when the house was converted to the Palace Motel in 1950 (New & Modern!). The bathroom was extant when I purchased the house. It is no longer.
A few months after buying the Cross House, I closed a door on the second floor which had always been opened. To my surprise and amazement, behind the door was a petite door, about half-way up the wall. My mind immediately raced with memories of movies where children discover just such a door, and, upon opening it, step into a fantasy world.
I was breathless. Dare I open it? Was it a time portal? An opening to another planet? An entrance to a magical kingdom of low taxes, no war, and a Congress which actually accomplished things?
Well, I was a bit disappointed, but only a bit, to discover that the petite door opened to…a laundry chute.
Zounds! I had a laundry chute!!!!!!
The door was beautifully detailed, and the interior of the chute was stained boards. Wonderful! But the chute had been severed at the first floor ceiling.
Where had it originally gone, I wondered?
I was reading an 1895 newspaper article of the Cross House. It mentioned the expansive basement (it certainly is!), and its sun-filled laundry room.
A sun-filled laundry room?
My pulse quickened.
I knew just what room that was.
The basement is full of normal-sized windows typical of a basement. Save one. This room has huge, south-facing windows, enabled by an outside well, like a kinda moat. I had always wondered the why of these windows. Was the room a summer kitchen?
THE BRAIN FERMENTS
I pondered these seemingly non-related mysteries.
Then one day it hit me.
When the Cross House was built, Harrison and Susan Cross would never have arrived home with bags of groceries. It just was not done! This was the job of the cook and, I assume, house keeper. In large 1890s houses, the kitchen was not a room the owners would have spent any time in; indeed, perhaps no time at all. This was a separate domain, a classic upstairs/downstairs dynamic.
This hidden realm was were the servants lived and worked. It has its own entrance (the back door), a servant’s hall (which will be my breakfast room), and a servant’s stair connecting all four levels of the house.
However, by the 1920s people who owned large houses did buy their own groceries and did carry them into the house. But at the Cross House, there was no easy way to get from the family entrance (under the porte-cochère on the south side of the house) into the kitchen. While this was not an issue in 1894, it was an issue in the 1920s.
So, it seems that the solution was to cut through a hall closet, thus connecting the family hallway directly to the kitchen.
However, behind the closet was was a…
…and a dumbwaiter.
These two features were sacrificed to allow for changes in how people lived.
Once I got all this, the mysteries were explained in a mad rush of awareness:
- The hidden boards (Clue One) are the remains of the dumbwaiter. This went from the kitchen to the laundry room, below.
- The laundry chute (Clue Three) had once gone from the second floor, down through the first floor, and down into the basement laundry room.
- The 1894 basement blueprint shows both these features in the orange oval (Clue Two). The dumbwaiter is the larger of the two niches.
THE BRAIN MAKES A DECISION
Well, having figuring all this out, there was no way — no way! —that I could not reinstate these two incredibly cool features.
A company in California still makes dumbwaiter components, and remaining bits confirm the original size of the dumbwaiter. The laundry chute drops straight down.
I am going to, quite sensibly, extend the dumbwaiter up to the second, and third floors. Quite insensibly, the dumbwaiter originally did not service the upper levels of the house. I would love to learn the reason behind that.
With great anticipation, I look forward to throwing my soiled clothes down the resurrected laundry chute to the resurrected laundry room, then bringing my clean and folded clothes back up via the resurrected and extended dumbwaiter.
What bliss! What luxury!
I never thought I would pine for 1894 conveniences.