Marc and Karen Goldblatt, the current owners of Rancho Joaquina, the estate built by my great grandfather in 1924-5, recently treated thompsongenealogy.com to an exclusive insider tour of the historic home, highlighting their extensive preservation efforts.
OK, it was really like they were just nice enough to show me around.
Maintaining the 6,709-square-foot home, much less restoring it to its original Spanish character, is no small undertaking, one that has no doubt cost the Goldblatts a pretty penny. But equally clear is the couple’s passion for the seemingly never-ending project. This is a true obra de amor.
Rancho Joaquina’s interiors were originally designed in a Spanish theme, plenty evident in the arched doorways, large square red-tile floors, wrought-iron grillwork, stone fireplaces, and red clay-tile roof. Fortunately, most of those key elements were still intact when the Goldblatts bought the abandoned mansion in 1988 from a non-profit for about $320,000. Otherwise, the Goldblatts, who had two small children, were looking at a ton of lost weekends. “It was in horrible condition,” remembers Karen.
In their quest to return the home to its former luster, the Goldblatts stripped white paint from many of the doors and much of the millwork, returning the finish to its original dark stain. Today, the effect created by the juxtaposition of light walls and dark trim, the home’s original interiors scheme, is stunning.
Curing a Case of White-Out
“When we bought the house, everything was painted white,” Karen recalls. “The Philippine Mahogany had been painted over. The beautiful stone fireplace had been painted over. It was a ‘Money Pit’ to say the least. We had workers heat gunning and stripping paint literally for years.”
Unsympathetic remodeling, coupled with plain-old neglect — the house sat vacant for many years after J.E. died in 1950 and then again in the 1970s — meant the Goldblatts had their work cut out for them. Thankfully, previous owners had replaced some vandalized doors, glass, and lighting fixtures. And most of the home’s basic elements — the ones that earned the home an Historic Register designation — remained in place, including the home’s six fireplaces, beautiful stucco walls, and unusual elevator. An early kitchen remodel revealed several windows and doors that had been covered by previous owners.
The home has revealed more than a few secrets during a restoration process guided by limited photographic references. A contractor re-plastering the 17-by-21-foot dining room stumbled on a live electrical wire half way up one wall, an indication that a lantern was once there. After he found live wires buried in the three other walls of the dining room, the Goldblatts put in a band of light fixtures around the room, where they were meant to be. Buried sconce wires were subsequently uncovered all over the house.
The Goldblatts, who both work other full-time jobs, concentrated on the big restoration work first. Then in 2013 they did a second remodel of the kitchen and butler’s pantry on the east wing of the house, keeping as many original elements as possible as they expanded the space and outfitted it with modern conveniences. Fashion items that had been added over the years, including knotty-pine cabinets and “matching” subzero and Thermador appliances, weren’t worth keeping.
Creating a Kitchen that Works
As they brought the kitchen up to date, the Goldblatts kept many original elements in the two rooms — wood cabinet drawers with felt dividers, a cast-stone drainboard, a dumb-waiter, and a ceramic drinking fountain set into the kitchen wall. The remodeling effort resulted in a brightly lit space with easy circulation.
The big issue for the Goldblatts, who entertain regularly, was creating a more spacious and useful kitchen. That meant J.E. Thompson’s huge walk-in refrigerator, which he used no doubt to stock provisions for his massive parties, had to go. “It was a room lined with cork — about 4 inches thick for insulation,” remembers Karen. “Some of the cork (but not all) was removed when we did the kitchen remodel.”
Otherwise, the kitchen still occupies the same basic place in the floor plan. “But it’s 2.5-3 times bigger now,” says Karen. “We ripped out the brick wall in the kitchen. When we bought it, the kitchen, literally, could accommodate a table the size of a card table. That’s it!”
The main portion of the Butler’s Pantry was left as is, though cabinet colors were switched to a dark brown to match the new cabinets in the new kitchen. A granite counter top was added under the window sill, where a wooden one had been before. Marc made sure that the original soapstone sink in butler’s pantry wasn’t touched. It’s stained, rustic patina contrasts nicely with the room’s otherwise modern finishes.
Search for the Missing Servant’s Quarters
The historic registration nomination for the home says the east service wing included a “servant’s quarters.” The Goldblatts aren’t sure where that space would have been, though it was probably the room without a closet adjacent to the kitchen. Blueprints of the original home design hang on the walls of that room today.
“We just remodeled that bathroom off that room,” says Karen. “I guess it could have been a maid’s room.”
The Goldblatt’s next big project is to preserve the home’s fenestration. The couple recently received a $10,000 grant, which they must match, to repair the home’s elegant windows and doors. Most of the windows are two-leaf wood casements, with three lights, some “protected” by exterior batten shutters. A wonderful Robbins-egg blue, they contrast beautifully with the pinkish, color-through stucco exterior walls.
But the bare wood is no match for the harsh desert sun. Marc fully expects that the work to restore the windows and doors will cost more than $20,000. “I’m going to tell the contractors that they don’t need make everything perfect — just do a good enough job to protect everything,” he says.
There’s plenty worth protecting, that’s for sure, starting with an intriguing entry door iron graced with Spanish Colonial Revival hardware. Marc opens the door to reveal a narrow metal band on the side of the door that fits into a channel in the frame. All the doors in the home, including the interior doors (which vary from one to 10 panels, with and without lights), are Spanish Colonial Revival in derivation.
The structural elements of the home have stood the test of time. The adobe walls, which range from two to three feet in thickness, were framed with dimensioned lumber, which was also used to frame the floor and build the roof structure. Marc faithfully replaces the stucco with color-through stucco. He doesn’t paint it. “Once you do that, you create a different color,” he says. “There’s no going back.”
Most other structural elements were done with concrete. That’s what was used to build the foundations, basement walls, exterior stairs, and walks. Otherwise, hollow clay tile supports the entry floor and red brick was used to build the chimneys and partitions in the furnace room.
Accounting for that Spanish Flair
The home was designed during a revival of Spanish Colonial architecture in the 1920s. That accounts for many of the finish materials, including the red Spanish floor and roof tile; stucco and plaster tinted tan on the interior; and iron railings, balustrades, and shutter hardware.
The other change in the original downstairs floorplan was made well before the Goldblatt’s arrived. In fact it may have been orchestrated by J.E. Thompson himself. A powder room off the main foyer, which may have served at one time as a suite for live-in help, was truncated to accommodate an interior basement staircase.
Otherwise, besides the kitchen redesign, the first-floor layout has changed little from J.E.’s days. It remains anchored by a vaulted entry hall that leads to a spacious vaulted reception area. That room serves as the central circulation space, connecting to a slightly sunken living room to the west, an enclosed arcade and dining room to the south, the butler’s panty and stairway to the second floor to the east, and a powder room and elevator to the north.
Everything Still Works
The Otis elevator, which was installed in July 1950, three months after J.E. died, still works. (So does the dumbwaiter in the kitchen.) Marc flips a button and brings it to life as he opens a door on the other side to reveal a powder room. When the elevator isn’t in operation, you walk through the cab to get to a powder room. A repairman recently discovered a receipt for the installation job.
The centerpiece of the home is its large living room, 22 by 36 feet, with a re-plastered cove ceiling, plaster walls, and hardwood floors. It’s anchored by a tufa (a variety of limestone) fireplace with Spanish Colonial Revival details and a ceramic tile hearth. The fireplace is centered on the north wall, flanked by two windows.
One door on the west side of the living room leads to an exterior scored-concrete patio deck; the other goes to a 17-by-22-foot study, with an original fireplace and built-in bookshelves.
French doors from the living room open to a dramatic arcade with a beamed ceiling and 8-by-8-inch Spanish tile floor, the same pattern in the entry hall. Family portraits indicate that the Thompsons had screened in most of the arches, even enclosed some with glass. “That’s where J.E. would take his breakfast,” remembers J.E. “Ned” Thompson, the third, who lived on the estate as a kid.
These Arches Are Indeed Golden
The Goldblatt’s have returned the arches, arguably the most important historic element in the home’s design, to their open state. When they removed the plate glass, they reinforced the arches with custom-made cantera stone, further evidence that there’s nothing more painful to an historic renovator than fallen arches. 🙂
Marc takes us to the basement through an anteroom north of the butler’s pantry. We descend five-foot-wide concrete stairs that lead to a short hall connecting to a billiard room and the furnace room. It’s easy to imagine escaping to this retreat for a game of pool, even during the day — two casement windows on the east wall connect to a light well. J.E. retired at 40, after all.
The Goldblatts have modernized the HVAC system, removing the original hot-air furnace that supported unsightly radiators throughout the house. (They were the bane of interior decorator’s existence when Rancho Joaquina was opened as interior showcase in 1970.) The house is now outfitted with vents, air handlers, and exterior mechanical equipment.
Marc keeps a secret stash in the furnace room of original materials removed from the house during various restoration projects. Some, such as an old molding profile, have come in handy when doing subsequent work.
Marc leads this blogger to the second story, up broad wooden stairs. The Historic Register application describes the second story as three extended bedroom suites. That is indeed what we have here, with the emphasis on extended. The central and western suites are original, while the eastern suite was added by J.E. within a few years of 1925.
A breezy, open hallway connects the stairway to the suites. It features original doors, woodwork, plastered walls and ceilings, an original fire hose box, and access to the elevator and dumbwaiter.
The Second Floor is Very Suite
The central bedroom suite, where the Goldblatt girls held sway, now includes two bedrooms, each with its own bath, after extensive remodeling. The first bedroom, Kendra’s blue room, includes a fireplace, Neo-Classical Revival woodwork, a full bath done in turquoise, and several smaller closets.
The second bedroom, Caley’s gold room, used to be a dressing room for the other bedroom. It was enlarged by dozing closets around the perimeter. A bathroom was added by stealing some space from the eastern suite. The room used to include a wall safe, six feet above the floor level, but that was removed. The girls’ bedrooms share a jack-and-jill closet.
Marc and Karen occupy the western suite, located above the living room. The entry is marked by a large, comfortable sitting room with a fireplace, bedroom, pantry, and a closet. The sitting room used to lead to a dressing room/nursery that was also connected to the bedroom. Now the space is used for a larger bathroom and closet space. A second bathroom formerly in the suite was converted into an office for Karen.
The Goldblatts have returned a covered terrace connected to the bedroom to its original condition. Previous owners had introduced an outdoor studio with windows on all sides that occupied most of the terrace. The framed studio featured a wooden roof with jigsaw-cut rafter ends held up at the corners by stuccoed piers.
Thompson himself made the biggest change to the house. He added a second-story addition to the east wing, replacing what was originally a terrace and sleeping porch with a library and guest room. Very early pictures show this area as an open terrace that undoubtedly offered spectacular views of Camelback Mountain. It was big enough to entertain 30 to 40 people.
The terrace was connected to the house through the anteroom where the dumb-waiter could bring refreshments directly from the kitchen below. An exterior concrete stair led to the backyard from the terrace.
The eastern suite is the largest of the three. It consists of one anteroom, a large sitting area (or library) with fireplace, a bedroom with a fireplace, a dressing area with built-in cabinets, and a full bath with yellow tile and green trim.
Besides changing where the suite is entered, “we haven’t done much to this space,” Karen recalls. The original entry, which Karen refers to as the “termite room,” since termites had completely destroyed the hardwood floors, was converted to a bathroom for Caley. The other change the Goldblatts made was to rip out some badly done closets to put in a kitchenette and make it more like a nanny or mother-in-law suite.
The Goldblatts in recent years added a three-car carport, tearing down a potting shed that had been added by a previous owner. The potting shed had become an eyesore. The carport, unlike the potting shed, blends beautifully with the rest of the structure. On J.E.’s original 80-acre estate, automobiles were parked in the southeast corner, far removed from the house.
“There was no garage or carport in which to park–when we bought it,” Karen remembers. “The cars just sat outside. We also converted the old ‘carriage house’ to a tool room and park some bikes in it.”
The grounds of the nearly 2-acre estate are a whole other story. That’s the way they will be treated. In the meantime, here are some details to enjoy.