American Glory
American Glory

Glory moved from Laguna Beach to Old Towne to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren, who live in the same neighborhood.  Pictured above, Glory in front of her house with her grandchildren, from left to right, Gabbi, Maddox and Stella.

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When Glory Johnson began renovating her newly purchased fixer-upper originally built in 1908, she never imagined that the changes she desired would turn out to match the original footprint of the house almost to a tee.

From the placement of her new kitchen sink to the addition of new doors, entryways and an outside staircase on the carriage house, Glory discovered that her instincts about the home at 616 East Maple (which had been remodeled extensively over the years), were in keeping with the original architecture that slowly revealed itself during the renovation process.

“We had to completely gut the kitchen and replace everything,” explained Glory. “As it turns out, the place where we decided to put the new sink is exactly where the original sink was. Then when we added a stovetop, we uncovered the exact site of the original stove. Additionally, I felt like there needed to be an opening into the kitchen, and amazingly, we found that the original doorway leading to the living room had been closed up by a previous owner. It was so bizarre to find out there had been a door there at one time!”

From then on, the renovation took on the feeling of a treasure hunt. In fact, the couple found actual artifacts from the home, including a metal “6” from the original 616 address marker. (Glory was able to find a matching “6” at Muff’s Antiques in Old Towne and is now searching for a matching “1” to complete the address.)

“The joy was looking and seeing what we would find when we removed something. I was here on a daily basis when the house was down to the studs. I wanted to know about everything that was found.”

Deciding to relocate from Laguna Beach several years ago after their neighborhood was negatively affected by the Bluebird Canyon mudslide, Glory and her husband Wayne Gensler searched for a fixer-upper on flat land with no potential mudslides looming above. Because their daughter was already an Old Towne resident, the Maple Avenue neighborhood seemed like a perfect fit.

“I saw this wonderful house that looked like my grandmother’s house in San Pedro,” she said. “I fell instantly in love with it.”

Known as the Orchard House, the three-bedroom revival Victorian was built by a Pennsylvania farmer who lived in the home until his passing in 1920. His daughter Grace and her husband John Knolla inherited the home, living there until 1940. Through the years, several families occupied the residence, and in fact, the home was the featured in the first Orange YWCA historical home tour in 1978.

Glory Johnson and Wayne Gensler enjoy a relaxing afternoon on the front porch of their 1908 Revival Victorian residence on East Maple. The home originally belonged to a farmer who maintained orchards on the property, thus the name “The Orchard House.”

Saving and restoring every bit of wood and architectural element that they could, the couple took great care to honor the original builder’s intent. They were able to maintain the existing moulding, filling in the areas with new moulding that seamlessly matches the old. They even retrofitted the electrical, adding old-fashioned, push-button light switches obtained from Michigan.

Although most of the original Douglas fir flooring was not salvageable, they installed oak floors with grain for a seasoned look throughout. For the bathrooms, Glory decided on marble tile with a period, hexagram design.

Among the most expensive aspects of the renovation included the removal of an outdated, circular metal staircase, which was installed by a former owner and led from the den to the attic.

Up in the attic room, workers uncovered an old doorway, complete with some original hardware, leading to what was probably once a balcony.  The door had been sealed up by a wall.

“We saved the door as it was and now it’s part of our new wall,” she said.

Along with staying true to the home’s vintage past, Glory has also incorporated elements from her grandmother’s home that include a door, fencing and furniture.

“In the kitchen, we formed the moulding to fit my grandmother’s old front door into the small pantry area,” Glory said. “What was once an open-air porch, serves as our dining nook where my grandmother’s table is now. The kitchen was the whole center of her life, and now it’s the most comforting feeling to have reminders of her in our kitchen.”

Like her grandmother, Glory is an avid gardener, and like the rest of the home, the yard needed substantial work. Removing the wire fence and ripping out most of the weeds and bushes, Glory saved the significant trees and beautiful, old camellia plants, plus the original cement. Today, her edible garden yields corn, string beans, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, pumpkins and watermelon.

An avid gardener, Glory has created a charming garden setting complete with flowering and edible plants, trellises, and bubbling fountains.

The couple’s outdoor potting shed was built utilizing elements from her grandmother’s old home including portions of a white picket fence. A stained-glass window graces the entry, while their large outdoor spa provides a relaxing retreat.

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“In the backyard, I have a full-blown herb garden,” she said. “I like to cook, and it’s wonderful to have easy access to the herbs from the kitchen.”

Passing along her love of gardening to her grandchildren, Glory also created a backyard “fairy land” for the kids to get their hands in the dirt and plant flowers and vegetables. She also enjoys entertaining on the small patio area just off the kitchen, which overlooks a small “moonlight garden” with white flowers and hydrangeas.

Because she loves gardening so much, Glory also constructed a potting shed in the backyard complete with stained-glass windows and remnants of her grandmother’s picket fence.

Glory says she was honored to be part of this year’s Old Towne Orange Preservation Association’s annual home tour this November. The home was actually featured in the first annual home tour decades ago.

“I actually have the original brochure from when this home was on the first historical home tour in the 1970s,” Glory said. “For me to be asked to participate this year is a complete honor. I feel very blessed and fortunate.

Article Published in the
Nov / Dec 09 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review
Written by Karen Anderson Photos by Mike Escobedo
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