Originally built for the Lee family in 1907, the Bennett’s Victorian hip–roof cottage features a circular wraparound porch and distinctive Corinthian columns. In business for 43 years, the Lee’s grocery store was a landmark at 128 North Glassell in Old Towne next to what is now Citrus City Grille.
It’s not often when a fully restored, historic home comes on the market in Old Towne. So when Steve and Wendy Bennett of Irvine found the Victorian hip–roof cottage with wraparound porch for sale on 351 South Grand Street, they made an offer on sight.
Four years later, their appreciation of the house and the neighborhood is just as strong as the day they moved in.
“We fell in love with it,” said Wendy. Previous owner Susan Schapel did an incredible amount of work on the home, including redoing the roof plus all the electrical, plumbing and landscaping. “She did not spare any expense. We get to reap the benefits of all her hard work, and we thank her every day.”
According to city records, the vintage home was built in 1907 for the Lee family, owners of Lee’s Grocery Store in Old Towne. The landmark store was in business for 43 years next to the present–day Citrus City Grill on North Glassell. After purchasing the lot for $16, the Lees spent $600 to build the home. The family lived in the residence off and on until 1947, when it became a rental.
Throughout its history, the house had not been owned by very many people, therefore the woodwork remained in good condition, says Steve. All the framing is old–growth redwood, while the trim and flooring consists of Douglas fir. Through the years, the home has never sustained a bit of termite damage.
When Susan renovated the house, her attention to detail was precise. “She gave us photographs of the house taken when she bought it so we could see exactly what she did,” said Steve, who along with his wife, are members of the Old Towne Preservation Association.
“The materials she chose for the roofing, for example, were rare at that time. When we were looking for houses, we had seen plenty of old houses that needed a lot of work, and you can never fully gauge the cost in advance. That’s why this home appealed to us.”
Steve says the previous owner put the house on the market because she wanted to move to South Orange County to be closer to her grandchildren. Their names are in the cement in the back. “She bought another worn–out house in San Clemente and is restoring it,” Steve said.
Since moving in, the Bennetts have added some touches of their own. An amateur woodworker, Steve fabricated replacement picture rails for the missing detail in the front bedroom. Below the house is a full cellar that the Bennetts use for a wine cellar. Their membership in several wine clubs allows the couple to stock it with premium selections. They even purchased used wine barrels from a winery in San Luis Obispo to add ambiance.
The Bennetts say their two–bedroom, one–bath dream home makes for the ideal gathering place. They host an open house for friends and family every winter. Last summer, they held their daughter’s wedding on the property, comfortably accommodating 40 guests in their backyard. “This house is an absolute joy to have a party in,” Wendy said.
Although the square footage is small compared to their former house in Irvine, the Bennetts find the home fits their needs. Downsizing from their home in Irvine went fairly smooth. At first, they were concerned about having only one bathroom, but their staggered work schedules allow everyone to easily co–exist.
Wendy works in the superintendent’s office at Irvine Unified School District, while Steve’s job at Boeing in Long Beach affords him time in the early afternoon to work on woodworking projects at home, like the two farm tables he made from the rafters salvaged from their neighbor’s ceiling.
“We have five grown children between the two of us,” Wendy said. “One is living here with us going to Cal State Long Beach. She commutes, but she loves it here. It works out just fine because we all have different schedules.”
The Bennetts admit they didn’t realize they had a thing for old homes until they visited Old Towne for the first time. Now that they are here, their old, antique furniture fits right in, including heirlooms from Steve’s grandmother. In outfitting their home, they’ve also made new purchases from Old Towne shopkeepers such as Denise at Summerhill, Ltd. and Tony in the Alley.
Throughout the home, an extensive art collection highlights local artists like Dorothy Cavanagh and Pamela Cary.
Outside, the 250–square–foot wraparound porch provides a relaxing retreat. The distinctive Corinthian columns are original to the home, one of the many intriguing architectural elements of the property that was featured on the Old Towne Orange home tour two years ago.
“We spend as many evenings as we can out on the porch at sunset,” Steve said. “One afternoon, a Chapman student stopped by and asked us if he could use the porch for a movie he was filming.”
The Bennetts enjoy the diversity of their neighborhood, which includes young couples and seniors. On the weekends, they like to go window–shopping in town. They also tend to their vegetable and berry gardens, and enjoy swapping produce with their neighbors.
“Sometimes we’ll come home and there will be a bag of tomatoes, avocadoes or squash on our front porch,” Wendy said.
Both Wendy and Steve agree that living in Old Towne has truly enriched their lives. “It’s so lovely to live here in Old Towne and be able to share this treasure of a house with people who love old homes,” she said.
The master bedroom leads to the living room, where Wendy, (pictured above), sits on the couch reading a book. The couple’s antique furnishings blend with the home’s original trim and hardwood flooring.
The home’s previous owner, Susan Schapel, made enormous improvements throughout, including in the kitchen where period–style cabinets take center stage.