How Saving the Welch House Sparked a Revolution - Jan / Feb 04

Some of the most important achievements start almost by accident. Take Sherri and Mark Clemens for example:  in 1985 they found a house they wanted to buy at 146 North Shaffer Street, which was owned by Calvary Church of Santa Ana.

As Mark tells the story, “The church offered the house for sale by sealed bid and when they called to tell us we were the high bidders, they said, ‘Well, we’ve got good news, and not-so-good news.  You have the winning bid, but the City of Orange wants to acquire the house by eminent domain for more library parking.’  So the first thing we had to do was to begin working with our soon-to-be neighbors to prevent that.  We were eventually successful, and we moved into the house in January, 1986.  Soon after we were at a party celebrating our success and our neighbor, Tita Smith, (who lives in the Grote House at 153 North Shaffer) said, “You know, we did this once; we should do it again!  Others agreed, and that’s how the Old Towne Preservation Association was formed!”

Greeting visitors with a smile and a wave is a way of life for Sherry and Mark Clemens, whose determination to live in a house slated for demolition ultimately led to the formation of the Old Towne Preservation Associaiton (OTPA). 

And that’s why the Welch House, built in 1903 by Wilbur and Nellie Welch and occupied continuously by the family until it was willed to the church when the youngest and last heir died in 1985, is still standing.  This time, they didn’t pave paradise to put up a parking lot!  (Although it is ironic that Wilbur Welch owned Welch’s Ready Mix Concrete, which is stamped into many sidewalks around Orange.  Another member of the family was once president of Orange National Bank, now the Citizens Business Bank, profiled in this issue.)

Like so many homes of that period, pinning down a specific architectural style is a little tricky.  “It’s generally Colonial Revival with vernacular elements,” Mark says.  But there’s  no question how much Sherri, Mark, their 15-year-old daughter, Madeleine, and their Sheltie, Faye, enjoy living in the two-story, 2,500 square foot house, which still has many original features including mercury glass windows.

Sherri Clemens has a special interest in needlework samplers, which enabled women and children to demonstrate their mastery of the many stitches used in this decorative art form.  Doing needlework was a popular pasttime before radio and television – and before women were employed outside the home!

But most of all they enjoy their tight-knit community.  “Old Towne fosters good friends and neighbors,” Mark says. “We care about each other, and we watch out for each other.  When we go on vacation, neighbors ask, ‘Do you want me to water for you?’”

Members of the Welch family and their home are prominently featured in photographs that honor the history of the house and its original owners.

It’s a way of life almost as antiquated as sitting on the front porch and waving to the neighbors-oh, wait-the Clemens do that all the time!

Published in the Jan / Feb 04 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review

Article Written by Catherine Cate, Photos by Mike Escobedo

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