Sunday, February 11, 2007

How Not to Design A House

Most of yesterday was spent at a Thrivent training session. It was mostly for regular Thrivent board members, not ne'er-do-wells like me who are just there in advisory roles. (I'm the 'chapter specialist' for coordinating between Habitat for Humanity, Thrivent, and Lutheran churches in a project called Thrivent Builds. Thrivent is giving over $100 million to Habitat around the country, the catch being that Lutherans and Thrivent members in particular need to volunteer and donate some money, too.)

The fun part was that we met at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. There were Thrivent chapters from around the SF Bay Area and as far away as Santa Cruz, so it was a reasonably central place to meet. Not having grown up in the Bay Area, I had never been to it, though I'd certainly heard of it. With ticket prices over $20 for the tour, I wasn't likely to go on my own anytime soon, either. So I took advantage of the meeting to go on the tour. It's a well-built house, incorporated a variety of state-of-the-art building materials and features, and has some gorgeous leaded glass windows, tile, wood floors, and other features that modern home builders could never match without spending a small fortune.

Well, Sarah Pardee married into the Winchester family, and became heir to a large fortune. Her income was something like $1,000 a day, and she poured large amounts of it into building and rebuilding parts of her house.

But while well-built, it's beyond poorly designed. It's not designed. It's like a Halloween funhouse or drug-induced hallucination. Doorways that open on nothing. Stairways that stop at the ceiling. Other stairs that were modified to 2-inch risers, and twisted around multiple times, to accomodate Mrs. Winchester's short stature and arthritis. Rooms rebuilt multiple times. Before the 1906 earthquake, it had reached 7 stories tall. The earthquake brought the tower crashing down, trapped Mrs. Winchester alone in her bedroom for an extended period, and caused her to have the entire front of the house boarded up so she could concentrate on construction in the apparently neglected rear areas.

There are different theories about why she felt called to have builders working 24 hours a day for 38 years, but they all boil down to JPN -- she was just plain nuts.

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