22 March, 2009

Patience & Wisdom

Mom e-mailed me this picture today, captioned "Patience and Wisdom."

I'm not sure our Maggie would sit so quietly. Our neighborhood is filled with skunks. I didn't see or smell much of them this past winter, but in the last week or so they've made their presence known. I always make sure our back porch light is on before stepping away from the door. Last fall, I practically stepped on one as I left the house--that would not have been good.

Nothing much to report in the way of home improvement projects this weekend--I took advantage of the terrific weather and spent about six hours puttering in the garden and cleaning it of winter debris. I still have a long, long way to go on that.

21 March, 2009

Historic Masonry Seminar -- Repair, Remediation, Cleaning

Eight o'clock in the morning is probably not "early" for most of you; but if you are an independent contractor who is used to getting up at noon and going to bed at five a.m., it's pretty freaking early. Still, Ted and I managed to drag ourselves up in time to attend a free morning seminar at the Garfield Park Conservatory called "The Care and Maintenance of Your Historic Masonry Home," hosted by the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association and Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago. It was well worth the effort.

I'll post the class description here, because they do have another workshop coming up in April.

From greystones to bungalows, Chicago residential neighborhoods are defined by brick and stone buildings. However, many homeowners are uncertain of how to best preserve, maintain, and repair their historic masonry homes. Presented by Mario Machnicki, president and founder of Marion Restoration, this workshop will cover: common conditions and deterioration problems, identifying priority repairs, establishing a scope of work for masonry repair projects, best practices for cleaning and tuckpointing, and financial resources to fund rehab projects. With over 30 years of experience, Mr. Machnicki has been featured in This Old House and The Chicago Tribue.

Next seminar:
Saturday, April 25, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Avalon Public Library
8148 South Stony Island Avenue
Chicago, IL 60617
RSVP to greystone@nhschicago.org, or Blanch at 773-522-4637
We learned a great deal about masonry in general, and Chicago building practices in particular, during the two-hour presentation, which was followed up by a Q&A where they welcomed specific questions about your own building. It covered the types of building materials commonly used, such as limestone, sandstone, and brick, and the types of mortar and style of mortar joints. It also provided links to some excellent online preservation briefs, including:

Assessing Cleaning and Water-Repellent Treatments for Historic Masonry Buildings

Repointing Mortar Joints in Historic Masonry Buildings

Dangers of Abrasive Cleaning to Historic Buildings

There are nearly fifty briefs in all, on a wide number of topics, so check it out.

The key to preserving a building all comes down to one thing: the mortar. (Well, two things, the other is keeping out water.) To ensure that The Box House will last another eighty years, we should be repairing our masonry with like materials, and get our mortar matched exactly. We kind of knew that already--although, amazingly, most contractors do not seem to--we just needed more direction in how to go about mixing new mortar and where to get our mortar analyzed. There is a company called U.S. Heritage Group, Inc. that can run a chemical analysis on our mortar and give us the exact composition.

A previous owner repaired some of our mortar joints with Quikrete--we found the empty tubes in the basement. This product, like many modern mortars and cements, is rigid and doesn't breathe. Areas of our brick garage have a layer of cement smeared on the surface, which now prevents it from breathing. It's probably only been a few years since these bungles were performed, but we're already seeing issues related to these bad repairs--spalling, cracking, efflorescence. If we don't remediate them, over time the brick--which can no longer expand with weather variances--will completely break and crumble against the inflexible mortar.

Other things we learned which are directly applicable to our building:

The paint on the walls of our brick basement can only be removed chemically. It is a tedious process, but he recommended three products to try: Soy Gel, Prosoco, and Dietrich. Under no circumstances should we use mechanical means. What surprised the two of us is that sandblasting is actually illegal in Chicago. Not that we would try it, the historic brick is too soft, but it's illegal because of the lead dust the paint might contain, which will coat the neighborhood. We were shocked because we had just read an article in the Tribune about a couple who had renovated their basement by sandblasting the walls. It seems to be a common practice; I guess contractors either don't know about it or assume they won't get caught.

I neglected to ask specifically if we could use those same chemicals on the limestone outside, which still has its coating of paint because I haven't decided exactly how I'm going to remove it. We've been simply watching it flake off and "helping" it along.

However, Machnicki did mention that these same companies sell detergents to clean exterior masonry; the trick is to soak your masonry first so that the chemicals don't soak in, and to rinse it thoroughly with water. He mentioned a 900 psi as being okay, but he also strongly cautioned testing areas when cleaning first. Yellow brick, for example, is extremely susceptible to damage, and he's seen brick that has been bleached out from improper cleaning. We have some green biological growth on our portico, and he recommended trying water first.

Someone else asked about finishing off a brick foundation basement, and we were told that the furring strips should be placed an inch away from the walls to allow the masonry to continue to breathe.

Another person asked about insulation, but we were told our buildings didn't need it. With walls a foot thick, it wasn't necessary. He did mention insulating plaster, but we didn't get the chance to pursue the topic. I'm not certain what that means.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable morning--definitely worth getting up at the ungodly hour of eight.

Plus, we got to spend some time at the Garfield Park Conservatory, which just celebrated its one hundredth birthday.

Don't let this picture fool you; it's still pretty chilly in Chicago.

18 March, 2009

Need Help Identifying Light Fixtures. Deco? Mid-Century? Home Depot Special?

We had to fix a leaky shower head in the tenants' unit this week, so while we were up there I took a few more pictures of some of the light fixtures that are in place. Soon as we can coordinate with the tenants, we'll start swapping some of these out with the fixtures I picked up on eBay.

These candle sconces we're keeping:

Fixture A.

There are four of them total upstairs, and they just need to be stripped of the gawd-awful paint and rewired. These are no doubt original to the house, circa 1920s.

But this one I'm not sure:

Fixture B.

It's currently in the dining room and is much too small for the space. The vintage one we're replacing it with can be seen here. Although not my particular style, this floral number is kinda quaint. I was thinking 1930s, based on some I've seen on eBay. Does anyone else recognize the style? Rather than rehome it, I might put it in another one of the bedrooms, which is currently lit with bare bulbs.

What about this one?

Fixture C.

It's a pull cord, and the shade is similar to many I've seen on eBay reputedly from the 1920s. Thoughts? (It's being replaced with this one from the 1930s.) I'm not sure yet if we'll be rehoming this one or not. I'm not overly fond of it, and can't think of a place for it. But it's in great shape.

And finally, there is this:

Fixture D.

It's also on a pull cord. Various eBay sellers are calling similar ones a) deco, b) mid-century modern, c) vintage, d) antique, e) used. I suspect it's fairly recent. I don't have a replacement for it yet, so more than likely it will stay for the time being.

Metal House -- Love It or Leave It?

Ted and I walked downtown today to catch a movie at the Century. The route we take zig zags through the adjacent historic district, a federally designated district with gorgeous eighteenth and early nineteenth century homes.

And right alongside them is the Metal House:

I would probably be kinda cranky if I bought a house on a historic block like this (wish I could), and then had this built next to me. The thing is, it's not the only one. The architect, who is finishing up Metal House 2, has this one for sale right next door. Follow the link, and you'll be able to see interior and exterior photos of both homes. Be sure to watch the video for clips of our neighborhood. At least in the first few minutes.

I think the problem I have with these is that they look cold and closed off from the rest of the neighborhood, with garages in front. That's one thing I don't like about a lot of modern suburban architecture--the garage door is often the largest, most noticeable feature of the house. All the other houses on this block have separate garages in back, accessible from the alley; the houses themselves are warm and inviting, with a focus on the front door or a porch.

It kinda depresses me to walk past the metal houses. What do the rest of you think?

17 March, 2009

Mystery of the Missing Sconces

Heave, ho, heave, ho...

Pulling new wire through the conduit has become fairly routine. We're all rather horrified at the state of some of the old cloth wire, and the sooner it gets replaced the better.

But we can't leave the old wire laying around for a minute, unless we want it chomped.

We've been coiling it up and putting it outside by the trash, where the tinkers come to collect it long before the garbage man does.

Now, a few weeks ago I mentioned our suspicions that there might once have been sconces above the fireplace.

Well, Ted and Seamus inspected the wall above the fireplace carefully...

Made some test drills...

And BINGO! We found the old electrical boxes.

(Now if only I could find that pesky hairbrush before the camera comes out.)

As before, these electrical boxes were stuffed with newspaper.

Only this time they yielded a precious clue! The Sears advertisement was announcing a sale for Friday, March 13, 1942; sixty-seven years ago to the day. We found it rather funny that we opened up the wall right before Friday the 13th last week.

So, it was less than twenty years after The Box House was built that someone decided to remove the sconces and plaster over the wall. (We had guessed late forties, so we weren't too far off.)

But I think I know what happened to the sconces.

Four of the six bedrooms in The Box House have sconce lights, two in the upstairs unit and two in the downstairs one. Two of those rooms, both upstairs, have rather simple (and rather heavily painted over) candle sconces. One of the bedrooms downstairs has sconces that are plain, and perhaps of more recent vintage. And then there are these in my mom's room (this is one of two):

Of course, with all the white paint slathered on them at the moment they're not looking their best. But the detail on them is of a knight on horseback trampling a dragon. My guess is that it's supposed to represent St. George. Anyway, they match our Medieval-style electric fireplace, original to the house. (Go here to see a video of the fireplace in action.)

I'm hoping there is a way to strip the paint off the sconces without destroying the polychrome finish, but we'll see. If not, I'll just have to repaint them and "antique" them to give the appearance of age.

However, those particular sconces won't be going back above the fireplace. Mom likes them in her room, and they've now been there far longer than they hung in the living room--if the date on the newspaper is a true indicator of when the sconces were removed, then before she was born!

Instead, we found another vintage set of sconces on eBay:

You can't tell from this photo, but the candle bulbs go behind the fancy grill work, which curves around them; they are going to cast amazing shadows on the walls, and I think they complement the shapes in the stained glass windows nicely.

We've pulled new wire through the conduit to replace the old...

...and now we're just waiting for the sconces to arrive!

13 March, 2009

Free Vintage Chandelier to a Good Home

Well, we've taken down the dining room chandelier and had hoped to get the new slip shade one in place, but a piece broke in shipping and we're still dealing with FedEx and the eBay seller about the credit. Can't hang anything up or even try to assemble it fully until FedEx can get over here and inspect the packaging.

Here's the old one:

We originally thought the chandelier was a later addition to the house, but after doing a bit of online research and trolling through the auctions, it looks like it might have been original. Several sellers had indicated similar ones as coming from the 1920s.

Anyway, if you want it for your house, it's yours. It does have the canopy, which I managed to clip off in my picture. It will need to be rewired, as it still has the original cloth cord, which is in rough shape. Also, one shade is slightly larger than the others. It's a decent chandelier, just not our style, so we're replacing it with another period light.

If you're interested in the chandelier, it's free, you just have to come get it. Drop me an e-mail at blog(a)compassrose.com
We also have this light fixture, which is probably also original to The Box House:

The body is actually some sort of plastic. I knocked off most of the dust, and discovered it's really quite a pretty color. It, too, is free to a good home. Just drop me an e-mail.

We may even throw a kitten in with the deal.* Naughty kittens snuck into Mom's sewing room yesterday and discovered that the Garfield quilt she was working on--which she spent a very long time adjusting to just the right tension for quilting--makes an excellent hammock.

Needless to say, Mom was not pleased.

*Just kidding, you can't have our naughty kittens.

10 March, 2009

An Unexpected Encounter with the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile!

Ted and I were down in the basement, working in our offices, when Mom called to see if we wanted coffee from Starbucks. "Oh, and by the way," she says to Ted, "the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile is here."

I could hear his end of the conversation, but had no idea what they were talking about when he said, "No, I've never seen it."

"What haven't you seen?" I asked when he hung up.

"The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. It's parked near the Starbucks on Main."

"What? Really? You didn't tell her we'd be right there? Grab your shoes, we're going to meet her!"

So I made him jump in the car with me without bothering to brush my hair and we tore down Main Street. Now, I'm not sure how common Oscar Mayer products are across the country, but if you grew up in Chicago, you knew the Oscar Mayer hot dog song by heart.

Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener
That is what I truly want to be
'Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener
Everyone would be in love with me.
Or maybe you're familiar with their bologna song?

My bologna has a first name, it's O-S-C-A-R
My bologna has a second name, it's M-A-Y-E-R
Oh, I love to eat it every day, and if you ask me why, I'll say,
"Cause Oscar Mayer has a way with B-O-L-O-G-N-A." Delicious!
We pulled into the parking lot just as Mom was ready to leave with our coffees. "There it is!" I squealed. I had always wanted to see the Wiernermobile, but never had, either. And there it was in front of me! The lady driving it even let us go inside.

And, we got free stickers! How freakin' cool is that? Hot dog!

I made Mom and Ted pose with the Wiernermobile and stickers because, c'mon, I hadn't brushed my hair before I left the house.

Papa Legba, Guardian of the Crossroads—And Our Threshold

I think our previous owner—or perhaps it was the previous-previous owner—only bought paint if it was on sale. The only colors we have at The Box House are white, battleship gray, a pukey tan, and baby-diarrhea yellow, which is a particularly vile shade of mustard that fills our stairwell. They had to be on sale, there's no way anyone would have picked these colors on purpose.

Unfortunately, we won't be rehabbing the stairwell anytime soon. It falls pretty far down on the list of jobs. There are bulges in the plaster and dings to the wood that we're just going to have to live with for the time being. BUT, I really can't stand this mustard color. For now, I can at least slap a coat of venetian plaster over it to soften the look. The mustard is a high-gloss paint to boot, so I had to prime it first. I'm partway done.

Here it is before:

Honestly, it looks much worse, sort of grim and dark, in person. Trust me. The flash of the camera lightened it up quite a bit. This is a view I took from the front door looking up toward the door of our unit, which is open. That's Maggie and Seamus sneaking out because they think I'm not paying attention. The Madonna and Child? That was done by my grandfather. I LOVE this painting. I'll have to blog his artwork sometime.

Here's part of the wall I plastered:

The view is from our unit door, looking down toward the front door. Don't believe Mom and Ted when they say the plaster looks the same as the old paint. It certainly does not, thank you very much. The new color is warm and soft, like butter.

*Sheesh.* Okay, I'll take better pictures during the day sometime to prove it to you.

But what is that in the corner by the door?

Look closer (well, not too close, I really did just slap that plaster on as a temporary thing):

It's a veve, a mystic diagram, for Papa Legba. I used a copper paint pen and drew it freehand from a sketch I found online. In Haitian folklore and belief, crossroads and thresholds are dangerous places, a favorite haunt of evil spirits. Papa Legba is the protector of both roads/paths and barriers/partitions, so we placed the symbol there to protect our home from any evil that might wish to cross over the threshold. It works sort of the same way that haint blue paint on Southern porches keeps out evil. (Check out houseblogger Jenni's blog for a photo and the folklore behind her blue-ceilinged porch, and then wander on over to the Stucco House to see the amazing job they did with their porch.)

Ted and Mom have voted me down on using haint blue on our porch--instead we may try to strip it down and restain the ceiling--but I might be able to convince them to paint our door blue, like the Old Order Amish do in the community I used to live in. It is a well-known fact that a witch or a demon cannot cross a blue windowsill or threshold.

Anyway, for now, Papa Legba's veve will hopefully protect the house.

05 March, 2009

Art Deco Lights for the Pantry and the Front Entryway, and a New To Do List for the Tenant Unit

I swear, these are the last ones... Honest.

Well, unless you're going to get all technical on me and count this one, too.

The top pair of starry lights came from a deco-era theatre in Chicago that was torn down. They will light the pantry of each unit at The Box House. At present, there is just a bare bulb in each.

The bottom light, which I mentioned a few days ago that I was drooling over, is going to go in the tenants' unit. The current tenants are closing on their house in May, so we're looking to rent the unit out starting June 1st. It looks like we'll be able to get some work done on the unit before the next set of tenants move in. Our short list includes:

  • Rewiring the light in the stairwell outside their unit
  • Rewiring the dining room and living room
  • Replacing the light in the entryway
  • Replacing the light in the dining room
  • Replacing the light in the pantry
  • Adding a fan light in the living room
  • Painting (using Venetian Plaster) the dining room, entryway, and living room. I think we're going to use a seafoam in the dining room, a pale aqua in the living room, and a creamy color in the entryway
  • Adding push button switches to some of the rooms
  • Stripping the sconce lights in two of the bedrooms of the layers of white paint

We've been asked why we're putting such effort into a rental unit. I guess there are a couple of reasons.

For one, The Box House is a two-flat that we live in. It's our home as well as an investment property. We'd like to upgrade and restore both units along the same lines. A nicer unit will attract good tenants, ones we hope will have a similar appreciation for vintage detail. Sharing a two-flat with another family is quite different than living in an apartment building. It's a more intimate relationship, because you always run into them on the stairway or in the laundry room. We want to attract a tenant who appreciates the building in the same way that we do. It takes some effort to find such people, but this will be our fifth go-around as landlords (twice for the condo, once for Mom's house, and this will be our second time at The Box House) and we (think we) have a good sense of who will make a good tenant.

Second, improving, upgrading, and restoring the unit upstairs will only add value to our home.

And finally, when the other properties sell, when the basement here is finished into a "third unit," and when we find ourselves in between occupancies, Ted and I may move to the upstairs unit. It was the original plan, before everything got modified. So the changes we make I'll eventually get to appreciate on a day to day basis--even if it's four or five years down the road.

Ghost Ads as Revealed by Destruction of the Nortown Theatre

The Nortown Theatre at 6320 N. Western Ave in Chicago was my dad's favorite movie theatre. Designed by J.E.O. Pridmore, it was an atmospheric theater, which was known for it amazing sea horse, mermaid, and zodiac motifs. My dad used to tell me stories about how his mother would take him and his siblings there for a matinee. They would stop in one mom and pop store to buy candy, and in another to get popcorn, then they would spend all afternoon watching newsreels, cartoons, and movies.

The theatre was torn down in 2007. Had my father lived to see the day, it would have broken his heart. So much of his early memories were wrapped up in this plaster-and-terracotta palace. When Urban Remains of Chicago announced that they were selling some of the original decor, I dragged Ted over to their showroom, and bought a plaster panel like the one below, that was part of a repeating frieze on the second level. I found myself overwhelmed with nostalgia for a place I had never been, but one that had been so important to Dad, and I had to have it.

At the moment, it's packed away. We're not quite sure where, or how, to hang it.

For over a year now, every time we've driven past the spot where the theatre stood for generations, I've meant to take a picture. Not of the empty lot, that's too depressing. When the theatre was torn down, several "ghost" ads were revealed on the building next door. These advertised businesses that existed prior to 1931, the year the Nortown opened. Today (thanks for reminding me, Ted!) I finally managed to bring the camera along:

This wall is like a little time capsule of 1930s Chicago. I checked to see if The Bowmanville National Bank still existed, and I did find an old reference that it was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places. However, when I pulled up the site on Google Maps, I found another bank, a bland and boring-looking one, in its place.

View Larger Map

So much great Chicago architecture is lost every year to be replaced with generic, uninspired buildings. Do you want to know what's going up in place of the Nortown Theatre? You guessed it. Condos. Phooey.

Nortown Terrace. When will it be built? Who knows. The site has been vacant for well over a year now.

My Bank, as Seen in the Trailer for the Johnny Depp Film "Public Enemies"

This is very exciting. The trailer for the new Johnny Depp movie, Public Enemies, has been released. It heavily features the 80-plus-year-old Bridgeview Bank (originally Sheridan Trust and Savings), located at Lawrence and Broadway in Chicago. Ted and I opened our business accounts here, just so we could get to visit this amazing bank on a regular basis, and I'm thrilled to see it get such coverage. I'm pretty sure that's our safety deposit vault that they're robbing! (I think the only thing in there at the moment are our passports and a backup of my computer files, circa 2006.)

You can watch the trailer here:


Thumbnail image of the Sheridan Trust and Savings Bank, Uptown, Chicago, 1924. Image courtesy University of Minnesota Libraries, Manuscripts Division, Northwest Architectural Archives.

03 March, 2009

Custard Shade Art Deco Chandelier for the Tenants' Unit, and a Plea for Input

Did I mention that our dream tenants have decided to get their own place? I can't blame them--now's the time to buy if you can--but they're wonderful, wonderful neighbors and I'm really going to miss them. Their lease is up this summer.

We rented the unit out to them just a few months after we moved into The Box House ourselves. We had made some minor repairs to the unit at the time, but knew there was a list of things we wanted to one day accomplish to make the unit even nicer. So we're looking at this in a positive light, and will take the time to make some additional improvements.

So, my theory is that replacing some of the light fixtures in the tenants' unit will help us get a higher rent. (In truth, I just get to indulge my light fixture fetish and hunt through eBay, online merchants, and the local shops to find one-of-a-kind vintage pieces.) There are two and possibly three fixtures I definitely want to replace before the next set of tenants--whoever they may be--moves in. The dining room and entryway have really, really cheap looking lights. The living room ceiling doesn't have a ceiling fixture at all; at the moment, I can't remember if there is an electric box in the ceiling for one or not, like there is downstairs. At a minimum, we want to replace the two and if possible, put a ceiling fan in the living room.

This is what Ted found on eBay for the dining room (these are the seller's pictures):

It's not as fancy as some of the lights we've been looking at, but it's also not as expensive. We negotiated with this seller, and got it for a very, very reasonable price. It'll arrive as soon as I get around to paying for it.

Because it's going into the tenants' unit, we wanted something more practical and sturdier than the more fanciful slip shade chandeliers, like the one we got for our unit downstairs. (Which, by the way, arrived by FedEx today and, although it was very well packed, has a broken arm. *Sob* I think we can fix it, but more on that tomorrow.)

Now I have my eye on this one for the entryway. It, too, is reasonably priced. It's circa early 1930s and is currently located in Europe. I haven't placed a bid on it yet, but I'm very tempted.

What do y'all think? Would these lights make you say "wow" when you walked in, and want to rent the place? Would they distract you from the fact that the kitchen doesn't have a dishwasher, and won't until we get the chance (*cough* funds) to redo the kitchens in both units? Do lights matter as much as I think they do?

I don't have pictures of the light fixtures currently in place up there. But trust me, they're fug, and do the unit no favors.

02 March, 2009

Cleaning Our Antique Light Fixture, Pulling More Wire, and Another Conduit Mystery

Well, much to my disappointment, the antique light fixtures we won on eBay still haven't arrived at our door. Granted, one of them I paid for just last week, but it's been a few weeks since we sent payment for the other. What's that seller's excuse? Grrr. I want to get these installed soon, because my cousin is coming in town in a few weeks and she hasn't seen the place yet. I want to distract her from the disastrous bathroom and the super outdated kitchen with pretty, sparkly lights.

Well, I can't really complain too much. We still have to finish pulling new wire through the conduit before the lights can be installed, anyway. So that's what Ted and I did today. With a little help--as always--from Seamus.

I think I've gotten over my fear of rewiring; I'm no longer hyperventilating and thinking "OMG, I'm working with electricity!" Because really, I'm not. I'm just the Girl Friday, the one that chants "heave, ho!" and feeds the wires into the wall. Ted is the one who knows what he's doing and can hook everything back up again. Of course, I nag him to test and test and test the lines again to make sure they're not live. But that's me; I worry cuz I care. And because he humors me, he tests them again in my presence, even though he's already tested them several times and maps everything he discovers in our "Box House Book."

So, pulling old wires and replacing them with new has become fairly routine. We'll be ready to install the dining room chandelier and the front hall light when and if they ever get here.

And while we're at it, we're replacing all the cloth wiring along that circuit. That includes the wire leading up to the light fixture in the front stairwell, the stairwell that leads to both the front door of our unit and the tenants' door upstairs.

The stairwell is lit by two gorgeous matching light fixtures, one on each level, that are probably original to the house. Seriously, the lights are what really sold me on The Box House. I walked through the door and fell in love, just like that. Here's one of them:

But look closer; some moron in the past painted the ceiling without bothering to either tape up the canopy piece or loosen the screw to drop it enough to paint under it. What a mess. (Click on the picture to enlarge and truly understand my annoyance.)

I was really nervous to try to remove this paint, because I was terrified I'd also remove the gold paint underneath. The lamp is some kind of pot metal with a red, green and gold polychrome paint job. What I finally did was to get a shallow bowl and fill it with an inch of warm, sudsy water--I just used dish soap. Then I let the canopy soak in the water for fifteen minutes or so. This seemed to soften the paint enough that I could remove it with my fingernail. It was tedious, and underneath the splashed on white latex was a layer of slopped over taupe-colored enamel--the dreaded enamel that seems to cover the wood trim in the bedrooms, and is nearly impervious to strippers. Luckily, for once, it didn't seem to adhere to this particular surface. I was able to scrape it off with my fingernail as well. Voila!

I don't think these lights have been taken down in decades; here's what it looked like when I started to wipe away the dust with a damp cloth:
Granted, some of that is sawdust from when we refinished the stairs--that stuff gets everywhere.

I had decided not to take the panels out to clean the glass. Each is held in place by a foldover metal tab, and I did not want to risk bending the old metal in case it snapped. So I used a damp sponge and warm, sudsy water to gently wipe the whole lamp down. To get the moisture out from behind the metal grill work when I was done, I used a can of compressed air to blow it out. All in all, it worked very well. It's possible to see more detail on the surface now, and I'll take another picture when I get the light back in place.

We did encounter another mystery while pulling the wire. We thought it would be a straight shot from the dining room ceiling fixture to the ceiling box in the living room, a distance of maybe 20 feet max. Afterall, there are no other fixtures that it could be powering. However, the wire we pulled out was more than three times that length. So the conduit was not straight, and was traveling off somewhere else, to power what, we're not entirely sure yet.

We first double-checked the remaining wall outlets in the living room, including the one in the floor that powers our old electric fireplace. No luck. None of those wires were connected.

So now, our best guess is that there's another electric box or two hidden behind the plaster. The most likely scenerio, since the conduit seems to be heading in that general direction, is that there were two sconces above the fireplace, in typical bungalow fashion. And just as we found a dip in the plaster where there was once a lightswitch, careful inspection above the fireplace shows a few dips in the plaster that might have been the location of sconces.

Arrgh, I neglected to take another picture of the fireplace to show y'all, and the only one I seem to be able to find on the hard drive is this one from Christmas. It'll have to do. In the space on either side of the mirror there is a suspicious swirl of plaster, no doubt covering up newspaper-stuffed electric boxes.

We need to do some investigation as we did before, possibly some test drilling to find the boxes, but I'm so excited at the thought that we might have discovered another vintage detail buried by a previous owner.