The Hidden Secret
Renovating old homes is not about making them look new, it is about making new unnecessary.
– Ty McBride
One of the things I love most about our old Spanish Revival home is its hidden secret. Although it’s a hugely exaggerated feature, it’s almost totally concealed from the front of the house. If you didn’t know it was there, you might miss it entirely, even while standing on the back terrace. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Benches & Garden
In addition to the hidden secret, there are several other cherished elements that make Golden Gate unique. Three ancient European stone benches with ornately carved bases greeted us when we moved in. They line the semi-circular railing of the brick terrace and provide extra seating for guests when we host parties or events.
And as I’ve stated, I am unceasingly grateful for the bountiful nature on display in the back garden throughout the year, flaunting mature California oak, cypress, plum and pine trees, plus so much more.
This old-world European planter also came with the house. The relief carvings on the large stone planter harmonize with an overall female theme of women in ancient costumes dancing hand in hand. The container holds a spiral conifer topiary that commands center stage between two sets of rusty red bi-fold French doors that open to the terrace from the living and dining rooms. I like to think that Mary Monahans placed the planter in this spot many years ago when she built the house.
Anduze Pots and Candelabra
Eight antique glazed and distressed green and yellow French Anduze pots also decorate the rim of the terrace. These Medici-inspired vessels get their name from the village in Provence where they were first created by a local potter. Marshall and I purchased them from Jan de Luz in Carmel Valley several years ago. Each is planted with opulent boxwood balls that soften the black vertical iron rails behind them.
Beside the Anduze pot sits one of two oversized wrought iron candelabras that sparkle with light from tiny red, blue and green candle holders. Although the whimsical candelabras that light up both ends of the terrace are from Italy, I found them at a wonderful antiques store in the mountains near Santa Fe. They indeed add magical ambience to an evening dinner on the terrace.
In addition to the rusty wrought iron sculptures, a duo of pale blue-green bronze statues overlook the terra cotta brick terrace. In keeping with the female theme, elegantly dressed women holding large urns on their heads add intrigue to opposite ends of the raised deck. To our good fortune, these Egyptians ladies were already in residence when we moved into Golden Gate.
Our sneak preview begins with the tiny Erigeron growing at the base of the hidden secret’s randomly stacked bricks, which form a deep curved hearth and arched fireplace at the foot of an unfathomable and unexpected structure. A supply of firewood fills the brick opening between two more Anduze planters and a pair of stone urns with tall, fanciful ivy topiaries.
To see the hidden secret, you must first walk to the far edge of the terrace, turn around, look almost straight up, and squint until your eyes reach the top. There before you stands a 25-foot-tall, hand-built brick turret containing four tiny interior brick fireplaces that warm the dining room, family room and both upstairs bedrooms.
The fifth fireplace faces the terrace with an iron and stone medallion and two arched niches adding additional function and visual interest to the sturdy 90-year-old brick tower. The steadfast column has not only withstood multiple earthquakes and raging Pacific storms, it has provided warmth on cold California nights for Marshall, Toby and me, both in the house and on the terrace. When standing beside the cylindrical turret on the upper deck we are treated to exclusive views of the hills and harbor of Sausalito, as they are hidden by the old house from the street.
And here is the reason we gave Mary Monahans’s Spanish Revival creation the name Golden Gate. We can see the two magnificent towers of the iconic burnt orange suspension bridge light up the San Francisco sky almost every night from our rear terrace, doors and windows.
As befits the place known to travelers and moviegoers around the world as Fog City, cloudy mystical swirls from the Pacific sneak in through the infamous expanse like a big, fat, friendly gray snake. And even though the function of the legendary foghorns has been replaced by radar technology, locals demand the two huge horns continue their familiar refrain every time the fog rolls in. I’m grateful for that, because I dream such sweet dreams when I fall asleep to their magical sounds.
For the Love of Bridges
Like me, most people in the Bay Area treasure the Golden Gate Bridge to the point of giving it birthday parties – something I never experienced in Texas, where a bridge is just a bridge! But here I have been lucky enough to witness and celebrate the Orange Lady’s 50thand 75thanniversaries with heartfelt exuberance and enthusiasm.
I and the rest of the GGB’s adoring and appreciative fans rely on the exalted structure to transport thousands of us every day across the cold, choppy water below, or through the misty gray fog above.
Thank you, Golden Gate Bridge and Casa Golden Gate, for enriching my life with beauty! For a girl who grew up in a tiny tract house on the parched plains of North Texas, I bow to you both in humble and sincere gratitude. Whispering thank you every day, I acknowledge my amazing good fortune – down on my knees, eyes turned upward, palms pressed together.
I hope you now have some inkling of why we are so passionate about saving our beloved, old, funky, broken down house on the San Francisco Bay. Thanks so much for reading my story about the love Marshall, Toby and I have for both Golden Gates!
Linda, Marshall & Tobywan-Kenobe