Start Here. All Will Be Explained.

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Okay – so I can’t figure out how to make an archive or search feature. Bear with me. If you click on one of the pages there are tags that will take you to similar topics. I’m inserting some links to create a basic synopsis of what is going on with this blog, house and situation:

I bought this house in the fall of 2016, and moved here in November 2016.

https://blackpicketfence.org/2018/10/31/trying-to-leave-toronto/

https://blackpicketfence.org/2018/11/08/looking-for-a-home/

https://blackpicketfence.org/2018/11/08/why-did-you-buy-such-an-old-house/

The heritage tag is a grab bag of related topics. My house is currently under review for Heritage Designation :

https://blackpicketfence.org/category/heritage/

This neighbourhood had some problems, that was obvious. It still seemed less bad than where I had previously been.

https://blackpicketfence.org/2018/11/13/east-of-adelaide/

https://blackpicketfence.org/2018/11/18/john-troubles/

https://blackpicketfence.org/2018/10/28/nightmare-apartment-nightmare-neighbours/

https://blackpicketfence.org/2018/10/28/preface/

I thought the house had some really great things going on with it. I loved all the original details. I liked that while it was in plain sight, that it was also private, and far enough away from neighbours, or so I thought.  I knew I didn’t want to live near student rentals, frightening rooming houses, an Air B n B, or anywhere that there was a lot of human intrusion. Commercial neighbours seemed ideal.

The house had a serious case of deferred maintenance, and some unsettling color choices. I was prepared for all the undoing and re-doing. It only took three years to get this point.

I did as much as I knew how to do, which was sourcing vintage or antique salvaged materials, stripping paint, plaster repairs, prepwork, basic demolition and more painting. I had a series of exasperating experiences trying to find professionals who would even work on my house in this area. The contempt and derision from professionals who I would be potentially paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars to work on my house was pretty astonishing. I did not hire anyone who with a bad attitude towards me or my house. Your loss, dudes !

If you are THAT interested the DIY tag will take you through the greatest hits:

https://blackpicketfence.org/category/diy/page/1/

The Before and During tag will take you down a similar route:

https://blackpicketfence.org/category/before-and-during/page/1/

In context of the whole, it shouldn’t matter whether I spruced up the entire house, or only changed a lightbulb.

What I didn’t expect to butt up against were the grave deficiencies in bylaws and building code within the City of London. I didn’t expect that Site Plans from 70 years ago, that do not even have a written record, would be considered acceptable without periodic review for modern industry. When I bought this house, my neighbour was a used car lot that sold a little gas. It was open 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. The lot was sold, then renovated by a gas station flipper then sold again to a buyer who I suppose wanted a turn key business. I am now living next to a 24 hour gas and convenience store.

This was possible as the City of London does not require a site plan review if a building is renovated, and there is no change of use. The City also does not require any sort of community input from businesses that want to operate 24 hours a day, even if they are right next door to and/or close to other residences. This is a real problem in areas with a history of street prostitution, drug dealing, drug houses and petty crime. Things like 24 hour convenience stores create a plausible deniability for the creepy johns and drug buyers that cruise my neighbourhood, especially after dark.

The City’s only concern is the correct zoning for the land usage. Yet this planning creates a two tiered standard of development. My new neighbour would not have been permitted to create what they made in a new development from the ground up – there would be guidelines for the square footage, traffic control, buffer zones, lighting, garbage containment and so on.

https://blackpicketfence.org/2019/02/08/city-of-london-site-planning/

https://blackpicketfence.org/2019/02/07/site-planning-and-gas-station-design/

You can wade through the whole stinking mess with the Hey City of London ! tag:

https://blackpicketfence.org/category/hey-city-of-london/

What it comes down to is that the City of London offers NO protection for a residence that is next to a commercial property. A residence thusly located does not have the same rights as other residences, with regards to quiet enjoyment, privacy, safety or even darkness. A residence next to a commercial lot has no rights to freedom FROM their commercial neighbour’s activities. The City of London does not even have ANY bylaws about light pollution or infiltration. Ask me how I know:

https://blackpicketfence.org/2019/10/02/light-blight/

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I complained when the headlights from gas station customers shone in my dining room and kitchen windows. My elevation was about 48″ lower. The gas station manager said they would put up a fence. No one ever shared quotes with me or asked for a carpenter or post hole recommendation. Decisions were made unilaterally – though the gas station manager first expected that I would contribute $ 2500.00 towards this fence – quotes unseen. This is the fence my commercial neighbour erected – then demanded I contribute $ 1000.00 towards. I refused ! This the fence that I see when I look out my dining room, kitchen, back porch and west bedroom windows:

 

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The 4 x 4 posts are not even securely or properly anchored. Do you trust this construction method ? I do not trust this construction method:

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This is how the front section looked 6 months after it was built. The entire fence flaps back and forth in the wind, as there are no posts set into the ground, and only a small amount of DUCT STRAPPING tethers it to the previous chainlink fence posts:

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Did you know that the City of London’s fence bylaw does not even have a clause which addresses structural stability ? And that there is no requirement of a 24 hour commercial business with vehicular traffic to erect an opaque fence, if they are next to a residential neighbour ? There might be, for a new development, built from the ground up – but not for the Site-Plan-Absent ones that get grandfathered in.

The Hey Look At That Fence tag will take you through the saga:

https://blackpicketfence.org/category/hey-look-at-that-fence/

An even worse discovery was made after the gas station renovation was complete. The vent pipe for the gas station’s underground gas storage tank had previously been located on the northeast corner of the property – next to the industrial neighbour’s parking lot. In the 13 months I lived here, while the used car lot was open, I only smelt gasoline vapours once during a tanker fill. This was a day we were working on the kitchen, so we were in and out of the back door many times to access the saw which was set up outside. We could smell this in the yard. I never smelt gasoline in my house.

(That single pipe sticking up over the roofline was the vent location for the underground gas storage tank until spring 2018)

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When the station was renovated, the vent location for the underground tanks was changed. It was now located 4 feet from the property line. I thought little of this. That was until the day in August, 2018 when suddenly my entire house was flooded with gasoline vapours, which entered through my open windows. It was horrible. I photographed the tanker doing the fill and the driver was not even using the vapour recovery system, as required by law. This is where the real nightmare begins.

(Those three silver pipes on the left are the new location for the vent pipes.)

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https://blackpicketfence.org/2019/02/02/first-gasoline-infiltration-august-11-2018/

https://blackpicketfence.org/2019/02/10/boring-but-important-gas-station-vapour-recovery-system-explained/

I contacted the TSSA – The Technical Standards and Safety Association. They are the only entity with jurisdiction over liquid fuel handling. They are so opaque as to be obstructive:

https://blackpicketfence.org/2019/02/02/hey-tssa-thats-not-okay-part-1-july-2018/

At first I was told they would not answer my questions without a fee of $ 120.00, and I would have to wait 120 days for a reply ! After much phoning and emailing I was finally given an excerpt from their Liquid Fuel Handling Code – which is not available through any library system, including University collections. I could purchase my own copy ($ 135.00 plus HST) though, from them. Their code, as it pertains to the vent location states:

ventpipescode.png

There was not even a code which addressed residences next to a gas station, bulk loading facility, etc. There was NO CODE for residential neighbours.

It took about a year, but I also discovered how far from a property line an underground gasoline storage tank was permitted to be: 1.5 m. That’s a little over 59″ ! Again there was no separate code for a residential property line. Despite the decades of documentation of LUSTS in North America – Leaking Underground Storage Tanks – that poisoned communities, contaminated groundwater and created clusters of Acute Myeloid Leukemia – this is acceptable code in Ontario in 2019 !

I made multiple complaints to the TSSA and the Ministry of the Environment Pollution Spill Reporting Hotline whenever gasoline vapours entered my home during a tanker refuelling. As the weather got colder, I discovered this would happen even with all my doors and windows closed ! And I had storm windows on most of my windows, weather stripping, and doors and windows that fit properly. The gasoline infiltrations would happen whenever there was a wind from the west or northwest.

Eventually the TSSA sent an inspector to my house. He came without any testing equipment whatsoever, and said that he was relying on his sense of smell to assess the issue. It turned out that this inspector was the same person who had approved the vent location to be relocated to 4′ from my property line, adjacent to all my doors and windows. How he had the authority to inspect his own work is beyond me.

When I purchased this house, I did not expect that my home would be periodically infiltrated by volatile and carcinogenic gasoline vapours, as a result of the TSSA’s actions, and that they would claim this vent location is acceptable within their code.

Wade through the Hey TSSA ! It’s Not Okay ! tag at your own risk:

https://blackpicketfence.org/category/hey-tssa-its-not-okay/

I did not expect that my pets would become ill or gravely ill after the renovated gas station opened in July, 2018:

https://blackpicketfence.org/2019/02/26/canaries/

https://blackpicketfence.org/2020/01/04/two-more-canaries/

I did not expect that I would need to consider the implications of waiting for my own Acute Myeloid Leukemia to happen. Benzene is an additive to gasoline. It has been known for over 100 years that workers, children and animals exposed to chronic levels of benzene develop blood cancers, cardiovascular issues, neurological problems. Some light reading about the effects of benzene exposure, and the effects of living close to gas stations can be found under the tag Health Questions, Serious Ones:

https://blackpicketfence.org/category/health-questions-serious-ones/

I have gone in circles phoning and emailing municipal, provincial and federal government entities about my issues with the gas station next door. Without exception, they have all deferred to the TSSA.

The City of London has a bylaw that smoking is not permitted within 9m of the entrances to municipal buildings and recreational facilities (https://www.london.ca/city-hall/by-laws/Documents/smoking-recreation-areas.pdf) but nothing on the books that a commercial entity is not permitted to fill an adjacent property with volatile and carcinogenic vapours.

There is nothing I can do to correct or mitigate the vent location. If I attempted to sell my property, I would need to disclose this extremely serious defect – that is not even a result of my own actions.

This blog is a documentation of my experiences with this matter, but I hope the information can help other people in this situation. This is disgraceful.

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Heritage Designation Notes

This what the notification from the City said (address redacted):

“Last Date for Objection: January 6, 2020

“The house was constructed in 1897 and was first occupied by the Warren family.

” The property…is of significant cultural heritage value or interest because of its physical/design values, its historical/associative values. and its contextual values.

“The property …is a representative example of the Queen Anne Revival architectural style, with expression of influences of the East Lake School, in East London. The Queen Anne Revival is demonstrated in the form, massing and detailing of the home. While the Queen Anne Revival architectural style is common in Lindon, the execution of the detailing of the building, particularly its demonstrated expression of influence from the East Lake School, distinguishes the property…from other examples of the Queen Anne Revival architectural style. The property…demonstrates a high degree of authenticity as a representative example of a Queen Anne home in London as its heritage attributes areaccurately displayed. The property…has a high degree of integrity, as the property’s heritage attributes have been preserved and continue to support the cultural heritage value of the property.

“A concentration of decorative elements applied to the home…demonstrates the high degree of craftsmanship and artistic merit, particularly as it executes the Queen Anne Revival architectural style. In particular, the applied wooden details of the gable, the fretwork of the porch and the stained glass windows(particularly the front window) demonstrate a high degree of craftmanship and artistic merits with excellent integrity. The property…also demonstrates a higher degree of applied detail than found on other nearby properties of the same vintage.

” The property has the potential to yield information related to an understanding of the history and evolution of East London and the Hamiton Road area as it relates to Victorian period development that characterizes the area’s development.

“The property is historically linked to the nearby properties at 23 and 35 …Street, as the buildings located on these properties were constructed for children of Charles Warren who lived at .. ……. Street prior to their construction.”

“Heritage Attributes

Heritage attributes which support and contribute to the cultural heritage value or interest of this property include:

– Form, scale and massing of the one and half story L-plan residential building

– The setback of this building from……..Street

–  Steeply pitched cross-gable roof

–  Buff brick veneer exterior cladding, with voussoirs above the window and door openings in the facades

– Entry doorway set in an umbrage with the gable roof projecting above, supported by a decorated fluted wood post set on a base of buff brick masonry with brackets and fretwork in an off-set rectangular pattern

– East Lake Style painted wood entrance door with glass lights framed in scroll with trim and dentil below, a brass ringer/door bell and mail slot, and nine recessed panels below with nail head detail, and transom with water glass texture

– Wood windows and storm windows, including:

– Large plate glass window on the front of the building, set in segmental arched opening with pierced line and dot detail, with a curved, oblong transom, carved floral motif in the spandrel of the transom, and stained glass with colored and textured glasses in a scroll motif with floral accents, a painted stone sill

– Queen Anne style windows in the front gable, with plain lower sashes and colored glass in small squares surrounding plain centre lights in the upper sash

– Wood sash windows and storm windows

– Decorated front (west) and (north) side gables including wood details:

– Bargeboard with naturalistic foliated scroll motif at terminal points

– Raised panels with accented squares with daisy/floral or sunburst patera

– Pierced or perforated details in the corbels/consoles

– Bracket course below the window openings with East Lake style brackets below the two windows, as well as above and between the windows to flank the window frame or stile

– An enlarged or exaggerated bracket course above the window openings

– Alternating courses of square or scalloped wood shingle imbrication

– Ribbed or reeded parallel convex projected mouldings (with the appearance of timber) in the apex of the gable

  • Wood tongue and groove soffits
  • Buff brick chimney in the rear
  • The following interior heritage attributes: The glass vestibule door with Queen Anne style stained glass with textured glass centre panel

The first occupant of the house (1898) was Charles Frederick Warren (b 1832, Devon, England, died 1920, London, ON). The house was owned by his son, Charles F. Warren ( b.1865 – died 1953, also identified as Charles S. Warren), who seems to have been a builder with a business on Talbot St. in London. His father first occupied the house with several adult siblings – Edward, Ethel, Melville and Phillip. By 1900 another sibling – Florence – had moved in. The children ranged in age from 17 – 27. The adult siblings had jobs like boilermaker, car builder, brass finisher, and sewing machine operator. The youngest – Florence – is identified as a dressmaker, but there is no information whether she worked from this address or was employed by a factory or local business.

IF the house always had a full bathroom with running water, in the present location on the 2nd floor, this left two modest bedrooms on the second floor. There is a small room on the first floor, off the dining room. Where did everyone else sleep ? Only one bedroom – the bedroom that faces west, is big enough to permit two single or antique 3/4 sized beds in the room. By 1909 the household had thinned out to father Charles, with sons Edward and Melville still living at this address.

The Warren family owned several houses on this street that were built in the early 20th century. They lived right next door – at a residential address that is long gone, absorbed by the commercial bakery,  across the street, and down the street. They also owned a very nice house on Anderson Street, one street over, and one or two very close by on Hamilton Road.

Records show that Charles Sr. had lived in several houses nearby – two on Rectory Street – before moving to this house to be the first occupant. It is unclear whether he owned those houses, or if they belonged to his son or another family member.

The last of the Warrens lived at this address in 1923. After this came a rotating door of rental occupants – grocers, bakers, carpenters, porters, CNR workers, and even a musician. In 1963 Kenneth Kelly, a jeweller, moved in with his family. They later bought the house and lived here until 2005. By all local accounts, the previous owner to me never lived at this address. It was said that he intended to flip the house – but probably discovered that this was not like on t.v.. – with a seemingly insurmountable number of repairs and improvements needed. It is said the house had been rented to a family for a little while, with some disturbing goings on with the police being called numerous times. The garden was full of strange buried things – many plastic toys from the early 2000’s, more than an average amount of cutlery, and very large shards of broken window glass. The window glass was in several spots in the back yard – each discovery was by accident and utterly terrifying.

After this the house was vacant, though the owner’s adult son may have lived here for a little while in the year before it was sold. It seems miraculous that during the years it was obviously vacant, that it had never been squatted or seriously vandalized.

This a video about the history of the Hamilton Road area that offers some insight about the development and industry of this area. My house isn’t in it – but there’s lots of historical photos of nearby locations:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heritage Questions

(Photo found on FB of the adult male grandchild sitting where his grandmother, Peg, once sat, 60 or more years later.)

Just after I bought the house (fall, 2016) I contacted the City of London to inquire about the heritage designation process. I wasn’t from London, so I wasn’t sure if my house had any value as a heritage property or not ? It was on a list of heritage inventory, but I believe it was misidentified as a bungalow. After moving, and beginning on the fixing, pursuing the heritage designation research was on the list of things to do, but not a priority.

I bought the house BECAUSE it was old, and looked old, and retained many original details. I can’t explain why, but I have never felt comfortable with new buildings. It often has to do with the space – the low ceilings or ridiculous cathedral ceilings – but also the building materials themselves. Unless it was built with real architectural and design considerations (ie very expensive) things like hollow core MDF doors just make me inexplicably angry. The ripples and flaws in an old pane of glass make me very happy, however.

I was the very youngest grandchild, so my grandparents were much older than my friends grandparents. Their final house was a modest late 1940’s or early 50’s house. Despite being Saskatchewan farmers, they liked to travel, and brought home souvenirs and curios. My grandfather made a museum in his basement, that often had out of town callers, who had to sign the guestbook. It was a mishmash of homemade folk art (a farm made completely out of small cut and polished slabs of stone, including the people and animals), things like a shark’s jaw, unusual rocks, antique bottles and things from the farm and other oddities. I visited it many times, even though I knew every item by heart.

The town I grew up in was a small, boring grain farming town. People were very suspicious about old things, unless it was a farm implement. There was not much to do except go to the library. The library had the regional museum on the 2nd floor. It had a chain across the stairs, but if you asked the librarian she would let you go upstairs, unescorted, and she would turn on all the lights. The displays never varied. There were WW1 items, and photos and steroscopic viewers, and some antique clothing and dishes. I don’t know how many times I looked at the displays. As a kid in the 1970’s it was hard to imagine living with a kerosene light fixture, or a curling iron that had to be heated in the fire ! In context – these items predated me by about 60 years. I don’t know if kids these days are awed by a 1959 light fixture, for example. My father (b.1919) grew up in a house with no central heating, and an outhouse. Just the state of oldness really fascinated me. There was a surviving sod house, built around 1910 or 1915 that was still inhabited by the family that built it. I remember as a kid visiting the house. It was normal for local residents to call up other local residents to see if they could bring company to look at a local thing – like Bert Johnson’s stone fence, or the sod house. I remember the sod house residents as being somewhat eccentric – old men brothers. They had a cold cellar that was accessed through a door in the floor, down very steep stairs. In the basement you could see the slabs of sod the house was built from that still grew grass or peat. The exterior was stuccoed I think – it didn’t look like a dirt hut – but it had old windows and doors. I found that house very strange – a real contrast to the fake wood patterned melamine and shag carpet in all the newer homes in the area. I could not understand why those men lived in a house like that.

Now I am one of those geezers.

Perhaps it was the desire to distance myself from the psuedo suburb I grew up in, and everything it represented.

Ask artist Dean McDermott. His entire career has been built on the fascination with living in another time:

Anyhow – I contacted the City of London to begin the Heritage Designation process.

I sent photos and received an interested reply. A couple of representatives came over to have a look. They seemed happy to encounter a house that was quite intact – except for the kitchen and bathroom, of course. Those rooms are always the first casualties of “improvement” and “progress”.

They gave me some research about who they believed the first owners to be – a family named Warren, and a successive list of occupants. The Warren family lived in the area in several houses – and the children stayed close to their parents as adults, one living two doors down (in a house long gone).

Old houses and storefronts are the survivors, the rebels. Somehow they managed to keep going without interference or interruption. Usually the upgrades create the most damage, and undo the integrity of the building.

This house has been here since 1898 or so. I’ll do what I can to keep it going.

 

 

Site Planning and Gas Station Design

While spending hours on the phone, going through various departments at City Hall trying to find out who was responsible, and who could fix these problems I was directed to Site Planning. After conflicting schedules and lots of phone tag, I finally spoke to a couple of people involved with Site Planning, and the Site Planning Approval Process.

Since the lot next door had previous site planning approval – and the building on site was renovated, with no new structures, and there was no change of use – it was exempt from any type of Site Planning Approval. I don’t know when the gas station building was built. Judging from the style of the building, and the finishes used (Lustron-like porcelain enamel exterior siding, colored 4 x4 ceramic tiles in the bathrooms) with two gas pumps on a small island I am guessing that it was built between 1948 – 1955. I have a photo from 1941, that shows a house where the gas station building is now – so it was built after that.

Let’s assume the site planning was done between 1948 – 1955.

Now let’s talk about gas stations of that era. People had fewer cars, there was little to no concern about pollution or the environment. At that time, many businesses like this were mom’n’pop operations – where an owner also worked at the station they owned. They sold gas but also did mechanical repairs, lubrication, sold tires, etc.

Here’s what they typically looked like:

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Those were also the days when an attendant would pump your gas, check your oil and clean your windshield, too.

The style and function of gas stations has changed considerably in the last 70 years.  Few gas stations have mechanics on site, people pump their own gas, they pay at the pump with debit or credit card. There is usually a convenience store, maybe a carwash and some take-out food. There are usually more than two pumps. There is usually a large and excessively lit canopy, to shelter customers from the elements, and give them a sense of safety under all that light. As the stations have grown, they occupy much larger lots.

Design principles have emerged to make the stations safer for staff (ie robbery, accidents), for the clients (raised curbs to direct traffic flow, considerations for site lines, lighting) with some concern for pedestrians (raised curbs to contain vehicles, clearly marked sidewalks from the street to the convenience store). Many municipalities have implemented design guidelines for gas stations, which include these features, as well as buffering zones for stations which abut residential properties, the use of grass, shrubs, flowers and trees and other landscaping to make the station more attractive, guidance about light infiltration, fencing, garbage containment, etc..   Here are some typical ones:

Click to access AutomotiveServiceCentresGuidelines.pdf

Click to access Gas%20Stations%20_May_small.pdf

Click to access Urban-Design-Guidelines-for-GasBars-and-Service-Stations.pdf

Here’s one from the USA, Santa Clara. It is similar to the Canadian ones:

https://www.codepublishing.com/CA/SantaClara/html/SantaClara18/SantaClara1868.html

The City of London, Ontario does NOT have these design guidelines, or if they do I could not find them.

Now in 1955 or so, tobacco companies used the gimmick of physicians recommending which cigarette to smoke, with no irony whatsoever:

https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/blowing-smoke-vintage-ads-of-doctors-endorsing-tobacco/11/

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In the 1950’s lobotomy was considered a reasonable and ethical treatment for many kinds of mental illness and personality disorders:

https://www.npr.org/2005/11/16/5014080/my-lobotomy-howard-dullys-journey

In the 1950’s women couldn’t get a credit card without their husband’s permission, and many were not allowed to wear pants to school or work until the early 1970’s. My sister was kicked out of secretarial school in the late 60’s for wearing a jumpsuit.

None of these things appear reasonable or sensible by today’s standards.

Now why would Site Planning Approval remain valid for 70 years ? I can understand that a building that is largely unchanged in form or function should not have to undergo an intensive re-approval process.

However – my-neighbour-the-gas-station now has three times as many pumps, about 20 times as much lighting, a large canopy, has changed the location and volume of their underground gas storage tank , the tank’s vent and has changed the location of their garbage storage from what was there on the original site plan. While the building’s foot-print is unchanged, the volume of their business, the traffic flow, their hours (3 x as many) has changed from what had been there.

I believe that their Site Planning Approval should remain valid ONLY if they retain all the original features on the site plan such as type and location of lighting, number of pumps, garbage storage location, vent location, etc.

Modifications = new Site Planning Approval to permit these changes.

Here’s the station from 2015 Streetview:

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This version had many if not all the original features of a 1950’s era station. It’s hard to tell from this image, but there was a concealed area for garbage (it had a cement/cinderblock fence that was about 4′ tall, which hid several garbage cans). This is to the far left, behind the indent in the wall. There are two pumps, with modest downward angled lighting. The vent for the underground storage tank was located just behind the garbage storage area, where it would have the LEAST impact on residents. Every aspect of the design and function of a gas station had been considered.

This April 2015 Streetview image shows the location of the vent pipe. It is the silver pipe sticking up above the roofline behind the service center door.

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City of London, your thinking around Site Planning needs some scrutiny. This situation is entirely the result of the lack of a review of existing Site Planning.

https://www.london.ca/business/Planning-Development/planning-applications/Pages/Site-Plans.aspx

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heritage v.s. Renovation ?

What heritage is worth preserving ? What obligation does a conscientious renovator have to create less waste, and use what still functions ?

There are a couple of books in the London Library system about the history of the Hamilton Road area. The books are photocopied compilations of a free newspaper from this area, that was around in the 70’s and 80’s. There are archival photos and clippings from the London Free Press. While they are a little homemade feeling, the information in them is great, with everything from wedding photos to ghost stories to photos of businesses long gone. There is even a photo of my house – with a caption that claimed this was the original Pegler/Peglar farmhouse (which makes zero sense as this house is the same age as others on the street, late 1800’s). There had been the oldest surviving London residence adjacent to my backyard. This was the White Ox Inn, which had started as a single family residence in 1819, was abandoned then expropriated by the city in the 1830’s to become a cholera hospital, then it became a stagecoach stop (The White Ox Inn), then a single family home again(1900ish), then a fish and chip shop that burned down in the early 1980’s. This was located at 495 Hamilton Road, which is part of Enerzone’s parking lot now:

http://www.londonpubliclibrary.ca/research/local-history/historic-sites-committee/white-ox-inn-plaque-no-21

A photo from the early 20th c. Look, there’s my house in the background !

http://images.ourontario.ca/london/74692/data

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The Hamilton Road books did NOT have any photos of the gas station/used car lot. They did give a good idea of what this area was like for the last century or so.

Next door to my house, on the south side is a big factory type building that belongs to Enerzone, which manufactures industrial furnaces of some sort. Previously this building had been various different businesses, including a plastics manufacturer and a fruit and vegetable terminal. 22 Pegler had been a bakery for many decades. It is unclear from the archival information in the Hamilton Road book whether there had been other houses between my address (36) and 22, and if as the bakery grew it bought up the the neighbouring lots. By the 1950’s it became a large commercial bakery, which also did home deliveries. Obviously whoever lived in this house did not have an issue having non-residential neighbours.

I found a photo of my house from the 1940’s posted on FB, completely by accident. I contacted the poster, who sent me a couple of other photos. His grandmother lived here as a little girl. Here’s a photo from 1941:

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Besides the multicolored paint on the porch post, and the wooden steps, and what looks to be the lilac bush – which still survives in that spot – I was interested in what had been next door, where the used car lot was. The house in the background looks the same age as the other houses on Hamilton Road, in this area. There’s a couple of oldsters, and a few youngsters, but most of the houses were built in the late 1800’s.

The design of the gas station building next door looks very 1950’s. It had the mechanics bay on one side, then the other side had the cash register, with a curved wall with a large picture window. The washrooms were tucked discreetly behind this. There were two pumps in the front, with no canopy. It was similar to this:

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The outside of the building was covered in a new fangled building material. It was  porcelain enamel on sheets of steel. This was sold under many manufacturers names, including Lustron. Gardner Galleries on Hamilton and Rectory St. is the only surviving building in this area with a porcelain enamel exterior that I am aware of.

https://www.ohiohistory.org/visit/exhibits/ohio-history-center-exhibits/1950s-building-the-american-dream/lustron-about/help-for-lustrons/meet-the-lustrons/meet-history

https://savingplaces.org/stories/lustrons-building-an-american-dream-house#.XEqstS3Myi4

I watched as the crew next door tore off the white squares of this Lustron type material on the gas station building. A few landed in my yard and I kept them. This was definitely what it was. There were no signs of rust or other damage, except for how ruthlessly they were removed. For a building material exposed to the elements for 70 years this stuff was amazing. It was identical to the exterior of my 1950’s stove.

What was this replaced with ? Styrofoam with a thin layer of stucco.

I hated watching this destruction. It wasn’t MY building, the building had no heritage designation, and most people would consider gas station architecture to be worthless.

Where did these panels go ? In the dumpster.

 

 

 

Dear Previous Owner…

…thank you for not messing with this house too much. I really appreciate that you let the original doors and windows be, and didn’t start smashing out walls for that plague of open concept. I’m really happy you left the exterior alone, though it would have been more decent of you to have replaced that one part of the eavestroughing that was missing before you sold the place.

What you did to the kitchen was really bad,  but I feel like I have scolded you enough about that.

I do need to speak with you about the paint situation, though. It was maddening to discover that the dark grey paint that was used on the trim upstairs is a noticeably different color from the dark grey trim downstairs. Why would you do this ?

Even worse, was that while you seemed to use a good quality paint on the main floor, which has performed well, whatever you did upstairs was TERRIBLE. I don’t care what the underpaid staff at the big box store told you – you DO need to properly prep a surface that has been previously painted with oil paint, and you DO need to use an adhesion primer. If you don’t – well you can just peel that water based enamel or whatever it was off wherever it was applied. The faintest ding will chip it, revealing the light color underneath the almost black color you chose. This is partcularly evident in the areas that had the most hands – around the doorknobs and light switches, and the edge of the doors. If you had looked carefully – you would have seen that waxy brownish build-up from many years of skin oils. No paint will adhere to this !

So, dear Previous Owner, this is why I will need to spend many hours scrubbing off your inferior latex paint, using water and TSP and a scrubbing pad. Once it is dry, then I can apply the adhesion primer, then the enamel paint of my choosing.

The charcoal grey wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it isn’t terrible. I could have lived with it, if it had been properly applied. I want you to take a good look at this, and ask yourself if this was a good legacy ? You seemed to want to do right by the house, to make it presentable and attractive ? Whose bad advice did this ?

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Scraping Paint

It took awhile to feel confident on the scaffolding. It felt sturdy, but due to the projection of the corbels and whatnot, there was an 18″ gap between the scaffolding and the house. Even with the safety crossbars I worried that I would make an oblivious turn and step, tumble and fall off the edge.

Most of the wood detail on the front of the second story was sound, which was a major relief. A few areas were dried out or fragile, but nothing was mushy or hollow. I started scraping with a putty knife, then moved on to a heat gun for the areas that were large enough. The edges of the wood are the most vulnerable to igniting, so I brought a spray bottle of water with me, to wet any areas that seemed to smoulder.

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Work on the scaffold was further complicated by my aversion to the sun. As a pale redhead I burn. Migraines are easily induced by a glare in my eyes. I worked for a few hours here and there in the morning into the afternoon, before the sun moved to direct exposure, and after supper.

I discovered that some of the decorative shingles had an embossed pattern, of what appeared to be a flower in a vase. I had never seen this detail before, or noticed it on other local houses. This must have looked extra fancy when the house was brand new – another decorative detail on an exterior loaded with them. I wondered about who built this house – and why there was such an intense amount of exterior detail ?

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The areas that had been under an overhang had paint that was still very sound. I was quite surprised that it was holding up so well. I didn’t know when the house had been last painted – definitely not by the previous owner (c. 2005 – 2016) – and possibly not by the previous- previous owner (1974 – 2005). For all the issues with toxicity, those oil based alkyd paints really performed well.

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I scraped as much as I could reach. John was back up north, so I was waiting on his return for the rest of the scaffolding. More of it went up late in October, but it was a wet and cold fall, so my scraping ended there. In theory I had thought that it would take me (working alone) three weeks or so to get the front scraped and primed, then painted. This might be true – weather permitting – but other variables like waiting on scaffolding slowed this down. The storm windows needed to be removed, and the putty repaired, but  this also meant that the scaffolding would need to get raised a level to reach properly.

I ruminated about whether it was better to prime all the areas I scraped, or to just leave those areas bare until next spring, when I could resume, and work in a continuous fashion upwards. I did know that primer should be painted fairly soon after application – otherwise it accumulates surface dirt, which will impair the paint adhesion. I worried about whether the exposed wood areas would be more damaged, or if a winter of exposure would mean little ? (You can see the weather won, by where the scraping stopped.)

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One night I slept really badly, and kept waking up from vivid nightmares. One of the nightmares was that a man had broken into my house, and was standing over my bed, reaching up to take something off the wall. I woke up from this just before 7:00 a.m., spooked and got out of bed. One of my cats had knocked a box of screws off the  worktable downstairs, and they were spread out over the floor. I looked out the window in my front door – like I do every morning – as if my missing cat might be waiting there – and I could see that the ladder was laying in the driveway. It had been firmly attached to the scaffolding, so it wasn’t like it just blew over !

I went out in my pyjamas and moved it to the backyard, and felt deeply unsettled. Did the sound of the screws hitting the floor spook the thief and they abandoned it ?

I knew that creeps will suss out a place, particularly any place that was having work done, to assess how many tools might be on site to steal, security (if any), etc. Anyone walking by would have seen me using basic hand tools, and basic corded tools. I was more concerned that they planned to steal the scaffolding components and the ladder.

Was it a lazy opportunist planning to pawn or a creepy contractor stealing what he needed ? Both scenarios made me uncomfortable. EOA.

 

 

Starting On The Exterior

Many of us have been socialized to get all swoony about “potential”. When I first saw this house the peeling exterior and all the other issues were obvious – and I couldn’t shake those notions of just happily fixing it myself. I know how to prep and paint. I know how to reglaze a window – not a problem (right ?).

Finding competent tradespeople, who will do ALL the necessary steps, are scarce. The actual cost of the paint would be several hundred dollars – that seemed doable. The true cost of the exterior repairs would be the labour, which I estimated to be at least 10x the cost of the materials.

I spent the first summer emailing and phoning around about renting a scaffold. When my ex and I had painted that exterior (in Toronto), the scaffolding rental company delivered it, set it up and took it down. However – at the local places I inquired this was just not done. This was a problem. I had never set up scaffolding, so I had no clue about how to do that safely, or even what components to rent.

I wondered about an alternate approach, like renting a cherry picker or scissor lift. The cherry picker seemed like overkill – and I wasn’t clear if an operator’s license or certification was needed, which I did not have. Scissor lifts seemed to be used only on very flat surfaces, like pavement, or indoors.

Experienced US members on an old house forum recommended pump jacks. This is a kind of basic scaffolding that that the user can raise and lower by themselves. No one locally seemed to sell them or rent them, and the only thing that was identified as a pump jack was the hand operated device for moving pallets. Nope.

My experience on tall ladders was limited. I didn’t think I had it in me to paint the peak using an extension ladder, which is almost three stories off the ground.

But I had to paint my house !

This spring John said that I could use his scaffolding. This was complicated by John working 9 hours north through the summer and into the fall, where most of his scaffolding parts were.

We got the first of it set up in mid September. I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown. I had NO excuse to not paint my house.

In the summer, while I waited for the scaffolding, I started stripping the living room window. This house has an odd detail that I have not seen on other local houses: carved flowers in the upper corners. The paint on it was very old, faded to a sort of ochre color. As I started to strip it, small traces of red were discovered around the flowers, and the ochre paint was more of a russet brown in the shaded areas. I worried that I might gouge up the carving but I didn’t. I managed to knock off one of the dentil pieces though. I looked for days and even sifted the soil below the window but never found it.

The window was looking pretty rough. The sill had been parged with cement, but had some adjacent rot that needed to be filled. The brick mould was gunked up with caulk and paint, and much of the glazing putty was loose or missing:

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The complex surfaces were challenging. I used the most flexible putty knife and a small slotted screwdriver to dig the paint out:

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When it was all stripped it looked even worse. What an accomplishment !

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During this time, major roadwork was being done on Hamilton Road, so gravel and dump trucks were routed down this street. The sight of a woman working on a ladder was apparently so startling that several drivers had to slow down to ask questions about the task at hand.

Once the holes were patched, the old pitch caulking replaced, the glazing repair in progress, and the window primed it started to look a little better:

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I was uncertain how to paint the window, exactly. If I painted the sash parts like the other windows, the flower detail would be lost again in the black. I wasn’t 100% about painting the carved sections with a contrasting color, but I thought that if it looked terrible I could paint over it. I thought it looked okay ? I used the door paint. The original colors around the window seemed to have been a very dark green, almost black around the window frame, then that tawny brown on the sash. The flowers might have been multicoloured, with the flowers having been red, with red paint in the grooves. The flowers themselves seem to be a product of artistic license, with the leaves and stalk of a tulip, with the flower being a sort of a daisy or cosmos ?

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I painted over the not-liked burgundy with the same dark green – Benjamin Moore Essex Green. As a whole I thought the house was starting to look more cohesive ?

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Trim, Benjamin Moore HC-188, Essex Green:

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Door, Benjamin Moore HC-02, Beacon Hill Damask:

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Fixing the Foyer

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There it is – right when you walk in. More chocolate milk colored paint. More awful plaster repairs and problems.

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Like the powder room, there were a lot of repairs needed in such a small space. This area is perhaps 5′ x 6′ ?

I patched, and skim coated, and sanded, and patched some more. I didn’t even take any photos – the area is so small what is there to show ? Eventually the walls and ceilings were smooth enough, so I primed and painted them Benjamin Moore “Queen Anne Pink” (HC-60) with BM “Lancaster Whitewash” (HC-174) as both the ceiling and trim color. The transom is pressed glass, in sort of a pinkish amethyst color. This made the beige pink look pinker than expected. The trim color is sort of a light clay color on its own, but this read as almost white. Neither was exactly what I expected, but it was brighter and not the color of chocolate milk. There was a lot of brushing with three doors, three transoms, textured glass, and lots of trim.

 

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Fixing the Living Room

The living room wasn’t a major ordeal. The plaster needed repairs, of course, but it wasn’t so bad, compared to the other battles I previously fought here.

It was a relief to get rid of the chocolate milk color, another room gone. There were the familiar dings and holes but it was more of a minor situation. At least in this context this was minor.

The realtor presented this room the most realistically:

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This is what the extent of the repairs looked like:

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The walls and the ceiling needed repairs. Of course.

Then I primed and painted it (with BM “Castleton Mist ” HC-1, same as the powder room) and it just looked like a room:

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There’s that other cabinet, that matches the one in the kitchen. It’s the perfect size for storing record albums.

One night, just after John had started work in the fall, I was out looking for my missing cat. I spotted a victorian chaise sitting by the side of the road, about 5 blocks away. It was covered in drywall dust, but didn’t have any bad smells. I didn’t know anyone who I could persuade at 11:00 p.m. to help me carry this thing home. I woke up the next day still thinking about it. John arrived, and drove me over to where it had been spotted – and it was still there ! It needed to be reupholstered, but the frame was sound. We loaded it into the truck:

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I had been looking for an antique settee for ages. This wasn’t exactly what I was looking for – but it was free. The seduction of free. I had (wisely) planned to buy an antique settee that already had good, professional upholstery in the color I wanted, as this was much cheaper than paying for it to be upholstered. But it was FREE and I had been looking for a year, and the only settees that met my criteria were too far away. Did you know there is a huge amount of fabulous antique furniture in Ottawa ? Yes, it is NOT close to London, at all.

I started working on it in the winter. This was after spiralling into a neurotic state related to the imaginary color  of upholstery velvet I wanted. Years ago I had bought some velvet ribbon, probably from the late 1960’s – which was sort of a minty lime green. This particular color has not been seen since. I sent away for fabric swatches far and wide. A Toronto fabric store advertised some upholstery velvet in this exact shade on their site. I had shopped at this store many times, and they often bought auction lots from businesses that were closing out or selling off excess inventory – so sometimes you would find vintage materials there. I sent a Toronto friend in pursuit, but what they had in stock was a really disappointing synthetic avocado.

Finally I located exactly what I wanted, from a disagreeable place in Missouri.

I worked hard on it. My upholstery experience was limited to basic seat recovering on kitchen chairs. Thank goodness for the internet. I had to pull out what felt like thousands of tiny tacks, from the last upholstery it had. Being an insane person, I re-used these tacks to attach the new upholstery.

It turned out okay ?

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