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Caged House Has Been Freed
By John A. Keibel
After nearly three months of painting and roof work, the John Muir house is free of its scaffolding. So ends a series of National Park Service projects meant to return the 118 year old Martinez home of famed conservationist John Muir to something of its early charm.
Recall that in the spring of 1999 National Park Service personnel completed the rehabilitation of the home's exterior woodwork. This readied the home for two badly needed coats of paint. But just as the rehabilitation process required careful study, so did this process of repainting.
The Park Service wished and set out to follow the paint scheme from the 1890s when John and Louie Muir and their daughters, Wanda and Helen, first called this home. However, back then there was only black and white photography. There are no color photographs to reference. And the only known written description of the home's paint scheme is given in a letter (C. 1893) from 12-year-old Wanda Muir to her father: "They are painting it a light soft gray and I think it will look very pretty...." This was precious little to go on.
Much like archeologists digging for clues through the layers of an ancient city, the paint analysts from Architectural Resources Group (Sacramento) examined layers of paint history found in chips of paint taken from the home's exterior. Rather than shovels and sieves, chemicals and microscopes were used to identify the layer corresponding to the late 1890s and, in turn, its coloration. Benjamin Moore's "Smoke White" paint for the siding and "Country Red" for the window sashes proved to be a very good match. An enamel paint matching the flat latex "Smoke White" was applied to the home's metal roofs.
Thirty gallons of primer preceded the 60 gallons of the "Smoke White" paint used to cover the home's exterior--all 9,000 square-feet of it! And since lines from paint brushes would have been part of the finished product in the 1890s, Zack Kratsas of Z.K. Painting (Castro Valley) and his crew--Cas Kratsas and Gonzalo and Rolando Lopez--used brushes rather than a sprayer. It is no wonder that the Muir house was "caged" by scaffolding for weeks on end!
The last work done before the scaffolding came down in mid-December was the replacement of all shingled roofing. Painstakingly and section by section, the skilled roofers from Reva Murphy Associates (San Ramon) removed the old shingles and installed seismic reinforcement. Next they laid down water resistant tar paper. Finally, they secured new shingles. Then they moved to the next section of roof to repeat the process. In this way if it did rain, the roofers only had to cover the section of roof under repair, not the whole roof. No one wanted to place the rooms below in danger of water damage.
John Muir lived in this Italianate home for the last 24 years of his life. During this time he fought for the establishment of national parks. Through the books and many magazine and newspaper articles that he penned from his second-floor study, he enlisted the help of everybody in this endeavor.
I have done the best I could to show forth the beauty, grandeur, and all-embracing usefulness of our wild mountain forest reservations and parks, with a view to inciting the people to come and enjoy them, and get them into their hearts, that so at length their preservation and right use might be made sure. (Preface to Our National Parks by John Muir, 1901)
His works inspire us to this day.
Should you wish to view this uncaged beauty of the National Park Service, visit the John Muir National Historic Site at 4202 Alhambra Avenue in Martinez. The site is open Wednesdays through Sundays, 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. There is an entrance fee. You may call the site at (925) 228-8860.
Exerpted from The View From John Muir's Window, February 2001, Issue No. 100,
Newsletter of the John Muir Memorial Association. Photo by Krista Kennel.