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History of the Visalian dollhouse

The Visalian, upon which my 1:24 scale Seaside Villa is based, was modeled after a real house in Visalia, California, that burned down in the early 1980s. After my first post about the dollhouse, I was contacted by Judy Lewin, the owner of Mill Creek Miniatures and a former Visalia resident who researched the house in the Visalia library. She was kind enough to send me the info she has, and told me it’s okay to share.


Photo provided by Judy Lewin, photographer unknown

The Hilliard House

The house was built by L. D. Hilliard [Lorenzo Dow, nicknamed “Renzi”], in the early 1900s:

The farm consists of two hundred and forty acres on the Mineral King road, about five miles east of Visalia, where he has made all the improvements, putting up substantial barns and outbuildings, and in 1904 built a nine-room, two-story residence which adds no little value to the property. This is conceded to be one of the finest farm-houses in the vicinity, while other improvements are in keeping. His herds number among them good graded stock, and Mr. Hilliard has ably demonstrated the fact that he understands the work with which he has been so long and so profitably connected. … Near Exeter, Tulare county, September 3, 1884, Mr. Hilliard was united in marriage with Laura B. Teague, who was born in that vicinity, a daughter of John Teague, of Exeter. They are the parents of two children, Carroll Arthur and Effie Elizabeth.

History of the State of California and Biographical Record of the San Joaquin Valley, California

As newspaper columnist Joe Doctor recalled of a visit to the property, the house was located “at what was then known as Hilliard’s Corner, across the road from Deep Creek school and beside what was then known as Mineral King Highway but is now Highway 198.” You can read his memories of Renzi Hilliard and daughter Effie (whose married name was Strobridge) in a column that Judy transcribed from a faded photocopy.

The original cost of the house was around $1,300.


Photo by Bill Dillberg, used with permission from Historic Happenings

Renzi’s daughter Effie was 92 years old and living alone in the house when it burned down in 1983. From another document Judy transcribed:

Fire officials said Mrs. Strobridge was warming a robe next to a range when the robe caught fire. She extinguished the fire in a sink and put the garment on a cushion, but soon saw the cushion smouldering. She took the cushion outside to extinguish the fire with a garden hose. Thinking the fire was out she placed the cushion on the back porch to dry.

Later Mrs. Strobridge observed that the side of the house was ablaze and attempted to put it out with the garden hose.

… The material in the lovely old home, dried from eight decades of San Joaquin valley summers, had roared into uncontrollable flames. The damage was total. Estimated loss was $200,000 to the house [and] $100,000 to the contents, many of which were antique.

The Visalian Dollhouse

The Hilliard house was still standing when Visalia woodworker Howard Hill recreated it in 1:12 scale. The N.A.M.E. magazine Miniature Gazette ran a cover story about the Visalian and Hill’s company, One of a Kind Wood Shop, in their Fall 1982 issue.

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Bashed back door, windows, and sunburst pediments

The other day I used the word “bashed” in conversation and the person I was talking to didn’t know what I meant. In case you’re not familiar, “bash” is short for “kitbash,” which is a phrase I first read in Nutshell News back in the nineties, and I’m sure it was around before then. It means modifying a kit or other component to use it in a way it wasn’t originally intended. I bring this up because today’s post is all bashing — a necessity in half scale, since our options for 1:24 windows and doors are so limited.

I recently finished the siding on the front of the Seaside Villa, but I couldn’t do the back wall until I figured out what windows and doors to use, in case the holes needed to be enlarged or en-smalled. The Majestic Mansions windows I’m using on the front of the house are pricey and also seemed a bit fancy for the back, so I decided not to go that route.

The door hole was about the right size for a Houseworks 4-panel exterior door. I like the idea of that, but I’m not a big fan of that particular door, which is flat on the inside and has raised panels on the outside. I wanted a back door with a window in it, which is incidentally available in 1:12 scale, but the only 1:24 Houseworks door with a window in it like that is the Palladian.

As luck would have it, I had a Palladian door. I removed the door and put the frame aside for some future project. (I have a door left over from another bashing escapade that I think will fit in the Palladian frame.)

I made a door frame to fit in the existing hole.

The transom is 5/16″ tall. I made a spacer out of scrap wood to ensure the bottom piece glued in straight.

And here it is with trim. I still need to add some pieces of wood to divide the transom up into panes, but I want to paint them before gluing them in, so I’ll add those later. Same with pin-hinging the door.

The 1:12 version of the Seaside Villa has half height windows on the back, and I wanted to do the same on my house. These rooms are going to be a bathroom and a laundry room, so they don’t really need full sized windows. Houseworks offers a four-light window, but it wasn’t the look I wanted.

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Seaside Villa siding

I’ve never attempted to use clapboard on the octagonal portions of my houses — too many small pieces to cut and corners to make neat. On the Queen Anne Rowhouse, I just painted the wood. I would have done the same with the Seaside Villa, except I needed to fill in a portion of the door frame to make the front door fit, and that would have looked bad with paint over it. So I used board and batten siding like I did on the Victorianna’s towers.

I like this stuff because it’s easy to cut, and the vertical lines allow for neat seams at the corners. I glued on all the front pieces, then moved on to the clapboard, saving the smaller pieces on the back of the tower for last.

A few years ago I bought two old packages of Northeastern Scale Lumber clapboard cheap at a flea market. In the past I’d always used Houseworks siding. I’m not sure if it’s due to age or this is just the quality of this product, but the siding is very brittle and hard to cut without splitting. I thought about buying a new package of siding for the Villa, but that stuff is expensive, so I decided to do a few test pieces first. If I had any trouble cutting those, I’d order a new package.

I started with the piece under the upstairs porch roof, since the roof gives a flat surface for the siding to push up against. This would help me keep the pieces lined up all the way around the house.

(Note: I didn’t actually glue the pieces on as I went along — I cut them all first, then glued — but I’m showing the pictures I took as I glued them in.)

Next I cut the angled piece above this. I made a template of the space using pieces of paper.

I expected this to be a mess when I cut it, but it came out perfect. I decided at this point that I’d move forward with this siding.

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