The Zanone House 

(Magdalena Zanone House)
a National Register Property

The story of The Zanone House begins in the Fall of 1998 when we purchased a home at 903 A Street, and began our stay in Eureka, California.   This house, which we purchased from Caltrans, the state highway department, was to lead us on a saga, which continues to unfold.  Following that purchase, a little over a year and a half later, we were lucky enough to purchase the Zanone House, the subject of the story that follows.   Some photos in the story that follows are thumbnails, and are therefore “clickable” and will result in a much larger, and you should be warned, slower loading, version of that picture. However for those interested in older homes, historic preservation, and restoration technology, the photos are quite entertaining and educational.  Watch for links as you progress as they will take you to photospreads of various projects.


The Tale of the Zanone House by Ron Kuhnel 

My wife Melanie and I were long-time residents of Sacramento, California.  We began to spend more and more time in Eureka where two of our children lived.  Two other children lived nearby in Orleans, California.  Finding Eureka a delightful community, with good weather, friendly people, and incredible older homes, we purchased through a sealed bid auction, an older (1904) home from the highway department (Caltrans) that was in an abandoned freeway right-of-way.  The home at 903 A Street was to be our second home, and we began dividing our time between it and our home in Sacramento. 

In October 1999 I was on a business trip to New York City.  That evening I received an excited call from my wife Melanie.  “The Zanone House is for sale!” she stated breathlessly.  “Which house?” I exclaimed.   “You know…the big one on G street with the onion dome” she replied. 

Anyway to make a long story short, we made an offer without my even seeing the house.  And thanks to a wonderful realtor, Mark Nickleson of Four Star Realty, shortly afterwards we were the proud owners of the home.  We could hardly believe our good luck.    The house, when we purchased it, was sort of a boarding house, and occupied by a group of women who were living in nearly every room.   This included the dining room, which was being used as a bedroom.  While the grandeur of the home peered through, it was not until it was empty we began to realize what a treasure we had acquired.  I took quite a few photographs of the home when we first moved in, and a few of these are shown in Original Photos.   

Melanie had become a member of the Board of Directors of the Eureka Heritage Society, an organization dedicated to the preservation of older homes.  She also had taken a class in Historic Preservation and Restoration Technology at the College of the Redwoods.   As a result she began to develop an intense interest in possibly restoring our home to its original grandeur.  If you have looked at the Original Photos, you may have noticed that much of the original woodwork was in remarkable condition.   The wood had been refinished in many cases with hard surface coverings such as “Minwax®” which had yellowed and chipped with age, but underneath these coatings were some simply fantastic redwood surfaces.  However almost all of the original light fixtures were gone, the wallpaper now dated from the 1970’s, the carpets from the 1990’s, and white latex paint had been placed on the walls of both kitchens plus the service porch and back bathroom.  A wall had been constructed in the service porch separating it from the bathroom. 

But underneath all of this was a simply remarkable house.    The Zanone House.  So who was Zanone?  Melanie began researching this and discovered that Domingo Zanone was an Italian immigrant who came to California in 1849 during the gold rush, and spent seven years in the Mother Lode in central California.  In 1866 he came to Humboldt County and started raising cattle at Petrolia near Cape Mendocino. He eventually accumulated over 5000 acres on the coast.  His great great grandson, Joseph Zanone, still resides on 3000 acres there and continues to raise cattle.  In 1875 Domingo went back to Italy and found himself a bride, Magdalena Ghio.  Back in Humboldt County she bore him 7 children, five daughters and two sons.  In 1886 they purchased three and a half acres in the center of Eureka, and built a home there.  The original home still stands next door and is now owned by my sister, Betty Kuhnel.   She has restored that house and has lived in it since 2001.   In 1901 Domingo passed away.  His widow, Magdalena, then built the grand home next door at 1604 G Street, the subject of this story.  Legend has it that she had seen another home, at 2436 F Street, the Hollander House, and wanted one built in a similar fashion.  And indeed the homes are similar, except the one at 1604 G Street has a Classic Revival front porch and cascading staircase, and of course the distinctive highly decorated round tower with an onion dome that makes it look truly unique.  Mrs. Zanone lived there with some of her children, and passed away herself in 1946.  The home stayed in the family until 1972 when it was sold to Augie Lueras.  Mr. Lueras did a lot to preserve the home, and the fact it is in such great condition is due much to the tender loving care he lavished on the structure.  

After much debate, we decided to try to return the home to something approaching its original grandeur.  We began a search for the best people to help us.   Melanie’s contacts through the Eureka Heritage Society led us to some of the finest tradesmen and craftspeople in Eureka who specialized in historic preservation.   To these people we owe a great debt of gratitude, for in all cases they became as excited as us about what we were doing, and gave much of themselves in attempting to help us to realize our dream.    

The windows needed major repair.  Stafford Glass did the work. “Dan the Glass Man” replaced the broken or plastic curved glass windows (seven altogether), repaired the window weights, fixed some of the window sashes, and re-glazed the windows.    We were very pleased with how well this turned out.  The curved windows are an important feature of this house and are shown in Windows

The rain gutters were made of redwood.  There were lots of them and some were curved.   In some cases they were full of ferns, and they leaked pretty badly.  We were told the person who had refurbished the gutters on the Carson Mansion was Kelly Martin, so we retained his firm to refurbish ours.  It was not a trivial job, and a 54 foot “man lift”, and many person hours were required to do the work, but Kelly’s man Mark did a wonderful job of repairing them.  They work like they were originally intended, and should last for decades.    The side porch needed rebuilding and another of Kelly’s skilled workman, Patrick Barry, did the reconstruction.  We were very pleased with how this turned out.  The back stairway also was in need of repair, and Patrick competed that in February 2002.  This was a major job as it required nearly complete reconstruction.  A couple of years before I had acquired some quality second-growth redwood, so this was used to do the work.   The New Porches show the results of this work. 

We needed lots of advice on the inside of the house.    We learned that that the person responsible for the overall project management of the Carson Mansion restoration was Penny Eskra.    We had heard she was the one of the very best in this field in  the entire country, so we retained her as our design consultant to guide us through the process.  It turned out that she really knew her stuff, but we had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into until later.  However that part of the story will have to wait for a couple of paragraphs.

Penny helped us figure out what colors the kitchen and service porch were originally painted.   We retained Trudy and Cory, two talented painters to repaint them in oil based enamel in what we determined to be the original color.  They also painted the stairway to the basement in the original colors.  They did wonderful work, and you can see from Painting how the kitchen, service porch, and basement stairway turned out.  Everyone loves this color scheme.  The kitchen and service porch floor was originally linoleum, so Wise Flooring replaced it with the same material.   We are very happy with it.   There are actually two kitchens, one for eating that contains the stove, refrigerator, and table with chairs, and the service kitchen behind it.  I have taken some photos of each which can be seen on the Zanone Kitchens  photo page.

As mentioned, the light fixtures were mostly gone, or had been replaced with 1970 reproductions.  Allan Van Etten of Arcata Antique Lighting [now Ravenwood Lighting] was retained to consult with us on the lighting, and furnished most of the fixtures, many of them custom made from antique parts . Slowly but surely we are working our way through the house, with most of the fixtures being gas/electric conversions of about the appropriate period of 1908.    Lighting shows how this has progressed.  

While the woodwork was in remarkable shape, it was scratched in places, and had in some cases been refinished with a “hard finish’, which was peeling off in a number of locations.  Penny recommended the person who had done the restoration work at both the Carson Mansion and the Carnegie Library (now the Morris Graves Museum of Art).     This restoration expert was Peter Santino.  Peter’s first assignment was our upstairs bathroom.   We were amazed at the quality of his work.  He stripped down everything with a razor blade and then carefully restored the finish with shellac and linseed oil.  The results were stunning. The bathroom simply glowed and we were ecstatic.  Bathroom Refinishing shows the before and after pictures of this masterful work.  The shellac in this bathroom is now over 5 years old and remains in great condition. Shellac is a remarkable finish.

We were quite satisfied with the progress we were making with everything when in July 2000 a fateful decision was made.  As mentioned earlier, Melanie was a member of the Board of Directors of the Eureka Heritage Society, and I had built and maintained the society’s web site.  We agreed to put our home on their Annual Home Tour on October 1, 2000; one of six houses to be featured.  Our consultant, Penny, nearly had a heart attack.    At this point she was deeply involved in our house, and felt her professional standards were at stake.  She said we simply had to pull down a lot of the wallpaper, refinish more of the rooms, and do something about the carpet downstairs.   So suddenly we were involved in an expedited project to get a lot more done.  Peter began work on the dining room woodwork and plaster, wallpaper was researched and ordered.  Things began to progress at a fever pitch.  The dining room woodwork was completed and the new wallpaper hung.  Peter did the front and middle parlor woodwork.      The Downstairs Work shows some examples of this crash project.

At this point Penny pointed out that much of our furniture was simply not correct for the house. Our furniture had come from our Colonial Revival home in Sacramento, so we already knew it didn’t really fit, but we had planned to slowly replace things item by item over the next few years.  But she convinced us to do most of it now.  So off we went to look at new furniture.  Actually it was old furniture in most cases.   Couches, chairs, tables, lamps, an entertainment center, a bed and the like began to fill the house, much of it from Rose’s Antiques in Blue Lake, CA.   Some of the more unusual items include a church pew in the entryway, and antique shaving table, and two coal hods.  This is all shown in Zanone House Furniture

We didn’t complete everything, but that was to be expected.  The home tour came and went on October 1, 2000.  Over 550 people toured the home.  They liked what they saw, and enjoyed seeing a “work in progress”.  After the home tour we started work on the Entry Way and Library.   This was completed in the Spring of 2001 including the new wallpaper in the Library.  This is shown in The Entryway and Library.

We hung new wall paper in the master bedroom in the Summer of 2001.  This involved a "mica paper" on the ceiling and an attractive paper on the walls including the closet.  This can be seen in The Master Bedroom.  We love this makes you feel like you are floating in a cloud.

A further word should be mentioned here about the wallpaper.  While there are companies that make fantastic wallpaper, particularly Bradbury and Bradbury, we chose to use a company that specializes in reproductions of original wallpapers...Carter and Company, also known as Mt. Diablo Handprints of Vallejo, California; who specialize in the meticulous reproductions of significant historic wallpapers. Working from available documentation, such as fragments of the original pattern or photographs, they define design elements and determine colors in order to restore patterns to their original state, retaining the exact measurements of the document. The recreated wallpaper pattern is then silk-screened by hand using water-based inks.   Using this technique they were able to reproduce our original parlor wall papers from a small section we found in a alcove between the middle parlor and the dining room.  The results were spectacular.    We then purchased other famous period wall papers from them, found in other historic houses in the United States.   Photos of our wallpapers installed to-date can be seen in Wallpapers.

In early January, 2001 Home and Garden Television (HGTV) came to Eureka to film some segments for the show Old Homes Restored.  Our home was filmed for the show, and two different segments were made.  One segment was devoted to the wallpaper, plaster and wood restoration, and paint research.  Another dealt with the earthquake issues that exist here in Eureka, and how a homeowner can take steps to mitigate damage by putting fiberglass mesh on the walls when re-plastering.  Finally they took film of our badly cracked chimney.  The shows aired throughout 2001.  A few photos of the filming are here on the HGTV page.

In June 2002 we were awarded, along with my sister Betty Kuhnel's home (mentioned below), the 2002 Preservation Award by the Eureka Heritage Society.  In September 2002 the home was featured in an eight page insert in the local newspaper.   We are proud of the attention and recognition the house has received. It deserves it.  It is a wonderful home.

We most recently had the side porch painted in the original colors; another upstairs bedroom wallpapered and refinished, this work again being done by Peter Santino.    The wallpaper used was Betty's Rose Wall, named after my sister, who discovered it in her house.  She has it in her bedroom in the Original Zanone House) as well. of course.

So we progress.    On April 21, 2004 the Magdalena Zanone House, as it is now known, was listed on the  National Register of Historic Places (See photo of Plaque)..   It it is the only non-commercial, single family residence in Eureka to obtain that honor.    Nevertheless it remains our home.  And it is a house that is really lived in, not just a museum.    Our children come and go, our grandchildren are here nearly every day, and in spite of everything this house is really used.  It is a testimonial to the vision of Magdalena Zanone when she built this house 96 years ago that she constructed not only a grand home, but also a great place to live. We know we will never be finished with this project, so we urge you, if you managed to get this far, to bookmark this site, and come back every so often and see what new has happened.    In addition to this story of the house, you might enjoy the companion piece which is also on this web site …. the Zanone Park and Gardens … which is the story of what is happening to the grounds of both this house and my sister Betty’s home next door (the Original Zanone House) which is being treated as a single unit for landscaping purposes.     

----  Ron Kuhnel

       February 2007