|Seventeen years into remodeling,
the owners of an Anaheim house say they have
no choice but to keep on restoring it.
The house is permanent--they're 'just passing through.'
Some nights, when her family is asleep and the house is quiet, Micky Caldwell slips from her bed, descends the
staircase and glides in silent awe through her 1912 Mission Craftsman home.
"I just walk around and look at it," Caldwell says, gazing up at the high-coved ceilings, beefy wood moldings and the
intricate stained-glass windows that depict various California missions.
"Someone spent a lot of time on this," Caldwell says, sliding her fingers across a leaded-glass scene of San Gabriel
This reverent attitude has stayed with Caldwell since she and her husband, Mitchell, bought the Anaheim house in
1983, even after the 17 years and tens of thousands of dollars they've spent on one renovation project after another.
Through it all, they've maintained a steady passion to restore the six-bedroom, three-bathroom house to its original
integrity. They took up the orange shag carpeting, removed the sprayed acoustical "popcorn" from the ceilings and
stripped the garish coverings from the walls. One room had a lime-green ceiling, lime-green shag carpeting and
wallpaper with big green and orange flowers. Micky Caldwell, dubbed it "the Vietnam flashback room."
Restoration projects have ranged from the painstaking process of stripping paint from moldings to the installation of
tiny, historically correct hexagonal tiles on a bathroom floor, to reconstruction of the lofty roof structure, which had
been altered and lowered 50 years ago.
"Everything we've done is fixing what other people have done to it," says Mitchell Caldwell, a roofing company
executive. "It's taken almost a year a room."
But he's philosophical about the time and money he's invested in the house, which was built by Joseph Fiscus on 85
"This house will be here forever," Mitchell Caldwell says. "You get the feeling you're just passing through."
Architect Frank Eley, who also designed the old post office on Broadway in Anaheim, as well as the Stanton mansion,
now part of Fairmont High School, designed the Fiscus house.
Since then, eight families have owned it, including the Caldwells, and all their names are recorded in documents at the
Anaheim Historical Society.
In the early 1980s, the Caldwells lived with their two sons in an east Anaheim tract house and only fantasized about
owning an old house.
When the Caldwells saw a "for sale" sign outside this hulking house, they were drawn inside despite its rather dingy
exterior. Not realizing it was in their price range, they said: Let's just go look at it like it's a museum.
Once inside, they were struck by the grandeur of the home's living room, library and dining room, the last with its
built-in buffet the full width of the room and shoulder-high wainscoting. Moving up the stairway, they found a landing
aglow with stained-glass mission scenes framed by three wooden arches.
"Oh, my. . ," Micky Caldwell recalls saying.
By selling their tract house and an acre lot, the Caldwells scraped together enough money to purchase the
4,000-square-foot house for $285,000.
Though their teenage sons had shared a bedroom their whole lives, in the new home they could say to each, "OK,
pick a room." (When the couple adopted a 4-year-old girl, they still had plenty of bedrooms.)
The couple's first project, redoing a downstairs bathroom in 1984, was in some ways a false start. After they removed
the black, purple and yellow vinyl wallpaper, they installed a rose-themed stained-glass window in the door and put in
a modern toilet and sink.
As they began studying old homes in general, and Mission Craftsman homes specifically, they realized that their
choices for the bathroom were out of sync with the era.
"It looked too new," Micky Caldwell says.
In 1989, they installed the proper elements in the bathroom--an antique highboy toilet with pull chain, a pedestal sink
and moldings to match the rest of the house.
What Micky Caldwell learned from that mistake is that fast-track remodeling is unwise in an older home.
"You don't know your house until you've lived in it," she tells those who criticize her decades-long remodeling epic.
In 1985, the couple undertook the next project: the lime-green bedroom and its closet. In this room, as in all upstairs
bedrooms, the woodwork--including the baseboards, the molding near the ceiling and the window frames--had been
painted over several times.
Taking the paint off required chemicals, scrapers, wire brushes, sandpaper and even an Exacto knife for getting into
the grooves. Then, the wood was stained and varnished, the floors were refinished and Arts and Crafts-themed
wallpaper was hung.
The biggest project was replacing the roof. When they bought the house, the couple didn't know that its wide, squat
hip roof was not original. Only when they came across an antique photo did they realize that the house once had a
steeply pitched roof, which was 10 feet higher with an arched "Alamo"-style parapet in front and two peaked
parapets, one on each side.
Researching further, they discovered that the house had been moved from its original site in 1957 and that owners
Daniel and Nancy Green had demolished and lowered the roof so the house would fit under power lines as it was
moved across town.
Initially, the Caldwells were dismayed that the Greens had disfigured the house. But when a daughter of the Greens
came calling one day, she explained that the house had to be moved or it would have been torn down to make room
for other development. The Caldwells' disapproval turned to gratitude.
"He did the best he could under the circumstances," Mitchell Caldwell said of Daniel Green. "He saved the house."
For a less ambitious couple, restoring the roof might have seemed too daunting. But because Mitchell Caldwell works
in the roofing industry, he thought it not only feasible but necessary.
"You couldn't buy the house," he says, "and not do that."
So in early September 1986, he and many friends and workers tore off the roof. Because portions of the front facade
would be rebuilt as the roof was restored and because it would be difficult to match the new plaster with the old plaster
texture, Mitchell Caldwell decided to have the whole exterior replastered. It took nearly two years to complete the
Afterward, the couple hired a color consultant who suggested a four-color palette: dusty rose, beige, dove white and
A fifth color, blue, was suggested but ultimately the Caldwells rejected it.
Between 1988 and 1996, renovation projects included four bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room, dining room and
library as well as landscaping, porch, front walk, balconies and gates.
The most recent project was Micky Caldwell's downstairs office in 1998. Future plans include restoring the kitchen
and breakfast room and building a two-story garage in back to complement the house.
Dozens of artisans worked on the house during the last 17 years, including a painter who applied four colors of paint
and glaze to give the interiors an old villa look, using his hands at times to get the last layer just right. The Caldwells
considered putting all the workers' names on a plaque, but in the end there were too many.
While researching their home, the Caldwells met owners of other old houses in Anaheim, and together they founded
the Anaheim Colony Historic District in 1997. A book produced by the group identifies 1,100 historically significant
buildings in the area and gives tips on how to restore and repair old homes and how to find funding to do so.
Micky Caldwell urges owners of old homes to research and restore them to their original states, not according to
one's fleeting "whims and tastes."
"Paint walls, but don't change major features," she says. "We're just transient owners. We owe it to the next
- Original architect: Frank Eley
- Original builder: unknown
- Project architect: George Denton, Denton & Associates, Santa Fe Springs, (562) 802-7179
- Project general contractor: Mitchell Caldwell, homeowner
- Carpentry: J.L. Frame Builders, (562) 943-8887
- Painting, wood refinishing: Carl Nagel, Lou Illiano, O.N.E., (714) 771-5642
- Electrical: Keith Westfall, (909) 734-3017
- Floor refinishing: Bob Osterlund Floors, (714) 850-9009
- Plumbing: American Home Plumbing, (714) 778-1307
- Roofing: Jim McGarry, California Sheet Metal, (949) 361-9905
- Color consultant: Bob Buckter, San Francisco, (415) 922-7444
- Antique fixtures and lights: John Armstrong, Armstrongs, (714) 761-1320
- Cabinets, gates and doors: Hunter Door and Mill, Orange, (714) 633-9985
- Gates and doors: Arte de Mexico, (818) 769-5090
- Antique light fixtures: Steven Thomas Antiques, (714) 957-3989
- Duration: 17 years
- Cost: Around $100,000, not including thousands of hours of labor by homeowners and favors from friends in the building