Sunday, July 18, 2010

Rebuilding the Door

When Steven, the 62nd Street squatter, and his buddies left the Delaney House, they left behind a lot of wreckage.

Steven, you will recall, was living in the Delaney House illegally, and the family that owned the house had to have arrested to get out. We learned a lot about him because, after we bought the house, we found a note from him (to future squatters). When I googled him, I came up with "Shelter: A Squatumentary", a film about squatters in the Bay Area that heavily features the Delaney House, circa 2006. Tom and I bought a copy of the video, and there is an entire segment done on the Delaney House. (You can see the trailer at - our house is the one with the cops out front and in the front hall)

So when they were all finally evicted, they had trashed the house. Inside, several doors had been kicked in, including the bedroom doors and the door to the back of the house (by the bathroom).

The front bedroom door was destroyed, and had been removed when the house was cleaned up to be sold ("cleaned up" being a relative term). But the door to the back bedroom, with the top panels broken, was still there. The door to the back had the top rail, the bottom rail, and the two lower panels intact, but the rest was broken out.

We didn't throw away the doors, but we have often looked at them sadly, wondering what would make someone want to break a door that had hung there for 120 years. And, of course, Tom and I are crazy - so we knew WE weren't going to throw them away.

In the basement, there were also several matching 4 panel doors, all of them pretty much unusable. Because the height of the basement is only 6'6", the doors were cut down short, and although in relatively good shape, they were too short to bring upstairs.

So this weekend, we brought one up. I had measured it, and realized it was originally the same as the door to the back rooms. The bottom rail (below the two smaller panels) was cut down, but the rest of the door matched the broken door.

I started by taking apart the door from the downstairs, salvaging the two top panels and middle stile, plus the middle rail and the latch side of the door. I then took the door to the back, and removed the middle rail (otherwise known as the lock rail, which was badly broken). The two middle rails were identical, including the tenons, so I glued the new middle rail into the back door. Then, after removing nails and glue, I slid the top panels and the middle stile into place.

Now i had to replace the latch stile of the door. The existing door had about two feet of the bottom of the latch stile, and the piece from the salvaged door had the top part. So I cut off the latch stile just below the middle rail, removing most of the damaged section. Then I cut down the latch stile from the salvage door, and reassembled.

The repaired door - existing bottom rail, top rail, hinge stile and lower panels, with "new" middle rail, upper panels and stile, and a hybrid latch style.

The result is not beautiful (yet) - it needs a lot of filling, sanding, painting, new knobs and eschutcheons. But the two old doors have been united into one, a door that has always been part of the Delaney House, even though it in two places.
Another view - work still to be done, but Roxie and Barnaby seem appreciative.

We've also managed to salvage two panels that will fit in the back bedroom door - so once we take that door apart, we can slip in the new upper panels, and the two doors will be back in service.

This is the kind of stuff that makes Tom and I deeply happy. Go know.


  1. I am happy to see you fixing up the house, but I am very disappointed that you are blaming me for it's condition. When I arrived at the house it had already been trashed after being abandoned for many years. It was filled with garbage and was unimaginably disgusting beyond how you found it. Your welcome for our cleaning efforts because you don't know the half of it.

    My friends and I worked in shifts pulling out rotten garbage left behind by the previous occupants. We then reconnected the plumbing, cleaned and repaired the sinks, toilet, and bathtub. We also repaired windows which had bullet holes in them. The one window we couldn't fix was the one in the front living room with the curve on the top as evidenced by your photo.

    After I was removed from the house at gunpoint by the Berkeley Police Department (no lawful eviction) burglars broke into the house and trashed it. Once I was gone there was nothing stopping the criminals from further theft and destruction.

    Two years later I was finally allowed to retrieve my personal belongings from the house. It was a bittersweet moment. I was overjoyed to retrieve items of personal importance in my life. Photos of my family, personal journals, old books, clothes, music etc.

    Unfortunately I also saw how the fruits of my labor were destroyed by burglars and vandals. The house had been tossed by thieves who stole anything of value. All my tools were gone as well as every inch of copper plumbing that I had installed.

    Also, the door was broken before I set foot on the property.

    If you want to blame someone blame the absentee landlord. Blame the thieves. Blame the vandals, but don't blame me because nothing that you mention was done by my hands. Then again maybe you should just not blame anyone, and accept the fact that you bought a house in dire need of remodeling and leave it at that.

    Of course I did not put a fraction of the work you have into this house. I acknowledge and respect that fact. Despite this observation I assert that my presence there was a constructive one.

    I am disappointed because these accusations and the general portrayal of squatters in a negative light is a symptom of a society which blames and criminalizes the poor and the homeless rather than acknowledging our collective humanity. I would appreciate some deference in your future postings if you wish to discuss me.

    Thank you in advance for that, and I still wish you luck with your efforts fixing this house.