Coming home...for real
Yuman fulfills lifelong dream
The historic E.G. Caruthers home near downtown Yuma could not find itself in more loving hands than those of Yuma native Teri Brooks, whose lifetime dream was to own it.
Brooks used to walk past the Second Avenue home and tell herself, “Some day I am going to buy this house.” Now she owns it.
Brooks, with the help of her husband, Paul R. Foy, made her dream a reality in 1997. With a grant because of its historic status, they have been able to remodel and restore the home that was once opulent enough to inspire awe among those who passed it or who have lived in the same neighborhood.
“My house allegedly was built in 1895, according to the Yuma Historical Society,” said Brooks, “long before Arizona was a state. I don't know that this is the oldest one in town, but this is pretty old.”
Brooks learned from the Arizona Historical Society that Caruthers, founder of the First National Bank in Yuma and Somerton, was among the first ever to hire women as bank tellers. Her research on the Second Avenue home has also revealed that Caruthers had also owned considerable property in the Yuma area.
A major renovation occurred in 1909, when Caruthers purchased the house. Constructed of redwood and set upon deep wooden piers, the house was built to withstand the tests of time and earthquakes.
Caruthers left not only the house but also a set of three photo albums from his era, which have been passed down to the home's subsequent owners. Although many of the photos depict travel to other places, some also show scenes from the Yuma area at the turn of the century, including a photo of the celebration of the opening of the Ocean-To-Ocean Bridge. While much of the history of the original owner has eluded historians, some Yuma residents recall the reactions of friends or relatives when discussing the home with Brooks or Foy. Alice McLerran, Yuma native and author of the children's' book “Roxaboxen,” is one of those besides Brooks who was in awe of the place as a child.
“We saw her at a book signing, and she said, ‘Oh, I want to see that house',” said Brooks. “She came over because she used to live just right up there,” said Brooks, pointing toward the south. Brooks said that McLerran later told her aunt that she had visited the Caruthers' house, to which her aunt replied, “Oh my word! You have really crossed the threshold to high society.”
Foy added, “Alice McLerran used to walk by with her mother, and Alice would always mention the house. Her mother said, ‘Well, Alice, we don't travel in that social circle, so we really can't bother them,'” Paul added, “That's why she wanted to see this house so badly.”
The first things that catch the eye upon entering the front's double doors are the two white pillars a few steps beyond. They probably once supported the roof from the front porch. Brooks says that during the renovation of 1909, when Caruthers purchased the house, he probably enclosed the porch. Like so many homes built in the desert before air conditioning was available, this home appears to have had a covered porch surrounding it to provide shade to its interior.
To the right of the entry are antique tables where an ongoing jigsaw puzzle is under construction. In the corner beside the tables stands an old wooden melon crate hand truck. Unlike modern hand trucks or dollies, this one can be spread apart and squeezed together to hold the boxes or crates.
From the interior's pillared entry, a visitor sees a tastefully decorated living room, whose burgundy walls contrast with the white trim and moldings of its high ceilings and doors. The walls were not originally that color, though. They were orange when Brooks first acquired it.
“I could not stand the orange,” said Brooks. So she painted it. To the south of the living room stands the kitchen, whose walls are a navy blue with white trim. “That red and this blue work a lot better,” said Brooks. “They complement each other.”
The living room was probably the main room in the original dwelling and was apparently rather small. On the north wall is an old brick fireplace, which once had a window on either side of it and a door to the right. Though the windows and door are no longer there, the fireplace is still functional, but Brooks says that since there is no damper, all the heat goes right up the chimney. A makeshift damper — a large cardboard sheet — keeps out the drafts. The cardboard is well hidden behind an ornate metal screen that came with the house. The screen's outer trim is embossed with oak leaves and acorns. Surrounding the fireplace are blue and white tiles that were later added, perhaps in the 1930s or 1940s. Some of the tiles had been left in the garage, allowing Brooks to repair some areas around the fireplace.
A pair of white, shutter-style doors on the living room's east wall opens to what Brooks describes as their junk room, a room whose wallpaper in pastel rose is offset by four framed needlepoint rural scenes that her mother had hand-stitched.
“It's a room that hasn't demanded a lot of attention, and so it hasn't gotten it,” said Brooks. “Obviously a designer didn't do it because I would never have made wallpaper going up to these high ceilings. We did have to have the ceiling repaired because a big chunk of it came down in here.”
Foy added, “The thing is she hates that wallpaper, and I like it.”
Standing in the corner on top of a small antique telephone table in the living room is an old, tall, narrow window, whose peeling white paint reminds visitors of the home's history.
“The window is there quite by accident,” said Brooks. “I was going to use it, and I actually had a plan, but the window was too big for my purposes. So I put the window there, and I like it. So I left it.”
The living room itself is furnished in more modern style with its plush sofas and chairs that, although newer, still have enough of an older look so as to blend well with the home's vintage antiquity.
One set of antiques between living room and kitchen is the oak dining table and a buffet originally owned by Brooks' great-, great-grandmother. The curved drawers and the swirled carvings on the front edges and bottom drawers of the buffet speak of an earlier era. The dining table's five oak legs — “horribly heavy” Brooks notes — are carved spirals reaching to the table top. The fifth leg supports the center. Inscribed on the underside of the table, are the words, “Purchased at Sears and Roebuck, 1907, Elk City, Kansas.”
Moving southward toward the home's kitchen, a visitor will see the wide stove that had once belonged to Brooks' grandmother. A griddle in the center of the stove extends the stove's width so that a portion of the cabinet had to be removed and placed nearby to accommodate the appliance. “She had it when it was brand new,” said Brooks. “I even still have the booklet that came with it.
“I just love this kitchen,” said Brooks, whose husband had not accompanied her when she first went to view the home's interior. “This is the brightest, happiest kitchen that there ever was. I went back after I first looked at the house, and I thought, ‘This kitchen is really great.' When my husband asked me, ‘What about the rest of the house?' I said, ‘The kitchen is really great!'”
One reason for the brightness is the large windows along most of the southern wall. Trimmed in white to contrast with the navy blue, they admit plenty of light. “There are probably a lot of architectural details that are gone,” said Brooks. “The cabinets are not original, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.”
Suspended in the center of the kitchen area above a white utility table (an earlier version of a butcher block perhaps) is a pot rack that has been re-purposed from an old window taken from the house after termites had eaten much of what was surrounding it. The chicken wire that covers the window surface allows for gleaming pots and pans to be suspended beneath it.
“I like to re-purpose things,” Brooks said. “I look for things that I can re-purpose into a different use or improve. I just go around look at things and say, ‘That's really neat;' ‘That's cute;' ‘That's different;' and ‘How will it fit?' ‘But now how can I use it?' Like that cart,” she said, referring to the melon cart. “That's really a (hall tree) to me. I usually throw my coat over it, or at Christmas time I hang stockings.”
Her use of older things in novel ways becomes evident as one meanders throughout the house. For instance, upon entering the master bedroom, a visitor's eye is drawn toward an old screen door in the wall near the bed, from which Brooks hangs her costume jewelry.
Another interesting feature between the laundry room and the master bedroom is that of a bookcase door through which one passes to gain entry.
“This is probably one of my favorite parts of the house,” said Brooks, referring to that door. “It looks like a door from the inside, but from the other side it looks like a bookcase.”
The master bathroom contains a large tub, suitable for any modern day soaking. By contrast, the small, narrow bathroom adjoined to their daughter's bedroom has an old, deep claw foot tub. What is now the master bathroom was formerly another kitchen, since the house was subdivided into three living areas after Caruthers sold it in the 1950s.
The laundry room itself was once the site of the original kitchen. Because of rooms having been added, beginning from the central part and expanding outward, the floor plan resembles the jigsaw puzzle in the home's front entry, especially since there are no interior hallways. All of the bathrooms were added after the original house was built. Also, because there are no hallways, there are more doors within the home than most modern houses have.
“At one time we had at least 12 exterior doors,” said Brooks, because the house had been divided into three pieces. Everyone who occupied it had to have an exterior door.” Brooks added in jest that it is a good thing that her taxes are not based upon the number of doors.
Just to the left of the kitchen, one can stroll through a utility room to the butler's pantry and beyond to the laundry room. Adjacent to the kitchen's southeast side is their daughter's bedroom decorated in powder blue and white. White French doors lead from that room to a pleasant sitting area, where a pale blue light fixture resembling a Tiffany-style lamp is suspended from the ceiling. It once hung above the dining table but has since been replaced by a small chandelier.
Along the northern side of the house lies the narrow home office, where tall windows admit the soft light that streams through sheer white curtains.
“I love it, too,” said Brooks. “It's so mood lifting with all that light. These windows had to be replaced. They have the crank turn handles for casement windows to open them with. The smaller windows at the top had to be specially built,” she said. Others were special order. Situated between the master bedroom and the northwest corner of the living room, the office appears once to have been the outer porch. A portion of the white, painted bricks from the back side of the fireplace protrudes along the southern edge of the wall near the office area.
Rounding the corner toward the western wall, the tour returns to the living room, whose exterior double doors have mismatched antique brass knobs.
“That's the way they were when I got them,” said Brooks, explaining the doorknobs. “I'm assuming one broke, and they couldn't find one identical.” Some of the other doors in the house have what Brooks says she believes to be the original glass knobs.
On a wrought iron stand in the living room drape three ancient quilts. One quilt's blocks appear to have been made from decorative fabric taken from sacks that were once used to market flour. Brooks' great grandmother made a second one for Brooks' bed. The third is that of a friendship quilt, in which each quilt block is signed by one of the people who helped make it. That one has a special history.
“We know it was made between the years 1929-1933 because it has a block with Jennifer Hopper's name,” Brooks explained. “Jennifer Hopper was ‘Hopper' for only three years. She died young. She got married, was Hopper from 1929-1933. So we know when it was constructed. It means a lot to me.” Then she added, “I like to hold on to things that are meaningful, but I like to find a use for it — not just stuff it into a box.”
Stepping outside from the living room, one will find that the exterior of the historic home is also of interest.
“The outside is every bit as interesting to me as the inside,” said Brooks. “The (front) porch used to be a little bitty thing with narrow stairs. The stairs have been made wider,” she said. Decking was installed, or as Brooks described it, “wrapped around the whole house” to eliminate the temptation of cats to use the former flower beds. An adobe patio with a fire pit that is still a work in progress lies along the southern exposure. Rental apartments toward the back of the property are separated from the house, as is the garage at the eastern side of the property.
At the back of the house is what Brooks describes as her latest project, a lattice-covered yard enclosure.
“This is my own little sanctuary, my home away from home,” said Brooks.
Indeed, one of the compelling features within her sanctuary is the root cellar, whose entry is a door set at a diagonal. Its steep wooden stairs lead down to a dirt floor, where most of the year the Christmas items are stored. “Behind that back wall there is a set of stairs that goes straight up into the house,” Brooks said. “Maybe they had a way down to the root cellar from the inside of the house, but someone put hardwood floors over it, and so I can't see where it goes.”
Along the north side of the house, flagstone has replaced much of the red brick walkway because many of the bricks were falling apart, not level, mismatched or missing, Brooks explained. The flagstone color — a sandy peach — is not what Brooks would have preferred, however.
“I wanted it to look more like stone and less like sand,” Brooks said.
Despite some of the changes made to the historic Caruthers home, some things have not changed. The original wrought iron fence still stands, for instance.
“This place looked like a million bucks, even when I was little,” said Brooks. “And it always had shaded covers over it. I remember its being a mysterious place, and you couldn't see anything because there was so much greenery. There were a lot of oleanders, but I didn't like them, and so we took them out.”
The historic home's future, however, is still a work in progress.
“When I get my lottery winnings,” Brooks quipped, “I‘d like to incorporate bookshelves on each side of the fireplace and mimic the windows that were there because if it had windows, it probably also had leaded glass bookshelves like all the other houses around here.”
As for her own future there, she said, “The thought of living somewhere else or of someone else living here — I just can't stand it.”