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The Redman-Hirahara House: California’s Queen Anne Curiousity

Photo courtesy of gatesofmemphis.

We’re flat-out addicted to the allure of abandoned places. So we’ve sent Liz on a mission to hop alphabetically from state-to-state exploring bygone structures steeped in history and mystery. The Polar Vortex has taken over our part of the country, so we’ve headed west to explore a wonderful old Victorian in the great state of California.
Queen Anne style homes, those typically referred to as “Victorians,” are loved throughout America for their steeply pointed gabled roofs, wrap-around porches, ornate shingles that often resemble fish scales, large bay windows, and intricate millwork. Many of these homes fetch high real estate prices for their sought-after architectural qualities and stately presence on oft-tree lined, historical streets.
The Redman-Hirahara House is everything you could wish for in a classic Queen Anne — it features a rounded corner tower with a turret, gables with meticulously carved panels, Palladian windows and dentil molding. Yet this particular house is different than its other California counterparts, specifically, the infamous and meticulously maintained “Painted Ladies” of San Francisco, which are located only an hour-and-a-half north of Watsonville; the Redman-Hirahara house is abandoned.


The Redman-Hirahara House in 1945. Photo courtesy of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library.

Once situated within approximately one hundred acres of fields full of strawberries, lettuce and other summer crops, the home, originally belonging to the Redman family, was constructed in 1897 and designed by William H. Weeks, who was responsible for the design of hundreds of unique buildings throughout California. The intricate detailing that Weeks designed for the exterior of the home could also be found inside — expensive and decorative wood, including eastern oak and bird’s eye maple, were used for doors, mantles, and window casings. Many windows featured stained glass, which has survived to this day.

The Hirahara family in 1945. Photo courtesy of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library.

The Redman family, headed by James Redman, were farmers by trade. They were apparently successful in the farming business, as exemplified by their ability to be able to afford the construction of such an ornate farmhouse. The Redmans lived on the family farm until the 1930s, when the property, including the house and its outbuildings, were sold to the Hirahara family. The Hirahara family was unique in that it was one of the first Japanese-American families to own farmland in the United States.

Photo courtesy of tmentzer, who took a number of wonderful photos of the house, inside and out!

The onslaught of World War II brought many internment camps to California, where Japanese-Americans were held after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Hirahara family, while still owning the home and their farmland, were sent to an internment camp. While interred, the family was able to maintain ownership of the property due to assistance from the Watsonville community, who helped pay property taxes and maintained the land and crops.
Upon returning to their property at the end of the war, the family opened up their home to other Japanese-Americans who had lost their homes while they too were interred in camps. For sixty years, the Hirahara family resided in the house, even after ownership was sold to a partnership in the latter half of the twentieth century. After the last Hirahara family member left the dwelling in 1989, the fields continued to be maintained and farmed, but the home was abandoned and left to deteriorate.

Photo courtesy of nothing.

Having been neglected for over twenty years, the Redman-Hirahara house shows its age, but its beauty is still very much apparent. The architectural details, painstakingly planned out, are still visible. The witches’ hat turret — topped by a surviving red finial — matches the color of the juicy strawberries growing in the fields. The faded white woodwork, accented by curved friezes depicting several different types of scrollwork, is still visible along the tower’s exterior. While much of the fish scale shingles have fallen off the roof to reveal gaping holes where rain has ruined portions of the interior, others remain, showing the commitment to detail necessary to design and construct a Queen Anne of this caliber.

Photo courtesy of nothing.

In the past several years, serious efforts have been made to preserve and restore the Redman-Hirahara house. The home was raised above the floodplain in the early twenty-first century, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Financial difficulties prevent the current owners, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation of the property, from restoring the home. While the outlook appears bleak, hopeful preservationists have developed future plans for the Redman-Hirahara house which include the development of a visitor center in the home. The center, if created, will showcase the importance of the house and property in Japanese-American history, as well as the farming history of Watsonville. For now, this Lady, it’s paint faded and intricate detailing crumbling away, awaits a realization of its previous grandeur, and what it can again become.

Photo courtesy of gatesofmemphis.

Liz was raised in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the home of New Hope, Doylestown, and several other idyllic, flawlessly-restored and preserved towns. Upon returning to the Philadelphia area post-grad school, Liz purchased a circa 1940’s, Normandy-style row home which features the original wood floors, vintage glass door knobs and slate roof from when it was constructed. She is on the board of a historic Swedish cabin and working in the real estate development field while making a go of a career in preservation.


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