Saturday, July 29, 2017

Harold Ketchum and Long Beach's First "All Electric" Home

            Have you ever passed Gaviota and Hermosa down First Street and seen a small courtyard of homes off Edison Place? Have you ever wondered why the street was named Edison and the unique character of the homes?  What of the man that designed the homes? Well, this blog will explain it all.
Edison Place

  Better Home Electrical

          It was 1923 and Harold E. Ketchum, a structural engineer and builder, knew that times were changing. Women could no longer count on having a hired girl or maid to help them out, the modern home had to be “woman friendly”---compactly built, and completely wired for many electric devices and appliances which would take the drudgery out of housework.
        The promotion of electricity in homes began at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which opened in May 1893. In the Electrical Building there was a complete model house, with electric stoves, hot plates, washing and ironing machines, fans, dishwashers and carpet sweepers.  Most of the delighted housewives went home to wood and coal stoves and houses without plumbing; to them this was a magical home which many believed they would never see in their lifetimes.
         For the first years following the exposition the only households that could afford electricity could also afford servants. Electricity, its proponents claimed, promised freedom from the ages-old servant problem---electrical appliances could not talk back. A Columbian Exposition guidebook from 1893 described living in the electric future:

            A servant answered an electric bell, ushered the visitor into the reception room, and turned on a phonograph, which kept the guest occupied until the hostess appeared. The hostess kept contact with the servants by electric calls “daintily fashioned.”
           Electricity could serve those with servants, but it could also dispense with them. If after dinner the servant got angry at something and left, the fortunate mistress of the home of the future could move her guest to the parlor, excuse herself for a moment, send the dishes upstairs on the electric dumbwaiter, wash them in the electric dishwasher in five minutes time, and dry them in the electric dish dryer. If the servant had not been replaced by the time wash day came, the mistress need not fear breaking her back leaning over wash tubs or ruining her pretty hands by constant soaking in hot suds, instead she would wash the clothing in an automatic washer that drained and filled for washing, rinsing, and bluing. The clothes could then be hung to dry in front of electric radiators in the attic, then run through the electric ironer, and the lady of the house would be none too tired to go to the opera in the evening.

            By 1917, the disappearing servant was commonplace; many of the women who had formed the servant population were now working in the war industry.  Many wealthy households moaned about the servant problem.  General Electric had a solution---“don’t go to the Employment Bureau, go to your nearby Lighting Company or Electric Shop.” After World War I, pictures of servants virtually disappeared from advertising for women; most ads depicted housewives doing their own housework, using electrical appliances as their new servants.

         Long Beach’s Harold Ketchum was quick to pick up on the growth of electricity and the appliances which would make the housewife’s chores much easier. All he had to do was look in the Long Beach phone book to see that the classified ads for “Electrical Contractors-Fixtures and Supplies” had doubled between 1920 and 1923, from 12 entries to 24.  Seeing the all electric home as the future, Ketchum teamed up with the Long Beach Electric Club and the Long Beach Furniture Dealers' Association to build a model all electric home at 1715  E. First Street in 1923.
1715 E. First Street
        Ketchum wanted his electric home to blend in with the Alamitos Beach community. He chose a Spanish design, with an exterior finish of "Kelly Stone," magnesite stucco guaranteed not to leak or crack, which also repelled the heat of summer and retained the interior warmth of winter.
      According to newspapers of the time, the 1128 square foot all electric home had four rooms on the first floor---a living room, dining room, kitchen, and garage. The second floor consisted of two bedrooms, an enclosed sleeping porch, bathroom and upper hallway with linen and bedroom closets. A basement was underneath.         
    The kitchen had the most up-to-date plumbing, enameled sink, tiled drain boards and a built-in electric dish washer.  An iceless electrically operated refrigerator was built in the wall, completely lined with white tiling.  An automatic electric range, electric water heater, electric bread, cake and mayonnaise mixer, electric buffer to polish silver, electric washing machine, dryer and ironer, electric coffee percolator, and electric toaster, were also included.  In the bathroom there was a combination built-in tub and shower and a built-in radiant electrical heater.  Very special attention was given the electric wiring and at least two electric outlets were installed in every room. Other features included an electrical piano, electrically operated phonograph, cigar lighter, drink mixer, hair dryer, curling iron, massage machine and warming pad and vacuum cleaner.  There was also a telephone both upstairs and down.

A total of  10 all electric homes were built
         Harold Ketchum and his visionary associates opened the model home for public inspection on February 22, 1923. It had taken thirty years to achieve the “electrical house” envisioned at  Chicago's 1893 World’s Fair. Ketcham's home was intended to be an object lesson in what could be done "in this modern day to make life livable and inviting even for those of modest means."
        Mrs. Fillmore Condit, wife of the vice-mayor of Long Beach formally unlocked the door at 2 p.m.  Dr. Edward P. Bailey, president of the Electrical Club, read a telegram from Thomas Edison: "Congratulations on Long Beach progressiveness, and the fact that she is interested in Better Homes Electrical." To honor Edison, the small street off of First where nine other homes of various sizes were to be built was named "Edison" in his honor.  The first to buy a home was Walter Smith who purchased the home at 1721 E. First Street in April 1923.
The street was named to honor Thomas Edison
     The homes, priced between $9,000-$13,000 ($127,000-$183,000 today), were not an instant success. By 1925 only 6 were occupied.

Ketchum's Home 

      Harold Edwin Ketchum built a home for himself in 1949, at 3711 Cedar Avenue, in the Los Cerritos area of Long Beach. It was featured in Southland Magazine in January 1952. Built of redwood, it consisted of only three rooms and a bath.  He wanted the design to be simple, easy to keep up.     
           The floor plan was interesting with the entire house seeming to center around a brick fireplace. The fireplace in the center of the house was built with used brick and the entire chimney surface had been left exposed. The brick added an interesting texture pattern to the living room, which was paneled in redwood finished in its natural wood color.
           Stairs leading to the balcony bedroom were formed by the chimney and extended up over the fireplace. The chimney also helped support the bedroom built on a balcony overlooking the living room. A low wood railing added privacy to the bedroom. This fireplace also created a wall separating the living room from the kitchen and from the bathroom.
          The living room, which took up the central portion of the house, had one large window and a high ceiling to give it an air of spaciousness. The window, which almost touched the ceiling, had a southern exposure and recessed bookcases were built on either side of it.  Heavy beams in the ceiling, over the window and fireplace had been burned and brushed to bring out the grain of the wood. The floors were of red tile with Navajo throw rugs adding color.  All the hardware throughout the house was hand-wrought.
           The kitchen featured neon tubes under the cabinets to illuminate the work counters. A mirrored shelf over the sink held the glassware. A round table and captain’s chairs were grouped in the corner under wide corner windows. Gay paper in an unusual pattern decorated the walls.
          In the bathroom the toilet had been cantilevered out from the wall. Drawers were built on either side. Ornate tiles in a red and green pattern were placed above the lavatory.
          The garage was built on the back of the house and opened into the entrance hall.
3711 Cedar
          Today the home has been enlarged to 1,947 square feet and includes 3 bedrooms and 3 baths.

         Ketchum continued to engineer hundreds of homes and offices in Long Beach up to the early 1960s---a $20,000 office building at 5895 Atlantic in 1948, a two-story residence and two garage apartments at 5333 E. Ocean Blvd in 1949, a $15,000 store at 2100 E. Anaheim in 1958, to name just a few.   Ketchum passed away on March 25, 1968, at the age of 83. Today much of his architectural legacy still remains.

Sources used:

Cameron, William. The World’s Fair. Chicago, Chicago Publication & Lithography Co., 1893.

Flint, Althea. “Unique Redwood house.” Southland Magazine, 20 January 1952.

Press-Telegram articles found in clipping file at Long Beach Public Library.

Strasser, Susan. Never Done: a history of American housework. New York, Henry Holt, 2000.

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