This Old House Was A Labor of Love

By John Reilly  
“Look at those stairs. Yeah, I sanded them. How about the stain on that floor panel? Nice work, huh?” Sure, it sounds silly, but helping revive this local treasure to its former glory, even in small ways, provided a sense of pride to all of the many volunteers who toiled in the Morrell House for seemingly endless hours during the past several years. If you walked into the Morrell House any Saturday and on some Sundays, you would see people like Bob Hayes, Randy Earp, Steve Bopp, Linda Aust, and others painting, sanding, drilling, hammering and doing all the other manual work necessary to transform the house. They did this out of a sense of community and out of a sense of love for preserving history. Two volunteers, Karen Slaught and John Collins, found love of another sort. They met while working at the house and married in September. Fittingly, their wedding celebration was the first actual use of this fine building. Two other volunteers deserve particular mention for their incredible dedication to historical preservation: Jonathan Eubanks and Vic Braden. Without the work of Eubanks and Braden, Redondo Beach might not have the Morrell House, completed in time for the building’s 100th anniversary.

Jonathan Eubanks has lived in Redondo most of his life. He was the former president and a charter member of the Redondo Beach Historical Society, was president of the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce in 1997, and was previously on the planning commission. He even helped write the local preservation ordinance.

Mr. Eubanks got interested in the Morrell House in the late 1980s. At that time, it was located at Diamond and Catalina in south Redondo and was set for demolition. It had previously been occupied by a prominent South Bay family1 and its construction was somewhat rare for this area. Eubanks went to the city manager, Tim Casey, and they explored ways to preserve the house and move it. Initially, they thought of moving it to another private lot. This was a difficult proposition at the time because the local historic house ordinance had not yet been written. Initially, it was moved to a temporary site. Ultimately, in 1989, the house was moved to public property, the first time this type of house move had been done in the South Bay. Eubanks and others got the idea for Heritage Park. (The current museum, next door, was moved to this spot shortly thereafter). A preservation ordinance was written. The city paid for the foundation and volunteers began restoration work on the house.
Eubanks and others, such as the Redondo Beach Historic Society, the Key Club, and Redondo High students, spent thousands of volunteer hours fixing the house. Before work was started, old photographs of the house were poured over to make certain that the re-creation was historically accurate. Eubanks and his volunteers completely stripped the house, re-painted it, replaced windows, re-created the front door, did seismic work, re-did fire places, and scraped off mortar. Significant delays arose while the proper use of the house was debated.

Volunteer work was typically done on weekends by trade contractors, historic society members, and random community members. Work was done at the house, off and on, for more than ten years.

Jonathan finally decided to end his involvement in 1999 or 2000. At that time, he spoke to a former neighbor of his, Pastor Chris Cannon of the King’s Harbor Christian Church. Eubanks mentioned that he was looking for a new group to take over this restoration project. Ultimately, Pastor Cannon, whose group has been involved in many community projects, contacted one of his parishioners, Vic Braden, and Mr. Braden

Vic Braden is a licensed engineer. His company, Cornerstone Construction, is located in Torrance. Cornerstone is most often involved in commercial work, but also does some custom homes. Braden “likes to work on old homes and make them look new again.” He prefers to re-build, not tear down.

Vic and his wife have lived in Redondo for more than thirty years. His children went to high school locally. Vic took on the project because he wanted to give back to his community. With a place like the Morrell House, “you just have to save it and restore it for future generations, even if it takes ten years.”

Vic’s crew logged about 100 work days, all without pay. His crew, averaging eight workers (with sometimes twice that amount) typically worked each Saturday from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m., and sometimes longer. They did work on the foundation, provided a seismic retrofit, placed sheer walls, retrofitted the air conditioning, sanded, prepared wood, plastered, and painted.
Mr. Braden was amazed at how quickly and smoothly the project went with the use of a volunteer staff. This would normally be a six month project with a full-time paid crew. Instead, he had a handfull of experienced contractors and several volunteers, including Bob Hayes of the Historic Society who arrived almost every week. Braden really enjoyed working with so many volunteers of different backgrounds and skill levels, some of whom walked in from off the street asking if they could help.
Braden considered himself the “conductor” of the final phase of the restoration project, but was very humble, insisting that others are more deserving for the work that was accomplished.
When he first moved into Redondo Beach, more than thirty years ago, Braden was impressed that so many houses in the area were custom – built. That is no longer the case. Now, many of the older ones are gone. Those that are left need to be preserved. “People need to take a step back and realize that we need to preserve our heritage,” says Braden.

This project was not easy, but it was rewarding. Jonathan Eubanks, Vic Braden, and all of the other volunteers who helped restore the Morrell House to its former state of glory proved that they truly had the best interests of the community at heart.