|"tour de force: n.; a masterly or brilliant stroke, creation, effect, or accomplishment";|
|Collins English Dictionary, 2010|
For 25 years, the Benicia Historical Society has sponsored the Vintage Home and Garden Tour. That's a total of 175 homes (averaging seven per year); double that number and you get the approximate number of homeowners who have generously opened their homes to lucky tour goers: 320. Multiply the number of years (25) by 50 and you get the number of docents who have participated over the years: 1,250. Add the ten or so board members who each year take on necessary key roles to pull off this event and it all adds up to a lot of commitment to a cause. In accordance with the above definition, a true tour de force, a genuine labor of love...
All for a good and worthy cause: to preserve the history and heritage of our city for future generations.
The Riddell-Fish House, Benicia, CA...
The first tour I signed up to docent was way back in 1989. I was just a babe - they used to allow kids to docent in those days, ha! I worked in the upstairs hall of Benicia's Frisbee/Captain Walsh House, all dressed up in a period costume and hat. I was so nervous but I did my best to cheerfully greet guests, share information about the lovely, extremely historic house, and ultimately I caught the docent bug - did you know there was such a thing? Don't worry, the docent bug isn't like measles or lyme disease!
The Frisbee/Captain Walsh House, Benicia, CA...
Since that first tour I've docented on at least ten tours, in a variety of historic homes throughout our town. On the eastside, the westside, and everywhere in between. Each tour as much fun as my first. It's always a treat to have the opportunity to venture inside homes I've passed by and admired for many years. At long last satisfying my curiosity about what these homes are like on the inside.
The Fischer-Hanlon House, Benicia, CA...
In addition to serving as a docent on the Benicia tour, I've attended a number of local tours. A couple of my favorite tours were the San Francisco Victorian Alliance Alamo Square Tour and the Head Royce School fundraising tour of homes in the Berkeley hills, which included homes designed by Bernard Maybeck and my architect hero/goddess, Julia Morgan. I've also been on self-guided walking tours of Woodland, Alameda, and Yreka - each a virtual Victorian home heaven in their own right!
Alamo Square, San Francisco, CA...
I've loved old houses as far back as I can remember. I think it's in my blood. Somewhere in my family tree there must be a branch of old home lovers. My great-uncle, Uncle Van was a huge fan of architecture and interior design. I'll never forget the flocked red velvet wallpaper he installed in his bungalow in Stockton. Hey, it was the sixties! Uncle Van had mah-vah-lous taste! And like him, I can't get enough of old homes - or flocked red velvet wallpaper! Growing up, both my grandparents and great-grandparents lived in a magnificent Queen Anne Victorian. The loss of their home to the wrecking ball could also have something to do with my passion for antique homes and preservation. Wherever this passion came from, it's undeniable and seemingly forever has been a part of who I am.
As long-time QWaC readers probably remember, my 1930s home was on the Benicia tour last year, giving me yet another perspective on home tours. It was such an honor - and a lot of work - and so worthwhile! Without question my most eye-opening home tour experience to date. Being a tour goer or a docent is one thing, being a homeowner is a whole other ball of wax. Kind of like going from attending a play to ushering to performing on stage!
My years as a tour attendee, docent, and homeowner have laid a squiggly, round-about path to my new role as chair of the 2013 Benicia Historical Society Vintage Home and Garden Tour. Once again, an honor to be asked and no doubt equally, if not even more, rewarding than any role I've taken on so far. I hope to create a positive tour experience for homeowners, docents, and organizers alike because I've walked in their soft-soled shoes (fyi: always wear soft soled shoes on home tours!).
For more information go to:
If you live in Benicia or plan to visit the weekend of May 11th and would be interested in being a docent for this year's tour, email me at:
I'd love to have you join me!