Time to Light the Pilot Light

Time to Light the Pilot Light

Thurs 12.04.08 – I love to live in older houses. In the last 14 years, I have lived in apartments and houses ranging from the 1860s (with little updates), to 1894 (the best one), to a WWII era former Navy family apt (now), to early Boeing engineer housing (1961). I like the funkiness and lack of sameness that older homes have. I really like the unique features, then un-renovated bits, and the termites.
Not really the last bit about the termites, but I live in SoCal on the edge of a large desert, termites were here before we were. When folks from other places move to the LA area one invariably hears two things, 1) What do you mean we have water problems? Isn’t there plenty of rivers around here. [Why yes there are, they are concrete and are lawn runoff, not rain], 2) Why do the ants fly in the spring and early summer? [Uh, those aren’t ants, they are termites.]
I have used flea spray to get the termites out of and off my antique furniture and it is surprisingly effective.


Termite jokes aside, the big challenge of living in older “stock” housing in SoCal is winter heating. If your rented older house / apartment is cool enough to have original or close to original features in the bathrooms and kitchens*, then it means that your landlord/lady is too lazy/cheap to do any upgrades to the place. With the cool vintage good, comes the winter bad.
Every one of the places I have lived in for the last 15 years, with the exception of my brother’s house and the Trinity Grad housing in Dublin, has had ancient, ancient heating. The kind of heating that when one moves in, you extinguish the the pilot light and turn off the gas so you can sleep safe at night.
My current lovely little apartment building was build in the 1940s during WWII as temporary housing for visiting family of the US Navy folk at the Seal Beach Naval Weapons base that is a block away. My current landlords bought it in the 1950s and are the second post-War owners. Very little has been done to the place, which is actually quite cool. There was a flurry of kitchen and bathroom upgrades in the 1970s (you should see the tiles – 1970s imagining of Victoriana), but no upgrades of the heater.
As you can see from above the one wall heater in the apartment is vintage**. The best part is that it is set into bare framed wood with no fireproofing. Thus, I keep the gas off unless really needed.
Today was the 4th or 5th day of fog and clouds with high temps around 60F/16C, while not really cold, cold enough to penetrate badly insulated little apartments that were only meant to be temporary War housing. The bigger problem has been the damp from the hours and hours of dense fog. Thus, I decided after having a big blanket around me all day while trying to concentrate on code that I should move the bookcase away from the front of the wall heater and actually light it.
First I had to dust, then try to remember how to turn the gas back on, and then find the pilot light. About half way through, it occurred to me due to the exposed wood framework just inches away from the pilot, that I should get the fire extinguisher in case 9 months of dust decided to ignite. Of course, I had to take a photo.
Just so y’all know, there was no fireball. Neighbor Earl helped me get the pilot lit, as I didn’t know that one had to hold down a little red button for over 30 seconds for the pilot to catch. Earl knew as he has the same wall heater and has lived in these places one more winter than me.
The apartment is now warm and dry.
*****
* Ooh, I miss the 1930s O’Keefe & Merrit stove from the Orange Victorian house. Now that was a well built hunk of steel and enamel.
** Notice the rounded, art deco-esque edges. If you could see the whole heater, you would either say “Eeek!” or “Cool! I didn’t know they made Art Deco heaters!”.