Home & Garden

Christmases past and present at The Jack House and Gardens in SLO

The Jack House in San Luis Obsipo has been decorated for the holidays with Victorian-era decorations.  See more photos of the house decorated for the holidays
The Jack House in San Luis Obsipo has been decorated for the holidays with Victorian-era decorations. See more photos of the house decorated for the holidays The Tribune

In 1974, the Jack family deeded a historic home, now known as The Jack House and Gardens, to the city of San Luis Obispo. In doing so, they gave the entire county agift — the opportunity to time-travel back a century just by stepping through its portico-covered front door.

The home is what Jack House docent president Toni Kincaid calls a “subdued Victorian.” It was built by Robert and Nellie Jack sometime between 1875 and 1880 and has been lived in by various members of the family. Among the goals of the family’s donation was, according to the grant deed, “that the property be renovated and maintained as an example of early day living in San Luis Obispo.”

Along with the house, the Jack family gifted historic items including furnishings, art, knick-knacks, linens, kitchenware, books, photos and even personal papers. Together, it paints a picture of everyday life a century ago.

The city’s Jack House committee began by taking a thorough inventory of every item and writing a detailed description, including the date of manufacture and appraised price. The process took five years and plenty of sleuthing. The committee worked with reference books, including an old Sears catalog. They unearthed additional items under the house, such as a yellow kitchen bowl and spice cans.

“Finding it was similar to an archaeological dig,” said Kincaid.

The Central Coast Interior Designers Association donated their time to head up a two-year restoration, with the assistance of Robert and Nellie’s great-granddaughter Katchy Andrews who lives in Shell Beach.

“They did extensive research on the type of wallpaper, fabrics curtains, etcetera, that would have been appropriate for the era,” said Kinaid.

The home was remarkably well-preserved. Even the original gas light fixtures are still in use. When the home was converted to electricity (it is rumored to be the first home on San Luis Obispo to have it), the upward-facing glass tulip shades of each lamp were pointed down and fitted with bulbs.

Antiques came both from the house and from the family’s ranch east of Cholame. Among the rarer pieces is a painting of Yosemite by Jules Tavernier, which hangs in the parlor. A matched wicker bedroom set, accidentally purchased at an auction by the Jacks’ daughter Ethel when she lived in the home, is said to have belonged to silent film star Clara Kimball Young. The square grand piano was once played by Paderewski, a friend of the family. The oldest piece is an 18th century petticoat table in the downstairs hall. It is topped with marble and has a mirror below to help ladies straighten their skirts.

Everyday items fill the home, making it seem as if the family has simply stepped out for a time. Clothing hangs in the closets. Toys sit on tables in the children’s rooms. The dining table is set with china, and the simple kitchen is stocked with old kitchen gadgets, utensils and spices.

Some items offer a more intimate look at the Jack family. A secretary desk in the library was singed by a candle, presumably by a family member who liked to work late into the night. The Chinese nesting tables in the parlor attest to the Jacks’ love of overseas travel. The couple’s marriage certificate hangs on the wall. The house also has a widow’s walk — a railed exterior balcony popular on the East Coast, which is a tribute to Mr. Jack’s Maine heritage.

Rebecca Juretic is a freelance writer who lives in San Luis Obispo.

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