January of 2006, just three years short of a century, the process of restoring the Kraft to her former beauty began. It had seen much neglect for almost two decades, sitting on a huge lot surrounded by dead weeds in the summer, and the stone building growing lichens and moss in the winter. Looking abandoned, it was a target for kid’s graffiti, but other than that there was little vandalism. Sadly, a number of leaks in the roof caused a fair amount of damage to the plaster walls, but the magnificent wood and plaster moldings were mostly unharmed. Read More
Having been placed on the National Register of Historic Places ( historicalplaces.com/CA/Tehama/state.html) it was compulsory that the building be restored with as little change in appearance as possible. To make certain this was accomplished we hired Robert Mackensen, a consulting preservation architect to oversee the project. Having already taken a multitude of projects to completion for us, from restorations, to remodels and new construction, we knew Lloyd Dietrich was the person to oversee the project. He is a craftsman in the truest and finest definition, and if Lloyd can’t figure out how to do it – it’s not possible. When a problem would arise, if he did not have an immediate solution, he would say “let me think about it”. You could feel the energy of his ‘wheels turning’, his eyes would light up, and he would say “I think we’ll try…” My fondest memory of this modus operandi was when we needed to get electricity to the lights on the grand staircase. The old conduit had rusted out, leaving no way to feed the new wire through three plus feet of stone. Not one to be stopped by such a small problem, Lloyd studied it for a few minutes, said I’ll be back and took off in his truck. Not too much later he returned with a drill bit nearly as tall as himself! This brings me to the electricians who wired the massive building, Verlin and Mark Thomas. When Lloyd got back, the three of them started drilling at an angle through the Colusa stone, to make a new channel for the conduit which had to reach inside the basement. If you have ever seen the grand staircase you can imagine what that was like! As you can see in the pictures, they were successful and our lamps light up beautifully at night. As with any old building, the electrical can be a proverbial can of worms, and the Kraft was no exception. – buildings made of stone and brick present a unique set of problems, and Verlin and Mark Thompson tackled them as just another small challenge. To increase the level of difficulty, I knew our needs for electrical outlets exceeded most situations because of our extravagant Holiday Magic displays. It takes a lot of electricity to light fourteen trees, and I had had my share of overloaded circuits at our previous location. I was told that in all the commercial jobs they had ever done (which are many) they had never had one needing so many electrical outlets for a space that size. It’s the Girl Scout in me I guess – always be prepared. And three holidays later, we have yet to overload a circuit!
Probably the most exciting part of the project was opening up the magnificent stained glass ceiling in the rotunda. Originally there was a pyramid shaped skylight that stood over the glass allowing natural light to flood through the glass, into the building. There were two known times the glass was covered, once during the World War II when many cities practiced blackouts, and then at a date late in its history. Most likely because the skylight had begun to leak, the skylight was removed and demolished, and the opening in the roof was boarded over and hot-mopped, leaving a black hole above the glass. At that point no artificial lights had been installed above the glass, so that was the last time the glass was seen lighted, until we had replaced the skylight and put the glass back in place.
The first step of the process was removing the stained glass. There are eight pie-shaped pieces that were gently lifted out and handed down 20 plus feet to the floor. Remarkably, there are very few cracks in any of the glass and all it needed was a good cleaning, which was done with dawn dish soap and several toothbrushes. Once the glass was out, the roof directly above it was removed. After many phone calls and bids from across the country we found a very talented man in our own community, John Russo who said he could create what we needed. It is a shame the skylight rests on top of the building where, for the most part it is unseen, because he created a beautiful piece of architecture clad in copper. With the skylight in place, lights were installed to the sides, above the stained glass. Because of the heat generated by the skylight being exposed on the top of the building, the enclosed area in the attic above the glass was vented. We repainted all the iron straps that hold the pieces in place and it was time to put the glass back in. With a crew of six we began moving the pieces back up the scaffolding and into place. As with everything Lloyd does, the pieces went back with absolute precision. There were many sighs of relief as everyone who was watching saw the last piece slide in, and the colors flooded the rotunda.
The first cosmetic project in the restoration was to re-plaster the entire inside of the main floor. It had to be in keeping with the original look of the building and some of the plaster molding needed reconstructing. Dennis Ellis, a drywall contractor took on the job and sent his master plasterer, Chris Jones to complete the project, which was not simple. When working with old lath and plaster, trial and error is sometimes the only way to get the project done. Gratefully, we had mostly trials and not too many errors (which are actually more mystery than error). Everything was going well with a gorgeous coat of plaster on the walls, until we got to the rotunda, which became our nemesis. The first coat of plaster went on and looked perfect, until we got there the next morning. Imagine coming in to find your new plaster pealing off like it was in the last stages of a nasty sunburn! But with Dennis’s vast experience, a goo the color of Peptobismol and perseverance on the part of the crew, the rotunda was finished with a beautiful, smooth coat of plaster that leaves all emphasis on the stained glass.
The most difficult decision I had to make was choosing paint colors. I have a passion for color and I don’t think there is one I don’t like. It wasn’t as simple as picking a wall color. There are three tiers of crown molding, columns and capitals to take into consideration, as well as the magnificent oak that encloses the walls. Choosing just a couple colors would have been the easy way, but the options were endless and engrossing, and begged for a complex palette. I spent a lot of time considering the choices, settling on a palette, only to change my mind. I wanted it elegant, refined, subtle, a good background for the displays we would be putting in, and warm like the stained glass when infused with natural light. I finally had the midnight moment – shells. Shells have the colors and beauty Mother Nature is so perfect at bestowing. They are the flowers of the sea, and like flowers, their colors weave in and out creating endless combinations which are in perfect harmony. I called Paul Dotson, who is a master with color, paint and finishes. We had already asked him to oversee the painting and finishes. He came in, I gathered a box full of shells with colors I thought would work, and he started mixing paint. We came up with five paint colors; murex terracotta, mule’s ear rose, nautilus brown, peach conch, and tonna taupe. While Paul was busy painting the walls and ceiling, our all women crew worked on painting the moldings and capitals. In the end we determined it had taken us two hours per capital, painting them with mixed size brushes, starting with a medium watercolor brush - tedious, but infinitely satisfying when we were finished. One can only hope it is many years before we need to repaint!
Six windows had to be completely replaced on the south side because the weather had damaged them beyond repair. Again, Lloyd called his best cabinet maker Glenn Rudolph and he, his son Chris and brother Robert began the demanding task of rebuilding the windows. The clathries in the transoms have 48 angles that had to be mitered. As they finished them, they went to Paul Dotson for staining and varnish, who is the best colorist I have ever worked with when working with paints. Thanks to these master craftsmen and Lloyd, they are so perfectly matched, it is almost impossible to tell the new from the old and they are a work of art. For anyone reading this that enjoys decorating with florals, I should mention the lower mantles. I knew they would not be deep enough for the designs I would be creating. I asked Robert if he could make a board to match the original mantles that would overlay them (and attach without harming the originals). To this day, unless I tell the secret, know one knows they aren’t 100 years old – and I’m thrilled because my florals can be as elaborate as I want to create them, especially for Holiday Magic when “more is more”!
The floors, covered with battleship linoleum and asphalt tiles were not in good shape. Upon ripping it all out we discovered beautiful, unfinished, Douglas fir floors. Rather than cover them back up we opted to finish them and Lloyd contacted Hanes Floor Inc., to finish them. The worst part of the process was removing the asphalt tile which had been glued down with a black paste that defied removal. The tiles were chipped out with ‘dynamite’ and then were sanded with a sandpaper that appeared to have small size gravel embedded. Eventually Lloyd had all the various holes in the floor patched in a manner that made them barely noticeable and the floors were sanded smooth. There are few transformations any more stunning to watch than natural wood coming alive with color as the varnish is applied. Unfortunately, Doug fir is very soft and becomes distressed quite quickly, but the floors are still beautiful, aging to fit the rest of the old building. The other issue we have faced by not using an over-layment of some kind is the construction. The floors are comprised of the Doug fir running parallel to the front of the building and a sub floor running diagonally, with no ceiling between the floors. When a customer spills a cup of cider on the floor it has been known to trickle onto our design benches downstairs. A rather sticky situation! Someday we will finish the basement with a ceiling which will take care of the cider and the thunder of heavy feet and high heeled shoes when the upstairs gets very busy. Old buildings are filled with idiosyncrasies – its just part of their charm.
Three of the five original bookshelves remain in the building, testament to myriad books that once kept everyone’s attention. The other two were dismantled and stored for the future, should I someday win the lottery and have the resources to return the building to its educational roots as a library.
The three fireplaces, used for decades to heat the building were in excellent condition. We gave the strap iron around the edges of the fireboxes, which were clean, a new coat of black paint. There wasn’t a single tile missing which is remarkable for a 100 year old building. It is interesting how many visitors we talk with that frequented the library have no recollection of the fireplaces, or may remember only one of them. Our guess is that once the fireplaces were no longer in use, bookshelves or tables were put in front of them. When cleaning out the ash boxes in the basement we found remains of a few books and magazines, possibly used as a method for making room for other books, or an act of desperation for more heat?!
Final steps included reproduction registers for the air conditioning ducts in the ceiling. Brian Dunbar machined beautiful brass plates for the front doors to finish the edges. On a whim, we had stopped into a lighting showroom while buying Christmas merchandise in Dallas and found a perfect replacement for the old fluorescent lights we had removed. I suspect Lloyd, Verlin and Mark thought they would never see the end of them as they installed all 16. Not reproduction, and having no idea what the original lighting might have been prior to the middle of the 20th century, the ones we used seem to fit the building and feel as if they might have been hanging for a good long time. Security and fire alarms, hand rails for the stairs and an extensive cleaning had the inside of the building ready for guests.
The outside of the building needed some attention as well. The Colusa sandstone, harvested not far from Red Bluff, is quite porous and years of neglect had allowed lichens and moss to get a good foothold in the stone, particularly on the shady side of the building. With my love of nature and working with natural materials in my designs, I rather liked the texture they gave the building, however lichen is one of the things that deteriorates rock in nature, turning it into part of the soil. Not a particularly good thing for stone as soft as sandstone. A scissor-lift, hose and high power washer, with a careful hand on the spray, removed all the vegetation, along with decades of grime.
The window frames were scraped, sanded, puttied and painted a color to blend in with the bricks and stone. Paul Dotson refinished the oak doors and surrounds that had been badly weather damaged, bringing them back to their former stateliness. A copper flashing was machined to cover the parapet, preventing any further sloughing of the sandstone.
Removing the graffiti on the outside of the building was no simple task. Straight acetone and paint thinner wouldn’t pull the paint out of the porous stone. A substantial amount of research turned up a product called Elephant Snot (looks just like what one might imagine). Combined with a generous amount of elbow grease, the goo got most of the paint off the building and we have been blessed to have had the building left alone since occupying it.
It was time for the final stages of the project which included yards and yards of concrete. We were grateful to have Leroy Miller and his crew, create new sidewalks to replace parts of the old ones that had lifted and deteriorated, and put in our parking lot. I learned many years ago, it is critical to have a very qualified team if you want it done correctly and attractively, and so that the water runs off in all the right directions. Our delivery companies are especially happy with it. There is a great view of it from the windows in the back room of the main floor, which we now call the cottage room. To finish the parking area Rich Lehman’s crew laid the asphalt and striped the area surrounding the concrete. Troy Jones and his team built a very nice garbage enclosure which provides a nice background for our gardens.
With the finishing touches being done to the building, I finally got to start on the gardens. A massive amount of dirt was moved to build the berms, creating an alcove to surround the lawn area. The 800 pound picnic tables were then lifted into place and the planting began. The crew from the Job Training Center was instrumental in successfully getting all the plants in the ground during a heat wave. I had been collecting plants for several years and they were incredibly happy to be in their new home. Irrigation was installed and then the sod was rolled out - just like carpeting a house, it pulls everything together in one fabulous flourish. Now, two and a half years later, the gardens are lush and filled with a multitude of unusual plants including lots of flowering ones, putting on a beautiful show for all every year.
Lloyd turned 83 years old in the middle of the restoration, and I can verify that there was not a single person that could climb the 20 plus foot scaffolding any faster than he. His lovely wife Lebrita was not to know of his ‘escapades’, climbing around places that made my stomach flip (but as many wives do, I’m sure she just pretended not to know and prayed a lot). With his uncanny balance, Lloyd is like a cat, when there is a need, he goes anywhere he wants. In over sixty years of building, I am fairly certain this was the first time (with the exception of his subs) he had a nearly all female crew to direct. Prior to the restoration our job titles varied from sales assistants, gardeners, and teachers to floral designers and several other talents in between. Although we have many skills between us, lots of the things we tackled with the restoration were completely new to us. Lloyd had the patience of Job. He taught us what we didn’t know, helped us over the stumbling blocks and showed us how to fix our mistakes (Not that we made many of course.) I can’t imagine how a project like the Kraft could be accomplished without someone like Lloyd, who balances current technology with old world craftsmanship and was dedicated to restoring the building to its original perfection. It was a long, at times arduous task, but ultimately, bringing the Kraft back to the stately edifice Elizabeth Kraft gave to Red Bluff brought much joy in the process and was incredibly satisfying. It is with heartfelt thanks that we acknowledge the dedication, precision and perfection all those involved gave to the restoration of the Kraft Memorial Free Library building.
Often asked Questions
Who are the people in the portraits?
Mr. Herbert and Mrs. Elizabeth Kraft who had the library built in memory of her late husband. What I find so endearing about Mrs. Kraft’s photograph is her smile. It seems rare to see people smiling in old photos. Her portrait draws your attention and you just know she must have had a warm heart.
Who were the Krafts?
Mr. Herbert Kraft came to Red Bluff as a tinsmith, and not long after bought the hardware store owned by J.F. Moore. With his intelligence, business savvy and the help of Mr. Moore, he built up a very successful business which he eventually sold and established a loan business, dba Herbert Kraft Company, which eventually became part of Bank of America. He was reacquainted with Elizabeth Krouth on a trip to Louisville, Kentucky and married her on March 1, 1861. They raised seven children in Red Bluff and with the wealth they had amassed were very philanthropic.
Judge John F. Ellison said of Mr. Herbert Kraft at the dedication of the library: “In all these public positions he exercised the same business principles, the same integrity, and the same intelligence that he had displayed in the conduct of his private affairs and both town and county were the gainers by his official life… His business integrity was perfect. An old fashioned kind of integrity; a kind never popular with the shiftless part of any community. It was his idea that one should expect and have what rightfully belonged to him, and on the other hand should see to it that others rightfully received all that was rightfully theirs.…He was a power in the community where he lived, modest, unassuming – a good man, a good citizen, and his death was a great loss to the business world.”
At the dedication, Mrs. Galen Clark McCoy spoke on behalf of the Women’s Improvement Club regarding the Kraft family: “The Kraft family is and ever has been fully identified with the history and progress of Red Bluff; the interests of Tehama County have been their interests; they have devoted their time and their wealth to the upbuilding and business interests of our town and today the sons of the family are numbered among our most worthy and influential citizens while the beautiful and accomplished daughters are honored as noble wives and mothers.
Mrs. Elizabeth Kraft, the venerable and majestic mother, crowned with her snowy hair has spent the greater part of her life in performing the sweet womanly duties of wife and mother. She now has the satisfaction of knowing the happy results of her benefactions, and as a fitting climax in a life of such inestimable value, she has purchased, builded (sic), and presented to the people of Red Bluff, the magnificent Kraft Library in memory of Herbert Kraft, which shall be to the grateful people of this community, a fitting monument to the memory of Mrs. Elizabeth Kraft, through all the years to come.”
Who owns the Kraft building?
Katharine Gleim, who purchased it with her former husband in 1997. She began the restoration in January of 2006 and completed it in September of the same year, just a few weeks before relocating her store, House of Design to the Kraft. The Kraft has been a part of the community for 100 years and she feels, rather than owning it, she is just taking care of it for the next generation.
Is it a Carnegie Library?
No. It is built in the Classic Revival Style, also known as Neoclassic, which is the same style as many of the Carnegie libraries. The Kraft Memorial Free Library was funded by Elizabeth Kraft in memory of her late husband, Herbert Kraft.
There were a total of 1,946 libraries built in the United States which were funded by the Carnegie Library foundation, and of those, 144 resided in California. There are still 88 of them in existence in California. The Carnegie Library foundation did not specify the architect or style to be used for a library it funded, rather leaving it to the city where it was being constructed.
Does the Kraft have a ghost?
A few people have said they think it did, but we have not seen, felt, heard, or had any experiences that would indicate there is one at this point. After 13 years in the Victorian house on Rio St. we have had plenty of experience with a ‘spirited’ building. I have to say, as much as I am a ‘see it to believe it’ person, there simply is no other way to explain the experiences we had in our previous location.
Did we know the stained glass was in the ceiling?
Is the stained glass new?
It was not covered on the inside, so yes, the glass was visible. We did not know exactly what it looked like until going into the attic and putting a light above it. It was not until after the glass was removed, a new skylight put in place and the glass put back that we saw how beautiful it was when flooded with natural light. It was a spectacular moment in the process.
How did they move the books between floors?
There is a dumbwaiter between all three floors that now serves as the electrical chase for the building. There are many times the staff and I wish it were still functional!
Were the fireplaces always there?
Yes. Three of them are in existence. I have read reference to a fourth and have always suspected it might have existed due to the perfect symmetry of the building. More research is needed to determine if there was one behind a set of bookcases on the northwest inner wall.
How many floors are there?
Three. The basement where books were stored and eventually held the Tehama County Museum for a period of time, the main floor and a small trustee room at the top, which leads to the attic access. The basement shares the same footprint as the main floor, and is where we have our floral design studio, bookkeeping, and receiving. It is also where we hold our Annual Basement Sale in May.
How many bookshelves were there?
Five freestanding oak bookcases on the north side of the main floor. Three remain and two are stored for future use.
Did we put in a new floor?
No, the beautiful Douglas Fir floors were unfinished and hiding under the green battleship linoleum. The acoustic qualities of the specialized linoleum are somewhat missed during our busy times by those of us in the basement, when it sounds like a heard of horses is running around upstairs!
Who did the restoration?
At 83 years of age, Lloyd Dietrich, who is an incredible craftsman and brought his vast experience to the project, was the general contractor. He also brought a very talented group of contractors to do the specialized work and the rest of the project was accomplished by a team of talented, hard-working, get-it-done women who were, and some still are, a part of the group that makes up House of Design.
A Heartfelt Thank You to Everyone Who Made the Restoration Possible
Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Kraft Walton, who made it possible for me to become the caretaker of such a magnificent part of Red Bluff’s history.
Lloyd Dietrich our mentor, cheerleader and general contactor, who shared his 70 years of experience and fine craftsmanship and his wife, Lebrita who patiently shared Lloyd for the better part of a year.
He shared the original vision with me and saw the Kraft through the certification process for the Registry of Historic Places and helped us with hurdles during the restoration.
Consulting Preservation Architect
Craig Polson - Forman
John Russo - Russo Construction Company
Paul Dotson Painting
Leroy Johnson Concrete
Don Hake - Tedon Specialties
Job Training Center
Jeff Will and Steve Runnels and their crew
Timberline Heating and Air Conditioning, Inc.
Hinkle Roofing & Construction, Inc.
Denis T. Ellis Drywall Contractor
Red Bluff Doors and Windows
Verlin and Mark Thomas - Thomas Electric
Rich Lehman Excavating
Troy Jones Masonry
California Safety Company
J&J Irrigation Systems
Hanes Incorporated, Flooring
Mike Murray Plumbing
The individuals who were instrumental in getting the detail work completed, never said no to a project and kept House of Design running so we could accomplish the restoration:
Liz Hern Pam Hibbard Cindy Hansen Doreen Perino
Bobbi Truax Valerie Emge Bryana Gray Melissa Tenney
Rhyanne Truax Cori Brown Sarah Nachand Cherein Cook
Jordan Freeny Alan Walker Priscilla Neal Laura Lotz
Krystal Wilburn Dave Snead