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Operator’s home stars in Martinez Historic Home Tour

The 1929 Storybook-Style home of Sharon McNally, an operator at the Shell Martinez Refinery, was among nine homes featured on the Martinez Historical Society Home Tour.
Martinez operator and her home

The 1929 Storybook-Style home of Sharon McNally, an operator at the Shell Martinez Refinery, was among nine homes featured on the Martinez Historical Society Home Tour in late 2010, benefiting the Martinez Historical Society and a train depot restoration project.

It was McNally’s first time opening her charming house on Brown Street in downtown Martinez to be viewed by scores of spectators all day long. Although she supports of the historical society, personal reasons prompted her to take part in the full-scale fundraising tour.

"I was asked to be a part of the tour in 2009, but couldn’t because we were involved in a (refinery) turnaround," she said. "I told them to put me down for 2010. You look at your home and think about all those things that need to get fixed, but you don’t get around to doing them. This time, I was motivated to get everything done, and I did. The tour finally got me to assess what I had and the best way to show my family photos, textiles and collectibles."

A couple of years ago, the Martinez Historical Society had photographed and featured the house’s kitchen in a display representing the 1930s.

"They were particularly interested in my kitchen because it is so original. I have a kitchen with one electrical outlet," said McNally, who is a member of the Martinez Historical Museum.

To prepare for the tour, McNally spruced up her property and repainted the stained-glass windows, molding and "lath-and-plaster" walls, which have layers of concrete between slats of wood. She elevated a spare bedroom from storage to guest-room status and enhanced the outside landscaping. She tackled many other tasks on her own whenever she was off work from her rotating shifts at the refinery's distillation/hydroprocessing unit.

McNally in her house

On the tour date, three docents were stationed at McNally's house to provide information and contribute tidbits about the 1,517-square-foot, two-bedroom/one-bath house.

Design features include molding and trim encircling all of the rounded doors and windows. The main bedroom has a sleeping porch with windows to allow McNally to catch cool breezes in the summer. Six art deco sconces in the living room pair with a chandelier in the dining room, adding an air of elegance. Six-inch strips of darker inlaid wood outline the flooring in rooms, and floor boards rest about seven inches high. Contributing authenticity are the original house floor plans, framed and mounted on a textured dining room wall.

"People gave me nice compliments on the paint colors, the landscaping and how everything was so presentable and uncluttered. It was neat to share information about my house. I’d do it again; I liked having the exchange with the people who came through," she said.

Storybook architecture, like that in McNally’s house, came out of the Picturesque movement of 18th-century Europe. In the United States, the architecture was also inspired by GIs returning from Europe after World War I. The design has a whimsical, artistic feel with steep roofs reminiscent of the gingerbread cottage in the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale. Experts pinpoint Storybook Style to Los Angeles in the early 1920s.

"I grew up in southern California," McNally said, "and there was some of that gingerbread architecture. I always liked it. It's kind of a play on the European architecture. It’s not trying to copy the architecture, but make it more whimsical. When I saw this house in 2004, I bought it because it had so much imagination, character and lots of design features."

Storybook Style enthusiast and architect Walter W. Dixon created the plans for McNally's property, which he sold to a home builder. The house's original owner was another Shell employee, who purchased it in 1929 and sold it in 1997. McNally snapped up the house when it appeared on the market again in 2004.

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