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'This Old House' Comes to Town

Echo Park Patch goes behind the scenes at the PBS show's project house in Silver Lake. Southern California tradesmen and their knowledge of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture are a highlight of the show's 31st season.

A home on Balmer Drive is overflowing with activity when photographer Gary Leonard and I arrive. 

Out back, workers hang chicken wire and spread stucco. Upstairs, shelving is being installed. The constant sound of pounding could be found in the kitchen.

Some of the action is slowed down and restaged for the venerable PBS television series This Old House.

But it is all true--the story of the race to finish a 750-square-foot addition before shooting wraps on Feb. 17.

 “We were warned it would take twice as long and cost double the money,” said homeowner Kurt Albrecht, a Sony production executive.“But we’ve stayed on schedule and on budget.”

Albrecht and his wife, Mary Blee, will pay for the work themselves.

New England-based This Old House has been shooting much of its 31st season at the home. It is the show’s first project in Los Angeles. The program recruited Albrecht and Blee out of lots of LA-area applications because they were the only owners of a Spanish Colonial Revival home.

“We felt it was very important to highlight [one],” said This Old House series producer Deborah Hood. “We’d never done so, and it was our first visit to LA, where the style is so prevalent.”

Albrecht and Blee had already begun planning a remodel with local contractorSteve Pallrand of Home Front Build. They had a young daughter and another child coming, so they needed more space, but they didn’t want to leave the Silver Lake/Echo Park area.

They decided to add two upstairs bedrooms and a family room to the existing 1500-square-foot structure, as well as an expanded kitchen.

“We also wanted to cut through to see the view out back,” Pallrand said.  “These houses from the 1920s are very street oriented.”

New decks and balconies are will change that.

The project could also make stars of the local tradesmen who know the stucco, tile and roof work distinctive to Spanish Colonial Revival.

 “They work so hard, and we get to shine a little spotlight on their work,” said Richard Tretheway, the show’s on-camera plumbing and heating expert. He taped a scene with plasterer Alfonso Garcia the day we visited.

Angel Leon, the project’s site supervisor, has also been featured, while Frogtown cabinet maker Larry Bucklan will be in an upcoming episode.

The producers say they are also showing lots of images of Silver Lake and Echo Park establishments. The show has also shot segments on the black “bird” balls in the Ivanhoe Reservoir and the Neutra VDL house on Silver Lake Blvd.  

And in this week's show, Trethewey learns more about how the Silver Lake Reservoir works  from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's  Marty Adams.

“The neighborhood is very much a character,” Hood said.

That does not cheer some locals, who say the new second floor blocks their view.

But contractor Steve Pallrand stands behind his work.

“I sit on a HPOZ board and I’m very aware of being compatible to the neighborhood,” he said. “On the street, it doesn’t look overpowering.”

Meantime, Albrecht and Blee just had their second child, a son. They say the family should be back in their home by mid-March.

The third episode of the 31st season of This Old House airs Thursday at 7 p.m. on KOCE and repeats on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. on KVCR.

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