Hidden Treasures

Found objects offer brief glimpses into earlier times

It’s amazing really, that any of it survived. One hundred years of change has come and gone since Dr. Spencer built his modest home on Addison Avenue. Sixty-six years have passed since Bill and Dave moved the fledgling Hewlett-Packard Company out of the garage and their growing families to more spacious quarters.

At any point along the way, capricious fate - ranging from earthquake to entrepreneurial zeal - might well have seen the entire block razed. And in the place where the charming old wooden structures once rested, something more modern and convenient might now stand.

But, the 300 block of Addison Avenue and Dr. Spencer’s house did survive. Over the years, the house now numbered 367/369 has hosted a parade of lodgers and owners both pedestrian and prominent.

Without exception, each renter arrived with an assortment of worldly goods, conducted daily life, and then moved on. Most left little, if anything, of him or her self behind.

Conversely, each successive owner left an imprint by remodeling, dividing and effecting repairs that further obscured the original floor plan and character of the house.

Renters and owners all, however - by intent or oversight, preserved in memory or material form - did leave tokens of their presence. Much of what we know of the time Bill and Dave spent in the garage, shed and house comes through recollections and written and oral histories. The sketchy story of the house and its original owners has been gleaned from regional and city records. Now, the house itself has surrendered a final few clues to life in earlier times.

Found items

Through the months of January and February of 2005, the walls, attic and closets offered up a tantalizing handful of artifacts left behind by prior occupants and owners.

The surviving items run the gamut from the mundane to the mysterious - a wind-up child’s toy, a breathing device with literature claiming it will prevent the scourge of tuberculosis, personal correspondences, jelly jars, biscuit cutters and elegantly twisted wire coat hangers are included in the collection of prizes found in the deeper recesses of the house.

When diving through layers of drywall and plaster, work crews discovered that original stairways, windows, tile and wallpaper were simply left in place and sealed up; preserving vital information useful in recreating the house as it would have appeared in 1938-1939.

Once opened, downstairs walls offered some delightful surprises, including scorch marks on the old wallpaper pointing out the exact location of the kitchen stove in which Bill and Dave baked the paint onto their first audio-oscillators.

A minor mystery solved

Perhaps the most interesting object recovered, however, was the information residing on 17 opaque bond pages bound inside a 3x7 inch (8x18 cm) maroon cardboard cover. It is a check register that had rested quietly in a far corner of the attic and survived 87 years of earthquakes, re-models, new roofs, heat, cold and time.

The tiny, thin register answers a long-standing question — created sometime mid-century when an overzealous public servant threw away pre-1949 tax records — deemed no longer of use. With disposal of those documents, the exact dates that the Spencer’s transformed their single family house into two apartments vanished. It was generally thought that the conversion took place sometime between 1917 and 1920, but no one could any longer be certain.

By a twist of fate that history buffs would deem nearly miraculous, the simple register details the expenses for converting the house to two flats. The dates on the 50 entries span April 20 through June 25, and on only one was there a year noted; it was 1918. In her elegant hand, Mrs. Ione B. Spencer unknowingly left a note to the future.

Have you seen anything like this?

Some small mysteries have been solved with the items found at the Addison Avenue property; others have been created. Join in the fun of exploring the more intriguing of the items found by taking a virtual stroll through the online photo archive courtesy of the HP Corporate Archives.

View a Flash presentation of the objects below. Or, view the same information in a version without Flash (recommended for those on slower connections).

Hidden treasures revealed

Items correspond to table arrangement. Rolling the mouse over individual items or grouping will bring up its title. Clicking on the item or grouping will bring up additional views (close-ups) of the item in depth descriptions, if available.

Resting on a display table in the HP Corporate Archives are 30 of the more significant items found at 367 Addison Avenue.

Clicking on the item or grouping will bring up additional views