Wild Rose: The Quintessential Bungalow Neighborhood

by Michelle Gringeri-Brown
From Issue 42


The Tifal brothers would be justifiably proud to see their bungalows still standing on Wild Rose Avenue some 90 years after they were first sold. But then again, the three immigrants from Posen, Germany, probably wouldn’t be surprised — they built their sturdy Craftsman homes to last.

Gustave, Charles and William Tifal designed and constructed 350 bungalows in Los Angeles and about 100 in Monrovia, where Wild Rose Avenue is. Just one street removed from a busy thoroughfare, the 300 block is particularly charming. And what a charming remove: shady porches, shingle and clapboard siding, river-rock pillars, mature trees and — unusual for Southern California — front yards that flow into one another largely unbroken by driveways. Although city records don’t show conclusively which homes on the street were Tifal Brothers projects, their attention to detail and solid construction are hallmarks.

“One brother ran the company, another designed the homes and the third oversaw construction,” architect Tim Shea, the owner of a low-slung Wild Rose bungalow with big, chunky porch pillars explains. “I don’t think they had formal architectural training, but they certainly had a passion for design.

“Close to 100 years ago the builders and craftsmen took responsibility for creating a high-quality home,” Tim continues, “which we can’t really replicate today for various reasons. Our home shows a lot of thoughtful design: the pyramid shape of the stone porch pillars and rock planters is repeated in the colonnade and the lights in the dining room. Because Melinda and I are in the trade, we probably notice those details more than some people, but I think our visitors still get an overall sense of continuity.”

Melinda Shea, a corporate interior designer, and Tim relocated to Southern California from Denver, with its brick builders’ homes. They were looking for something with character. “Once Tim saw this house, that was it,” Melinda recalls.

Like the Sheas, who bought here in 1988, most residents are only the third or fourth owners. “Other families with young children moved in after we did and it turned into a neighborhood where we all knew each other,” Melinda says. “A routine developed where we’d stand in our front yards and talk after work and the kids would play together — it has a real neighborhood feel.”

2Across the street, Jan and Michael Mangano are raising four sons between the ages of 10 and 20 in their bungalow. They first moved into a smaller house on Wild Rose 16 years ago, then across the street seven years later when a larger house went up for sale. “We liked that it was a small block with young families on it,” Jan says, “and because my husband is a woodworker, he appreciated what went into building these homes.”

Michael Mangano works for Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Jan for the Monrovia School District; they both prize the area’s old-fashion charm. Their initial Wild Rose house had natural-finish woodwork inside, while their 1913 bungalow is painted throughout. “Our first home was very cozy,” Jan recalls, “very quaint — perfect for starting out.

“The previous owners of their current home added on a master bedroom and bath, walk-in closet, TV room, another half bath and a game closet. The exterior of the new wing matches the original section well, and with four bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths, “It was perfect for us,” Jan says. “We didn’t want to leave Wild Rose — we love Monrovia’s small town feeling, the street fairs, sitting on your porch in the evening, walking around town.”

A couple of doors down from the Manganos are the Garlands. Scott is a graphic designer and Karen helps out at MountainSide Gallery, the couple’s fine art showroom in downtown Monrovia. Their 1911 home has split-granite rock work on the porch with decorative beaded mortar very similar to the Manganos’ fireplace treatment. Tifal Brothers is believed to be the builder of the Garland home as well.

3Scott had discreet ramps built to allow him wheelchair access to the rear of the front porch and the back door, and designed a new garage to exactly match their home’s architecture. In it is a 1930 Model A roadster that he restored to stock when he was in high school. The Ford has been in the family since 1947 when Scott’s parents bought it as a second car. After an injury, it was further modified with hand controls and a lift in the rumble seat that allows him to get in and out easily.

“Monrovia is probably one of the most convenient places to live on the planet,” Scott says. “We’re within four blocks of Old Town, literally within walking distance of restaurants, a theater, the post office, a grocery, the library and our work. And miraculously for me, it’s pretty darn level.”

The woodwork inside their home had never been painted but needed extensive cleaning. “The fellows that did it used unbelievably toxic chemicals and steel wool to scrape off 50 years of black tarnish,” Scott says. “Before, you couldn’t even see the grain of the wood.”

The couple got inventive in their bath, where they added a second shower for Scott’s use, but kept the original tub and shower intact. They tapped a closet in the adjoining bedroom for the annexed space. The Garlands also completely restored the exterior. “It took us almost two years to repair all the wood damage,” Scott explains. “The color scheme we chose has since been copied at least eight times in the city. People have knocked on our door to ask for the formula, but we didn’t invent it, really. We sort of borrowed it from a Greene and Greene.”

4Across the street from the Garlands and next door to Tim and Melinda Shea is Charlie Phillips, a landscape designer/ builder, who used to live in the Sheas’ house. His first old-house purchase was when he was in his 20s; by the time he turned 24, he’d bought the Sheas’ home, where he stayed until 1988. A massive restoration of a Tudor-Revival cottage in Altadena, Calif., followed, then it was back to Wild Rose and the 1912 Craftsman bungalow he’s in today.

“I’ve never been without a restoration project for the last 20 years,” Charlie laughs. “My current bungalow has been the most well-thought-out and well-designed smaller house that I’ve ever done. When I bought this one I decided I needed to stay somewhere for a while and I knew that the redevelopment of Monrovia was on the upswing; 10 years later, it’s in full bloom.”

His home had been in the hands of a speculator who painted woodwork, removed original ceiling beams, paneled the bedrooms and committed other Arts and Crafts atrocities. Charlie was blessed with photographs from the granddaughter of the original owner, which helped greatly in reconstructing missing details.

5One major brainstorm was to relocate a built-in bookcase to another wall in the living room and install a fireplace. “My friend Robert Young helped greatly with that,” Charlie says. “He now works for Traditional Home, and he’s a great designer.” The two incorporated an oak tree theme into various elements: there’s an oak sapling planted in the front yard, oak-tree tiles on the fireplace, the same design repeated in the dining room light fixture, oak- leaf tiles in the remodeled bath and, of course, oak floors.

Charlie installed box beams throughout much of the house and expanded the bath into the old screened porch. This meant he was faced with a lower ceiling than in the original space, which he solved by soffiting the shower stall. Some windows and a door in the kitchen were changed out, and stained glass added to the bathroom door, which echoes the decorative glass in the dining room’s buffet. “In a smaller house, it’s great to keep continuity and consistency throughout,” he says.

Charlie’s landscape business includes restorations of period gardens. His plans for his own home include a new driveway with a grass ribbon down the center that will match the color and texture of the original cement porch and pillars, and introducing large boulders with perennial and native plantings.

6But what is it about Wild Rose that makes it seem different somehow when you drive slowly down the road gaping at the charming homes? The group tries to put their collective finger on it.

“When you turn into our street, you have a wonderfully unobstructed view of some well-taken-care-of bungalows that aren’t obscured with a lot of overgrown plantings in the front yards. It’s very parklike,” Scott Garland offers.

“My friends from the westside [of Los Angeles] think this is just like Mayberry,” Charlie says with a laugh.

“We kind of take it for granted,” Tim Shea admits, “but it really is something special. Monrovia has larger and smaller homes, but its roots are in the working-class bungalow neighborhoods. People are proud of this town.”

Or as Jan Mangano says, “This block is like a family because it’s so small. When the kids were younger, we’d block off the street and have huge parties with the fire truck coming [to thrill] the kids. We could replace the houses if we had to, but we couldn’t replace the neighborhood.”

But Charlie Phillips offers the most nebulous, yet likely explanation: “It’s a very special place to live. It just feels like home.”

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