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American Heritage

An Oxnard icon hits the century mark

By Mark Storer

Photo by Stephen Schafer

Built in 1914, the meticulously maintained home features elegant Tudor details outside and modern upgrades throughout.

 

veryone knows the house on the corner of G Street. Built for Henry Levy and his family, it’s an Oxnard icon and a lynchpin that fastens the city’s heart—like the Santa Clara Church or the houses, now businesses, in Heritage Square. Current owners Al and Rebecca Barkley bought the 5,200 square-foot Tudor-style mansion in 1983. Sitting on a quarter-acre corner lot, the house stands out from its surroundings like Van Gogh’s white iris among the long purples.

The story goes that when Achille Levy (pronounced Lee-vee), of Bank of A. Levy fame, came to Oxnard and made it rich, first as a produce broker then as a banker, he went back to his native France to have a matchmaker find him a bride. It so happens that the bride’s name was Lucy Levy (pronounced Lev-ee). Lucy had a brother fifteen years her junior who eventually joined his sister and brother-in-law in California.

Henry worked with his brother-in-law in both agriculture and banking, and when it came time to settle down, he commissioned the house on G Street and had it built—100 years ago, in 1914, at the outbreak of WWI. Original blueprints adorn the walls along an interior staircase, framed and not yellowed by time, their dark blue print showing the detailed and exact lines of a grandly fashioned home.

“When we got it, there had been one other owner and he’d made improvements with the intent of selling it in the 1970s,” said Al. “We bought it from him and began the process of renovating.”

That renovation has lasted as long as the Barkleys have lived in the home, amid raising two children and pursuing careers (Al owns an insurance agency and Rebecca worked for many years as a Hollywood set designer). They’ve tackled the project one room at a time, and the eclectic interior has no single theme. “I’ve always loved older homes, and my husband loves them, too,” said Rebecca. “The fireplace is Batchelder and there is marble in the kitchen that Levy imported. They built this beautiful home, and it deserves to be cared for.”

The Barkleys also own the Bank of A. Levy building in downtown Oxnard, and Al’s insurance office is in the process of moving there from the Perkins House in Heritage Square. “It’s an old building, and it’s costing far more than you ever want to spend. But the building deserves it,” said Al. “At the end of the day, when you occupy something like that you don’t care about the money in it; it’s there for you to use.”

Rebecca tells the story of how Henry Levy’s children came to visit the home where they were raised. “I was gardening out front and looked over the fence at these people sitting in a car,” she explained. One of them turned out to be Joe Levy, Henry’s son. “They came in and went through the house three different times. He lived in Berkley by then, and he came down and would cruise the neighborhood.” Levy sent photos of the house when he lived in it. Those photos now adorn the interior.

Jeanne Marx, a Levy daughter, has also come to visit. Jeanne and Joe have since passed away, but Rebecca and Al are both happy they’ve been able to share and honor the home. “We’ve tried to be true to the architecture of the house,” said Al. “We’ve redone every room, plumbing and electrical, all of it,” said Al. “It’s been 30 years of work, but it’s been worth it.”

On the porch, which runs the full length of the front of the house, a golden retriever named Blue greets visitors and watches life along G Street. Walking through the front door is not an experience in time travel, however. The Barkley’s have kept true to the home’s architecture, but haven’t simply lolled in the past. As Al put it: “It’s a beautiful house and we want it to be here in another hundred years—for the next family.”

The original cost of construction was $29,000, which made Henry furious. It was too expensive. “The Levys were international bankers, and the war affected them,” Al explained. “But they knew what they were doing and they accommodated the people in Oxnard. They made loans to people not based on their ability to repay, but based on their character.”

The home’s first story includes the living room and entry hall, a dining room, and an old sleeping porch that has been transformed into Al’s office. The kitchen, while renovated, features the same original footprint; a cork floor deadens sound and lightens the already sun-drenched space. There is an anteroom to the kitchen leading to the backyard, and even a butler’s pass-through from kitchen to dining room. A wood-paneled library with a second fireplace of ceramic tiles is a handsome centerpiece.

The second floor of bedrooms and bathrooms also includes an additional set of apartments, which were built when one of the Levy children returned to live there with his family. Its master bedroom is a bit larger than the original, according to Rebecca, and ‘50s-era pink ceramic tiles in the bathroom lend something of a retro look.

Outside the master bathroom sits a large wooden vanity—Rebecca’s “favorite” item in the house. Here again, the second floor’s design is all Rebecca’s craftwork: a blend of modern and past, with subdued colors playing off brighter ones and dappled sunlight throughout.

Contrary to modern building code sensibilities, there is a basement in the home. And yes, it has flooded. There’s also a third floor, which was originally a kind of ballroom but has since become a toy-littered playroom for the Barkley’s granddaughters.

Little historical surprises and ironies keep showing up, too. Al said that when they finally updated the original heating system, the turn knobs located in the basement were adorned with swastikas: “They were German-made from around 1912, and that was a sign of good luck back then.” The Barkleys have also found Levy family papers, as well as drawings and posters from the 1940s. “We even found a family tree that was hand drawn,” said Al. “We ended up giving that to the Levy family.”

Through the years, the house on G Street has been one of Oxnard’s favorite Halloween haunts. Rebecca’s career as a set designer has been evidenced in a front yard full of tombstones and coffins, gargoyles and lighting and spider webs. And the neighborhood kids squealed with delight at it all.

But they don’t do that so much anymore. While the Barkleys love the history of the home and have strived to preserve it, they don’t spend a lot of time living in the past. Instead, they’re preparing the house on G Street for the future.

Levy’s original blueprints hang in the stairway.

A Craftsman-style front porch looks onto G Street.

The third floor has evolved from a ballroom into a playroom for the Barkley’s granddaughters.

Furnished with handsome leather appointments, the living room flows seamlessly into the dining area and library.

A kitchen remodel introduced contemporary appliances, cork floors, copper sinks, marble countertops, and Shaker-style cabinets while maintaining the room’s original footprint.

04-01-14

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