Hugh Siler took the biggest risk of his life on a small project.
He spent $1.62 million in April to buy a block of five early-1900s homes in Orange, sinking thousands more to restore the properties.
His risk is already paying off: Though both are less than 500 square feet, the first two finished homes rented out at blinding speed, with tenants paying $1,850 and $1,960 to live in the cottages.
“To get a block of homes in Old Towne Orange is maybe a once-in-a-hundred-years opportunity” Siler said. “I literally put everything I have on the line to make this happen.”
The smallest cottage in Siler’s Historic Home Row at Palmyra Avenue and Orange Street is 375 square feet and the largest tops out at 1,450.
Siler, 53 of Costa Mesa, is a landlord and preservationist who is restoring the homes back to their historic style.
Siler made his money in marketing, but said he has discovered a passion for real estate – especially fixing up worn-down properties. He’s restored more than 20 homes at this point, most of them in Orange. His efforts earned him a special merit award from the Old Towne Preservation Association in 2015.
Every day, so long as it’s not raining, Siler can be found at his project coordinating with his small team to revitalize the historic row. Staying true to Old Towne’s spirit of preservation, Siler is bringing these homes into the modern age while carefully maintaining their original looks.
“This is what 1910 looks like in 2017,” Siler said, opening the door to the first home on the block he finished restoring.
The home has a sitting area just inside the door, a kitchen and dining area near the back, a modest back yard and a bedroom and bathroom.
The row homes may be compact, but there is a nostalgic air about them. Early 1900s light fixtures, Douglas Fir flooring and barn wood dining tables harken back to when the homes were built. The appliances are modeled after the smaller versions used in the 1920s – a mix of aesthetics and practicality, Siler said.
Careful preservation of these homes, Siler said, is a commitment to the community and a chance for history to live on.
“Knowing it’s going to be here long after I’m here and gone, that’s a really cool feeling,” he said.
The first home was rented out before Siler could put a sign up and one particularly excited pair, Ryan Sandburg and his girlfriend, Brianna Rojas, couldn’t wait and had their move-in day in the rain.
The couple said they had their first date in Old Towne Orange and fell in love with the area. The two have experience with backpacking, so moving in to a smaller home and taking just the essentials had a certain appeal, Sandburg, 30, said. The biggest appeal, however, was the historic feel of the house, he said.
“It already had some great character and style to it, we didn’t have to do much to it,” Sandburg said. “We can’t wait to come home each night and be in our cozy little house.”
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