A Window Into The Past

Window Into Past 1

I recently painted a window.  Does anyone do that anymore?  Between modern windows that never need painting and old windows that need painting but which are painted by people who catch money being thrown at them by homeowners, it may be rare for someone in my station of life to be painting a window.  But it was just one, and I am certainly not too proud to paint it.

My house was built in 1958, which puts me in an interesting spot when it comes to windows.  The house was built with window assemblies built of sparkling, space-age aluminum.  Or aluminium, for those of you who prefer the British spelling.  Am I the only person in the free world who proudly and doggedly clings to aluminum windows?  Perhaps.

I am regularly bothered by my doorbell, rung by someone selling replacement windows.  “Hello.  We are looking for a house to feature in your neighborhood.  We would replace these old aluminum windows with modern, energy-efficient vinyl windows at a tremendous discount, simply for allowing us to provide your address so that others can see our installation.”

This, or some variation of it, is a pitch I have received more than once for every one of the 25+ years I have lived in my house.  Each time I explain to a salesman (who sports a face which betrays his astonishment) that I like my aluminum windows.  I would go so far as to say that I love them.  “Really”, I explain, “will your windows be this nice when they have reached the age of 60?  I highly doubt it.”

Every one of them opens (both top and bottom) and they never need painting.  Each has a storm window installed outside of it.  Yes, they sweat a bit in very cold weather but the builders anticipated this and provided a marble sill below each of them.  I know, my utility bills would be lower if I had them replaced.  But here is my secret:

The prior owners replaced the three biggest windows across the back of the house with new, brand-name casement/picture windows with all those great features like insulated glass, some kind of UV coating on the outside and wooden interior trim.  These three modern windows across the back of our house serve quite nicely to provide a view of the outdoors as efficiently as possible.  This leaves me with just the small windows in bedrooms, a bath and the garage.  I harbor that old-fashioned belief that old houses are like old people – they have to be allowed to breathe.  So my aluminum windows have every advantage I could want at a very small cost of added utility expense.

Between my new fancy brand name windows and my fabulous classic aluminum windows, I have been spared every bit of window maintenance in my home beyond the chore of periodic washing.  Except for one.

Which brings me back to where we began and one of those fabulous little touches from 1958 – it is a round window.

The one problem with my round wooden window is that it lacks a storm window, so it gets a lot of condensation which is, in turn, hard on the paint.  And on the glazing putty, as it turns out.  So there I was out outside scraping peeling paint and the remaining old putty out from around the six triangular panes.  I began to wonder why nobody ever made round aluminum windows.

Someone somewhere began playing some Frank Sinatra.  It was far enough away that I couldn’t place the song, but it was clearly one of those songs from his great albums of the 1950’s.  So there I was puttying a window on my 1958 house with Sinatra wafting through the air, and it felt for a moment like 1958.

Not just any music from 1958 would have accomplished this.  My neighborhood was the kind of place where doctors and lawyers and business executives built their forever houses.  Not the ones from the way high top of the income scale, mind you, but the good solid upper middle class guys who would have had new Oldsmobiles or Buicks in the driveways.

The people who bought those houses were not listening to Elvis Presley or Buddy Holly or The Platters – the early rock and rollers who were selling records to the kids.  Nope, these folks bought Sinatra albums to play while they sipped on their martinis or Manhattans as they got together with the neighbors.

Window Into Past 2

I think it was in the middle of this reverie that I got a little overzealous with putty-removal and cracked one of those triangular-ish panes of glass.  Bad words were uttered.  Which probably happened in 1958 too.

As I removed the broken pane it occurred to me that only two of the four sides of each pane was straight – the other two were curved.  Which eliminated the neighborhood hardware store as a place where I could get a new piece cut.

Marianne volunteered to go to the distant glass specialist – which was only fitting since beginning this whole job was her idea.  It only took three trips.  One to drop off the old piece which I had taped together for them, one to pick up the finished piece and a third to take the finished piece back and make it actually the size of the sample I had left them with (instead of just a little too big).  But it all worked out.

My round wooden window is now full of clean uncracked glass and uncracked paint and uncracked putty.  And I have that little bit of pride at having done all of the restorative work by myself.  I think maybe it might be time to sit out on the porch with a scotch on the rocks and a little Sinatra in the background.  It appears that 1958 and I get along pretty well.

24 thoughts on “A Window Into The Past

  1. My last house was built in 1969 and had its original windows — single-pane wood, with aluminum storms screwed on outside. When I moved in the window all needed reglazed and painted, a job I did not anticipate eagerly. Then in 2014 my parents retired, sold the family house, and moved to a condo in Indy. Mom was bored, and when I mentioned one day that I needed to do this job but kept putting it off Mom said, “I’ll do it!” And my goodness, she did. She worked at it a few days a week all summer, but she got it done. Unbelievable!

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    • I had some practice from my prior house that was full of double-hung wood windows from 1927. I completely disassembled, stripped, reglazed, painted (outside) and finished (inside) two of them before we sold it. Otherwise I would have kept going with a couple a year. My aluminum windows are now as old as those were and I have not had to touch a single one!

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  2. At some other website recently, I wrote about a house that had been in my family. Built in 1910, it was purchased by my grandparents in 1961 and sold in 2018. The windows were all aluminum like yours, likely replaced around 1958. They all worked great but would experience a little condensation as you state. My grandfather still bragged about those new aluminum windows when the place was sold.

    Conversely, our current house was built in 1988. We’ve already replaced one exterior door (wood framed and it seems wood rots if not painted) and two windows. Many more could stand to be replaced due to leakage and compromised functionality. Is that progress?

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    • I have developed a healthy suspicion of new building materials. From aluminum electrical wiring in the 60s to that thin flexible gas piping that turns lightning strikes into gas-fueled house fires, there is no shortage of things that make me appreciate my old house. Your experience with your windows is one more reason I have not taken the plunge and replaced mine with something modern – which has been a very common activity for people in my neighborhood.

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  3. “painted by people who catch money being thrown at them by homeowners” – too funny – I’ll have to remember that one. Also the paragraph about the replacement glass…poor Marianne, all those trips. You did a good job and may have inspired me to tackle my remaining window which requires painting. I had all my old wood windows replaced with the expensive vinyl kind ten years ago, which cost me $$20,000, including two French doors cut into the back deck (where for a bonus they also cut the hot water pipe requiring an emergency visit by a welder on the eve of a snowstorm) and a very expensive but quite stylish front door. Except I left the window at the side of the the garage because I figured who would see it and by then I was tired of bleeding money. While my old windows were drafty in a north wind, I would say the house doesn’t breath at all now, it’s so air-tight.

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    • The idea of spending that kind of money to replace perfectly functional windows is outside of my ability to comprehend – although I am definitely in the minority on this. Given the choice between a modest new car and new windows, I would take the car every time. You remind me of my rule that there are only really 2 ways to own a house – constantly update it with new decor, fixtures and even windows, or the time-capsule approach where you fix what breaks but nothing else. I am stuck in a kind of purgatory between those two approaches, which may be the worst choice of all.

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      • I do both, get on a reno kick, and then quit for awhile, but I certainly don’t feel the need to update my inside decor to that millennial minimalist gray look. I like comfy and cosy. I forgot to add, that I liked the Sinatra vibe in your post. I suspect my 1967 house would pair well with The Monkees, as sometimes I think it was built by a bunch of them.

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      • The Monkees played here in my small hometown in 2002 to an outdoor crowd of about 5000. I googled and the 2002 reunion tour included only two members Davy Jones and Mickey Dolenz, my two favs. I did not go, as it was a work night but later regretted it as I heard it was a good show, but oh how thrilled my 11 year old self would have been!! We actually had Elton John here once too…..in an arena with horrible acoustics…..I guess old rock stars can tour forever.

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  4. So much satisfaction in doing a job yourself, eh J.P? Let’s hope the next generation figures that out one of these days. May I ask from what room you look through that round window? Just wondered why the element was added all those years ago. I assume this is the only round window in the house. Very classy. Great story!

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    • Yes, it is in a small bathroom in the front of the house and that window adds some architectural interest to the front. We don’t actually look through it as Marianne devised a round bunched curtain on the inside.
      The inner piece actually spins halfway around to open with a screen. It’s pretty cool, really.

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  5. When I lived at home with my parents, my semi-annual job was to screw in the aluminum storm windows for the winter, or take them down for the summer. Driving by that house recently revealed that the new owners succumbed to the urge to replace the big front window with something more modern. I hope it is as durable as those old aluminum windows were.

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    • We leave the outer aluminum storms in place all year. As a kid our house had similar aluminum storms outside of double hung wood windows. We left those up too.

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  6. Had to chuckle when you mentioned salesmen coming to your door to sell vinyl replacement windows! That has happened to me a number of times. Ours is one of the few houses of this vintage left in town with its original siding, trim, and diamond-pane window sashes. When I explain that I prefer the original wood windows, I get an annoyed look of disbelief. But so many others have said “Yes”, and our neighborhood looks more like a trailer park and less like the picture-postcard quaintness it once had.

    Here’s a picture so people can see what I’m talking about. Can you imagine modern vinyl windows or siding on this house?

    Classic Queen Anne After a March Snowfall

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    • I love that house! Looking at this picture, it almost looks like the siding conceals the ghost of a round attic window that used to be atop the main roof peak in the front, right below that rounded molding. By all means, keep the VinylMen away!

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  7. I really like that window JP – a classy-looking window and I’ll bet a novelty on your block? I’m unique as to windows on my block too. My parents got triple-pane windows in the early 70s, then metal rolling shutters in 1979. The metal shutters are great for keeping the house cooler in Summer, warmer in Winter and are a great security device – when they are down, no one can raise them and break into the house. However, they are expensive to replace. The bathroom blind collapsed and had to be replaced about 15 years ago – $600.00 for a bathroom window outside metal blind. A bedroom window similarly collapsed and to be replaced was $800.00.

    One Fall we had a series of very windy days and I just decided to leave all the blinds down – I worried a sudden gust would pull the blinds off the strap used to raise/lower them. Then it was Winter, a real brutally cold season with lots of freezing rain, so I left the blinds down – in the Spring, they were shut … as in permanently. Karda Reflex is now out of business; other blind companies do not sell or service this style. Thus, to get them opened up again, they’d have to be replaced … no way! I leave them shut all the time now. The bedroom blind opens for some flukey reason – it is my out if there is ever a fire.

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      • Yes, it is terrible JP – had I known, I would not have left them down that many months. The ones on this house are not automatic like the newer ones (of course more to go wrong with the digitally controlled blinds).
        The newer models you can even program to go up/down during the day, or if you’re on vacation. The blinds in this house are on a strap that rolls up into a box on top of the shutters. You have to tug hard to raise the blinds. The living room, since it is a double window, if a windstorm pulled it off would be very expensive to replace. That’s why I closed it, then closed the rest. This is what they look like: https://shadeandshutter.com/rolling-shutters/
        My father saw them at a home show and thought it was a great idea. My mother hated them as they are difficult to clean from the inside, so when they are down, you are staring at a dirty blind.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Speaking of ornamental windows on houses (which was the original subject of this post), I thought people might want to see this stained glass window which I installed over a plain window. The salvaged stained glass panel dates from the 1880s or 1890s, and fortunately had almost the same dimensions as the window opening, so it fit right in! The broken mauve-colored panel has since been replaced.

    Victorian Eastlake Stained Glass Window

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    • I love the details in houses built in that era. My 1950s sprawling ranch may be brimming with personality when compared with new construction, but it has nothing on older stuff like yours.

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