Having documented the history behind the Fazekas-designed house-number units found all over San Francisco and the Bay Area, I am often asked for help by people wishing to restore their own. Such matters are not my forte. Fortunately, a reader named Sarah has offered a detailed description of the process of refurbishing a unit, and I present it here. (Have anything to add? Write me or post a comment below.)
After removing the unit from the house, this is what Sarah did:
Recently, a significant decision was made by my mom and stepdad to sell my grandmother’s house in the Sunset district. This decision started me off on my journey of restoring the address frame. I wanted to share my restoration process in case it helps others.
- First I used Citrusstrip to clean off all the old paint and grime with a putty knife and wire brush. The wire brush was a little too coarse and left some light scratches but it helped clean all the divots. I also cleaned the number tiles.
- With gloves and safety glasses on, I cleaned the parts in mineral spirits to remove any residue.
- To remove the hood, I ran into the issue of the top bolt and nut being rusted together so I had to use a Dremel tool to sand off the screw head. Luckily this worked without too much trouble. I replaced it with a screw and cap nut from Ace Hardware.
- Using black Rust-Oleum 2X Ultra Cover spray paint, I sprayed three coats on each piece and the back of the number tiles.
- A blank tile (spacer) on one end was missing, so I replaced it with a 1/2″ strip of brass, also from Ace, the length was cut with the Dremel tool.
- After a base coat on the number tiles, I decided to carefully hand-paint them, following the outline of the raised enamel numbers. ( I used the same spray paint, sprayed into cups, and brushed on — I don’t know if that’s the best way but it worked for me). [Alternatively, here is a brush-on paint for hand-work. –Ed.]
- The last step was to give everything a final clear coat with Rust-Oleum 2X gloss with UV protection. I also added some tape to the back so the end tile wouldn’t fall out again!
- To finish it off, my stepdad was able to replace the light socket and added an LED bulb, with help from this post on Tincrab.com, The ‘how to’ guide to restoring lights in SF house number signs.
Since we are selling the house it was truly a labor of love! Thank you again for your insightful content and dedication to preserving this unique bit of San Francisco’s history.
Thank you, Sarah!
Additionally, I offer this suggestion if the number tiles are lost or degraded. By searching on the term “American Art Metal Works” on eBay or other auction sites, it is possible to find units for sale, like this one recently. Number tiles used in the various styles of Fazekas’s frame designs are interchangeable.
Ohmega Salvage in Berkeley was a resource for parts until it closed earlier this year. But they offer a list of other Bay Area salvage resources here.
Anton Fazekas designed several different address units, and patented them in the late 1930s. His company American Art Metal Works, produced the units for tens of thousands of Bay Area houses, all through the 1940s and 1950s. Even as late as the 1960s these were affixed to new houses. Read more about Fazekas and his ‘little sculptures’ — and see lots of photos of creatively restored units (and a few failures) — in these posts.
Do you have your own technique or ideas? Write me.