Photo by James BunoanLong Beach: 860-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-bath house
Occupants:Jeff Druckenmiller and Chris Fyvie Paid:Declined to specify monthly rent
The World's Skinniest House is in Long Beach, appropriately—longtime home to millionaire germophobe Howard Hughes' zany flying boat, the Spruce Goose; it's also where the Illustrated Man, the Reverend Leroy Minugh, a much-tattooed, long-retired circus sideshow regular, once hung his hat.
In reality, it's a real-estate remainder, what happens when your mouth writes a check your architect is forced to cash. The high priest of the First Church of Satan, Anton LaVey, reportedly spent at least one night there.
Ensuing decades and proclamations—recognition from the Guinness Book of World Records, historic-landmark designation from the city—not to mention a bullish real-estate market, have lent the nine feet separating these walls a touch of class, morphing the house from freaky teepee to stucco sweetie.
It's home today to woodworker Jeff Druckenmiller and his girlfriend, and in some strange way, it's the place they'd always dreamed of.
"I'd always heard about it, growing up here," says Druckenmiller, a thoughtful man in his 30s. Now he's living in history, which he concedes is a wee bit strange: living in the World's Skinniest House—claimed by Satan, Guinness, and Ripley's Believe It or Not—is not just anyone's aspiration.
Maybe that's why the house changes hands every five years or so; it's had at least two owners since 1999, and the current owner, John Tyler, doesn't live there.
But it's easy to bash the World's Skinniest House when you're out there on its teeny cement porch. Inside is a different story.
They were building houses right in 1931—even when theywere construction-company employee Newton P. Rummond, who acquired the Skinniest's 10-foot-by-50-foot lot. Its parcel, listed in modern real-estate records as a "partial lot," was created by accident during an earlier real-estate deal.
Rummond, no shrinking violet, took a friend's dare and built the house deliberately. He knew he'd have to go up, and so the house does: living room and kitchen on the ground floor; bathroom, music room and bedroom on the second floor; den and rooftop garden on the third floor—up a near-vertical second set of slat stairs that must be descended backward.
Yes, there are stairs, and if you want to eat in the garden, you must climb all of them, tureen of goulash in hand. Don't spill!
The Skinniest makes up for this compartmentalized living with the details: all the doors and woodwork are dark wood—some mahogany, some redwood, my host says, and he should know. The living room, which has that heavy kind of plaster they don't make anymore, boasts hand-carved wooden beams overhead.
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Upstairs, the vintage continues to flow. The bedroom (there's only one) is that classic 9-foot-by-10-foot-or-so rectangle you'll find in old Long Beach bungalows—but there's a peaked roof overhead, and somewhere along the line, someone was smart enough to knock out the ceiling to expose more beams. Now, it's like sleeping in a church: a real sanctuary.
The bathroom is dreamy, all black-and-green vintage tiles in hazy celadon hues running two-thirds of the way up the walls, and it's all still perfect. The 1933 Long Beach Earthquake didn't seem to touch this place (though the top two floors were reinforced with a girdle in 1950, according to newspaper accounts).
It's been labeled Tudor-style and Spanish-style, thanks to all that dark wood, but when the Skinniest was completed in February 1932, a newspaper of the day reportedly issued the last word: "Freak Home But Comfortable," its headline read.
That, its inhabitants tell me, is exactly what it is: comfy. Like an old shoe. And not much wider than an A-width.