Live-in Toy Box

Photo by James BunoanThree-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath Long Beach house with two one-

bedroom, one-bath units behind;

1,200 square fEEt (not counting detached units)

Occupants: Kirk, Gina and Diego Dominguez, plus two dogs

Paid: $249,000 in 1998

A house in America isn't a home unless it's so jammed fulla junk—er, precious keepsakes—that you're practically walled in, la the Hermits of Harlem or, more recently, Huntington Harbor's Elena Zagustin. That was one reason Kirk and Gina Dominguez bought their 1928 Craftsman bungalow in the newly chic historic Long Beach area of Rose Park: they needed a bigger house.

“We didn't really know the neighborhood; we knew the house,” said Gina, a substitute high school teacher for Los Angeles Unified. “A couple of friends of ours lived here, and the lady who owned it was a real-estate agent.”

No fool, the lady suggested the couple buy instead of rent, and they did. “We've been here, I'm going to say, seven years,” said Kirk who, like his wife, is in his mid-30s.

“No,” she quickly corrected him. “Six years.”

They were lucky to get into this vintage house, with a '50s-era duplex behind, before the real-estate market went through the roof. And perhaps luckier still to find a bigger home for their records, statues of storm troopers and Rat Finks, '80s-era arcade games, and possibly every Ultraman toy made.

“What decorating?” Kirk replied, deadpan, when I asked him who decorated. Having a 10-month-old son, Diego, who was sleeping when we visited, means he's recently discovered the benefits of coffee. When the Weekly arrived, Kirk was clumping around the house in battered motorcycle boots, slugging espresso, spinning Coltrane, and watching his Great Dane and Boxer fight over a chew toy.

“I'm really geeked-out on him [Coltrane] lately,” Kirk said, following 'Trane with Poison 13 on vinyl. A diehard Ramoneshead who can recite the band's Japanese-issue singles by heart, Kirk buys and sells records on eBay. He also buys and sells things like the arcade games he picked up in the '90s; most of those had to go recently to make room for “the kid.”

The Dominguezes own two other properties in Long Beach: a duplex and a larger house that's rented by a sorority. (Not as cool as you'd think: Kirk spends too much time fishing tampon applicators out of the drains at the sorority house to turn a profit.)

The vinyl, the games, the landlord gig—Kirk is kinda like Chandler on Friends: nobody's quite sure what he does. How he lives is easier to see. In a word, it's expansive, thanks to a house big enough to overshadow the vast quantities of space aliens, cyclops sculptures and forbidding lowbrow artworks. This is a house old enough to have a proper living room and dining room, with exposed beams, no less. The fact that the dining room table is a pool table upholstered in purple felt scarcely factors in. Despite the tchotchkes, it feels like an adult home.

It'll do, for now. But some day, the Dominguezes hope to actually build their dream house—a structure they're continually refining in their heads. When they do, it won't have the aluminum windows a previous owner stuck them with here.

“There's a lot of horrible improvements in here. There's, like, three original windows,” Gina lamented. “Someday, I hope it'll be a rental.”

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