Thursday, May 22, 2014

California Cooler (Not the Drink)



In my post about vintage kitchen, I mentioned our California Cooler and promised to talk more about it.  The California Cooler is the the little door built in to the wall to the left of the sink in the above photo.

 

Here is a better view.  I am not using the California Cooler for its intended purpose -- a way to keep food cool and fresh in the days before refrigeration.   

A California Cooler is not an old-fashioned icebox as it does not depend on ice to keep perishables cool.  Instead, it makes use of air circulation in California's temperate climate.

If you look at the above photo, you'll see a vent at the top of the cabinet with light coming through.  That vent leads to the outside of the house. There is another vent near the bottom of the cupboard (not pictured in my photo).   The idea is that when the air in the cupboard warms, it rises and escapes through the top vent.  Cooler air is then pulled in through the lower vent to create air circulation, thus keeping perishables fresher for longer. 

California Coolers have been enjoying a resurgence lately.  Here are two photos of remodeled kitchens where the homeowner decided to keep the California Cooler intact.
source
Above:  You can see the dual vents in this California Cooler, where the homeowner keeps fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

source
This is a newly remodeled kitchen also makes use original vents with a new cabinet placed over them.

source

 The key is to have slatted shelves (or wire) which allows the air to move through.  This California Cooler belonged to Trina of In the Fields (formerly A Country Farmhouse).  Her former  farmhouse was in Oregon, but the early technology was being used there too.

You can see that the slatted shelves in my California Cooler have sadly gone missing.

This is not the first place we've lived with a California Cooler.  The first apartment we rented after we got married had one, and I remember being completely perplexed by the slatted shelves in our pantry.  One day in winter, I felt a cold draft after opening the pantry door.  Upon further investigation, I found a piece of painted cardboard covering wire mesh, which in turn covered an outside vent near the top of the pantry. It took me more time than I care to admit to figure out that this was an early refrigeration system.  The cardboard was there for insulation against the no-longer-needed cool air and the wire mesh underneath was to keep critters out.  




source
The majority of the houses in the Berkeley/Oakland area of San Franciso's East Bay were built in the early 20th century, when California Coolers were often included in a home's design.   As a fun (and nosy) game as I'm walking or driving around town, I often look for the sets of stacked vents.  It's interesting to see where the kitchen is placed in any given house.  




There was evidence of a California Cooler in the previous apartment we rented before buying our current house.  The stacked vents can still be seen from the outside, but the cabinets to the right of the sink now cover up what would have been the California Cooler. I often wonder what that older kitchen would have looked like before the 80s kitchen was installed.  (And much later painted by us.)

source


 Some California Coolers were vented to the basement instead of the outside of the house, as is shown in the above pamphlet.  This idea would work better in places where there are hot summers and freezing winters.

I've since done quite a bit of research on the California Cooler, but there's not a ton of information out there. Much of the information I found can be accessed by clicking on the above photos, which will take you to various sites discussing the California Cooler.

Oh, and if you are wondering about the drink...

Here she is in her former 80s era wine cooler glory. 




9 comments:

  1. Very cool...I enjoyed this little history lesson, Camille. It was a great idea and I could see how the California Coolers are useful today. If I had one I'd definitely keep it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've often thought of trying to recreate the slatted shelves. In the meantime, it would probably be a better experiment to buy a thermometer to keep in the cooler vs. another to keep in the kitchen. (I can tell you that in the winter, I tried to avoid opening that cabinet on very cold days!)

      Delete
  2. Wow. As a former history teacher, I can appreciate this blog post. It's so very interesting, as we (on the East Coast) don't have those...I've never heard of them, actually. I wonder if they actually worked. Hmm...looks like I have something to google;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kat, you've got me thinking. The former math teacher in my thinks I need to go ahead and buy the aforementioned thermometers and have my kids track the temperature on a line graph. A great math lesson for them, and I could report back to you all on the difference in temperature. Does a California Cooler actually work? Who knows?

      Delete
  3. What a genius concept. There are so many old things like that that I wish were still around now. And I'm so glad you still use yours!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well, I use it for pan/baking supply storage. Part of me worries that if I put food in there (onions, potatoes, etc.) we'd have an ant invasion. Screens currently cover the vents, but I'm not sure the holes are small enough to keep ants out. I do wonder if this was a problem when people were actually using them for food storage.

    ReplyDelete
  5. How cool is this! I wish we had one! I had never heard of it before, so thank you for the lesson my dear.:)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Interesting! Never heard of it but it's a neat story.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Being born and raised here in the Bay Area...and I never knew of or even heard of this before! So interesting...and a smart idea. Thanks for the post and sharing this!

    ReplyDelete

I enjoy reading every comment.