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February 28, 2006 > The Bunting-Kolb-Freitas Home

The Bunting-Kolb-Freitas Home

John and Elfleda (Fleda) Bunting owned a 37-acre farm on Thornton Avenue that they named Sycamore Farm after the large sycamore trees there. They moved the old Marsten buildings to the back of the farm and erected a new three-story house with 10 or 12 bedrooms, a barn, a four-story tank house and a steam plant for power. The Bunting children, Evelina, John A., Howard and Lawrence, grew up in the Centerville area. James died before he was two years old.

The Tsuji family came to live and work at Sycamore Farm around 1890. Their daughter, Kimiyo, was born on the estate in 1903 and grew up there. She married Hirokichi Asakawa, the foreman of the famous apricot orchard, in 1920. She later recalled that she had worked 25 years for Mr. Kolb. Clarence Kolb, vaudeville star of "Kolb and Dill" fame, bought Sycamore Farm about 1918. He occasionally visited the farm, but it was mostly operated by the Tsuji and Asakawa families.

Manuel Freitas came from the Azores met Julia Rodrigues who was born in Irvington. They were married and lived first in Alvarado, then moved to Centerville. Their children, Shirely, Adeline and Clarence grew up on the farm and were born and educated in Centerville. The family lived in the Bunting house for about 15 years.

Kolb sold Sycamore Farm to Manuel and Julia Freitas in January 1945. Manuel added 10 acres so the property went from Thornton to Alder and became known as the Freitas farm. He planted more apricot trees, built cutting houses and sulfur houses and farmed apricots under the brand name "Palm Villa." Many local residents worked there during the summer, and the Freitas children grew up on the farm.

Two long driveways lined with palm trees and roses led from Thornton Avenue to the house in the middle of the farm. The house was surrounded by gardens with plants and trees from around the world. A special park held a fountain and a fish pond filled with Koi carp. A duck pond housed over 30 wild ducks. Closer to the house was a large aviary with a fountain and a large glass hothouse.

Shirley Freitas Banda recalled that when her family lived in the house it was two stories with a full basement and an attic above the whole house. Clarence Kolb said that he had removed the third story that contained most of the bedrooms. The basement, a fascinating and scary place for a child, was divided into rooms. One housed the huge furnace that heated the house, another was a fruit room with shelves of canned goods and another held old traveling trunks filled with all sorts of treasures for young girls to explore. Shirley Banda recalled playing with movie rolls, theater makeup and music scores. A rounded staircase at the front of the house led up to a front porch which wrapped around the house. The front door of carved mahogany had an elaborate scrolled dragon's head door knob. A screened porch was located on the left side of the porch and the right side led to a covered area for loading carriages.

The house was so large that the Freitas family only used part of it. They entered through the back door, probably the former servant's entrance. Massive, carved pocket doors led to the main living room, rounded to match the front of the house. The fireplace was so large that a child could walk into it. Large mahogany carved pocket doors led to the formal dining room and the library beyond which had special birds-eye maple bookcases from China. One door opened into a built-in, rounded bar with a beautiful marble basin, mirrored sides, a stained glass light and glass shelves.

The dining room had a very ornate fireplace, a carved mantle, tall rounded windows, a large chandelier and carved wooden ceiling beams. A pocket door led to a solarium with glass sides, tiled floor and a special drain so plants were easily watered. The kitchen had a special room for food preparation. Several rooms had buttons that told servants where they were needed.

Bedrooms and dressing rooms were upstairs with bathrooms, tiled showers, dressing tables, mirrors, large closets and even a laundry chute that dropped clothes into the basement. The master bedroom was above the dining room so it had rounded windows along one wall.

There were several other buildings including a two-story carriage house with teakwood stables, scrolled wrought iron stalls, quarters for grooms and upstairs hay storage. Carriages were stored in a large building behind. The large two-story guest house had a kitchen, parlor, living room, dining room, porches, two bedrooms and a bathroom on both floors. Larry and Vermilda Sylva lived there in 1948-49 and the Tom Maloney family resided there until they built their home on Norris Road.

Manuel Freitas sold the property to the Singer Corporation to develop in the l960's. Thornton Junior High, Cabrillo Shopping Center and apartments were built along Thornton Avenue. The house and immediate grounds were supposed to be preserved as a historical site, but fire damaged the house and it was deemed too costly to restore. That was the end of the most beautiful house ever built in Washington Township.

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