Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

From a mansion to a motorhome

Famous Cats' House closes doors, owners move on

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A cat peers throughout a cutout image of a cat inside of a home in San Diego Calif. Bob Walker and Frances Mooney moved into the house in 1986 and started converting it into a human-sized cat condo with 140 feet of elevated highway, tunnels, ramps, a spiral staircase, rest areas and scenic vistas. It even had a floor to ceiling scratching post. One improvement seemed to lead to another.

COURTESY BOB WALKER Enlarge Image

A cat peers throughout a cutout image of a cat inside of a home in San Diego Calif. Bob Walker and Frances Mooney moved into the house in 1986 and started converting it into a human-sized cat condo with 140 feet of elevated highway, tunnels, ramps, a spiral staircase, rest areas and scenic vistas. It even had a floor to ceiling scratching post. One improvement seemed to lead to another.

LOS ANGELES -- They enjoyed the high life for years. Now eight cats accustomed to the creature comforts of a house featuring an elevated feline freeway have not only been brought down to earth, but squeezed into a nine-metre motorhome with the family Chihuahua.

Gus, Sam, Dave, Stella, Lili, Eddie, Zander, Willow and Sadie the Chihuahua are biding their time in the motorhome, which is parked in the driveway of the San Diego home known for a quarter-century as "The Cats' House."

Bob Walker and Frances Mooney have sold the house. Escrow closed on July 3 and before the month is over, Walker, Mooney, cats and dog are moving to Fredericksburg, Va.

Walker and Mooney moved into the house in 1986 and turned it into a human-sized cat condo with 42 metres of elevated highway, tunnels, ramps, a spiral staircase, rest areas and scenic vistas. It even had a floor-to-ceiling scratching post.

The kitty thoroughfare remains but has been painted white like the rest of the house. The new owners don't have a cat.

It used to be a kaleidoscope of colours. Even the outside was purple.

Walker, 63, a photographer and builder, and Mooney, 61, an artist, shared the house.

Walker has published eight photo books, including The Cats' House. Over the years, the unusual home attracted more than 50 film crews from around the world. At a book signing in 1996, more than 900 people showed up.

The couple was featured in a Chris Smith documentary, Home Movie shown at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival and later released on DVD.

Walker, Mooney and the cats even had a line of postcards at Target.

Until five months ago, Walker said they thought they'd spend the rest of their lives in the four-bedroom, 1,500-square-foot home overlooking Mission Bay. Built in the 1950s, it was also Mooney's childhood home.

"Then we decided to go on a new adventure and move to the East Coast," Walker said.

Sadie, Zander and Willow are 3, so this will probably be the couple's last batch of cats, he said. Cats are 15- or 20-year commitments and they don't want to leave any behind.

Mooney "was always bonkers for cats," Walker said. On their wedding day in 1973, they adopted Beauregard, their first cat as a couple.

The ceiling superhighway started when they decided to divide the living room and dining room with a stained-glass window. To keep cats from damaging the furniture, they added the floor-to-ceiling scratching post, wrapped with 118 metres of dyed pink sisal rope.

The cats loved it, Walker said, but after chasing each other up the scratching post and across a suspended beam, they had to stop abruptly.

The answer was tunnels and freeway extensions. Walker used 2-by-6 inch planks of Douglas fir. To accommodate the oldest members of the troupe, he added the 23-step spiral staircase into the TV room and a carpet-covered ramp into the bedroom.

Over the years, they've had 35 cats, though never more than a dozen at once.

They had eight litter boxes around the house and cleaned a lot, Walker said. In the motorhome, they don't have as much to clean, but there is only room for one litter box -- on the shower floor -- and they have to change it at least twice a day.

In Fredericksburg, they plan to buy a home and build a bigger, better, longer, stronger and more artistic catwalk.

Walker said he's anxious to start on a two-storey cat house, but he's a little worried about the slope challenge.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 23, 2013 C11

History

Updated on Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 9:08 AM CDT: adds photo

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