Golden Gate

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

– Albert Einstein

For years, I dreamt of a rustic, mysterious, red tile roof house with thick white stucco walls and charming windows overlooking the San Francisco Bay. In my dream it was surrounded by a beautiful garden and filled with light, art, beauty and love.

Then one day I met a client at a tiny jewel of a house on top of an island in the Bay. Even though it had been carelessly added on to – its distinctive beams covered with sheetrock and the roof, floors, doors, and windows neglected for decades – I fell in love with it instantly. I knew it was the red tile roof house in my dreams.

Legend

The Mary Monahans house was built in 1929.

Coincidentally, my client had decided to sell the property, so when I called to say we wanted to buy it, she asked us to dinner. That night, as moonlight gleamed on the terrace above the Bay, she shared the legend of an unusual single woman who bought the half acre parcel of land at the top and end of an island in the late 1920s.

Mary Monahans journeyed overseas alone to research Spanish Revival architecture, which was popular between 1915 and 1940 in Europe and North America. She built the unique home, in which we were eating dinner at that very moment, in 1929 before the Golden Gate Bridge existed. We learned that evening it was necessary to take a boat to the island when the house was built. Now it is connected with landfill to an adjacent peninsula in Marin County.

Challenges 

The old house had single pane windows and a leaky roof.
The old house had single pane windows and a leaky roof.

Marshall and I signed the papers to buy the Mary Monahans house that night in April, 1999. But in the next few weeks during the inspection process, we learned the 90-year-old structure had additional problems – single paned windows, a leaky roof, clogged plumbing, antiquated electricity, termites, dry rot, drainage problems, a broken heating system and myriad quirky design challenges. But despite all its flaws, we remained committed to purchasing it “as is”.

Twenty years later, we finally saved enough money to remodel the old house that we now affectionally call Golden Gate. It has been a challenging three-year process to get a building permit from the city where we live due to the many codes, rules and regulations on the island. But we are hopeful the permit will be issued sometime this summer or fall.

Spanish Revival

The string of flags represents where a tiny powder room will be added to the lower level.

I tell you the story and show you images of Golden Gate to demonstrate the challenge we have undertaken, all in the name of preserving beauty. Our romantic, yet small and unpretentious Spanish Revival home is meant to embrace the feeling of Colonial Spanish architecture featuring low-pitched red-tile roofs, rounded arches and niches, a two-story brick turret, and an asymmetrical yet balanced façade.

Perserving Beauty

The front of the house will remain the same, except the top roof will extend over the lower roof to the left.
The front of the house will remain the same, except the top roof will extend over the lower roof to the left.

The style is a mixture of rustic, eclectic and dramatically exaggerated features, all of which we intend to retain and repair for their historical significance, style and beauty.

Despite the many challenges we have encountered through years of living in the broken-down house and dealing with the endless building restrictions and regulations, I couldn’t bear to sell Golden Gate “as is”.

Saving Golden Gate

The front garden.

We have been told repeatedly that it is much cheaper to tear it down and build a new home than to remodel. But it would break my heart to see it demolished with a soulless mega-mansion built in its place.

I have split the story and images of the old house into two blogs – this week featuring the front of the house, and next week the back. I hope you will take a few minutes to check out these images to see why I feel so passionately about saving Golden Gate.

Renewal

The old, cracked concrete walkway will be replaced with a stone pathway and new outdoor lighting.
The old, cracked concrete walkway will be replaced with a stone pathway and new outdoor lighting.

Spring is a time of renewal which is essential to life. Remodeling Golden Gate is the biggest renewal project of my lifetime. It’s been an honor to live and breathe in its beauty, smells, sounds and views for the past twenty years.  Our goal is to upgrade the house so it will last another hundred years.

Honoring Architecture

The unattractive, flat garage roof will be replaced with a low-pitched red tile roof to match the rest of the house.

I hope in some small way the story of Golden Gate will inspire those of you who live in old houses to love and revere them for their history, architecture and beauty. It’s like honoring, preserving and at times improving an ancestor’s precious roots and distinctively delicious idiosyncrasies.

For the love of old houses,

Linda Applewhite's signature
Showing 10 comments
  • Liz Nichols
    Reply

    Linda, I don’t know if I have words to convey how I feel about what you & your husband are doing, both in CA & NM. Many kudos to you for preserving the beauty & soul of these properties. I couldn’t love your house more & see what you see; it would be my dream, too. You’ve made a wonderful choice full of spirit, love, a deep understanding of the nature of “home,” as well as of architecture & history. New boxy houses, regardless of size & amenities, can’t stand up against houses like these. In fact, you deserve an award of recognition for such preservation. It might not be everyone’s dream, but you are doing more than saving the house, you are making a mark on history by preserving & honoring it. This is entirely about soul.

  • Kirby
    Reply

    Marshall and Linda, you are leaving a gift to the future that is irreplaceable!

  • deborah
    Reply

    What a beautiful house, in a stunning place. Wise to preserve rather than tear down, may this house give you great joy for years and year…..lovely.

  • Judith Jones, Boise, ID
    Reply

    Yum! Can’t wait ’til the story continues…….

  • donna
    Reply

    Wow that is a charming home. I too can’t wait to see your happy/fun/colorful/whimsical/comfortable spin on it.

  • Jennifer Duffy
    Reply

    Such a jewel!

  • Joan Finkle
    Reply

    In many ways, won’t this be the culmination of your brilliant and magnificent visions, Linda, and what you have soulfully done for so many other fortunate people? One feels your passion when reading your words, and surely it will be infused into every decision you are making to gift this special property with a ‘revival’. May you enjoy every moment (at some level!!), and so delighted for you to be undertaking this project deep and dear to your heart. Very eager to see and read about your continued journey!! All the best indeed!

  • sandy spargur
    Reply

    I understand your feelings of keeping the old. My home has many old, some over 100 years, pieces of furniture, dressers, trunks, etc. I feel they all tell a story and I can’t bare to replace them for something new and fancier. I love you’re keeping you home as original as possible. And the gardens are beautiful as is the house.

  • Danelle Carpenter
    Reply

    How exciting to be able to save something this old and beautiful and bring it back to life again. Can’t wait to see it when it is complete!
    Danelle Carpenter

  • MARLA
    Reply

    Oh yum!! Golden Gate is a seductress!! The photos are so evocative as it is now. I can’t wait to watch the transformation. Wish HGTV would buy this journey and put it on for all to see. How exciting! An adventure in beauty! Love the post.

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