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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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,