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House Talk

No. 35 - November, 2009

Scaling Down With Style
A talk with Mary Spletter

Throughout the years of their real estate careers, Judith Glass and Sheila Sabine have met many people who have lived in their homes a long time and suddenly realize that their residences are requiring too much upkeep and they no longer want the responsibility. Although many people feel this way, they are often paralyzed and overwhelmed by the idea of actually making a move. One brave couple, Mary Spletter and Jeff Robbins, decided to take the plunge and begin the process of scaling down. For over 30 years, they had lived in their beautiful Claremont residence - a three-story home with enchanting gardens, and an easy walk to Star Grocery, College Ave. and the Claremont Hotel. For health reasons, they faced the truth - life was not going to get easier. Negotiating all the stairs and maintaining the gardens had become too much to handle.

Mary had also just gone through the death of her father who had left the entire responsibility of clearing his home and belongings to his children. Mary did not want to do the same thing. After 31 one years of accumulation, Mary realized that she did not need all her belongings. She looked at simplifying as not just the clearing of clutter – it was a major act of freedom!

Jeff and Mary actively began their search for the next property. They were clear that they wanted to stay in Alameda County and wanted to live on one level. Also, Mary did not want a small bungalow so she began to broaden her search. Mary had jogged around Lake Merritt years ago and was drawn to that area. She thought the older condo buildings would have more space as opposed to the newer, splashier buildings that have started to appear on the Oakland landscape.

Mary and Jeff were attracted to a unit in the historic Bellevue Staten. It was a “short sale”- a great value but needed a lot of work. Purely by chance, another unit in the building became available with wonderful views, polished hardwood floors, high ceilings, fireplace with ornate mantle, and had a sophisticated remodeled kitchen. They jumped on it. To make it feel like their own, they decided to change the paint colors and worked closely with local decorator, William Anderson, for advice on color choices, furnishings, rugs, paintings and a myriad of design details. Mary did not want to make critical mistakes - she wanted to be a smart buyer with strategic furnishings. She was very resourceful visiting local antique stores and Harvey Clar, the Oakland auction house, where she found some real treasures.

Mary says that there is a certain snob appeal about living in Berkeley as opposed to moving to Oakland. That attitude quickly changed when her friends who visited her were in awe of the views offered by Lake Merritt - the boats, childrens’ playgrounds, a bird sanctuary – creating a feeling not unlike Central Park. In addition, she can walk up the street to the elegant private Bellevue Club for her exercise classes, swimming, meals, and many social activities.

Indeed, the Bellevue-Staten has long been recognized as one of the most beautiful buildings in the East Bay. In 1991 it was added to the National Registry of Historic Places. It was designed by H.C. Bauman in 1928 to include a full service restaurant and servants’ quarters. It was the first large building on the West Coast to be constructed out of steel. It is an intricate blend of Spanish Colonial and Art Deco design. It has fifteen floors of red brick, the walls are decorated with Spanish Baroque, and the two-story high lobby is very impressive with its ornately painted interior and bronze elevator doors. It has a 24/7 doorman and valet parking.

The building is directly opposite Lake Merritt- another famous East Bay site. The Lake is actually a very large estuary that was declared the first U.S. official wildlife refuge in 1870. It continually attracts hundreds of Canada geese, herons, egrets, cormorants, ducks, pelicans and an occasional swan. At nite, the lake takes on a magical appearance with its 3,400 pearly bulbs called “the necklace of lights” and 126 lampposts encircling the shiny water.

Jeff and Mary are very encouraged to see growth all around them including some wonderful new hot restaurants like The Boathouse, Side Bar, Lake Chalet, and Pican. It’s also an easy walk to Trader Joes, Whole Foods and the Saturday Farmer’s Market. Soon there will be a shuttle service from Jack London Square all the way up to Grand Ave.

In summary, Jeff and Mary believe they have found what they were looking for. They have gracious and easy living in an interesting area where they do not feel isolated. They do not have to navigate freeways and are within walking distance to many social events. Mary has had the time to write her first play about Julia Morgan, which has been very well received in the world of theater. Mary has also developed a new perspective on possessions. She says they are very transitory- “Let go of them and let others enjoy them. You can’t take it with you - enjoy what you have now.”

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