Judith Glass and Sheila Sabine, in their twenty-five
years of representing buyers and sellers, often hear a common concern from their
clients." Our house is too big but we donít know where to go next". One such
couple was Bill and Madeline Jay. They owned a spacious 5-bedroom, 2-bath home
with large gardens on a lovely tree-lined street in Sheffield Village near
Oaklandís historic Dunsmuir House. Madeline wanted to focus on a four-year plan,
which involved retirement. She felt that too many retired people ended up in a
place where they were unable to walk to stores and restaurants and eventually
had to move again.
The Jays were really clear that they wanted to be
able to walk everywhere. They wanted to feel a sense of community, and they
wanted to be able to transfer their tax base. They fell in love with the Elmwood
and Rockridge neighborhoods of Berkeley and Oakland but most of the houses were
simply out of their price range. They began to explore multi-unit dwellings and
learned that they could transfer their tax base if they bought one of the units
and lived in it.
At a Sunday open house, they stumbled upon a
tenant-in-common Victorian style home on Webster Street in the heart of the
Elmwood District. The unit in the charming building had twelve-foot high
ceilings, a huge living room, two bedrooms, original windows, and Italianate
Victorian details. It was surrounded by private and rather overgrown gardens.
They would have fifty per cent interest in the four-unit building. After the
usual round of negotiations, inspections, and escrow details, the place was
Because life is never perfect, one of the biggest
challenges was the small and dark galley-style kitchen. With some creative
designing on their part, they re-configured the space and ended up with a large
kitchen/dining area - even discovering a previously covered-up window in the
remodeling process, which added even more light. The transformation process took
almost three months. The new kitchen was finally finished two days before
Thanksgiving. To inaugurate the new space, they invited everyone in the house
Besides the kitchen remodeling project, Madeline,
the gardener of the family, rolled up her sleeves and began planting colorful
roses, drought- tolerant plants, herbs and tomatoes in the rather neglected
garden. They were delighted to find an old Victorian follie, a sort of gazebo,
on the grounds and learned that it had been found in the garage back in the
60ís. All the neighborhood walkers immensely enjoy watching Madelineís garden as
it continues to change from season to season.
Besides being a gardener, Madeline is a real
history buff. She wanted to know more about this grand house and was frustrated
that no one knew exactly when the house was built. She spent days going through
county records and visiting Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association
gathering information. She pieced together a fascinating story and has a binder
about three inches thick full of newspaper clippings and related information.
The house indeed has a very colorful history and turns out to be the oldest home
in the neighborhood. The original land was owned by various parties including
Pacific Land Trust, Vicente Peralta, and Phoebe Hearst, mother of Randolph
Hearst. In 1878, a man by the name of McKusick, who worked in the Gold Country
and later became a state senator, bought the land and built the original home.
He married a woman with a deaf son who attended the California School for the
Blind near the UC Berkeley campus. The house was originally a single-family
residence with twelve-foot high ceilings, many rooms for the family and guests,
as well as an exterior sitting porch.
In 1906, the house was moved back to the side of
the property by a team of either oxen or mules to create Magnolia Street. In
1916, it was moved again to create more space for three more homes on Magnolia.
One of the most notorious owners was Grace
Burroughs who had the house from 1937-1949. She was one of the first women to
graduate from Stanford in 1909. She also obtained a divorce on the grounds that
her current husband did not really appreciate her art. The newspapers loved her
and her colorful life kept reporters very busy. The Jays feel that all the
former owners just come to life again and continue to live with them in the
present. The Jays believe that any house in the area comes with its own history.
It just requires a bit of sleuthing.
Sheila asked Bill and Madeline what advise they
would give our readers.
"Always go for your first choice and go for your
"Be prepared that sometimes your dream might take
a different form. We never expected to live in shared housing. Our biggest worry
was how to live in a multi-unit building. This has been effortless. We had an
instant community. The neighbors had a party for us right away and we have
developed true friendships in a short period of time."
Sheila would like to add that Bill and Madeline
would be great neighbors, wherever they live, their own curiosity and kindness
towards everyone is quite remarkable.
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