The dilapidated 1880s home at 902 Villa St. near Chez TJ could become a major part of a Mountain View history museum under a proposal by developer Roger Burnell.
A "sale pending" sign now hangs out front of the house as Burnell tries to build community support for his proposal to move the house to the Cuesta Annex and restore it on his own dime. He wants to make room for a high quality office building, and possibly a coffee shop or retail space on the ground floor.
But sitting in the way is the house, which Burnell said was built before 1887. Planning director Randy Tsuda said it could be legally demolished, but whether the City Council would allow that is uncertain. "You can't just tear it down and throw it away," said Mayor Jac Siegel.
Burnell called his plan for the house a "win-win" solution, allowing for the economic development the city wants downtown while also preserving city history. Office space is in unusually high demand downtown, he said.
A former Mountain View resident, Burnell said he has "a passion" for the museum project and local history, and is a member of the Mountain View Historical Association. He also has experience restoring historic buildings, including the Alliance Land building in San Jose.
"We've had a lot of inquiries on the property," Tsuda said, but this is the "first proposal of any specificity. A lot of the developers who inquire "don't have experience with historic houses. That gives him (Burnell) an advantage," he said.
Burnell wants to move the house to the rear of the Cuesta Annex and would pay for its restoration. The City Council has approved conceptual plans for a city history museum now under development by the Historical Association.
The home's first owner is believed to be Swedish immigrant Charles Pearson, who once owned a general store two blocks away on Castro Street, Burnell said. In "The History of Santa Clara County," Pearson is described "a pioneer citizen of Mountain View" who spent many years in Mountain View as a businessman and rancher. Mr. and Mrs. Charles Pearson lived many happy years in their "modest home on Villa Street," according to a front page 1933 article in The Mountain View Register Leader about the couple's 50th wedding anniversary.
Burnell said the restored home could include artifacts representing the story of "an immigrant coming to America and serving the community."
Proposed demo sparks ordinance
When it was proposed for demolition in 2001 to make way for a noodle house, the Pearson House sparked an effort to create an ordinance that would protect dozens of historic buildings in Mountain View. While the council eventually approved a relatively toothless historic building ordinance that allowed owners to opt out of its protections, the Pearson House managed to survive as one of 39 properties that were not opted out of the ordinance. But court decisions have since made those protections legally irrelevant, Tsuda said.
Burnell believes the The Pearson House is the city's fourth-oldest home, after the Rengstorff House, the Bakotich House and 1076 Wright Avenue.
It was to be saved in a 2005 plan approved by the council for a five-unit apartment building that would have been squeezed on the lot behind the home, but that plan that never came to fruition.
The Pearson house was last home to Forgotten Treasures, a used toy store. But for half a decade the house has sat unused and in disrepair, with temporary beams holding up the overhanging porch. The City Council briefly entertained the idea of purchasing the property last year, presumably to encourage its restoration.
Controversial with some
Burnell's plan was not well received at a meeting of the Cuesta Park Neighborhood Association, where he gave a presentation on the topic to a crowd that has opposed locating the history museum at the Annex, an untouched piece of city-owned open space with a view of the mountains.
"He walked into a hornet's nest," said Siegel, who attended the meeting. "No one understood why he wanted to do what he was doing" other than to make room for his office project. "It's not a particularly good-looking house."
Siegel added that the house is not part of the concept the City Council has approved for the museum.
In an e-mail, chair of the museum project team Bob Weaver said the MVHA had not formally endorsed Burnell's plan.
The MVHA is "sharing relevant information with Roger Burnell without an endorsement by the MVHA to allow him to determine whether the inclusion, at his expense, of a restored history period house with the Museum is even feasible," Weaver wrote.
"It takes a balancing act to pull off something like this," Burnell admits. "Nobody has gone this far before in doing something useful with the property."