Mountain View Voice

News - March 1, 2013

A big day for a little house

by Daniel DeBolt

A piece of the city's history was not only saved last Friday, but was ceremoniously trucked down Castro Street in an unusual spectacle.

After a successful campaign to save it, the oldest and smallest home in downtown Mountain View was spared the wrecking ball on Feb. 22. and escorted by police down Castro Street towards its temporary home next to an orchard on Whisman Road.

It's unclear when the "Immigrant House" — formerly of 166 Bryant St. — was built because of missing government records, but it is believed to be sometime before 1888. The home is like many that once existed when migrant workers once came to work in the Valley's orchards. Several such homes were saved and placed in San Jose's Kelley Park.

Watching the home turn the corner onto Castro Street as she followed behind "was a moment I'll remember all my life," said Marina Marinovich, who has organized a campaign to save the home.

Her father and grandparents lived in the house after they arrived as immigrants from Croatia in the 1920s and 1930s, and in her youth, her best friend lived there as an artist. She's even written a song in tribute to the house, which can be heard on Youtube.

With the infectious enthusiasm that has characterized her campaign, Marinovich gathered house movers, city employees, preservationists and journalists for a quick speech just after 9 a.m.

"Let's visualize lots of positive energy going over to the yard," Marinovich said of the house's temporary site. "It's going to be happy at the yard and eventually make its way to its permanent home."

As the truck carefully tugged the Immigrant House away from its home for the last 120-plus years, "a wave of emotion came over me," Marinovich said.

To make way for a four-story office building, Mountain View's City Council voted on Feb. 1 to save the home as a sort of history exhibit, budgeting $32,000 for the move. The council will soon decide on a permanent location for it while Marinovich is set to begin raising funds to restore it.

On Friday, the move made for a sort of "a victory parade with full police escort and fanfare," Marinovich said.

Her friend who coined the name "Immigrant House," Diane Solomon, "was cheering from the passenger seat out of the window of my car: 'Immigrant House! Yahoo! We saved It!'" Marinovich said. "The surreal moment for me was watching the little house navigate its way onto Castro Street, metaphorically 'turning the corner' to the next step on its adventure."

The 400-square-foot square foot home, originally built without a frame, had been surgically cut away from its foundation by Michael Meyer Woodworking. Boards bolted to its siding made a brace for the steel beams placed underneath for trailer support. A bathroom structure added to the back was also carefully removed, having been deemed not worth saving.

The home was trailered down a route chosen to avoid power lines and street lights, some of which were narrowly missed, down Villa Street, Castro Street and Moffett Boulevard to Middlefield Road, drawing attention from all around as if it were a parade float.

When the entourage arrived at the city's Municipal Operations Yard on Whisman Road, a crowd of city employees came out of the offices nearby and watched as it was pulled to the back of the yard and placed along the edge of the adjacent apricot orchard, which seemed fitting.

"It felt like the little house will be enjoying a respite before it goes back into service for the community," Marinovich said.

Downtown's Pioneer Park and a city lot on Shoreline Boulevard near Eagle Park seem to be a popular locations to place it permanently. It's unclear when that will happen.

"Within the next two years, for sure," Marinovich said. "I hope this summer. Why not this summer?"

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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