Historic home may be razed for office building
City Council members put the fate of a historic downtown home into the hands of developer Roger Burnell on Tuesday night, allowing him to demolish it if it can't be moved elsewhere.
The council voted 5-2 to allow Burnell to build a four-story office building on a quarter-acre site at 902 Villa Street, current site of the Pearson House, built in the 1870s and one of the first homes built downtown.
Council members said after several failed attempts to save the house failed, it was time to move on even if it meant demolishing it. Some expressed interest in moving the house onto a nearby downtown parking lot until a new site could be found, or to Shoreline Park where it could be restored near the Rengstorff House. But saving the house was not made a requirement for Burnell, and neither he or the council made any promises Tuesday night.
"Everyone wants to save the house but nobody wants to take it," said council member Laura Macias. "If you want a house, it seems that Roger has a house for you."
The Michelin star-rated gourmet restaurant next door, Chez TJ, switched from opponent to supporter at the meeting, with volunteer gardener Louise Christy saying Burnell had offered to help pay for a garden that could grow despite new shade from the four-story building.
Council member Jac Siegel and Ronit Bryant opposed the project and the demolition of the Pearson House, with Siegel saying it set a bad precedent for bulldozing historic homes in the city. Bryant said the office building would contribute to the "homogenization" of downtown and did not justify demolition of the house. The office building will also be the first to have a parking garage on the first floor, something that neighbors complained about and which Siegel and Bryant said other developers may copy.
Council members recalled that controversy over a proposal for the site years ago spurred the city's historic building ordinance, which inadvertently ended up putting dozens of old Mountain View homes onto a state historic register. The proposed demolition required an environmental impact report, which found the home of early Mountain View businessman Charles Pearson "locally significant and historic" and that demolition would cause a "significant and unavoidable impact."
It turns out the Pearson House isn't the only historic structure on the site. A tiny shack-like house that might be mistaken for a shed is actually the last immigrant farm worker house in Mountain View, according to Los Altos resident Mary Marinovich who said her grandparents lived in it as immigrant workers 100 years ago. At one point, there were many like it in the valley and four others have been restored at San Jose's Kelley Park.
Council members expressed interest in restoring the small house and moving it to Shoreline Park. At the end of the discussion, Mayor Kasperzak said he saw "I think, a higher interest in the immigrant house than the Pearson house" among council members.
"We restored the Rengstorff House, let's also show how the workers lived here," Siegel said. "It wouldn't be a big deal to have it moved out to Shoreline."
Steven Aldrich, CEO of Mountain View's Outright.com, expressed interest in moving into the 21,745 square foot office building as the only available space large enough to allow the company to grow downtown. Burnell recently upped the environmental friendliness of the building to LEED gold standards while a historic display about the Pearson House may be part of a 932-square-foot retail or restaurant space that would share the first floor with the garage.
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