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March 11, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, March 11, 2005

Unearthing history Unearthing history (March 11, 2005)

Weilheimer renovation leads to surprising finds

By Allison Gerard

Terry Kline must feel like an archaeologist. Ever since he started chiseling away at his family's 124 and 128 Castro Street building nearly a year ago, he's been uncovering artifacts more than a century old.

The oldest commercial building in Mountain View, the Weilheimer building is named after the general store it housed in the late 1800s. From those early days, Kline has discovered numerous bottles some with the corks still in them, a harmonica and leather shoes. He's found what appear to be old sardine cans, a mousetrap and letters dated from the time period.

"I've just been peeling back the years like you would peel an onion," said Kline.

He has been assembling these items, which he has found in the walls and in a basement that has been sealed for 100 years, on the floor as a sort of shrine to the building's past. Kline's attachment to the building and its history is preventing him from cleaning the dirt off of the old bottles, which he feels look best still dusty with history.

Built in 1874, the Weilheimer building has also housed a furniture store, a market, the Workingman's Store and most recently, restaurants Szechuan Garden and Thai-Rific. Due to the various tenants, the original character of the building has long been forgotten. Kline's parents have owned the building since the late '50's and ran the Workingman's Store.

"The best thing I've done so far for this building is to give it air," Kline said. "The only way to get it back to its original structure is to let it breathe."

The building's brick wall is now visible after years of mortar and stucco have been removed. Kline points out the boards used for the rafters and roof support and how they have been cut. The uneven edges and curving of the boards are very different from the mass-produced ones today he said. Kline speculates the boards were cut on site during the building of the store.

It's these raw boards that prompt Kline to note how the building methods of long ago have stood the test of time.

"The new stuff comes and goes, but it was this building that made it through the earthquake in 1906," he said proudly.

Alison Hicks of the Mountain View Preservation Alliance agrees that refurbishing the building will benefit the city.

"In my opinion those first few blocks of Castro Street are what really give it it's character and if that area is preserved it makes the city more inviting," said Hicks.

Kline has big plans for the building after it's refurbished he said, he's just not sure yet what they are. Some possibilities are a bookstore, coffee house, gallery for local art or maybe a café.

"I'm letting the building guide me as I discover the history around it," he said. "It'll tell me what it needs next."

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