Try as they might, a group of seniors who want to build communal housing at 445 Calderon Avenue say it is not economically feasible to design their 19-unit condo complex around the 1880s house in the middle of the large lot. Instead of demolishing it, they are hoping to find a new address for the Victorian farmhouse known as the Bakotich house.
Susan Burwen, who is organizing the co-housing effort with her husband David, secured the 1.3 acres adjacent to Landels Elementary School last year with the help of investors. Now Susan Burwen says their architect, co-housing guru Charles Durrett, has come up with 30 designs for the project, but none were able to incorporate the 19-unit condo building and the 1,700-square-foot-home, even if moved to a different part of the property.
A house from another era
As it sits now, the Bakotich house is nice enough that its current tenants say they wished they could stay longer than the year and half they agreed to. It was built in the 1880s and hasn't been changed much since then. Though it appears to have been maintained, Burwen said it will likely need new plumbing and electrical, among other things.
Nick Perry, author of numerous articles on Mountain View history, once wrote that visiting the orchard-encompassed Victorian farmhouse "is like stepping into another era." It is widely believed to be the city's second oldest house after the 1867 Rengstorff House, which was moved to Shoreline Park and lovingly restored.
The house was last owned by Anne Bakotich, who died in 2007. Her family had lived in the home since the 1920s and it was sold last year to divide the value among Bakotich's nine nieces and grandchildren. It is still surrounded by walnut trees, remnants of the orchards that once covered the entire neighborhood.
While it is relatively plain inside, City Council member Jac Siegel said it is a "nice example" of a farmhouse of the era. If found to be the only way to save it, Siegel said he would be willing to support moving the house in any way possible, even if it means using some city resources or waiving city permit fees.
A company that specializes in moving large structures estimated the cost of moving the Bakotich home between $40,000 and $60,000. Jana Trost of Trost Jacking and Heavy Moving said that does not include the cost of a new foundation, and charges by utility companies to move any utility lines that may be in the way. Some have found it cheaper to simply remove a home's roof to gain clearance if the roof is higher than about 18 feet, Trost said.
Even with all those expenses adding up, it appears that moving the house may be a bargain compared to building a new home, which can easily cost more than $600,000.
Burwen said her group may be willing to pay the house's buyer some money to move it away.
Burwen said she and her husband enjoyed living on a commune during the 1960s and wanted to pursue the project even before learning that "senior co-housing" was an existing phenomenon, with numerous senior co-housing communities throughout the country and architects who specialize in it.
Life in the proposed co-housing development would revolve around a 4,000-square-foot common house where people get their mail and use a common kitchen, media room, crafts room and a workshop, among other things.
A third possibility
While it could be demolished or moved, there is also a third option for the house, which is to leave it on the site and possibly move it to a different spot. Zoning administrator Peter Gilli warned that the city is "trying to find ways to encourage the house to be part of the project."
Siegel said that was also his favorite option.
But making room for the house somewhere on the site may reduce the size of the condo building, spreading the cost more thickly among buyers. Everyone agrees that the project is already expensive, with an underground parking garage and an elevator pushing up prices, which range from $750,000 for a 1,370-square-foot unit to $1.25 million for a 2,050-square-foot unit.
"That's the critical issue," Gilli said. "If it becomes so expensive that they can't attract buyers the whole project stops."
More information about the project is available online.