Offer to move, restore historic home

Offices would replace run-down Pearson House on Villa Street

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."


Like this comment
Posted by Concerned
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 3, 2011 at 4:04 pm

At the Cuesta Park Neighborhood Association meeting, Burnell appeared to be speaking on behalf of the Mountain View Historical Association. It now appears that he's speaking on his own behalf to try to do a development deal that's contingent on offloading the house on MVHA and the Cuesta Park Annex.

Like this comment
Posted by Concept B
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 3, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Rather than having this house "in addition to" the museum in the annex maybe this house should "be" the museum. It is much smaller and more in line with the original concept of a small cultural/agricutural building.

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Posted by Jojo Galle
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 3, 2011 at 9:10 pm

The house currently is an eye sore and brings down the entire neighborhood. I think that moving and restoring the Pearson house is a double win for the Mountain View community.

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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 3, 2011 at 9:20 pm

The house is an eyesore and should be removed, but it is not a historically important house and it does not belong in the natural setting of Cuesta Park Annex. If the city and developer really want to restore the house, they should buy a distressed property in Old Mountain View, move and restore the house there and sell it as a private residence. The current plan for a history museum in Cuesta Park Annex is a huge monstrosity that will destroy the natural beauty of the Annex and adding another building to the plan does not improve it.

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Posted by Another CP Neighbor
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 4, 2011 at 7:03 am

The annex is an utter eyesore, filled with dog crap, beer bottles, and neighborhood granola munchers. The house (and the flood basin) and the proposed museum could only improve it, the whining of a small number of people with nothing better to do to the contrary.

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Posted by Political Insider
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 4, 2011 at 11:58 am

Great points CP. What you have here is all of the whiners who wanted option A - do nothing but settled for option B because they were afraid that the city might put usable fields in the annex to accommodate the field users. All of these people now claim the proposed history museum is too big even though they supported the concept. Talk about sleaziness. Stick the deal.

Or maybe council should open up the process again to the entire community and lets see what happens.

Like this comment
Posted by A
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Mar 4, 2011 at 12:51 pm

"Or maybe council should open up the process again to the entire community and lets see what happens."

A third time?
Will the outcome be different?

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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 4, 2011 at 1:40 pm

@Another CP Neighbor

It's not a small minority who think the Annex should remain natural, it is the most popular option based on the City's own random survey of 423 people in 2006. The most popular of eight options was "Nature Trail" which is largely what it is today. The "History Museum" was second to last.

At the CPNA City Council Candidate Debate last fall, one of the candidates asked the 60 or so assembled neighbors who supports the proposed History Museum in the Annex. Not a single person raised their hand.

@Political Insider

There's nothing sleazy about the people who wanted Concept B being unhappy with the ever expanding size of the history museum plan. What was in Concept B was a 'Structure with restrooms' that looked relatively small. When the details of the history museum were proposed, many people objected to a 35 foot tall building that will dominate the views in the Annex. The council has basically rubber stamped everything the MVHA has proposed at the site, but most of the public input has been against the design. I'd like to know how much money the MVHA has raised in community support for this idea. That will be the measure of its popularity.

Now they want to add another building with a security fence around it. It suggests that the development proposals for the Annex will just keep coming.

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Posted by plazno
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 4, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Gee, what would they do in Palo Alto?? Restart the process because someone finally aid attention and is not happy, stirring up all sorts of knee-jerk alarm. We do have a good five years of going in circles before we get to that level. Let's not start chasing our own tails here.

The annex is not a natural preserve and is currently a messy and little-enjoyed space. The "monstrosity" proposed is a relatively modest impingement on this amount of land, with no close neighbors who will suffer. The old building is not a distinguished or truly historic one - it is just an old, rundown place that served its purpose and is now finished. Something beautiful and much more useful could likely be built for a good chunk of the cost of moving and restoring it - a green showplace, for example, in a style that reflects local history?

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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Mar 4, 2011 at 3:58 pm

I grew up near the annex, it would be cool to have a history and farm center, a working farm where you can be fruit or preserved friut, see fruit being dried. The old Parson home being used as a place to show an old Mtn View family what is was like living on the farm. Old family photos on the wall, old letter jacket on a bed, fruit being prserved in the kitchen. Radio Broadcasts, old TV in the corner, old evening newspaper on a chair in the living room, knitting on the cocch, toys and books on a shelf or on another bed. It would be a working farm so it would have a veggie garden a flower garden grown from Ferry Morse Seeds. Old farm tools and a truck, with a old car. Right now the annex is being used for what so peolpe can walk with their dog.

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Posted by Political Insider
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 4, 2011 at 8:44 pm

@Neighbor. Clearly ignoring other information. It 's sleazy to support an option and then object to everything. MVHA had a plan available and everyone knew what it looked like. Hard to understand when they are looking at a parking structure similar in height. Some of the whiners had no problem and now claim they object. They dont want anything built. How does that square with their earlier support of option B.

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Posted by DCS
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 5, 2011 at 7:52 am

@Garrett - I like your vision for this old house.

I don't know much about the Cuesta Annex, but my condo overlooks the Pearson home and I have looked at the concept plans for the office building. I hope Mr. Burnell tries to get support from those who will live next to this new development, not just those who live near the Cuesta Annex.

The Pearson home is dilapidated, but it's not ugly in my opinion. It can be renovated to look like what it once was, and I 'm sure more people will like it then.

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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 5, 2011 at 9:31 am

@Political Insider

I think you are misremembering the sequence of events. When Concept B was approved in 2006, there was no detailed plan from MVHA -- the structure was not even specifically identified as a history museum in Concept B, though the history museum was discussed.

The details of the history museum plan were not available until 2008. That's when many people objected to the size, height, and placement of the building. These concerns were ignored -- no changes were made to the design as a result of this public input.

So it is not surprising that these concerns are still there and the history museum plan still has widespread opposition in the community.

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Posted by JRF
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 5, 2011 at 10:07 am

I own a house around the corner from the Pearson house and would like to see it removed. However, I also enjoy the Cuesta Park Annex as a natural open space -- it's beautiful right now with the tall grass and flowering trees. I don't think we should build on our limited open space. There must be other places more appropriate for the Pearson house.

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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Mar 5, 2011 at 1:25 pm

DCS The annex was part of the Higgins farm, the back part was a school site, the front part was planned homes in the 70'a, rhis was all part of the Higgins tract. The Higgins home stood on Grant Rd.
Many places use old homes as a history center, the annex can keep is nature but also a working farm, the tree will once again blossom but bear fruit. Walkers you can walk around this bit of history.

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Posted by Seer
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 7, 2011 at 2:20 pm

This expensive obsession with history is a distraction from focusing on the present. What is the best option for the Cuesta Park Annex and for the Pearson property if we stop worrying about preserving a past which does little more than satisfy people's need for nostalgia? For the Pearson property, *anything* except letting the house stay there would be an improvement, and a mixed office/retail structure would complement downtown nicely. For the annex, since the flood control options seem to be getting little support, leaving it as-is is becoming a viable option, as opposed to building an expensive museum that serves a tiny minority of citizens while creating another eyesore that ruins the openness of the place.

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Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Whisman Station
on Mar 8, 2011 at 7:54 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

( PS, the login system is buggier than a bait store )

To do this right look at the examples of various history museums in cities like the ones around Denver and in Northern Wisconsin. The LAKEWOOD Heritage Museum set-up is probably closest to what is wanted, but on a smaller scale. Evergreen has it's Hiwan Homestead Museum, and some towns ( like Chippewas Falls ) has a little zoo/museum inside the city limits.

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

So get off your NIMBY 'tudes, restore the house and get the attraction built!

Like this comment
Posted by Political Insider
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 8, 2011 at 10:42 pm

@ neighbor

I am not mis remembering anything. The project was not ID'd as you state but the history group was very clear about what they wanted to do and so were the people who cut a deal with them. Not all Cuesta neighbors were aware of the deal being cut but some of the most vocal annex people were aware of the size of the project. They knew it would be a history museum much like the one in LA. IN fact council clarified this at a later meeting when some annex people feigned ignorance about the structure being a history museum.

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