And it survived through the 1970s, when the Wunderman family fought off a city bent on bulldozing the house because of its sordid history.
Despite all this, the house still stands, inconspicuous in a suburb, with no shortage of remnants and newspaper clippings to tell its story. You might have to travel to the Winchester Mystery House to find a nearby dwelling as historically strange and significant.
"This place is the coolest thing around," said Alan Wunderman, who inherited partial ownership of the 7,200-square-foot home when his father, Irwin Wunderman, passed away a year ago. As a Stanford graduate with two Ph.D.s, Irwin was an early businessman in Silicon Valley who went from working at Hewlett Packard to starting his own company, Cintra Inc. Alan said an invention of his, called the "Cintra Scientist," was an early computer.
"He was a great man," Alan said. Irwin sold his business in 1974 after a heart attack from the stress, Alan said.
Alan Wunderman grew up in the house, which the family bought in 1962.
One of the first things a visitor encounters upon entering is a 1917 Edison record player, complete with quarter-inch-thick records, that still works. The house's "Bonnie and Clyde flavor" has been kept intact with a clutter of period-piece additions — "Not that we're collectors or anything," said Wunderman sarcastically.
A 2,800-square-foot carriage house and 1,500-square-foot servants' quarters also remain, though the carriage house has been partially converted to a rental unit and workshop.
Long after Prohibition ended, people continued to enjoy parties in the house's former speakeasy, located in the basement, where illegal booze once flowed and many an enthusiastic flapper danced the Charleston on a ballroom dance floor.
Today, walking downstairs is like walking onto the set of an old movie. The walls are covered with antique paintings of nude women. Spilled liquor was caught by an intricate drain system in the cement floor. The original bar is missing, but the long cabinet behind it remains.
In a display case are bottles that once held the whiskey made by Whitehall distilleries behind the house. The lion from the Whitehall label is painted on the floor, with the word "Wunderbar" painted underneath, a twist on the family name. There's an entrance to the basement from the side of the house, and a small coat checkroom. Patrons told someone at the door, "Joe sent me."
The Kennel Club
Much is said about the house's past, but "It's all hearsay," Wunderman says.
On the top floor of the three-story house is where prostitutes once lived and worked and the Wundermans now live. The rooms are strangely shaped, and some have secret passageways. In one room there is a small window to a shower in the next room, but it's been boarded shut. "Probably for a little extra, you could have a little viewing," Wunderman said.
A guard equipped with a Tommy gun and controls for an elaborate alarm system sat by a top-story window watching the dirt road that made its way through orchards to the house.
In its heyday, the house was called the "Blue and Gold Kennel Club." A greyhound racetrack in the back had grandstands for as many as 300 people. The previous owner dismantled the track and bleachers.
One old newspaper article described a five-acre antennae system, long since removed, that was used for sending greyhound race scores to bookies around the country. Wunderman remembers playing behind the house as a kid and digging up old bottles, noticing that the gangsters must have buried their trash.
When the Wundermans bought the house, there was an option to buy the 13 acres behind it as well. "If we had only known," Wunderman said, referring to how much that property would be worth today. The Mormon Church eventually bought the land. It is now a suburban neighborhood, along with all the orchards that once surrounded the house.
A shady past
The law seems to have ignored the operation throughout Prohibition, from 1920 to 1933. No police raid occurred until several days after Prohibition ended — because, as one old newspaper article put it, "The militant neighbors were able to purchase their fun more inexpensively."
According to a Mountain View Register-Leader article dated Dec. 22, 1933, George White, a Chicago gangster, came forward as the man in charge at the house and was arrested. He was later released on $500 bail and never indicted.
White sold the house to Whitehall distilleries in 1935, but managed to get the house back a few years later. A shooting brought federal agents to the house in 1939, which led to its placement on the auction block.
Harold Skinner, a San Francisco engineer, bought the house and the 13 acres behind it for $8,000. Skinner was able to leave much from the "sporting house" days intact until Irwin and Gilda Wunderman bought it in 1962.
According to one newspaper article, Skinner once received a visit from a man who knocked on the door and talked about how much he loved the house, said his name was George White and walked away.
In the living room is a painting reportedly commissioned by the house's owners in 1922. A prostitute sits in a chair wearing a shawl, a beaded necklace and a strapless dress. Her parents stand a few feet away with their arms outstretched. The painting is titled "Why?"
The Wundermans had their share of fun in the house as well. A large photo album keeps track of parties held in the basement, including election fundraisers, petition signing "soirees," and Stanford alumni parties. One picture shows a serious-looking man with horn-rimmed glasses and the words "Wanted, for indecent exposure at Wunderman party."
The Wundermans weren't averse to inviting the press to the house, even for the parties. The album contains numerous articles written about the house over the years.
Irwin Wunderman fought several battles with a city bent on developing the area around his house, telling a reporter in the 1970s that "it's been a battle from day one." In fighting development, he also fought annexation, which is partly why the house sat on county land for so long.
"We don't want what the city calls improvements," said neighbor Helen Nelson in an old newspaper article. Another neighbor characterized the fight as a "battle for survival."
Last month, the Wunderman home finally moved into Mountain View's jurisdiction, when the city annexed a few pockets of unincorporated county land, ending the family's earlier battle to keep the property out of the city.
This story contains 1148 words.
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