Mon09012014

The new year brings another change: A Piece of My Mind

Its new owners plan to tear down the house across the street and build a new two-story house with a basement in its place. It is a perfectly good house, a 1950s three-bedroom, two-bath ranch style with the kitchen in front and the patio in back nestled in a deep backyard filled with fruit trees. These are only the third owners.

The first owners were airline pilots. During World War II, she ferried warplanes across the country and he flew B-29s over Japan. Then he piloted 707s for Pan Am. The house, part of the new San Antonio development, was built after the war.

At some point in the late ’50s, the original owners built a two-story addition behind the garage, which included a bathroom, family room and fireplace downstairs, and a playroom and additional bedroom upstairs to accommodate their growing family. The owners did much of the work themselves – the staircase was narrow and lacked a banister. It would never pass code today.

The children grew up and moved away, and the wife became the dowager overseer of the street. From her strategically placed kitchen window, she could see anyone arriving or leaving up or down the street or coming around the corner. She made no secret of her vigilance. Once, when I was a teenager and my parents were planning to go out of town, our neighbor came over to ask my mother, “If I see a strange car parked overnight while you’re gone and Allyson is home, do you want me to tell you or not?”

The first owners aged and moved to be closer to one of their children. They left the house empty for more than 30 years. Proposition 13 kept their taxes minuscule, so it was cheap storage, and convenient to stay in when they visited friends on the Peninsula. One day the grown children returned, cleared out the house and sold it.

The second owners were a young family, also with children. They loved the vintage ranch style of the house, the avocado and terra-cotta wallpaper in the kitchen, the rice paper on the walls of the living room, even the bead curtain in the kitchen window. They put on a new roof and installed new windows. They built an elaborate playhouse in the backyard for their children and hosted a guacamole party for the neighborhood when the avocado tree was in fruit.

But the enthusiasm didn’t last. After only a couple of years, the wife found a vintage Craftsman fixer-upper in north Los Altos that was even more of a challenge. The house across the street went up for sale again. It sold to another young couple with children at roughly 1,000 times its original cost.

It was the deep backyard that had captivated the new owners. They came over to show us their plans for a new house on the lot.

“We’ll have the family room and kitchen at the back overlooking the new swimming pool. The kids will play in the back – they won’t bother you. In front there will be just a home office and bedrooms. We want to use as much of the backyard as we can. We’ll plant trees in the front so that the house won’t look so big.”

The change makes me sad: sad to see the old house go; sad that the new family plans to be invisible in their backyard behind their two-stories-plus-basement; sad that there will be no eagle eye on the street, unless it’s mine.

My kitchen does face the corner.

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