While undergoing a major face-lift, this beauty had a couple of layers of skin peeled and now appears to be in the prime of life – despite being 100 years old.
We’re talking about the house built for Los Altos founder Paul Shoup and his wife, Rose, lovingly restored by Tricia and Bill Jennings, just in time for its centennial.
The Jennings family has lived in the Craftsman-style house at 500 University Ave. for seven years, nearly half of which have been spent researching its history, drafting plans, securing permits and going through a lengthy architectural review process. They began restoration work last November.
Because the certificate of completion of the house is dated Nov. 21, 1910, their goal was to complete the work by this Nov. 21.
“We said if we made it, we’d open it for a party,” Tricia said.
That’s just what’s happening. There will be a gala party Saturday evening, Nov. 13, to benefit the Los Altos History Museum. Among the guests will be Shoup family members as well as preservation architect Michael Garavaglia of San Francisco and restoration consultant and author Jane Powell of Berkeley, both of whom played important roles in the project.
The Jenningses, who moved out when the project began, won’t be the first people to sleep in the “new” house. Members of the Shoup family attending the celebration will have that honor.
“It will be like a sleepover in the 1930s, when they visited their grandparents,” Tricia said. “We’re moving beds upstairs for them, but we won’t be moving anything else in until after the party.”
Despite changes made by the Hauck (1942-1967) and Day (1967-2002) families, the house will appear familiar to them because of the efforts to return it to its original glory.
Father Larry Percell of St. Nicholas Parish in Los Altos will bless the house the day before the celebration. In addition, History Museum officials have scheduled a gathering to view archival material relating to the Shoups.
Layers of flooring throughout the house were removed to reveal the original narrow-plank wood floors, which were sanded and refinished. In one room, for example, there was wall-to-wall carpeting covering a wood-veneer floor over the plank floor.
When they pulled up the veneer floor in the dining room, they discovered the original wiring for the call bell, which Rose Shoup would have pushed with her foot to summon the maid.
Another dining-room discovery – after peeling off some paneling – was evidence that the fireplace had been moved. It is back where it belongs, along with the original mantel and a handcrafted Motawi-tile surround appropriate to the period.
“The fireplace never worked well. Now we know why,” Tricia said.
She likened the restoration process to an “archaeological dig.”
The back of the basement door provided the only clue to the original color of the Douglas fir woodwork. Everything – ceiling beams, arched doorjambs, carved paneling, baseboards – had been painted with white lead paint.
The paint was stripped and the wood stained the rich dark brown of the basement door. Given that the house has 4,500 square feet, this was no easy feat.
There were basic problems to address, ranging from wiring to windows. For example, some of the electrical is early-day knob and tube wiring, common from 1880 to the 1930s, and the windows in the dining and living rooms were painted shut.
But, back to the aesthetics. Previous owners had “modernized” the living room fireplace by covering it with 12-inch brown tiles and removing the mantel. And, they installed 19 can lights in the ceiling.
The fireplace now boasts its original mantel, which Tricia discovered in the basement. But selecting the tile proved to be a challenge. On the first go-round, Becky Urbano, an associate of Garavaglia’s, told Tricia that it looked “too 1930s and not 1910.”
Living-room light fixtures will hang from the original ceiling outlets, revealed when the can lights were removed.
Tricia chose white flat “subway” tile set horizontally for the kitchen and bathrooms – something that would have been used in the early 1900s.
The kitchen walls are covered in the original beadboard, another discovery that had been camouflaged. The beadboard was removed, stripped, cut and repainted onsite. The floor is linoleum, the countertops soapstone and the island topped with bubinga, a West African wood.
Professional chef Don Silvers of Los Angeles designed the kitchen, creating a large functional space from a chopped-up area, the result of earlier remodels. For example, a butler’s pantry is where the servants’ staircase used to be.
The bathrooms appear original to the house. Gone is the track lighting with the big globe lights over the vanity sinks. Exiled, too, are the coved-linoleum floors. Instead, the floors are tiled in a hexagonal pattern, the sinks are vintage pedestal models and the clawfoot tubs are circa 1898.
To create a master suite upstairs, some of the rooms were reconfigured, but the footprint remains the same. Just off the master bedroom is a tiny atticlike room with built-in cabinetry, a three-way mirror and knob and tube wiring. It was Paul Shoup’s dressing room. He would be surprised to learn that Tricia has converted it to her laundry room.
The house features a bold color palette – burnt orange, Tuscan gold, teal blue and fern green.
“If you take away the color, the house is plain,” Tricia said. “Brown wood, white kitchen, white bathrooms.”
Speaking of bold, how did Tricia and Bill end up doing what they’ve done?
“I’ve always loved old houses,” Tricia said. “My husband likes new and modern, but he has come to embrace the old-house mentality.”
The couple was living on Cherry Avenue in Los Altos. Tricia was two days away from delivering their first child, Olivia, now 7. They just happened by, saw the “for sale” sign and stopped. She fell in love with the house. It turned out to be her “baby” present.
They moved in with an infant and another child on the way, William, now 6. They were living with history, but that only goes so far – especially when Henry, now 4, joined the family.
Tricia, an attorney before becoming a full-time mother, and Bill, vice president of engineering for Symmetricom in San Jose, decided it was time to restore the house, because “if we were ever to move, we would never find another crazy woman like me to want to buy it.”
The couple met with Los Altos architect Walter Chapman for a year, “every Wednesday for two hours after the kids had gone to bed,” Tricia said.
Later, Garavaglia, Powell and contractor Chris Blackwell of Campbell joined the Jennings team.
And the rest is history – restored.