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The quest to preserve Immigrant House

Photo By: Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Photo Photos By Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

Mary Kay Marinovich is on a mission to preserve Mountain View’s circa-1880s Immigrant House.

Mary Kay Marinovich proves the reliability of that old adage that one person can make a big difference.

The Los Altos resident has successfully spearheaded the effort to preserve a small, inconspicuous structure in downtown Mountain View that once housed immigrant families in the city’s early days.

Marinovich is inspired by personal history. Her family members from Croatia once lived in what is called “Immigrant House” at 166 Bryant St.

She remembers a friend of hers renting the house for $96 a month in the 1970s.

“We did Shakespeare and wrote plays here,” Marinovich said, standing in the living room. “The house has got a great vibe.”

Marinovich began her quest to preserve Immigrant House when she learned in July that developer Roger Burnell’s application to construct a 21,750-square-foot office building on the site met with Mountain View City Council approval.

Faced with losing the source of her memories, Marinovich pulled out all the stops. She led a petition drive, conducted face-to-face meetings with councilmembers and even wrote and performed a song about the house for a YouTube video (www.youtube.com/watch?v=AySFowHKnxA).

The city council approved preserving the building in October. Members OK’d a plan Jan. 29 that would fund $32,000 to move the 400-square-foot structure, built in the 1880s, to the city’s Municipal Operations Center on Whisman Road for no more than three years. The time would give city officials an opportunity to decide where to relocate the building permanently.

Burnell said his firm, Arnell Enterprises Inc., is taking charge of the move, scheduled for Sunday.

“We are contributing toward the engineering, (hazardous materials) remediation, management, administration and partial moving costs, and then also posting up the remainder of the funds for the balance until the city catches up and reimburses us,” he said. “Doing this saves much time, and almost two-thirds of what it would cost (the city), when one compares the bids.”

Burnell plans to begin construction on his project next month and finish the basic building by the end of October.

The search for a new site

A host of new locations for Immigrant House have been discussed, including placement at city-owned lots along Shoreline Boulevard, parkland around police headquarters, Pioneer Park and Eagle Park. Supporters said the house could be used for a variety of purposes, including as a small museum or meeting room.

“Preserving this little house will afford the opportunity for students and other interested parties to experience firsthand the culture and lifestyle of immigrant groups and its laborers who helped to settle and cultivate the Santa Clara Valley,” Marinovich wrote. “We save the homes of the wealthy – let’s save the home of the people who created them.”

Immigrant House shares its site with other small, decaying structures, including the 1,100-square-foot Pearson House, also from the 1880s era (see page 45). Pending unforeseen developments, the Pearson House and remaining structures will be demolished this month.

The next challenge for Marinovich is fundraising to restore the house. She said she has two years to raise the $100,000 needed for renovation work. She is partnering with members of the Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association, which is applying for a 501(c)(3) designation to allow fundraising events.

In the meantime, Marinovich is mixing and mingling. She joined the Mountain View Kiwanis Club, which donated $1,000 to the cause. She’s considering fundraising events and contacting key people in town for advice and guidance.

The structure has no asbestos or lead-paint problems that plague many old structures, Marinovich said, praising the sturdy redwood used for its construction.

“I keep thinking, 30 years from now, children can see this structure,” she said. “Let’s show what it looked like to the first people who came here.”

For more information on Immigrant House, email Marinovich at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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