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LA's oldest home serves as setting for garden party

Photos by Megan V. Winslow/ Town Crier
The Winchester-Merriman House on Edgewood Lane in Los Altos is the oldest house in the city, built by Sarah Winchester, of Winchester Mystery House fame, for her sister Isabelle Merriman. The home’s new owners will host a garden party on the property June 14, a benefit for the Los Altos History Museum.

The historical Winchester-Merriman House on Edgewood Lane in Los Altos is the perfect backdrop for a special garden party incorporating history and mystery.

Enormous oaks, perhaps dating to when the native Ohlones lived in the area, shelter the lush grounds, which will be the site of a June 14 fundraiser for the Los Altos History Museum.

It will pay tribute to the historical significance of the property and give a nod to Sarah Winchester, of Winchester Mystery House fame, who built the house, the oldest in Los Altos, for her sister, Isabelle Merriman. If the sisters are there in spirit, they most likely will enjoy meandering in the garden, sipping wine, sampling hors d’oeuvres and listening to stories about themselves.

The garden is parklike with heritage oaks and redwoods, beneath which ferns and Alice Oakleaf hydrangeas thrive. Dwarf weeping maples flank the walkway leading to the front porch. To the right of the house, a rose-covered wrought iron arbor leads to the backyard. Here you will find a rose garden, peaceful venues among the trees, brick pathways, a pool and pool house.

“I’m pleasantly surprised every week when something else blooms,” said homeowner Jung Yoon, as the garden and house reveal themselves.

She and husband Warren Yang bought it last June, and some things are still a mystery.

Yoon is a Palo Alto Medical Foundation director who oversees surgical specialties. Yang is taking a respite from high-tech and is a stay-at-home dad. They have reassured their children – Parker, 10, and twins Cooper and Olivia, 7 – that the house is not haunted. However, Cooper said something tapped him on the shoulder when they first moved in.

“I never go into the attic,” Yoon joked, though, because of its size, it could be converted into a living space. It features redwood beams and mullioned windows.

Prior to their move, the family lived on Orange Avenue and planned to remodel. One day, by chance, Yoon happened to drive down Edgewood Lane and wondered at all the activity and cars.

“The Winchester-Merriman House was for sale,” she said. “Warren is an old soul at heart and I knew he would love it. Owning a piece of history was the kicker.”

Its sturdy construction was another factor.

“It has survived major earthquakes and we’re confident it won’t fall down,” Yoon said.

Dreamy setting

Winchester purchased the property and a four-room redwood framed farmhouse, built in 1844, for her sister, who wanted to raise carriage horses. They transformed it into a 12-room Carpenter Gothic they called “El Sueno,” or “The Daydream.”

“It’s a dreamy setting,” Yoon said.

The house features oblique angles, fish-scale shingles and mismatched windows, a hallmark of the era. One gothic-style window may have come from the remodeling of the Winchester Mystery House.

Other design features that the two houses share include the unusual seven-petal rosette corner block found in each and the stairwell balusters, which are similar to the decorative fretwork found in the reception room of the Winchester Mystery House.

The staircase is Yoon’s favorite feature of the house.

“I touch it every day,” she said.

“I like the style and character of ‘old stuff’ such as the engraved door hinges and architectural details,” Yang said.

One of the windows is believed to have come from a San Jose church. Another looks like a window in Winchester’s own San Jose mansion. The fireplace in what may have been the sitting room intrigues the Winchester Mystery House’s historian.

The majestic oak that is the hallmark of the property is in the center of the circular driveway from Edgewood.

“It is one of my missions to maintain the heritage oaks – this one in particular,” Yoon said.

Tree trimmers have been working diligently since the family moved in, clearing from the ground up so that the redwoods can be seen and the oaks remain healthy – no easy task, she admitted. One other thing: She talks to the maple tree alongside the house.

“We were overwhelmed by the size of the lot. But we like the simplicity of the design of the house – Victorian in the front, farmhouse in the back,” Yoon said.

In regard to the garden party, she said the family is “sharing a bit of our love for our community and the home we live in.”

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