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The many lives of a historic Grande Dame of Los Altos

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Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
The two-story shingled Craftsman bungalow at 725 University Ave. is on the city of Los Altos’ list of historic resources. Completed circa 1911, the house still features many original architectural details, including coffered ceilings and divided-light windows.

The lady has good bones. She’s referred to as a “Grande Dame of Los Altos” and with good reason.

The house at 725 University Ave. was built for the Keatinge family and completed in 1911. Since then, a number of families have called the house home. Today, the city of Los Altos designates the house a historic resource of local significance.

However, the two-story shingled Craftsman bungalow belies its age. It combines period details with modern luxury. Board and batten wainscot, coffered ceilings and divided-light windows provide the “skeleton” for what has become a bright and airy contemporary home.

“There is some resemblance to the house in which I grew up,” said Linda Ronberg, whose parents, Marcella and Ralph Heintz, bought it in 1950.

Subsequent owners preserved the character of the house while updating it.

“It was a beautiful piece of property,” Ronberg said. “My mother had a green thumb.”

She recalled the dirt tennis court the family turned into a vegetable garden. She and her three siblings would stand on the corner of Lee and University avenues selling vegetables and handmade potholders.

“When we were teenagers, our parents replaced the vegetable garden with a pool,” she said. “It was a community pool for a number of years. Everyone enjoyed it.”

The Heintz family has a long history in Los Altos. Marcella had the Antiquarian Shop and Ralph, a “tinkerer,” according to Ronberg, collected and repaired antique music boxes. Each year on the Fourth of July, he’d bring out his band organ and regale the neighborhood. He was an electrical engineer at SRI International.

Ronberg and husband Dennis established and owned Linden Tree Books on State Street. Prior to moving to the area in 1983, they had started a children’s recording business in Tacoma, Wash., but decided it was not the ideal venue. They combined children’s music and books in their Los Altos venture.

Speaking of children, the four Heintz siblings enjoyed the home’s large upstairs room, which overlooks the garden.

“It was our playroom. Our father built us a puppet theater,” she said. “And I can remember when we got our first TV up there.”

Today, that playroom is a recreation/media room with a retractable cinema screen.

The Heintz family sold the house in 2006 to the Marshall family, who hailed from Australia. They, in turn, sold it to Shannon and Mel Guyman eight years later.

The original parcel was approximately three-quarters of an acre. As part of the sale, to maximize their return, the Marshalls subdivided it. The Guymans bought the half-acre portion and 4,122-square-foot house.

Because of the subdivision, the entire right-side landscaping needed to be redone. According to Connie Miller, a broker associate at Compass in Los Altos, the Guymans kept the heritage oaks, bougainvillea and decades-old wisteria and spent $1 million to update the yard while maintaining the tradition of the Craftsman home.

Think a fire pit to roast s’mores, a fortress-like play structure with twin towers, a custom treehouse with suspension bridge, a canopied outdoor kitchen, a linear outdoor fireplace with comfy seating and a tucked-away spa. There’s also a quiet seating area beside a wisteria-covered arbor.

The house has five bedrooms, three remodeled bathrooms, an office, playroom and media room. Its heart is the light-filled kitchen and family room combination. Divided-light windows on three sides open to the outdoors.

The original built-in china cabinet and divided-light pocket doors are features of the formal dining room, which has a coffered ceiling.

The Grande Dame with her newfound charm is captivating – making it hard to say goodbye. But the Guymans, like other families before them, are moving on. It’s time for a new family to take up residence.

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