Just across the street from the northeast corner of the Alameda County Fairgrounds racetrack, Gerry and Kathy Machi rescued a crumbling cottage and restored it to a beautiful representation of a bygone era.
Built around the time Pleasanton became an incorporated city in the 1890s, the Machis' Folk Victorian bungalow with Queen Anne-style detailing most likely served as a sunny vacation respite for Idaho rancher Lawrence Kidd, thought to be the first owner of the house.
It makes sense that the original owner was involved with horses -- from the home's elevated front porch, the view of the oldest one-mile racetrack in the U.S. rivals those from the grandstand box seats found just across the oval dirt track. The Machis certainly appreciate the view from every angle of their wraparound porch.
"In the morning we watch the horses as they train," Kathy said. "The golf course views are great all day."
And there is not a better seat in Pleasanton come fair time. "On the nights when the fair puts on the fireworks show, they shoot them off from the center of the golf course," she continued. "We might have 30 or more friends over to watch. The location couldn't be better."
Location may be key in real estate but timing is everything, and the Machis were not ready to put their energies into figuring out the needs of a hundred-year-old house when they saw the Rose Avenue cottage initially come on the market in 2000.
It was not love at first sight, but Kathy said there was certainly a bit of infatuation.
"We were intrigued by the potential of the house, but with one son still living at home, it was just too much to take on," she explained. "Over the years we would drive by and see the "for sale" sign go up and come down. The Rose Avenue house was always in the back of our minds."
The seesawing real estate signs were the result of a conflict between potential buyers, who saw the property and thought "tear down," and city planners, who were prepared to wait for someone willing to honor the history of the home in spite of its neglected condition.
The aging house had two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen, a living area and a mudroom, and included an addition made around 1940 without use of studs in the extra 1,151 square feet. A five-foot-high, dirt floor basement ran the length of the house, making it 1 1/2 stories tall.
The Machis were already practiced at creating a dream home from nothing, having built a custom home in Golden Eagle where they lived with their three children for 18 years. When their youngest son left for college, the Golden Eagle house felt too big, and all the square footage and surrounding acreage became a liability rather than a pleasure.
The Machis sold the home and rented a renovated Victorian on Stanley Boulevard where Kathy fell in love with all the details that kept the house authentic. "Everything had been completely redone in this tiny house," she recalled. "It was too small for us to stay, but I loved the beadboard and the chair rail molding."
When the Rose Avenue house came back on the market in November 2011, the Machis were ready to make an offer. Rather than feel intimidated by what couldn't be saved, Gerry and Kathy presented plans inspired by what they could preserve, and the city approved the $350,000 purchase.
The list of projects the Machis undertook to turn 1,100 square feet of deteriorating wood and nails into an historical showplace could be considered intimidating.
After demolishing the 1940 addition, the original house had to be raised, placed on dollies and turned to better accommodate the property lines and allow 10 feet to be added to expand the master bedroom and the basement. Three feet of dirt was excavated from the basement to provide eight-foot ceilings for a "man cave," three additional bedrooms, an office and two more bathrooms for a total of 2,800 square feet of living space and a true two-story home.
Every step had potential stumbling blocks, yet the Machis tell none of the usual tales of trouble with the city and overblown budgets.
Gerry chalked that up to good planning, explaining that the key to making it all happen was due diligence and understanding exactly what was going to need to take place long before they finalized the purchase. "We spent a lot of time talking with our builder and our architect, so there were not too many surprises," he said.
The most challenging part of the project, according to Kathy and Gerry, was determining which details on the outside of the home could be saved and adapted to the new building codes.
"Much of the original detail on the front of the house, including the corbels above the windows and finial detail above the porch, were maintained," Gerry said. "And nearly 4,000 bricks rescued from the crumbling foundation became part of the exterior walkways and driveway curbing."
When the original materials couldn't be reused, aspects such as window details, crown molding and baseboards were patterned after the original finish details. The original studs, ceiling joists and floor joists were left in place and additional beams, "sister" joists and studs were added to give more stability.
The cost to rebuild their home was about $170 per square foot, which is on the low end of what these projects normally cost, Gerry said, adding that most construction of this type runs around $150-$300 per square foot. The moving of the house and additional excavation costs were about 10% of the total budget.
Learning to navigate the utility companies and city building and planning departments was a little challenging, but the Machis were patient and with a little perseverance, things got done, they said.
"We were a little shocked that we had to pay PG&E $4,100 to reconnect our gas and electric utilities when our builder dug all the trenches and ran all conduit and piping," Gerry said.
Kathy added that input from the Pleasanton Historical Association proved beneficial. "The one request they made was that we use turned posts downstairs where we had planned to save a little money by using plain posts," she said.
Staying true to the design of the original house was the right choice, Kathy said, though the custom posts were significantly more expensive.
Though the house has been restored, the Machis are interested in learning more details about the history of the house, and they are hopeful local residents may be able to provide insight.
"While we were in the midst of renovating, an older gentleman pulled up and told us that he had visited his grandparents who lived in the house," Kathy recalled. "Unfortunately we were in the middle of pouring cement and we couldn't stop to talk just then. We asked him to come back, but we haven't seen him."
In December 2013, the Pleasanton Heritage Association recognized the Machis' achievements by awarding 1015 Rose Ave. with the Heritage Preservation Award.
It took 12 years for the Machis and the Rose Avenue house to come together, but just 13 months to take the house from eyesore to iconic reminder of how things used to be.