Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - April 22, 2011

From Spanish Eclectic to Early Modern

Stanford Historical House & Garden Tour offers insights into the way things were

by Carol Blitzer

First impressions didn't deter Carol and Ron Ruth from falling in love with their Birge Clark-designed home in the San Juan neighborhood on Stanford Campus.

The home they ultimately purchased in 1999 and restored had a distinctly 1950s modern affect, with its flat roof and linear exterior. And much was obscured by overgrown ivy and opportunistic trees that joined the three ancient oaks in front.

No one would have known it was a Spanish Eclectic Period Style home, built in 1921.

But once they stepped inside, the Ruths saw that the "bones" of the house were untouched, from the large windows to the hardwood floors.

Days after moving in, the Ruths discovered the original plans — as well as the 1950s remodeling plans — and knew they wanted to bring their home closer to Clark's vision.

The results of their labors will be on display during the seventh annual Stanford Historical House & Garden Tour on May 1, along with four other homes on campus.

The Ruths' remodel began as a voyage of discovery: When they removed the sleek, modern fireplace mantel, "We had no idea old Batchelder tiles were underneath," Carol Ruth said. "The more we discovered, the more excited we got about restoring it."

Much effort was put into bringing back the luster and richness of the interior moldings and woodwork. Luckily, most were left unpainted, except for the picture railings, which they had refinished. They relied heavily on a family of traditional woodworkers, Matheny Factory, San Leandro.

Carol Ruth tells the story of how their home was Birge Clark's first solo project, although he was working under his father, Arthur B. Clark. He needed help in drawing up the plans and called on the owner's daughter, Lucile Townley. He ultimately married her — in the living room he designed.

"We loved Birge Clark's attention to detail," she said, pointing to how many doors are double-faced, with one side quarter oak, facing the living room, and the other in fir, facing the sunroom. Little surprises abound, from the 30-degree angle in a bedroom to the small, hidden telephone closet.

Over time, the Ruths replaced the flying-saucer lighting popular in the 1950s with appropriate 1920s-era chandeliers. They even added overhead lighting where the original outlet had been plastered over.

Outside, they brought back the scrolled detail on the textured stucco walls, as well as an arch over the front door entry, and put back a variation on the original tile roof.

Two years ago they redid the kitchen, tackling the areas "re-muddled" in the 1950s to better match the original house. Using the dining room cabinetry as models, they copied the drawer fronts in cherry wood and added glass knobs and pulls acquired on eBay. The original redwood cabinets were repainted.

A wall had been removed in the '50s and a laundry room added. They replaced that with a marble-topped sideboard and a veggie-washing sink, next to a seating area that overlooks their expansive back yard.

Their new Aga range has three separate sections: an oven, broiler and a separate convection oven for baking. On top are four smaller burners and a large burner in the center, just under the pasta spigot.

Cabinets were built into an L-shaped peninsula, offering plenty of storage, under a soapstone counter. Even the GE Monogram refrigerator has wood-paneling to match. Spices are stored in a cabinet door, which fronts the pantry.

Downstairs, the wooden pocket doors were removed between the living room and old sun porch, creating one large space. The doors were re-used between the living room and entry hallway.

Three bedrooms are on the main floor, with one used as a sewing room. The study, which was added on in the '50s, features simple mahogany paneling. The Ruths added Arts and Crafts-style trim, as well as crown molding. They opted to keep the simple bookcases — and the three-sided view.

Upstairs the master suite now envelops a series of rooms, including an old sleeping porch (now used for exercising) and a roof deck. Below the paneling, they found the original plaster intact.

For the master bathroom, they chose a claw-foot tub under a large window that overlooks their back yard. Counter tops are marble, as is the basket-weave-designed marble tile floor.

Much of what the Ruths have done is bring back Clark's original ideas: Instead of a flat roof, there's a tile-covered angled mansard roof (flat in the unseen center where solar panels may one day be installed). Arches now greet one at the front door and are replicated in the entry hall and master bathroom.

Outdoors, the Ruths continue to discover remnants of the original home. They've uncovered stone walls, paths and a fireplace, some with old bits and pieces left over after the '06 earthquake. A Stanford archeologist is planning to document these, Carol Ruth said.

Ron Ruth pointed to the "water fantasy" in back, which diverted water from the house. Now it's a sequence of three ponds with a re-circulating pump that acts as a modern drainage system.

Other homes included on this year's tour include two more pre-1930 homes in the San Juan Neighborhood (which are included in the Stanford Historical Society's Historic Houses series); two 1936 residences; and Hanna House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Two of the homes were designed by Charles K. Sumner.

Because some of the paths are uneven, tour goers are advised to wear appropriate walking shoes.

What: Stanford Historic House & Garden Tour

When: Sunday, May 1, from 1 to 4 p.m.

Where: Five homes on campus

Cost: $30

Info: Park at Parking Structure 6, 560 Wilbur Way (with tour registration desk and shuttle stop nearby); histsoc.stanford.edu/programs.shtml

READ MORE ONLINE

For more Home and Real Estate news, visit www.paloaltoonline.com/real_estate.

Associate Editor Carol Blitzer can be e-mailed at cblitzer@paweekly.com.

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