Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - January 20, 2012

Guest Opinion: Ramona Street home was a labor of love

Former owners and longtime residents share memories of their life in a historic Palo Alto structure

by Bill and Barbara Busse

The house at 935 Ramona St. was historic because it was constructed 113 years ago. As many Palo Alto residents know, recently it was deemed "non-historical" by the City Council. It will probably be torn down and replaced by a more contemporary structure. As owners of the home for 29 years, we would like to share a bit of history along with our feelings on seeing our old home scheduled for demolition.

It began in October 1975 when a group of Portola Valley residents bid on five homes that the Palo Alto Medical Clinic had for sale. The Clinic had planned to build a hospital adjacent to the Clinic, but it was turned down by the voters and hence the need to sell their white elephants. A group of us bid on the properties and were successful in purchasing the homes...one on Homer Avenue, three on Waverley Street and one on Ramona Street for the total price of $256,000. The house at 935 Ramona was deemed to be worth $60,000.

We had all been interested in moving from Portola Valley to reduce our commute time to Downtown Palo Alto. The story was chronicled in some detail by the Country Almanac on Feb. 16, 1977. There was some curiosity on the part of the Town of Portola Valley as to why residents of their fair community would choose to move to Palo Alto.

At the time of purchase 935 was a shambles. The basement walls and ceiling were painted black. The floors were rotting wood (partly covered by linoleum) all directly on dirt. The backyard was decorated with two abandoned cars, old water heaters and washing machines, along with assorted debris. In general, it didn't contribute much to the quality of the neighborhood.

Undaunted, we went to work and turned it into a very livable duplex with an attic rental. The back yard was made into a beautiful garden that was featured in the September 1981 issue of Sunset Magazine. We planted fruit trees, a large vegetable garden, added a work shop, carport and large deck. Perhaps the most unique aspect was removing the back fences and having a common landscaped garden with our two neighboring families. This, in turn, led to such events as an annual neighborhood ice cream social and a great deal of friendly interaction. Over time friends also used the garden for weddings and a memorial service.

We bought the entire house from our duplex neighbors in 1994. We then converted their half into a recreation room complete with snack bar and table tennis room, a computer office and a large television room. For us, 935 was the center of activity for our extended family and was definitely our dream home.

As you can imagine, we fell in love with the neighborhood and cherished the many improvements made to our home over the years. However, as time moved on we decided to sell, in part due to the three flights of stairs that seemed to be getting longer and steeper. We put our home on the market in 2005 and it sold for $2.15 million. (Sweat equity and the Palo Alto market helped us realize a sizable gain.) What followed was a major interior remodeling and addition by the new owner, who in turn sold it, we believe, to the current occupants.

Fortunately we have no regrets that the City Council deemed 935 Ramona St. unworthy of historical status. We learned when we moved to Portola Valley from Palo Alto in 1972 that you don't look back. We wish the current owners the very best as they move ahead with what we assume will be their dream home.

(We were interviewed by Jocelyn Dong for an article in one of the 25th Anniversary Issues of the Palo Alto Weekly. She then wrote an article for the paper about the Ramona Street neighborhood featuring 935.)

Bill and Barbara Busse now live at The Hamilton, a condominium development for seniors in downtown Palo Alto, "about as close to the center of things as 935 Ramona," Bill Busse said.

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