Friends set out to help renovator save her historic home

Jane Powell, who has restored dozens of historic homes in Berkeley and Oakland, now needs help saving her own home

By Linda Hemmila

Jane Powell is the bungalow queen. A master restorer, she has helped dozens of East Bay homeowners bring their vintage homes back to life with wit and style.

Now Powell, who bought her first bungalow in Berkeley in 1987 and has renovated and lived in many more since then, faces the possibility of losing her current home — her beloved “Bunga-Mansion,” the historic Jesse Matteson House in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood.

A group of Powell’s friends is determined to prevent this happening and is holding a fundraising party on Sunday February 12th, 2:00-5:00 pm, at the landmarked house to help out. The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association is supporting the effort and helping to promote it.


“Friends don’t let friends lose houses,” says Ralph Kanz one of Powell’s friends who came up with the idea of holding a benefit. “We were just are not going to sit by and let this happen. Jane belongs in that house.”

It was Powell’s eleventh home purchase, a costly project, that put Powell over the edge. That and health issues — Powell suffers from Lymphoma — as well as the plummeting real estate market, were all catalysts for a sea of mortgage problems and more red tape then she could have imagined.

The problem began when Powell decided she didn’t like the color of her neighbor’s house.

“It’s all I could see from my window, so I ended up buying the house and fixing it up,” said Powell. “It was my eleventh house and I was writing a book at the same time. I told the publisher I was working on a house and needed more time on the book. They gave me six months, but the house still wasn’t done, but I needed to get back to the book. I had to leave the workers there on their own at the house while I wrote.”

As Powell wrote her book, the real-estate market took a tumble and she found herself with two mortgages, two homes in need of repair and mounting bills.


The Arts & Crafts-style Jesse Matteson House was built in 1905 for a wealthy Scandinavian family. Powell calls it her “Bunga-Mansion”

Powell says she was able to sell the fixer house eventually, but at a financial loss, “I lost money. But I have a nice new neighbor now,” she said.

For Powell, the love of bungalow and arts and craft homes goes back to the 1980s. Though she says she looked at many homes, ultimately it was the bungalow she fell for if only because of their abundance in the area.

“I looked at lots of homes. Victorians and Spanish and many others.” But in Berkeley and Oakland there are just so many bungalows that it was almost inevitable she would end up with one. “If I’d bought a Spanish style home when I was first looking to buy, my life may have tuned out differently,” Powell laughs.

Powell, who is well known to many Berkeleyans for her long-running series of articles in the Berkeley Daily Planet, is the author of six books including “Bungalow Kitchens”, “Bungalow Bathrooms”, and “Bungalow: The Ultimate Arts and Crafts Home”.

Robert Brokl, another of Powell’s friends who is organizing the fundraiser, says Powell has a knack for helping homeowners gain a renewed respect for their homes.


“It’s not about nostalgia. Many older homes, with their first-growth fir and redwood, are better built than contemporary homes and Jane, with her approachable style, helps people realize they don’t need to gut their homes and start again,” he says. He says her appeal is also due to her populist, entertaining writing.

Powell bought the Jesse Matteson House in 2002. Nicknamed the Sunset House, and affectionately referred to by Powell as her “Bunga-Mansion,” the 1905 Arts and Crafts house is 3,844 square feet, larger than most traditional bungalows, with 4 bedrooms and 1.5 baths. It also boasts most of its original features, including its uniquely Scandinavian design and period details.

On her blog, Powell jokes that Matteson “must have been part of the 1%” due to both the grandeur of the house and the society who frequented it. “The Mattesons had servants, how many is unknown. They were housed next door in a house on the other side of the tennis court,” Powell writes.

Powell says her health is stable for now, but her relationship with banks has been more volatile. Like many people today, Powell needs help from her bank on her loan, as much as funds. The bank recently granted Powell a temporary loan modification and, if that can be made permanent, the outlook will look much brighter for her, says Brokl.

When: Sunday Feb. 12, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: 2708 Sunset Ave., Oakland, 94601 (east of Fruivale Ave., between East 27th and Lynde streets).
What: Hosted bar, good food, silent auction with objets d’art, consultations, autographed books, massages, and fine collectibles. Live entertainment by Sharon Knight & Winter Sichelschmidt. Singles $25/Couples $40.

To RSVP and for more information contact Robert Brokl/Alfred Crofts, at (510) 655-3841, broklcrofts@earthlink.net. Make a direct contribution online or by mail.