Two historic Berkeley homes get a makeover

The John Woolley house is the blue-gray one and the Ellen Blood House is the yellow one. The owners, architect, and builder worked hard to restore the turreted window on the Woolley House. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
The John Woolley house is the blue-gray one and the Ellen Blood House is the yellow one. The owners, architect, and builder worked hard to restore the turreted window on the Woolley House. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Two historic Berkeley homes with a combined age of 263 years have been given a complete makeover, and their doors were opened Tuesday to show off their shiny new parts.

The John Woolley House, first built on Telegraph Avenue in 1876, and the Ellen Blood House, constructed on Durant Avenue in 1891, were moved in 2014 to a new location on Regent Street and Dwight Way. John Gordon of Gordon Commercial Realty and his wife, Janis Mitchell, who bought the homes for $1 each, restored, renovated, and expanded the two houses using as much original material as possible. They also added a floor to the Woolley house. Gone are two decaying, although historic homes. In their place are five gleaming apartments with all the trappings of 21st century living: sleek appliances, gas fireplaces with marble mantles, and high-tech flooring.

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Janis Mitchell and John Gordon. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Crowds of the curious crowded into the two buildings at the open house, eager to see the end result of a decade-long quest to save and restore the homes. Both houses were once threatened with demolition as they sat on parcels slated for development.

“It’s fabulous,” said Daniella Thompson, a preservationist and a former president of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. “They did a fabulous job. They managed to restore it, maintain its historic feel, but make it modern enough for student renters.”


Michael Caplan, the director of Berkeley’s economic development program, agreed. “It’s so nice to see the old houses brought back.”

The new apartments, which Gordon said are more suitable for families or graduate students than undergraduates, are for rent for $3,400 to $5,000 a month. Construction should be complete within a few weeks, he said.

A new kitchen in one of the apartments in the Ellen Blood house. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
A new kitchen in one of the apartments in the Ellen Blood house. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
A living room in one of the apartments in the EllenBlood house. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
A living room in one of the apartments in the EllenBlood house. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Burton Edwards, an architect with Siegel and Strain Architects in Emeryville and a former member of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, has spent more than a decade trying to save the houses. At first the city of Berkeley was unsupportive of moving the homes to their current location, he said. Officials were concerned houses wouldn’t fit on the parcel, which had long been a parking lot for a church that had burned down. Moving the houses was logistically difficult because it meant moving utility wires and closing streets. But the city slowly started to support the idea and in recent years has been a champion, said Edwards.

The Woolley House faces Dwight Way and the entrance to the Blood House is on Regent. The houses actually fit better in the reverse configuration, but that would have prohibited the reconstruction of a turret-type window on the east side of the Woolley House, said Edwards. Everyone involved wanted to restore the window, which one-time owner Ken Sarachan had removed when the house sat on Haste Street. Edwards was able to use some of the wood from the original window in the new window.

The owners and architects restored this window on the Woolley House using as much historic material as they could salvage. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
The owners and architects restored this window on the Woolley House using as much historic material as they could salvage. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Edwards said bringing the two houses to the area has “reknit this corner of the city.” The two homes replace an unsightly parking lot. There are also other historic homes on the block, creating a type of historic district.

The John Woolley Hose when it arrived at its new home in 2014. Photo: Ted Freidman
The John Woolley Hose when it arrived at its new home in 2014. Photo: Ted Friedman
The Ellen Blood house in 2014, prior to its move and renovation. Photo: Ted Friedman
The Ellen Blood house in 2014, prior to its move and renovation. Photo: Ted Friedman

Here is a guide to the complicated maneuvers required to move and restore the two homes:

• The Blood House, built in 1891 for Mrs. Ellen Blood, a new Berkeley resident, and a city-designated structure of merit, used to reside at at 2526 Durant Ave., just east of Telegraph Avenue. The house was owned by developers Ruegg & Ellsworth, recently of the Spenger’s parking lot archeological dig fame.

Ruegg & Ellsworth sold the house to Gordon for $1, and agreed to move it to his then-vacant land on the corner of Regent Street and Dwight Way. That allowed Ruegg & Ellsworth to proceed with building a 44-unit apartment building on their lot.

• The Woolley House, built by English immigrant John Woolley and once located at 2509 Haste St., is a city-designated landmark. It was owned by Ken Sarachan, the owner of Rasputin Records, Blondie’s pizza, the old Cody’s books building and a controversial vacant lot on the corner of Haste and Telegraph, of proposed Moorish edifice fame. The Woolley House, next door to the empty lot, has been moved twice. Woolley originally built it on Telegraph Avenue but moved it to Haste around 1910 once that street got too commercial.

Sarachan sold the house to Gordon for $1 so he could proceed with his proposed six-floor Moorish-themed building. The house was moved in 2014.

• The two houses were moved to a former parking lot on the southwest corner of Regent and Dwight Way. Gordon and Mitchell owned the lot, as well as two adjacent parcels, the city-landmarked Mrs. Edmund P. King Building at 2501 Telegraph, currently home to Peet’s, and the Soda Water Works building, 2509-2513 Telegraph, next door to the south.

Kate Darby Rauch contributed to this story.

Related:
Historic house trucked across People’s Park to a new home (11.14.15)
2 historic southside buildings on the move, literally (08.15.14)

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