Don & Peggy Sarason Re-Craft the “Library”

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Since last fall, Alameda neighbors have watched with interest as the brick house at NE Dunckley and Regents has had a major overhaul. I had been particularly interested in the house after hearing (and debunking) an urban myth that it was built as a library, which I wrote about here on the blog back in January 2008.

The home was originally built in 1923 by C.O. Waller at a cost of $12,000, which was a lot of money for a house at that time, even in this neighborhood. 

As the construction project has entered the home stretch, I’ve wondered—as an amateur old house archaeologist—about what clues the owner may have found, and of course about the extent of the remodeling work. So, last week I dropped in on owner Don Sarason for a visit and a walk through the house.

The word remodeling doesn’t quite do it. Let’s stick with construction project. Here’s why:

Sarason and his contractors have virtually rebuilt the 6,000-square foot house, almost literally from the ground up.

The sun porch on the southwest side of the house, with the distinctive bank of windows, as well as the front porch area, is being rebuilt.

The brick exterior was in serious need of tuck pointing, so all of the old bricks have been removed and a fully new brick exterior is now in place.

The heating system wasn’t operating well, so crews removed the old radiators, put in a new boiler, and added radiant heat into the floor surfaces.

The plumbing system needed an upgrade: out with the galvanized and in with the PEX.

Wiring? That’s been upgraded too. Sarason added a 400 amp electrical service, and category 5 computer cable throughout to boot.

One of the most distinctive features of the house—its windows—needed help too. The originals have been sensitively replaced with all new insulated aluminum-clad wood windows. And the unique oculus window above the front door has been added.

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Don Sarason stands in the sun porch area backed by all new wood windows. It's an impressive space.

The Sarasons chose the house when the family moved from San Francisco to Portland in May 2008. The family of five—two boys and one girl—was drawn to the neighborhood because of its location and character: all the big city amenities very close to home. “When we saw this house in this neighborhood, it became clear what this ‘once wonderful’ house could become again,” said Don. The family purchased the house in May 2008 and by August 2008 had secured necessary permits for the work.

The project might be a classic case of being glad they didn’t know then what they know now. Like most remodeling jobs, it’s turned out to be more work than they expected. But with all of the system upgrades and expansion,  it’s also turned out to be more house.

Under the guidance of historic preservation architect Bill Hawkins, they have enlarged the existing dormers, added one more, and given them all a unique look that includes a graceful radius and distinctive trim that represents a combination of Craftsman and has Asian design.

In the public spaces, they’ve completely rearranged the floor plan and traffic flow on the first floor: you can now access the kitchen from the dining room. They’ve opened up the kitchen and family room area (including a spacious, barrel-ceilinged gathering space), added a direct link to the back terrace, and added more windows. Upstairs, they’ve taken what were two big, undefined spaces and crafted three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and some very nice “perching spots” to read or just look out the window. A haven for kids.

It’s basically a new house tucked into the original envelope that honors the original design. Take, for instance, the two beautiful tight-grained Douglas-fir fireplace mantles that have been carefully removed, painstakingly stripped, re-stained and put back in place. Or the ceiling cove molding, stripped clean of generations of paint and reinstalled. Or the decorative wall sconces, all cleaned up and put back in place.

Stripping the fireplace mantle on the first floor.

Stripping the fireplace mantle on the first floor.

During our walk around, I asked about what kind of clues had turned up from the past (“any old library books?” I asked with a smile). Nope. The biggest artifact was a built-in safe, which Sarason was able to open (thanks to finding the combination scrawled conveniently nearby). Nothing inside. And not too big a surprise…thinking back to the era of their construction and the crumbling banking system of the Great Depression, other Alameda homes had safes for the owners to keep a close eye on their precious assets.

During the construction process, several people who have lived in the house over the years dropped by, providing great stories about the home’s earlier years.

Sarason says the target for completion is the end of this month. The work is clearly wrapping up: the construction fences have come down and now it’s time for the final details.

And he’s proud to show off what has become a labor of love.

3 responses

  1. Another great story from our neighborhood. I hope we can see pictures of this home after it is completed. Thank you to the Sarason family for sharing their experience.

  2. Thank you for posting this! We’ve walked by it many times while it’s been renovated and wondered what the story was.

    A completely lovely house – I am so impressed with how it turned out.

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