It was a house with a mystery past and an uncertain future. And it would take two neighbors — one next door and the other up the street — to unravel its secrets.
The man who owned the aging, two-story, Stickley-style Craftsman at 930 Mendocino Ave. in Santa Rosa in 2004 dearly wanted to restore it. But he just didn't have the means and his health was slipping. So he approached his next-door neighbor, Trae Seely, to see if he had any interest in buying and restoring it.
He went to the right guy.
Mendocino Avenue Home Restoration
Seely heads up a commercial construction company that builds distinctive branded interiors for national retailers all over the country, everything from Chanel and Brookstone to Jamba Juice and Starbucks. He also has a special thing for old homes, particularly those with brown shingles, like this house. He jumped at the chance, inviting contractors who did work for him around the country to fly to Santa Rosa and apply their best skills to bringing the century-old home back to its original beauty.
"It was funky, dark, overgrown, with wisteria growing everywhere," Seely said. "But you could see there was potential there."
Inside, the house was a disaster. The previous owner, an attorney, was pretty much living out of one room, having filled the rest of the house floor-to-ceiling, as well as the back patio, with stuff.
"It was absolute squalor," Seely recalled. "I filled 10 40-yard dumpsters with trash."
It was a sad state for a house that Seely later came to learn had a very distinguished beginning. Another neighbor, Jeff Elliott, a Santa Rosa history buff who is completing restoration of another grand Mendocino Avenue home, The Comstock House, uncovered the story of 930 Mendocino.
Architectural observers had speculated that the 1908 home was the work of Julia Morgan, who did homes in Petaluma, or Brainerd Jones, who turned out a large number of houses in Petaluma and Santa Rosa. Elliott, however, did some sleuthing and uncovered the truth: It was designed by Mary Rockwell Hook, a little-known contemporary of Morgan, who lived and did most of her work in Kansas City. Hook designed the house for her sister, Florence Edwards, whose husband, James, was a prominent banker and mayor of Santa Rosa in 1910.
Elliott found a passing reference to the project buried in Hook's 1970 memoir, "This and That."