Historic Santa Rosa home above Sonoma County’s Spring Lake saved from development
With their youngest child standing on the edge of the nest, ready to fledge, Sandy and Rick Sheldon were thinking about downsizing. But they never dreamed they would find a house that was almost a “Mini-Me” of the one they have now.
But that’s what they wound up with when they bought a 4,200-square-foot neo-Colonial that has many of the same design details as their current home in the Montgomery Village area only a mile away.
Their empty nest house is smaller but features the same grand front portico, classical columns and spiral staircase in the foyer. It was built by developer Hugh Codding in 1951, the same year that the late furniture store owner Grover Stone and his wife, Mercy, built their family-size Colonial home off Montgomery Drive. What’s different is that the smaller house sits on a rare 37-acre parcel overlooking Spring Lake Park.
What they are giving up in square footage, they are more than making up for in acreage.
It was their fantasy come to life.
“We were thinking, if we could just take our house and shrink it a little bit and move it to a beautiful place. And then I found this,” said Sandy. “This is exactly what we had wanted.”
The couple plan to renovate the aging home and keep the rest of the land as open space. Their plan rescues from “the claws of a developer,” as Sandy put it in her blog, “Rock Haven Farm,” a large swatch of land within the city limits that borders Spring Lake.
“This is such a prominent ridge for that park. I thought people down there would look up and it wouldn’t be this beautiful tree-lined ridge anymore. You would see the roofs of homes,” Sandy said.
“I thought it would change the whole feel of the park. That’s why I thought buying it was so important.”
The property was being heavily marketed to developers when Sandy ran across the real estate listing last year.
“I had just a general idea of where it was. So I went searching,” she said. Her sleuthing took her to the trails of Spring Lake Park. She guesstimated where the property might be, hidden among the trees on the ridge, then picked a likely trail and started climbing. Eventually the Sullivan Trail took her to the home, an aging beauty with a sweeping front lawn and the grace of a Southern plantation.
Developers already had set their sights on the land, zoned for half-acre homesites. The Sheldons contacted their real estate agent and put in an offer, but it was rejected. Sandy however, said she couldn’t shake the vision of that old home overlooking her favorite park. She contacted her agent again. At the time, one big developer, she said, was eyeing it for a 60- to 70-home subdivision.
Given the challenging terrain, the site could more realistically accommodate 40 to 50 homes, Rick said.
The Sheldons re-entered the competition. They had an edge because they were prepared to go forward immediately with no contingencies, Rick said. They took possession of the property right after Christmas and are now preparing to launch into a major renovation.
But before the contractors descend, the couple will open the old house up and show it off to the community - as is - as a fundraiser for Petaluma’s Committee on the Shelterless. The party, starting at 6 p.m. today, is being organized by their son Vaughan, a volunteer with COTS who is mounting the fundraiser as a Service Learning project for Cardinal Newman High School.
“Remodeling the Lives of Those in Need in a House Under Remodel,” gets underway at 6 p.m. with a buffet by The Tri-Tip Trolley and dancing to the music of The Cellar Rats, a Vancouver-based band that Rick plays with. During the festivities event-goers are welcome to roam the old two-story house for a trip back to the 1950s, complete with original wallpaper and pink bathroom tile. Tickets are $50 and available along with more information at Cots-Homeless.org. All proceeds go to COTS’ Rent Right program.
After the party, the work begins.
Sandy, a self-taught interior designer who has done all of her family homes, will oversee the project. She knows she has her hands full. But she is undaunted. The house, which had remained within the Stone family for three generations, is showing its age. The asbestos roof will need to be removed and replaced, and it will need all new plumbing and electrical wiring.
But Sandy plans to keep a lot of the original architectural elements, like the magnificent crown molding and most of the original footprint of the house.
“I love old charm and old character,” she said. “I’m so into architecture and interior design.”
Both Sheldons, college sweethearts who met at Sonoma State University, are now in their fifties. Anticipating a time in the future when they may not have the vigor to scramble up and down the trails of Spring Lake - or stairs for that matter - they plan to add a downstairs master bedroom suite and leave the upstairs, with three spacious bedrooms, for their kids and guests. The only other major change they plan is to open up the formal dining room and a small butler’s kitchen and incorporate them all into one open area for casual entertaining.
For bigger family events and parties they will have the “Taj Mabarn,” the pet name they’ve given to their soon-to-be-built barn, a sort of home nightclub where Rick’s band plays at parties for friends and family.
It will be another version of the Taj MaGarage, their own private just-for-fun nightclub set up at their current home.
Rick initially balked at the idea of taking on such a big project at this time in their lives. Last year he sold his company Intelisys Communications, which he founded in Petaluma, in 1994.
“I had it in my mind we would just chill out for a while. Just take a breather for a couple of years and then figure out what we wanted to do,” he said.
But Sandy, who grew up in Alexander Valley on a ranch with horses and farm animals, didn’t want to give up the chance to have so much land that was only a 5-minute drive to the grocery store.
She is documenting her adventures in remodeling with a blog, rockhavenfarm.com.
And even though they’re at least a year away from being able to move in, they are already enjoying the property with weekly get-togethers they’ve dubbed “Porch Fridays.” Their friends are invited to drop in for a glass of wine and good company to unwind at the end of the week.
Sandy can already clearly envision what a spectacular place it will be once again.
“I can picture it with black shutters and a big 6-foot-wide kitchen window with a canvas awning over it,” she said.
“I have a whole vision for what this is going to be and it will be beautiful.”
You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5204. On Twitter @megmcconahey.
Features, The Press Democrat
Like most everyone, I love a good feature story that takes me somewhere I’ve never been or tells me something I don’t know. Where can I take you? Who in Sonoma County would you like to know better? I cover the people, places and ideas that make up Sonoma County, with general features, people profiles and home and garden, interior design and architecture stories. Hit me up with your tips, ideas and burning questions.