Danville Express

Newsfront - October 5, 2007

Saving more than a home

Historic Preservation Committee hopes Diablo buyers will be inspired by restoration

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Bob Tiernan could be a poster boy for preserving historic homes in Diablo. He was cheered by residents of the exclusive community as he personally led a team to restore Casa Blanca, built in 1925, to its former glory instead of tearing it down and building a modern-day mega-mansion.

"I grew up on the street, one of four boys," said Tiernan, and he'd been exploring the neighborhood since he was 8 years old.

His parents, now in their 80s, still live there and he was visiting them when he spotted the sign in front of 1897 Calle Arroyo: It showed a sprawling super-sized mega-mansion designed to replace the stately old home, which was showing its age but had been elegantly designed for the setting in the 1920s.

Tiernan gazed at the wonderful old estate that he recalled from his boyhood adventures. He checked out the construction and found it to be sturdy and most of the home salvageable.

"I said, 'I could save this house,'" he recalled thinking.

The reality of the undertaking gave him pause, and he said his mother finally gave him "the gumption and 'kick in the pants' I needed to muster the guts to buy and restore the home to its original 1920s grandeur." Now he speaks with enthusiasm, even love, about quitting his job and assembling the group of contractors and craftsmen the old house deserved. He did extensive research on the era, including watching movies from the 1920s and '30s to check out the background in each scene.

Tiernan threw open the doors of Casa Blanca on a recent Sunday afternoon to show he appreciated those who, while he was in the throes of renovations, passed by and called out encouragement or gave a thumbs-up. Visitors toured the house plus enjoyed wine and hors d'oeuvres on the spacious patio with a view of the golf course across the road.

The Diablo Historic Preservation Committee sponsored the open house and charged $20-$25 per visitor to benefit its programs.

"We try to educate people about the architecture and the historic treasures we have here, built from 1914 to 1935," said Mugs Freeman, a past president of the committee.

She said a list compiled in 1981 showed 69 historic homes; today only 44 remain. New owners don't always appreciate the historic elements or architectural highlights of an older home and want to tear it down to replace it with a larger one, such as the developer had planned for this lot.

Freeman said members of the Diablo Historic Preservation Committee attempt to convince new owners to at least maintain the street view, even while adding rooms and wings onto the back.

"We try to educate like crazy, and we have awards, the Spirit of Diablo Awards," she said.

Tiernan pointed out that his renovated treasure, at 2,800 square feet, has everything a newer home can offer - fuel-efficient heating and air-conditioning, internal vacuum, instant hot water heater, remote-control lighting systems, cable, phone and wireless Internet, built-in flat screens and surround sound speakers. The kitchen is state-of-the-art, handcrafted in the style of a 1920s home, with all the appliances hidden behind solid birch doors. This is the only room that has been enlarged but Tiernan retained the charms of the original home, which features make some people think Julia Morgan may be the architect.

All of the interior and exterior doors, windows, screens, hardware and floors have been restored and refinished. The great room has its original specially crafted iron chandeliers and sconces, and the fireplace patina has been honed by decades of heat and flames. The banister rail leading upstairs is the original, Tiernan noted, and did not even need cleaning. An upstairs sleeping porch is also completely original, and he said the previous owners would roll their double bed through the French doors to sleep outside on warm summer evenings.

"I pay my bills out here," he said, pointing to the wicker furniture.

Tiernan has not only restored his home to its original splendor but has added other period pieces to the property. The gas lamps, now electric, were used in the late 1800s in San Francisco. The stones on the patios are from the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco which underwent a renovation last year. Tiernan purchased a total of 2,200 stones and loves to recall their journey, after being quarried in Ireland, serving as ballast on California-bound ships from 1860-1900.

While searching a salvage yard for a claw-footed bathtub, he came across a portico from a 1918 home in Burlingame. It now welcomes visitors who pass underneath and cross a teak bridge over the creek to walk back in time to the beauty of Diablo 1925.


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