Tucked into a tangle of brush, beneath a canopy of eucalyptus and oak trees, the aged and decrepit Bettencourt House seemed to float on air. The late 1800s house rested some six feet above the ground, propped up by wood blocks and metal beams. Red graffiti dotted its white gingerbread wainscot, its stately Victorian window frames covered in boards.
Its condition seemed a far cry from its pedigree – it was once the home of the well-to-do Bettencourt family in the East Bay. It was hauled here, to Fremont’s Ardenwood Historic Farm back in the 1980s, to save it from the wrecking ball.
Now along with two other historic buildings on the site, it remains in a sort of architectural purgatory.
“They were in the way of development elsewhere in the city,” said Ira Bletz, a naturalist with the East Bay Regional Parks. “The hope was to bring them here and build an environmental education center for school kids.”
That plan never materialized because of lack of funds. So along with the nearby Mowry Landing School House, and the Brown House, the Bettencourt House will face a date with the wrecking ball around the end of the year. Unless…
The East Bay Parks District is now offering the three historic buildings for sale for just $1 each. Of course, such a deal is rife with catches.
The buyer must submit a plan to East Bay Parks by the end of September, listing their finances along with plans to move and renovate the buildings.
“You’ll pay a dollar and you’ll have until the end of the year to move it off the property and then restore it later on,” Bletz said.
The price tag will likely be steep. The park’s department recently got an estimate to restore the Brown House, a 16 by 20 square foot home that was once a middle-class farm house. The restoration bid came in at between $600,000 to $850,000 dollars.
“These need a lot of work,” Bletz said. “They’ve been sitting here empty since the 1980s.”
Local preservationists said the houses represent a significant historic chapter for the area. Historian Al Minard believes the Mowry School House is the last surviving single-room school house left in Newark.
“If you lose them there’s no way you can replace them,” Minard said. “It’s impossible to replace the history.”
Minard said he wants the parks district to secure the homes at Ardenwood, until the money can be found to restore them. He said the 205 acre farm has room to continue to store the homes.
“Those three buildings take up less than a quarter acre of space,” said Minard. “There’s no way you can tell me Ardenwood, or East Bay Parks needs to have that quarter acre of land to do any of their activities.”
But Bletz said the park district has unsuccessfully sought grants, investors and other funding sources over the years. Now, he said, it will a take individual saviors to rescue the homes from demolition.
“They have architectural interest and value,” Bletz said. “Hopefully someone can find a good use for them.”